White papers, which I like to call "position papers," have become an essential element in the B2B marketing toolkit in recent years. But should they be?

As a new study from Information Week suggests, the answer is unquestionably yes. The research — based on a survey of 542 professional IT buyers — argues that "decision makers continue to rely heavily on this information format." As the report puts it, white papers "are one of the most beneficial online resources available to technology decision makers," enabling them to make "intelligent purchase decisions."

As the survey found, white papers facilitate decision-making.

  • 76.3% use white papers for general education on specific technology topic or issue
  • 73.8 % use white papers to investigate possible solutions for the business/technology need
  • 68% use white papers to learn about a specific vendor and their solution technology

White papers also are seen as being as popular as ever. The study found that 44% of respondents download a lot of white papers and more than one-third (38%) are reading more white papers than they have in the past. (Only 11% claimed infrequent usage of white papers.)

The study found that IT buyers typically read white papers produced by technology vendors.

  • Technology vendors produce the majority of white papers read by IT buyers (72%)
  • Research firms/analysts (46%) and Independent analysts (38%)
  • White papers generated by media brands make up one‐third of those read by IT buyers (33%)

Further, it found that there is no one source for finding valuable white papers.

  • 51% visit vendor websites to find white papers
  • 43% find them at IT Professional Organizations
  • 33% said they find white papers on B2B media brand sites and libraries

Yet another interesting finding is that white papers are used to engage key stakeholders.

  • 93% of IT buyers pass‐along up to half of the white papers they read/download
  • 48% of IT buyers are most likely to share white papers with vendor or product info, technology implementation or case studies

This research is very much in line with other recent studies from MarketingSherpa, TechTarget and Junta42. The picture that is clearly emerging is that white papers have a vital role to play in today's marketing endeavors.

They represent a proven vehicle for clarifying a company's point of view on a key issue that's relevant to prospective customers and positioning it as a thought leader while providing insight to support complex decisions. Why white papers? Why not?