ebook versus whitepaper: which performs best
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When it comes to advancing your content marketing strategy, you’ll find that whitepapers and eBooks are usually the "next level up" from blog posts.

eBooks and whitepapers share some similarities, with the obvious one being that they're usually much longer than your average blog post. But despite that, it can be a little tricky knowing which format to choose when it comes to publishing a long-form piece of content.

We’ve turned to leading industry experts for insight into the differences between the two content formats and also to find out if one performs better than the other.

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Differences Between an eBook and a Whitepaper

As noted by Nicolas Straut, SEO Associate at New York-based Fundera, the primary difference between an eBook and a whitepaper is the audience each format targets. Straut explained that an eBook often serves as an extended guide on a topic for a general audience. "A whitepaper is more [of an] academic report on a particular topic that presents new research or information for a more niche audience of experts,” he said.

Another difference between eBooks and whitepapers is the objective they both aim to achieve. Mike Tirone, digital marketing strategist at Baltimore MD.-based R2i shared the main objective of a whitepaper. A whitepapers aims to persuasively educate it’s target audience, according to Tirone. “Whitepapers directly address a specific topic, [or a problem], and [then] provide a tangible resolution, commonly written in the style of a report or case study. It’s written in a tone that is persuasive, detailed, and authoritative, further supporting the author’s expertise in the subject,” he continued.

Tirone expanded further by saying that whitepapers are often used by marketers to highlight the brand’s value proposition — which could be a product, service, or solution — in a polished deliverable with strong visuals and writing. “The structure of a whitepaper can vary, but the common components remain pretty consistent; [it starts with identifying] a problem, [followed by a] methodology, guidance, [and then the proposed] resolution,” he explained.

Because whitepapers are more data-driven and are more targeted towards individuals who are familiar with the area around the topic, Tirone says the content will be presented differently in eBooks and whitepapers. “An eBook is more formally structured than a whitepaper and typically longer. An eBook can be easily read and understood without being contextually rich like a case study or a detailed whitepaper.”

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Are eBooks Better Than Whitepapers, or Vice Versa?

Hubspot writer Emily Haahr paints a somewhat sharp contrast between whitepapers and eBooks in her article “Why eBooks Are Better Than Whitepapers”. In the article, Haahr concludes that eBooks are inherently better because they are simple and cheaper to produce, the content is easier to digest, and they can “spread like wildfire.” She argues that this is due to the more casual tone of an eBook, which makes it appealing to wider audiences.

However, Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder at Haryana-based Mettl, doesn’t share this viewpoint. Kapoor observed that eBooks and whitepapers each have “distinct’’ advantages. “EBooks and whitepapers are information-rich content properties that aim to progress the buyer journey. However, the difference [in performance] lies between the stages they target in the buyer journey or funnel,” Kapoor said.

“EBooks perform well at the “awareness” stage of the buyer journey, where a person is trying to accumulate information about a particular product or service and wants to gain a comprehensive understanding first. [Consumers at this stage] are more concerned about the “problem” part of the equation.” said Kapoor. “Whitepapers, on the other hand, target people in the “decision” stage in the buying-journey. Whitepapers are introduced when a person versed with the basics [is] looking for “proven validation” of a concept to fuel their buying decision,” he continued.

Kapoor also noted that whitepapers tend to take longer to produce due to their more specialized nature, which also means they incur higher costs to create. “Depending on the research involved, eBooks are fairly easy to [make] and are good at capturing a person’s share of mind in your products. An eBook can educate a layman who has no expertise or experience using a product or service,” said Kapoor. Whitepapers, on the other hand, are more about providing a, “data-backed solution to the user’s problem. That’s why [producing] a whitepaper takes plenty of research and time as you have to include plenty of data to convince a person into buying.”

Is it a Question of B2C vs. B2B?

So, based on the idea that eBooks tend to suit a broader, less-educated audience, and whitepapers seek to engage and further educate well-informed individuals looking for more data and solid answers, CMSWire asked Tirone if eBooks were best suited for B2C audiences, and whitepapers for a B2B audience. “I’ve noticed that more B2B marketers and businesses lean toward whitepapers because stakeholders want proven results, and like the exclusivity of it. EBooks can be used as a simple guide to inform readers, and they tend to be more customer-friendly,” he said.

This view was shared by Straut, who said, “An eBook is better suited to a B2C or more casual reading audience while a whitepaper is best suited to position your company as a thought-leader in a space and expose C-suite executives to a new technology or idea.”

Which Should You Choose?

We asked our experts to make a final call; eBooks, or whitepaper? Their answers, perhaps correctly so, came with caveats. “From a lead generation perspective, I prefer eBooks because they've had a higher download and consumption rate for the audiences I've targeted. However, if I had to reach a group of experts and convince them of the value of a new technology my company is offering, I would have a whitepaper written,” Straut stated.

Irene Malatesta, head of content strategy at San Francisco-based Fundbox, also advised brands to weigh their objectives when it comes to making this call. “Which one you choose should depend on what you're trying to accomplish and what audience you're speaking to. You might want to use both in your marketing funnel. When choosing a format, consider the level of expertise of your intended reader, the amount of value you can add on the topic, and how in-depth you want to go,” Malatesta said.

What's your take on the eBooks vs whitepaper debate? Share your views in the comments below.