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6 reasons why video will never replace white papers

Surveys show that about 2 out of 3 B2B vendors use white papers.

This number has stayed at the same level for the last 10 years. Clearly, white papers work.

But even though I write white papers, I don’t claim that every last B2B company in the world should use them.

There are some companies that just don’t need white papers.

Especially if they’re selling something simple and inexpensive. Or if white papers are never used in their market space. Or if their audience would naturally prefer some other type of content in some other medium.

So I’m really tired of hearing “pop-up gurus” proclaim that EVERY SINGLE COMPANY in the whole world MUST START USING VIDEO.


Here are six reasons why I can’t agree with such a blanket recommendation.

Reason #1: Video takes longer to scan

To take in everything a video says, you have to watch it right to the end. This makes video less appealing in any corporate setting where time is money.

On the other hand, an effective white paper follows the conventions developed over 500+ years of print:

  • At the start, a crisp summary tells readers what you’re going to tell them
  • In the middle, the main body tells them
  • At the end, some brief conclusions tell them what you told them

These well-known conventions help busy executives scan through a white paper in a minute or less.

Then they can decide whether to devote more time to it, or pass it on to a colleague.

While some people think reading is hard work, white papers can easily  communicate more business information in less time than video. For a busy decision-maker, time is money.

Reason #2: Video disrupts workmates

For anyone working in a cubicle, an open office, or even a coffee shop, a video sound track is distracting and annoying to all their neighbors.

Anyone nearby who is trying to get some real work done has to put up with a barrage of narration, crazy sound effects, and laughter.

Do you really want to make that happen across the workplaces of all your target prospects?

Sure, a video viewer can always wear earbuds. And that’s a sure-fire way to impress your manager… not!

Reason #3: Video is best for how-to, not why-buy

Video is best for showing step-by-step procedures involving concrete items. To show how to unplug a clogged toilet, video works every time.

But it’s a real challenge to use moving pictures to convey the conceptual information that drives most big B2B purchases.

For example, suppose you need to show executives a cost-benefit analysis on installing low-flow toilets across an entire hotel chain.

In this case, the narrative text and numbers in a white paper will communicate far better than the moving pictures of a video.

Reason #4: B2B marketers lack budgets for video

B2B marketers have to account for every dollar of their budgets, and track the ROI of every campaign.

Any B2B marketer who checks into video is likely shocked at the costs.

There’s a reason why every episode of Game of Thrones cost an estimated $8 million. Even a less ambitious sitcom can cost $1 million a show.

To do a live-action video, you’ll pay for scripting, talent, lighting, makeup, costumes, sets, props, directing, videography, and probably lunch for the whole crew.

Even to do an animated “explainer” video, you’ll need a script, animator, voice talent, director, and editor.

After the raw video is shot, there’s editing, music, titles, and special effects. And then reshoots or redubbing if you’re not delighted with the first cut.

That’s why the most basic video production can easily run $10,000 or $15,000.

For that much money, a B2B marketer could get two—or even three—white papers written, designed, and out into the market generating leads.

Reason #5: B2B marketers lack skills for video

Even a basic video production calls for a substantial set of skills. And very few B2B marketers have those skills in-house.

Instead, they must find and evaluate creative services, sponsor a production process they barely understand, and try not to create any bottlenecks or delays that add to their costs.

I have to ask: How realistic is that?

Frankly, most B2B marketing teams still have to work really hard to develop engaging text to describe their offerings.

Creating clear graphics is even more challenging.

How can we possibly expect business people with no background in video to conceive and support an effective production?

Reason #6: You can’t submit video to a management team

Consider your intended prospects. Do you really expect they can submit a video to their management team?

Do you want them to get laughed out of the boardroom?

Maybe an explainer video is enough to support buying a $100-a-month web service for a small team. But what about spending $150,000 or up?

Most business people don’t have final signoff to spend that much on a strategic purchase. So they must get their requests approved by other managers.

If they submit a 3-minute video instead of a thorough proposal, their managers will probably question their ability to do their jobs.

Reality check: Big, complex B2B sales are not made by watching videos around a boardroom table.

The bottom line

Yes, videos can serve as lead generators early in the sales process.

Yes, a well-done video can be emotionally engaging.

But does that mean you should go all-in on that one medium—and stop doing anything else?

Of course not.

I’m not against video. I’m just saying that the job of any good B2B marketing executive is to create the right mix of content that will help generate leads, nurture prospects, and land sales.

Once your company is known to a prospect, you need convincing text to make it onto the final shortlist of two or three possible vendors.

