White Papers vs. Reports for Content Marketing

PropelGrowth Blog - Financial Services Marketing and Content Strategy

White papers and research reports have very distinct use cases. Christina Oswald explains.

In order for content to drive leads, it needs to resonate with your target audience. Timing is an important part of this equation. For example, at the early point in the buying cycle when your prospect is just realizing they have a problem, a white paper that helps them understand their challenges, provides industry perspective and offers reasonable solutions is valuable.

Picking the right type of content for your buyer persona is another key to getting your content noticed and acted upon. For instance, a technical audience might find a technical research report more useful than a case study. Below, we examine whitepapers and reports, explaining the difference between the two and offering tips on how, when, and for what purpose each should be used.

When to Use White Papers

A white paper is an opinion piece that is technical in nature. It is usually told from the vendor’s point of view, and is used to establish a company as a thought leader in its space. White papers should never be promotional, but instead should objectively educate the target audience so they can make informed business decisions.

Generally speaking, there are two types of white papers. One is more high level and would appeal to prospects in the early stages of the buying cycle. A possible topic for such a white paper might be, “The Pros and Cons of Automating FIX Testing.” This more generalized subject matter would be appealing to a business audience that needs to solve a business problem and is trying to establish a case for purchasing new technology.

The second type of white paper would offer customers a deeper dive into a technical topic. A sample title of such a piece might be, “Benefits of Using JAVA for an API.” This kind of white paper should discuss technical issues, or describe new approaches to common industry problems. This could also be a venue for your CTO to discuss his or her vision for the direction of your company’s technology.

When to Use Reports

Reports are typically research-based, and may be written by a vendor or a third-party research firm. Reports share the results of a study or investigation into a specific topic, which ultimately portrays the sponsoring company in a positive light. Depending on the subject matter, this type of content can appeal to both technical and non-technical audiences.

A technical or “quant” prospect would benefit from a report that drills down on a highly specialized topic. It should contain numbers-based research that backs up the conclusions drawn. This type of report might draw comparisons between various products or technology approaches, or even offer research on development strategies. For example, ITG recently published a report that evaluated the role of trading strategy in venue analysis. They presented a thesis that strategy plays a key role and must be considered when evaluating execution quality, and they backed it up with solid evidence.

We recently conducted such a report for one of our clients, a customer relationship management (CRM) software provider. The report examined the latest trends in wealth management business practices. It was based on interviews and a survey of more than 900 wealth managers, and analyzed best practices, backing up its recommendations with the survey results. The report has performed very well with its intended audience – investment advisors.

A business audience will more likely get value from a report based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative research. It can contain, for example, information on reasons why companies are choosing to conduct business one way versus another. We created this type of report for another one of our clients, a financial technology provider. The report focused on the business and technical challenges faced by sell-sides providing access to futures exchanges. We interviewed several industry experts and did a review of other available resources on the topic. We then amalgamated our research into a qualitative report that included, among other items, quotes from many of our interviewees. We found that this report generated a lot of traction and performed better than would a white paper for our target audience (those needing to solve a business problem) and their likely early stage in the buying cycle.

Assessing Your Audience’s Needs

When trying to determine what type of content to produce and what nature of topic to explore, first and foremost you must consider the needs of your audience. Are they a business audience performing some preliminary research on industry pain points and how best-in-class companies are solving them? Then a high-level white paper that explores problem/solution scenarios is your best bet. Or….are they quants that want information on specific technical topics?  If so, a study that offers relevant statistics should pique their interest.

Assessing the specific characteristics of your audience base will help you produce the kind of content they need—when they need it. This will help you build confidence in your message and overall brand.

For more insights on how to craft content that appeals to your audience’s needs (and ultimately attracts qualified leads), check out our related post, Your Problem is Not the White Paper and our white paper that discusses what types of content can be used to facilitate each stage in the financial technology buying process.