Should We Break Up with Whitepapers? Navigating the Marketing Evolution
BY Danielle Kelner
March 4, 2024

It’s no secret that buyer behaviors and preferences are evolving. Empowered by the ability to gather information when and where they want to, buyers of consulting services are in charge of the path to purchase. 

As buyers exert the power they have, marketers have been slow to change. We tend to hang on to things that have worked before until we wake up and realize that the old playbook is no longer sufficient.

The changing landscape of professional services marketing 

Scribewise conducted a survey to investigate whether a disconnect exists between what marketers do and what buyers want, and if so, how deep it runs.

Answer: pretty deep.

Despite 86 percent of marketers prioritizing whitepapers in their marketing strategy, only 27 percent of prospective clients find them as helpful as other dynamic formats like webinars, interactive content, case studies, infographics and video. 

With 56 percent of would-be clients telling us they feel overwhelmed by all the content available to them, successful marketers must question the role of long-form content in their overall marketing strategies. Your prospects are drowning in content overload, and whitepapers are vying for attention against flashy, attention-grabbing content formats. Buyers are swiping right on fresh, exciting content, leaving the old-school whitepapers wondering if they’ve still got game. 

To keep the flame alive, marketers at consulting firms need to spice things up. After all, staying adaptable is the key to a lasting connection.

The trust factor

Consider your personal process for making a purchasing decision. If you’re like most people, you want more than just information; you want:

  • Easy solutions to your problems
  • Reassurance that the brand under consideration is reliable
  • Experiences that resonate 

People who hire professional services firms want the same thing. They want more than the service you provide—they want a partner they can trust. 

And that trust has to be earned. 

Before committing to consuming long-form content like whitepapers, your audience is considering brand credibility, the authenticity of your messaging and the reliability of the information you’re sharing. They’re exploring your services, forming an opinion and deciding whether or not entering a relationship with you is worth their time and money. 

The avenues through which we can cultivate trust—and the spaces in which it can be destroyed—have expanded. In this era of instant information, buyers rely on a combination of digital interactions, social validation and diverse content formats to establish and grow the trust needed for making informed decisions. As marketers, recognizing and leveraging these trust-building elements is key to resonating with discerning buyers. 

Building a foundation of credibility is crucial before expecting engagement with deep-dive content like whitepapers. Marketers must take advantage of shorter formats to initiate trust-building, setting the stage for more time-consuming, in-depth content like whitepapers or long-form videos.

There’s still a place for whitepapers 

Done right, whitepapers establish trust and authority; remember, 27 percent of buyers say they still value them. 

But they must speak directly to your target audience, addressing their pain points and challenges. Tailoring whitepapers to specific buyer personas and their wants, needs and fears ensures relevance and value, showing potential buyers that you understand their problems and have solutions that can work for them. 

So, yes, long-form written content still works. But it must be concise, highly focused on your target audience and differentiated from your competitors. And it must add a new, energetic voice to the conversation. Based on our survey results, marketers should also consider incorporating multimedia elements to transform their long-form content into engaging, client-friendly resources with real value.

But let’s go beyond the whitepaper

While whitepapers remain a valuable piece of the marketing puzzle, a holistic marketing strategy recognizes the strengths of other formats and examines the best way for them to fit together to speak to your audience. How do you strategically blend all these pieces—including whitepapers—into a comprehensive and effective marketing strategy, offering differentiated touch points across all stages of the buyer’s journey? 

The challenge is clear—evolve with the changing landscape or risk getting left behind. To adapt, marketers at consulting firms must execute a balanced content strategy that aligns with client preferences. Whitepapers strategically positioned within a diverse content ecosystem can still wield significant influence, providing depth and experience while complementing the strengths of other formats.

But before expecting your audience to sacrifice their time reading your long-form content, show them they can trust you. 

Instead of ending your relationship with the whitepaper altogether, let’s reimagine its role in a content strategy that resonates with the ever-evolving preferences of the modern buyer. Embrace change. Blend the old with the new. Forge a path toward a comprehensive approach that builds trust.

Let’s talk about growing your firm.

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