And once your company is on the shortlist for a major sale, you need documents to pile on the boardroom table.

And the most powerful document of all is a properly-done white paper.


Can you provide any other examples of why video will never replace white papers? Or do you have a different opinion? Share your thoughts in our Comments below.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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  1. Brenda on May 21, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    I’m with you! So tired of being told “this” is going away and “that” (currently video and podcasting) is THE thing. Personally, unless I’m trying to learn something specific (like a knitting technique), I don’t like watching videos and I would much rather read something than listen to an interview on a podcast (my mind tends to wander). There is room for all kinds of media!

    • Gordon Graham on May 21, 2015 at 8:04 pm

      Thanks for your comment. And I’m with you! History shows that few new mediums kill off previous media. More likely the new arrival nestles in beside them, and finds its useful spot on the spectrum of possibilities. For example, TV did not kill off movies, they’re both still very strong industries. I think B2B video has its place, but it will not kill off white papers and every other format. It will coexist peacefully and be used when appropriate.

  2. Virginia (Ginny) McGowan PhD on May 21, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    I agree whole-heartedly, Gordon. I was a senior manager in provincial research agencies, then head of an academic program, then a senior manager in the federal government. I spent my entire career writing white papers for one purpose: informed decision making. No-one would have given the time of day for a video because of exactly the reasons you have detailed.
    As an aside, I’m now a partner/co-founder of McGowan & Co.: The Write Edit Group, located in Charlottetown, PEI, but with a global reach. At least that’s what we intend to achieve. We ‘went live’ last fall (2014) after I retired from the federal government and took a few months off to think about things.
    We’re a research/writing/edit service (with project management and performance measurement training as well). We’ve decided to focus on producing white papers and case studies for B2B and government agencies, however.
    I thought I knew a lot about these things, but your website and “White Papers for Dummies” have helped immensely. We’ve produced white papers for tech business startups, case studies for a business professor, and just landed a contract for the next 10 weeks (with a strong likelihood of extension) to produce a series of white papers and case studies for a not-for-profit business women’s association. I intend to take your course as well.
    Thanks for being such a supportive colleague! It’s nice to know that there is someone with your expertise who is willing to share his knowledge.
    The Editors’ Association of Canada, to which I belong, has a similar lively exchange of knowledge and experience amongst its members, from the nuts and bolts of an editing issue to how to run a business.
    PS, I’ve never enjoyed anything as much as I do the writing of white papers and case studies for my clients.
    Warm regards, Ginny

    • Gordon Graham on May 21, 2015 at 8:06 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, Ginny, and continued success with your company. I agree with you: I’ve never seen any senior decision-maker rely solely on video to make a decision. That’s why this advice that “everyone must use video” is so unrealistic. Use whatever works best to achieve your business purpose. Nothing else matters.

  3. Apryl Parcher (@Apryl_Parcher) on May 21, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    It’s been a while since you and I did a “video” on this very topic! And many of the points are still the same. Video certainly has its place, but as you stated, it’s more about how-to or introduction than why-buy, especially for something complex. It’s just not the right medium for everything. Great stuff, Gordon–as usual, you’re right on the money. 🙂

  4. Clarke Echols on May 22, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    The key is “well-written” white papers. I recently received an email from an agency claiming expertise in white papers, and touting the danger of hiring freelancers. Yet some of the papers they’ve shown on their website recently and a only few years back are hardly what I’d call passable. 13 mistakes in a 9-line, one-paragraph, “executive summary.” Their strongest asset was buried on page 7 of 8 pages, and it was very hard to read due to incompetent typography.

    My daughter, an IT professional working on mission-critical servers in a large corporation saw it and said, “Obviously the person who wrote this didn’t have a clue.”

    I get similar reactions from an IT software project manager for a large non-profit hospital chain (my son-in-law) says he tosses a white paper that isn’t well written, and gives it no further consideration.

    But a well written white paper can close multi-million-dollar deals and pay for its cost may times over even on one, single, extra sale of a product not involving a huge amount of money.

    Companies that scrimp on white paper costs may be doing themselves a huge disservice by “saving” money, and paying for the savings many times over in lost sales that otherwise would have been theirs.

  5. Inés on November 13, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    I found this one particularly inspiring, once more. It’s interesting to think that the people who matter to us are not going to sit around and watch video to make major decisions!
    Also, this culture is getting insanely overly visual and it’s our responsibility as writers to keep the written word powerful. I think that writing whitepapers is a much difficult and refined skill than recording a tutorial.
    Thank you Gordon!

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