There are several types of learners: visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic. White papers appeal to reading learners.

But what is a white paper, and what is its purpose? First and foremost it is an educational tool. The author analyzes and synthesizes data and information objectively, and then draws a mind-blowing conclusion that is hard to refute. In theory; but really not that infrequently.

Once the white paper exists it can be given away freely to establish or cement thought leadership. Beyond that, reader data can be collected and leveraged for lead generation. A typical example is to ask for an exchange of data: I give you the white paper for “free,” if you give me your contact information. People who sign up for white papers know that they will get marketed to, but that is a fair exchange if the white paper actually delivers value.

So, white papers do a good job of educating and generating goodwill (make sure your white paper delivers value, or all you will have managed to do is generate a lot of ill will), help with lead generation and even search engine ranking, but they appeal to only a subset of your audience because they are [relatively] difficult to consume.

A new trend in education is blended learning, a combination of self-paced, face-to-face, and online collaborative learning. More importantly, however, blended learning isn’t about the delivery platforms, it’s about stimulating the brain in multiple ways on the same subject matter via traditional and e-learning methods, and in that process addressing all types of learners. A more holistic approach.

Webinars combine all three aspects. (1) They are online by default and can be consumed from anywhere. They are collaborative because they often include a meaningful Q&A session at the end, during which additional teachings and comprehension are delivered. (2) They aren’t truly face-to-face, but since they are often live and provide the ability to ask questions and get answers, they make you feel like you are part of a live information exchange. And (3) they can be self-paced because you can re-watch them, and frequently the host will make the presentation materials available for download and later review.

eTrigue is a provider of marketing automation and sales acceleration software (in the cloud), and an excellent example of how to educate using a blended approach. Its “Friday Coffee with eTrigue” webinar series is an educational series for novice and expert marketers alike to educate us on issues and solutions relevant to our profession.

Of critical importance is that eTrigue doesn’t use the webinar to promote itself, but that the company features expert industry thought leaders to present on relevant topics. About half the time eTrigue’s platform could be part of the solution, but that is not the reason to for hosting the webinar. Presenters have included Barry Castle (Skype), and Christine Crandell, the best marketing philosopher of recent times (personal blog; Forbes blog).

Once the event is over the company makes the recorded webinar and presentation available to anyone for later viewing and download, not just pre-registered attendees.

eTrigue still also makes white papers available on its website—white papers do provide value. But webinars can actually engage the audience. The fact that eTrigue recognizes the importance of nurturing and nourishing the community is very telling of modern marketing memes.

Marketers need to participate in the community they are trying to sell in to. eTrigue has learned how to lead the conversation.