What is 'too much' information in B2B content writing?

All articles | Content Marketing
Published Jun 04, 2013 | Written by Jeremy Knight
In the old-school, outbound B2B marketing world, engagement with the audience is one-way and limits itself to the positive. Buy this – it's great! Smoke these – your doctor does! Look at what we can sell you – you'll love it!

It's distinctly short-sighted. No human being communicates only on the level of the positive, so by restricting the interaction to that level your brand is missing out on 99% of the opportunities to engage with its audience. Effective B2B content has nothing to do with proclamation - instead it's all about the conversation!

Writing like a human

But this is where many B2B content writers struggle. Our new-found quest to humanise brands has left us groping for what constitutes helpful content and what constitutes “too much information” (as your teenager would have it – in other words, content that is inappropriate or overly familiar.)

Content boundaries are morphing faster than at any time before. Driven by the “millennials” or “Generation Y-ers", whose preferred environment for both private and professional utterances is almost exclusively online, content is undergoing two processes of informalisation.

Firstly, the way we write things is becoming, as the FT's Simon Kuper notes elsewhere, “blessedly more like speech.” And secondly, the topics we can write about have extended way beyond the purely business-like. Humans have opinions, so the online content of your “humanised brand” can be – should be – opinionated (and even controversial) too.

Rules of engagement

But exactly how far should your brand's online content go? Is it really beneficial to your contacts to tell them how many people came to your birthday party and how good the burgers were at the restaurant? Here are a few rules of thumb to keep your brand's B2B content out of “So what?” territory:

  • Keep it practical – Even if the papers wanted to know whose shirts Major Tom wore, your contacts probably don't want to hear about your jeans, per se. But as the CEO of digital marketing giant Econsultancy comments, what they do want is “guides, practical information and tools.”  So feel free to talk about the terrible conditions in the Turkish denim trade, for example, and turn this into practical advice, assembled from credible websites, on how to deal with unprincipled suppliers and apply pressure to them to get them to change their ways. That's content with legs.
  • Keep it personable – Personality and personal experience aren't something to be suppressed. On the contrary, they make your content different to everybody else's - and differentiation is a precious commodity in the battle for hearts and minds. As this piece from the Content Marketing Institute expresses it, “most people really don’t care what you’re trying to sell...They just need to like you.”  Will sharing details about your Saturday in the pub help them to like your brand? That's the question you have to ask yourself.
  • Keep them on their toes – Getting personal about your latte may not cut it for your business audience, but a strong opening gambit will grab your readers' attention good and early and there's no law that says it has to wear a grey suit! While I wouldn't recommend “Free beer!” as a subject line, it does show that tapping into a shared human experience is always effective! As, indeed, does Chris Brogan’s weekly newsletter. It has an unchanging opening formula: it tells the reader what he is drinking, and asks them in return what they're drinking, too. Proof that you can keep it personal yet genteel!
  • Keep it (selectively) cheeky – Generally, the more constrained the medium, the greater the need for immediately noteworthy content - so you have an excuse to stray into language and subject matter that might not be well received in other environments. Tweeting a photo with the commentary “Me a bit drunk at charity party we organised” is likely to gain smiles and approval from your contacts. Extending the same content into a B2B content blog post is probably ill advised.
  • Keep it current – Don't be afraid to respond to pretty much anything and everything happening around you, as long as customers will find it helpful. But don't capitalise on it and do make sure your responses are informed, considered and add something to the debate.  Your view on the business implications of leaving the Euro, backed up by credible hyperlinked references, constitutes legitimate discussion that will help your contacts follow and understand the debate, and form their own opinions. An anti-Europe rant does not.

Customer first, content second

So, it's a difficult one to call. Your B2B content is there to humanise the brand, to make people like it, to build relationships based on shared values and interests. Taste and decency aside, and even against the backdrop of a content marketing idiom that is becoming ever more informal, the only hard and fast rule in determining what is “appropriate” content to share with your customers is this: whether it is helpful for them to know.

That, quite simply, depends on your customers. And you know them better than anyone.

Image by: John Sutton

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Published by Jeremy Knight June 4, 2013
Jeremy Knight