Being a good B2B content writer involves a diverse range of skills, knowledge and experience. Not all of which can be picked up on the job. There are so many different aspects to the role that it’s easy to miss out or overlook crucial techniques that can make the difference between a stream of barely coherent words and effective copy that attracts prospects and generates leads.
Here are five techniques that should be in every content writer’s toolkit.
Focus on your audience
We’ve all met someone who just doesn’t stop talking about themselves, a person who has to top any story with a better one about them. A person who has done everything and is obsessed with their own stories. Well, companies can be the same – constantly talking about what they have done, how amazing they are, and how great their products or services are. The audience feels pretty much the same way about that company as you probably feel about the know-it-all who’s full of himself.
One of the hardest techniques to practice is the simple one of focussing on the audience in order to answer the one simple question your audience will be asking – what’s in it for me?
You have to show you understand their pain, and tell stories that show how your products and services can positively impact your prospects by solving thier problems.
Case studies, testimonials and even guest posts from customers - which tell in their own words how their lives, businesses or jobs were positively impacted by your company - make it is easy for prospects and potential buyers to put themselves in their shoes and imagine how you could help them.
Solutions not features
In a similar way, too many companies focus on the features of a product or service, on the fact that it’s new and improved, or now does ‘x’ 50% better, or it is version 2.1. People generally don’t care, they want to know what it means for them and the situation they find themselves in. They don’t want a new feature – they want a solution to their problem.
“People don’t want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole” - Theodore Levitt
Now it’s very easy to accept this, but actually quite hard to identify what the customer’s ultimate goal is. Given Theodore Levitt’s example above, you might write that this drill allows you to create a quarter inch hole, and congratulate yourself on selling solutions not features. But in fact, the customer doesn’t even want a quarter inch hole, what they want is a shelf full of books. Now many users could, with a little effort and time, figure out that a drill that drills a quarter inch hole is maybe what they need to put up a shelf. But the customer is having to do all the work. It is in your interest to spell out the connection for them – to illustrate the benefit of owning this drill. And that is what you should look for when writing about products or services; what is the result? Not how great the new feature is, or even the benefit, but the result. What does it mean, in real life, concrete terms to the customer?
To do this you must understand your customer – so you can work out what their pain is, and what result they are looking for.
So, look at your company as a force that helps the customer in any way it can – focussing on solving the customer’s problems rather than selling them products. It’s healthier and can even result in more sales. For instance, if you sell a solution, it may involve several products or services, rather than just the one you would have sold if you focussed on a product or service alone.
Another issue with talking about features, is that it is easy to slip into industry jargon. You can’t assume that your audience has deep knowledge – especially at the beginning in the research stage. And generally, writing about features doesn’t let you tell a good story.
Since mankind sat around fires in caves, storytelling has entertained, connected, and educated. Stories about hunting a great beast would have taught us when and how to hunt, and the benefits of a good spear; not to mention selling the value of the hunter. Kings would justify themselves by commissioning tales of their good deeds, and of course the victors in any battle would sell the benefits of the result through stories about how bad the losers were and how much better things are now.
B2B content marketing is no different, to really communicate how useful, effective or indispensable your product or service is, you need to tell a story. Now that could be a few lines describing a positive scenario which resulted from using your product or service, or it could be a full-blown case study, but the ability to tell a story is a crucial technique to master in order to attract the reader and invoke engagement.
According to Hubspot: “Good stories surprise us. They have compelling characters. They make us think, make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.”
It’s not too difficult to write a blog, perhaps a little more taxing to write some persuasive marketing copy, but it’s a lot tougher to engage and entertain, by crafting a story around the marketing message.
Do I have to Draw you a Picture?
It may seem strange to talk about images and visuals within the context of a post about writing – but that is exactly the point. There are way too many writers out there who are creating content without considering the massive impact that images have on attracting and engaging readers. The old saying; “A picture paints a thousand words” may or may not be true – frankly unlikely in the case of bland, ill-fitting stock photography – but a single image can attract the eye in a way that no amount of wonderful prose ever will.
So make sure you consider and think about the use of imagery alongside your writing. Photography that illustrates the message, a graph that clearly demonstrates a particular point, or a fact filled infographic, will all add to the attractiveness and engagement of a piece of content. There is a real skill to choosing the right images and using them well; a content creator is only a true master of the art if they can handle both words and images with the same ease and skill.
Brevity & the mobile browser
The last technique is that of brevity. Keeping things short and to the point. Mobile is on the rise, so content should be mobile friendly. That means writing in easily digestible chunks. But it also means writing clearly and with a purpose. Even if they are not on mobile, most B2B audiences are time-starved – they can’t sit down and read lots of copy, they need to skim it rapidly and pick out the bits they need. Bear that in mind and write accordingly. (Another reason why charts and infographics work so well). You can break up long stretches of text with the use of bullet points where you can and pull quotes (or callouts) where appropriate. In fact, a pull quote can be just as powerful and effective as an image if well-chosen and well-implemented, catching the skimmers eye and enticing them into the copy. Subheads are also important, not only to break text and catch the skimmer’s eye, but for SEO too.
Like good content, these techniques are all connected, and overlap. They all rely on a deep understanding of what the audience wants, making it easy for the reader to find what they need, relate to the message, and engage with the content.