While many people are unclear about the differences between a case study and a white paper, each has a distinct purpose and can be a valuable tool in your B2B content marketing strategy.
What are the differences between a white paper and a case study?
A case study, also known as a success story, is an in-depth story about a client, or small group of clients, that had a challenge your company helped overcome. Case studies allow readers to envision how your company would solve their problems.
Meanwhile, a marketing white paper is a research-based, in-depth report that presents a complex problem and a solution. White papers allow you to show thought leadership and educate your customers and prospects about common issues in your industry.
When should you use a case study in your B2B content marketing strategy?
Case studies are a great way to show off your company’s problem-solving approach. They’ll also help you connect with your target audience on a personal level. Use them to:
- Demonstrate your expertise and experience
- Help close sales with potential customers
- Prove to existing customers why you’re still their top choice
- Highlight your company’s human side
When should you create a white paper?
In contrast, if you really want to show off your expertise and educate your audience, a white paper may be a better choice. It provides research-based, detailed information as part of a persuasive argument. Decision-makers like white papers because they get answers to their questions in one place. As a result, businesses often gate the content and require at least an email address to download. Use white papers to:
- Share your company’s original research and point of view
- Establish your company as an expert
- Build your email list and generate leads
- Boost organic traffic to your website
What do case studies and white papers include?
Along with serving different purposes, case studies and white papers contain different types of information.
What elements do I need for a successful case study?
Successful case studies make your customers the heroes. Your readers will see themselves and their own issues mirrored in your clients’ hero stories. To write an effective case study, be sure to include these three elements:
- The challenge. What problem did you solve? Summarize the challenges your client faced before turning to your organization and provide specific details. You can include your company’s history with the client or the relationship the company had with a competitor.
- The solution. In this section, describe the steps you took to resolve the problem. Give a detailed outline of your approach and why you chose it. Show what made it unique and how it helped.
- The results. Be specific about the results your client achieved from your solution. Use hard data and statistics to back up your claims. How did you improve your client’s business? What transformative change occurred because of your solution? Use project-specific, results-oriented customer quotes.
What components make up a strong white paper?
White papers should help readers understand complex issues in greater detail. Moreover, they should help them solve problems or make decisions. To be effective, they should include these five elements:
- A defined problem. Introduce your white paper to your audience by explaining the primary issue or opportunity. You could discuss obstacles in a particular industry or opportunities to increase sales. State the issue quickly to grab readers’ attention.
- Proof that this is a real problem. The fact that you say there’s a problem doesn’t make it true. Once you expose the potential issue, back up your findings through market research or tangible statistics. Prove you know what you’re talking about.
- Any additional problems. If the initial problem you’re addressing isn’t enough to engage readers, include other relevant issues. These issues should have similar solutions to the problem you addressed above.
- The traditional solution. This is the basic solution for the problem; don’t mention your product yet. Give them general solutions without name-dropping.
- Your solution. This is where you get to show off your knowledge and convince readers that you understand the issues they face. You can highlight specific benefits, show how your solution differs from those of your competitors and let your audience know what to do next.
Should you use a case study or a white paper in your B2B content marketing strategy?
Should your content marketing focus on a case study or a white paper approach? Thankfully, there’s room for both! If you think about it, the goals of case studies and white papers are essentially the same. Both encourage your target audience to imagine themselves as your clients and to ultimately ask your company to solve their problems.
Why use a case study over a white paper?
If you want to connect emotionally with your audience, storytelling is the way to go. And at the heart of every great case study is a story. With case studies, you can tell your clients’ stories in interesting, creative and illuminating narratives.
Some people will take the time to read your case studies and digest every detail. Others will only give them a quick glance. Sometimes, the people who read them are the decision-makers. If you want a piece that can serve both audience types, a case study is the best choice. If you opt for case studies, here are some tips that work well for in-depth readers and skimmers:
- Write descriptive headings. Make sure readers will get the gist of your success stories.
- Call out impressive results graphically or in a larger font at the beginning of each success story.
- Consider putting a summary and/or your strongest customer quote up top.
When should you use a white paper over a case study?
When would you use a white paper rather than a case study? First, white papers are more informative, typically clocking in at five to 10 pages. They educate and persuade based on facts and credible evidence about a particular topic, methodology product or service. This level of detail can be helpful for potential customers who are in the research phase.
Moreover, white papers are more objective than case studies. To resonate as trustworthy, they should be written in an academic, unbiased style. This will make them more credible to potential customers who are looking for objective information. White papers don’t tell your audience why they should buy your products or services.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to use case studies or white papers in your content marketing depends on your specific needs and goals. If you’re looking for a persuasive and credible document that will help you sell your products or services, then a case study is a good option. If you’re looking for an informative and objective document that will educate potential customers, then a white paper is a good option.