How Interactive White Papers Are Changing the Boring, Old White-Paper Experience

The last thing you want to do, as a content marketer, is bore your audience. You want your content to be engaging and relevant, no matter the format. White papers, which typically are data-heavy and sometimes technical, have been known as the boring cousin of ebooks. But no matter the topic of your white paper, it can be stimulating. To create better experiences for your audience, you should consider interactive white papers as they can revolutionize how your buyers consume complex ideas.

The History of the White Paper

You may be surprised to learn that the white paper dates back to at least the 1920s, where the term originated in the British government. The format has gone through many iterations with white papers used in marketing since the early 1990s. Now, they are a regular part of a company’s content strategy, characterized by solving business challenges, describing new solutions, providing tips and best practices, and presenting research findings.

White papers pack in a lot of information. Although they’ve become more visually appealing with better design, they still tend to be extremely text-heavy, which isn’t great in a world that wants to scan and get the gist quickly. Plus, you also want the piece to be highly sharable on social media – an audience that craves interactive content.

What Is an Interactive White Paper?

An interactive white paper is different. In fact, we don’t even really call it a white paper anymore. Most white papers are now labeled as “ultimate guides” or “everything you need to know about x.”

The modern white paper now strives to be interactive with multimedia. Within the story of your white paper, using visual design tools, you can create a new experience for readers. The content in the white paper will be tailored to your specific buyer’s journey. You can incorporate several elements along the way to hold their attention and navigate their experience.

An interactive white paper takes interactivity to a new level, but it also focuses more on relevance. Based on the information you collect from the customer, beyond just the credentials they have to supply on the landing page, they will then receive the most applicable version of that white paper.

Interactive Elements Inside the White Paper

Once the user downloads the white paper, the interaction doesn’t stop. You can include interactive navigation, quizzes, assessments, calculators, and videos. It’s leveraging the best practices and tools of digital marketing to deliver a piece of content that’s more customized for the reader and provides better engagement for your brand.

Creating an Interactive White Paper Strategy

In your content planning, you’ll want to revisit any white paper topics you’ve already planned and see if they are good candidates for interactivity. Consider these questions:

Can the topic be customized?

While it may seem like a lot of work to customize a white paper for different segments of your audience, doing some minor personalization based on key differences between segments of your audience (ex: types of buyers, industries, locations, etc.) will undoubtedly deliver more returns than a one-size-fits-all content asset.

In pondering the questions to ask a prospect before they download the asset, you’ll want to consider the most obvious and impactful differentiators. For example, software companies often create technical white papers on their products, but they’ll create two versions, one for technical administrators, and one for end users. So they’ll want to ask about the role of the person downloading the asset, to ensure delivery of the right version.

Are there ways to tell a story interactively?

On this point, you’ll want to think about how you’ll insert graphical interactions (ex: motion graphics, charts and graphs) and what form they should take to make them more impactful.

What opportunities within the white paper are there to engage?

Does the topic lend itself to inserting short quizzes or assessments? If you are writing about a technology topic and attempting to support your solution based on data, you could add interactive elements to have the reader “grade” their current system or process.

Once you go through these questions, you’ll be able to narrow down and point the user to the subject that will work best for an interactive white paper.

Next, let’s look at a few examples to inspire you.

Interactive White Paper Examples

As you begin to consider the topics in your content calendar that would align well with an interactive white paper, check out these examples.

Dun & Bradstreet: The Data-Inspired Art of Sales Acceleration

Dun & Bradstreet, a commercial data and analytics company, focuses much of its content efforts on correlating data to propel acceleration. In the preview of their white paper titled, “The Data-Inspired Art of Sales Acceleration“, you have motion on the page, as it describes the highlights inside. Each section has its own colors and interactive moments. It’s a smart format for a topic that could otherwise be dry.

Dun & Bradstreet interactive white paper example

Image: Dun & Bradstreet

AthenaHealth: 5 Elements of a Successful Patient Engagement Strategy

Healthcare audiences are busy and have many different competing priorities. But, since patient engagement is important to reimbursements, they know they need a better plan. To get those buyers to take notice, AthenaHealth created an interactive white paper.

The download of the white paper is static, but each of the five sections is viewable through the browser and has used graphic elements to enhance the experience. Below is one part. If the user hovers over these images, they flip to reveal more information.

AthenaHealth interactive white paper example

Image: AthenaHealth

Lincoln Financial: Planning Strategies for Business Owners

In this white paper, you’ll find a variety of interactive touches. It includes experts providing insights and allows the audience to chart their own way through the piece with a visual table of contents that lets you choose which topic to cover.

Do Interactive White Papers Work?

Interactive white papers sound great on paper, but do they really boost your content marketing performance? You’ve started with the belief that a white paper, or any type of content, should be about user value. White papers have been found to be a critical piece in the conversion equation. The 2019 Content Marketing Preferences Report noted that 49 percent of respondents were willing to share contact information to access white papers.

They play a key role in buyer decision-making, so making them more interesting and engaging will only raise their value. Be sure to keep in mind that your white paper should still be well-researched and include data – you’re just making it more digestible.

Interactive white papers are certainly a content marketing trend. It’s taking a tried-and-true content format and reinventing it for the 21st-century. Learn about more ways to reinvigorate content marketing by reading our post on 2020 trends. And to get these insights, tips, and how-tos delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to the DivvyHQ blog.