Chelsey Church

Content marketing is much more than distributing a blog article to your audience. White papers and eBooks are two great examples that can take content to the next level, offering your audience a new and exciting way to digest relatable information, while generating leads.

Though similar, there’s still something that sets these two assets apart. Think about it this way: You wouldn’t expect to get the same experience out of reading an illustrated novel as you would an essay, right? Both are valuable options for learning but with different goals and purposes.

If you’re still hungry for the details, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about what separates an eBook from a white paper:

What Is a White Paper?

A white paper is like a report or essay. It uses a combination of authoritative language and relevant data points to present a problem, then solve it. It’s often presented as gated content for readers in search of specific information, deep research or statistical information. 

You can use white papers to bring up a relevant industry issue and then talk about how your products or services can offer the solution. It’s important to remember, however, that white papers shouldn’t be salesy. They should be seen as educational resources that encourage readers to look further into the resolution you provide, thus generating leads.

A white paper contains expert knowledge alongside in-depth research. Generally, white papers tend to be on the lengthy side – between 1,000 and 10,000 words, as we’ve reported in the past.

white paper vs ebook

When To Use a White Paper

You might use a white paper when you’re ready to dive into the details of a topic, service or product. 

Because it’s well-researched and explained, this piece of content is best for customers in the “decision” stage. Readers have already researched the basics of the topic and are looking for more information to support their choice. 

A white paper is especially helpful if your company has produced a blog post series on a certain topic and wants to bring it all together in a single source of content. It could include a case study that supports your claims by way of an example. 

B2B marketers with a valuable product or service will often produce a white paper to help support prospective stakeholders looking for proven results.  

How Do You Create a White Paper?

First, you must choose a relevant topic that highlights your expertise while also keeping your target audience in mind. How do you find that topic?

  1. Pay attention to industry trends by subscribing to market reports.
  2. Follow key influencers on social media to see what everyone’s talking about.
  3. Search through your company’s database of commonly asked questions.
  4. Speak with sales reps to see what prospects are concerned with most.
  5. Check Google Analytics to see if you already have a high-performing piece of content on your site – then reformat that content into a white paper and redistribute.
  6. Compile relevant customer or industry data and publish it as a white paper.

Creating Gated Content

Nearly everyone’s goal is lead generation; gated content is a great way to do this. Gated content is a type of deliverable that users can only access after inputting their information. This typically doesn’t involve monetary exchange, but an easy sharing of information. 

Valuable information could depend on your industry and what’s most important to your marketers. It may include:

  • Name.
  • Company email.
  • Location.
  • Size of their company.

With a white paper, leads are highly engaged and are prospects that you can nurture toward a sale. To present your white paper, you could use a pop-up or a relevant CTA. 

Creating the Most Impact With Your White Paper

We covered this briefly, but here are 3 points you can count on to make the most out of the content:

  1. Use only credible sources: .gov/.org sites, industry publications, financial reports and proprietary research. Stay away from secondary sources or information that’s already common knowledge.
  2. Back up all claims with data: Not only do statistics allow designers to graphically call out important components of your white paper, but they lend additional authority to your argument.
  3. Follow a logical format: Start with a quick, informative intro that discusses methodology, then break up the main body of your copy into several sections or subheads. Finally, end with a conclusion that sufficiently wraps up your argument and harkens back to your original claim.

Is a White Paper Right for You?

  • Become an industry thought leader.
  • Generate leads.
  • Distribute research to your target audience.

Check out our guide on how to build a white paper template or download ours at the end.

What Is an eBook?

If you’ve never seen the word “eBook” before, you probably think it’s a specific reference to a novel or story that you can access on an electronic device like a tablet. In the content marketing world, however, it’s not quite the same. Here, it’s a valuable asset.

In comparison to white papers, eBooks are filled with illustrations and quick takeaways. It focuses on a topic of interest with an end goal to educate the reader. But, it reads more like a book, with dedicated page breaks, a table of contents and helpful design elements that move the narrative along.

When To Use an eBook

You’d create an eBook if you’re writing about a topic that doesn’t need a lot of technical background. Because the written content on the page is much shorter than a white paper, your copy should be short and to the point, yet easy to read. They’re perfect for both B2C and B2B readers.

This type of content is helpful for buyers in the “awareness” stage. These readers have just realized they have a need and are looking for more research on the topic before moving to the product comparison, or the “consideration,” stage.

You may also use an eBook if you’d like to introduce your customers to a new topic that’s more high-level, to get them excited about something new in the industry. 

eBooks typically offer a reader a digestible (and often more shareable) set of information. They have a more casual tone, making them more agreeable to a wider range of readers. 

How Do You Create an eBook?

To create an eBook, the first step is researching a relevant topic that speaks to your target audience. From there, you’ll outline each chapter of the book, incorporating data, industry information, quotes and statistics that speak to the story you’re trying to tell – just like a white paper.

Then it’s time for the design process, which is where an eBook begins to stand out from a white paper in its final form.

eBook Best Practices

Here’s the breakdown we’ve all been waiting for:

  • Use colors, fonts and illustrations that align with your existing brand.
  • Decide whether still photography or custom illustration best conveys your message.
  • Try to keep each unique concept on its own page for better flow.
  • Use data points or metaphorical language in the copy to inform design cues.
  • Create a branded front and back cover page, again producing more of a “book” feel.

Lastly, think about your conclusion. Will you include a subtle call-to-action or a clear advertisement for your company? 

Unlike a white paper, an eBook can be salesy. “For more information, contact us today” is a straightforward way to keep your readers at the top of your mind and offer a next step on their journey with your company.

Who Uses an eBook?

You’ll know your content team is ready to add an eBook to the lineup if you want to:

  • Introduce your audience to a new concept or service.
  • Turn a difficult topic into something easier to comprehend.
  • Provide information in a visually satisfying way.
  • Boost lead generation. (You can self publish eBooks to reach audiences on channels like Amazon.)

Do What’s Right for Your Content Marketing

Those interested in a problem-solving guide can benefit from a white paper. Someone looking for an asset that’s more creative and visually appealing may be more attracted to an eBook.

The bottom line: There’s no right or wrong choice! An evaluation of your current goals will steer you in the right direction for choosing a fresh content format that boosts brand awareness.

Editor’s Note: Updated February 2023.