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Will chatbots replace white papers?

You’ve seen them. You’ve used them. Chatbots are everywhere now.

And a whole new industry is springing up to write, code, and integrate chatbots into websites.

That means loads of opportunities for writers who learn this new format.

Nick Usborne, a co-founder of marketing agency Chatbot Forge, is a pioneer in this field who points out many benefits of chatbots for marketers:

  • The visitor feels in control
  • The conversation feels natural (more or less)
  • You don’t need any sales funnel
  • You don’t need any autoresponders, pay-per-click ads, SEO…

In fact, using a chatbot eliminates the need for a huge swath of clutter that has distracted marketers for the past 20 years.

Once a prospect is on your website and starts the chatbot, they can basically serve themselves.

And a well-designed chatbot can guide them right into making a purchase.

If you’d like to see some good chatbots in action, here’s a roundup of 10 hand-picked examples.


one human hand and one robot hand on keyboard

What are chatbots used for?

A chatbot can easily support the online purchase of a B2C commodity like coffee or office supplies.

With advances in AI, chatbots can now handle more considered decisions like buying insurance, previewing homes for sale, and even diagnosing illnesses.

B2B companies are learning how to use chatbots for tasks like booking travel, powering customer service, and taking orders for special events.

It’s no wonder.

A chatbot is a low-cost online helper available 24/7 that never gets tired or moody and always follows the same script.

The open rates (80%!) and overall results (2X a call center!) for chatbots are through the roof. And the costs are relatively modest.

“The great thing about a chatbot is that it enables a company’s first contact with a prospect to be conversational,” says Usborne.

“Instead of using well-worn phrases like, ‘Your opinion is important to us…’ you can actually ask questions in real-time, and customize the conversation accordingly.

“With chatbots, a company can listen, respond, and engage… at scale,” he says.

Are chatbots the future of marketing?

All this sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

So does this mean chatbots are the future… and white papers are the past?

Well, there are some remarkable differences between chatbots and white papers. I’ve outlined a few in the table below.

Brief experienceLong-form content
InteractiveNot interactive*
100% on-screen 80% on-screen (some are printed)
Works on any screenNot so good on smartphones
No download Needs a download
More funMore serious

* Various interactive white papers have been tried, but none has reached widespread use.

So now that we can chat with an interactive software robot on the web, will everyone stop reading white papers?

Of course not.

I think chatbots and white papers can work very well together. And here are 4 ways that can happen.


business man holding mobile phone in office

Chatbots + white papers 1: Serve up the best content for each point on the customer journey

A chatbot script can ask questions that pinpoint exactly where a visitor is on their customer journey.

For example, the chatbot can ask what they’re looking for and how much they already know about it.

The answers reveal whether the prospect is just starting on their customer journey, partway along, or nearing the end and ready to make a purchase.

But you don’t have to ask a lot of nosy questions like some pushy salesman.

Instead, the chatbot can engage in a natural-sounding conversation that leaves the prospect in control.

For any white paper sponsor, it’s extremely valuable to know where a prospect is on their customer journey:

  • At the start, you show them a chocolate-flavor white paper that describes a better solution to a nagging business problem
  • In the middle, you show them a strawberry or numbered list that helps nurture them through a complex sale
  • Near the end, you show them a vanilla white paper or background that’s all about the product or service

Thus, a chatbot can effectively guide a site visitor to the most appropriate long-form content, and serve up the best white paper for them.


Man in blue shirt texting on mobile phone

Chatbots + white papers 2: Personalize the Web UX

For years we’ve heard it’s a good idea to personalize web experiences.

Don’t give everyone the same-old experience, we’re told, customize it for each visitor.

Sounds good. But how?

Simple answer: with a chatbot.

For example, a chatbot can ask a series of innocent questions to get a prospect talking about their interests and their knowledge.

The chatbot can ask something like this:

How much would you say you know about that?
—A lot, I’m kind of a nerd
—Some, but I’m still learning
—Not much, I’m a newbie

The conditional logic of a good chatbot can then guide the conversation to the appropriate level of detail.

That might include offering them a white paper or some other content written at just the right level of technical detail for them.

If that’s not personalization, what is?!

Chatbots + white papers 3: Skip the landing page with direct links to content

sample chatbot screen leading to white papers


As you know, it’s a tough call to gate a white paper—to ask prospects to fill out a form to see them.

If you gate a white paper, you get fewer downloads. And the more questions you ask on the form, the fewer downloads.

If you don’t gate a white paper, you get more downloads… but no way to follow up on any prospects.

You can use a chatbot to gather a visitor’s e-mail or phone number in a natural way.

During the session, you can send a visitor a direct link to a white paper.

Forget about a landing page with a form: They’re already pre-registered?!

Yes, there are rules about how long you can retain data harvested with a chatbot.


But you can design your calls-to-action in the white paper and follow-up e-mails to bring prospects to your website, where you can re-engage them.

For example, that’s an ideal time to use an online assessment where a visitor must enter their e-mail (again) to see the results.

Once they’re already engaged with a brand, most prospects will leave their e-mails in exchange for some valuable content.

