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White papers versus case studies

Many people are not clear on the differences between white papers and case studies.

But B2B copywriters and marketers must understand when to use each one.

After many years, I’ve come to the conclusion that white papers and case studies are the two most powerful, most convincing, and most cost-effective marketing materials that any B2B vendor can produce.

So what’s the difference?

This table sums up the key differences that most people see between a case study and a white paper.


 Case studies White papers
FocusOne customer's
happy experience
with a product
New solution to an
old problem, or
benefits of some
product or service
MessageHere's a customer
who loves our stuff
Here's a better way
to solve this problem
Length2 pages5 to 12 pages
FormatSlicker: PDF with
color photos
Plainer: PDF with
a few graphics
Lifespan1 or 2 years1 or 2 years,
then refresh
Time to create2 to 6 weeks,
depending on
4 to 12 weeks
When to useLater in sales cycleEarlier in sales cycle
Why to useTo nurture prospectsTo generate leads,
engage prospects,
or explain product
or service


Here’s another way to sum up the difference

A case study is like looking down through a magnifying glass at one flower. You focus in on one company in particular, telling the story of how it benefitted from using a certain product or service.

A white paper is like looking up through a telescope at a whole galaxy in space. You tell the story of how an entire industry has been suffering from a certain problem and propose a better way to solve it.

photo of night sky with man silhouetted against it

The beauty of case studies…

I believe that case studies are the most cost-effective piece of marketing literature that any technology company can produce.

For about $2,000 a B2B company can commission a beautifully designed, magazine-quality case study.

Like speaking face-to-face with a happy customer, this document will reassure any prospect working in a similar industry or facing a similar challenge.

That’s why I’ve written hundreds of B2B case studies: They get results.

The power of white papers…

White papers are the heavy guns of any marketing campaign.

For about $6,000 a B2B company can commission a persuasive summary of the business and technical benefits of their product or service.

A good white paper helps a business person to understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

This document will likely be passed up and down the food chain at your prospect’s company. And it will keep on working for a year or two, maybe longer.

That’s why I write a steady stream of white papers: They get results.

And I focus on white papers because they’re harder to write, and there’s fewer writers who know how to do them.

From a B2B marketer’s point of view, the key is to know the difference, and to use each type of document to support your sales team in the best possible way.

Why not just use e-mail?

Sure, e-mail marketing is powerful. And sending an e-mail is certainly cheaper than creating any original content.

But you can’t recycle the contents of an e-mail in more than a dozen different ways, like a good case study.

And you can’t keep using the same e-mail for one or two years, like a good white paper.

Why not just use social media?

Of course, using Twitter is easier than creating a white paper. But a Tweet is here and gone in an instant. And you can’t put much of an argument into a handful of characters.

I recommend thinking of social media as “pointers” to B2B content, or a way to promote actual content. They’re not really content in themselves.

And for B2B marketing, nothing drives results as well as case studies and white papers.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 300 white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, from household names like Google and Verizon to tiny startups with big ideas. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned more than 50 5-star ratings on Amazon. And named 2019 Copywriter of the Year by AWAI, the world's leading training organization for professional copywriters.

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1 Comment

  1. Design Complementing Content - Layerbag on May 7, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    […] Educate: Often your blog, white papers, or case studies are designed to educate your audience about your product or service, how it will benefit them, and […]

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