Chatbots + white papers 4: Use each format for what it does best

There’s no doubt about it, chatbots are new and exciting.

Since they’re so short and sweet, they can do a great job at:

  • Engaging a visitor in a conversation
  • Pointing a visitor to the information they’re looking for
  • Guiding a prospect through a transaction

But you can’t exactly bring a chatbot into a boardroom to discuss a big B2B purchase… That’s where white papers come into play.

These long-form documents are great at following up with a prospect to explain a complicated and expensive B2B offering.

A white paper can add perspective, depth, and numbers to some weighty purchase discussion.

So the key is to use each format for what it does best… not dream of replacing one with the other.

When you use chatbots + white papers together, you can deliver a fun interaction followed up by detailed, helpful information about a big B2B decision.

But chatbots are not going to replace white papers. That’s not what they’re for.

Each format is better for certain things, and they can all coexist.

And marketers need a good mix of different formats to reach all their potential prospects at the right time in their journey.


robot fingers typing on keyboard

Good news: Writers needed for chatbots!

The good news for writers: Somebody has to write all those chatbots.

Too often, that’s a software developer who knows how to write code, not text. And their results look like it: clunky and geeky and awkward.

A trained chatbot writer can set up a smooth conversation, consider all the necessary branches, create friendly suggestions, and wrap up everything in a minimal number of well-chosen words.

The text in the best chatbots is written by someone who understands this emerging domain.

A writer can earn $2,000 for writing a short script of maybe 300 words.

And you can jump in early by learning how to write chatbots ahead of the crowd!


screenshot of Nick Usborne explaining chatbots

I had the pleasure of sitting in on Nick Usborne’s recent online program on writing chatbots from AWAI, and I got a lot out of it.

If I was just starting out as a writer, I would definitely jump onto this trend.

It’s a short, natural, friendly way to write… with good pay and a huge future!

So if you’d like to explore the exciting potential of chatbots and even try your hand at writing one, check out Nick’s groundbreaking program here.


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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. Nick Fielden on November 4, 2021 at 4:31 am

    Thanks for the article, Gordon. You’ve always been an innovator.

    It seems to me the chatbot will live or die by the extent to which it can anticipate (and then answer satisfactorily) the visitor’s depth of enquiry.

    The B2B context is far deeper than B2C. The white-paper reader is more sophisticated, more demanding and less easily satisfied than the B2C consumer.

    Your suggestion that, “a chatbot can effectively guide a site visitor to the most appropriate long-form content, and serve up the best white paper for them” seems to imply a variety of white papers for the same project, each of varying complexity, readability or utility.

    That would be a big departure from the norm, surely, and a significant cost hike for the client.

    More importantly, is it what the B2B reader wants?

    • Gordon Graham on November 4, 2021 at 9:30 am

      Nick, I agree with you on the differences between B2C and B2B.

      I believe most chatbots are built for medium- and large-sized businesses. The best practice for those companies is to have a variety of content for different personas and points in the customer journey.

      So ideally a company has a chocolate/problem-solution white paper for the start of the customer journey, a strawberry/listicle to keep prospects engaged at the middle of the journey, and a vanilla/backgrounder to support an evaluation near the end of the customer journey. Plus case studies, a blog, you name it. So then a chatbot can save a visitor time by asking them a few questions to find their persona and point them to the most appropriate content from the company’s array. Does that make sense?

      • Nick Fielden on November 5, 2021 at 5:10 am

        It certainly does, within the context of your sophisticated white-paper publication technique.

        In my area of interest, the logistics and freight-forwarding sector, competition is cut-throat. Cost constraints are imperatives for both my clients and their importers/exporters. Even amongst the big players, the level of enlightenment is limited.

        Why indulge in even a single white paper when a 1,000-word newsletter would suffice? Better still, wait awhile and publish a 500-word website case study (single voice).

        The marketing director (if there is one) is pretty uninfluential amongst these boys. If the CEO (who may have started out as an accountant or a stevedore) isn’t interested, it doesn’t get done. And that’s during the good times for the supply chain sector.

        But then I’m probably being too parochial.

        • Gordon Graham on November 10, 2021 at 1:39 pm

          Well, every marketing expense must be justified sooner or later. And if your sector is just getting started with content marketing, it’s good to recognize that. The cost of any white paper must be justified by the business results it will generate: either more leads, more engagement with prospects, or more sales. I imagine it’s far easier to justify the investment in a chatbot in terms of reducing human effort to answer calls, answer questions, or qualify prospects. And to work 247 without complaints.

  2. Robert Bly on November 4, 2021 at 9:44 am

    Rather than choose between gates vs. ungated, many marketers, as you know — including me and I am guessing you too, Gordon–use a mix of gates and ungated content.

    • Gordon Graham on November 4, 2021 at 9:01 pm

      And the cool thing about a chatbot is that once a visitor gives it their e-mail, they’re “pre-registered” so then the chatbot can send them a direct link to gated content. No form, one less click should mean better response.

  3. Jennifer Graham on December 7, 2021 at 2:00 am

    Very good post thanks for sharing with us.

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