10 Tips for Writing Better B2B Marketing Copy

In the world of marketing, all customers and prospects can be divided into one of two broad categories: retail and business. Similarly, all marketing efforts fall into one of two categories: business-to-consumer — or what marketers cleverly call B2C marketing — and business-to-business, or B2B marketing.

During my career, I’ve written content targeted to both B2C and B2B audiences. However, most of what I’ve written and continue to write is within the realm of business.

So this month I’m sharing a few thoughts on how to write better B2B marketing copy. Here are my top 10 B2B marketing copywriting tips:

1. Know and understand your audience.This is absolutely critical to good B2B marketing copywriting. If you don’t know your audience — and I mean reallyknow your audience — it’s going to show in your writing. I guarantee it.

For example, I’ve been writing a newsletter targeted to owners of automobile dealerships for the past six years. The auto dealership industry is very different from any other industry I’ve ever written to. I’ve had to learn this industry inside-out in order come up with good article topics and write content that’s accurate and relevant to this audience.

2. Don’t be too jargony.It’s easy to fall into jargon when writing B2B marketing copy. Some of the most annoying jargony phrases I see far too often are synergies, best practices, deep dive, game changer, paradigm shift, push the envelopeand solution oriented. Use these sparingly in your B2B copy, if at all.

3. Keep it simple.There’s a misconception among some B2B marketers that business writing should be complex and sophisticated to show customers and prospects that they’re smart and know what they’re talking about. I disagree — strongly.

I’ve written copy targeted to some of the most complicated industries out there, including financial services, information technology and employee benefit plans. The biggest challenge when writing to these industries is making very complex topics interesting and understandable. Remember: There’s no need to use a 50-cent word when a 5-cent word will suffice.

4. Focus on your readers, not your business.This is by far the biggest mistake I see in B2B marketing writing. The copy is all about the business: how great their products are, how knowledgeable their staff is, how long they’ve been in business, how wonderful their service is. You get the idea.

I’ve got news for you: Your readers really don’t care about any this. They care about one thing: What’s in it for me? So B2B marketing copy needs to focus on the benefits to customers and prospects of doing business with you. Or even better, it should add value by educating readers — for example, about how they can manage their finances better or boost their sales and revenue.

5. Use the right style and tone.This will differ based on the type of industry and the image your business wants to convey. Financial services firms, for example, usually (but not always) lean to the conservative side in their marketing communications. On the flip side, industries like travel and leisure, fast food and alcoholic beverages often use a more informal and creative tone and style.

6. Write a great headline.One study found that eight out of 10 people read headlines, but only two out of 10 read the body copy. If you don’t grab readers’ attention with a great headline, then it doesn’t much matter what else you’ve written because not many people are going to read it.

Your goal in writing B2B headlines is simple: Get people to read your copy. There are lots of different headline styles, like numbers or lists, questions and how-to’s. Any one of these could work for your content. Just make sure your headline is compelling enough to draw readers into the copy that follows.

7. Follow it up with a compelling lead.If your headline is good enough to draw readers into your body copy, the next challenge is to keep them reading. This requires a strong lead that gives people a reason to keep reading past the first paragraph or two.

There are many different ways to do this as well. For example, you can tell an interesting story or anecdote, share a relevant statistic or data point, or lead with a quote from a famous person. Just make sure that whatever you write is compelling enough to draw readers into the meat of your content.

8. Eliminate sloppy mistakes.In our world of texting and tweeting, spelling, grammar and punctuation errors have become acceptable to many people. But there’s no room for these in professional B2B content … period.

So be sure to proofread all your B2B copy carefully before publishing or posting it. Better yet, have someone else proofread it because it’s hard to proofread your own writing. There’s not enough time to proofread, you say? Make the time — you simply can’t afford to take shortcuts here.

9. Don’t be a grammatical stickler.At the risk of raising the ire of my high school English teachers, I’m going to suggest that you break a few grammatical rules occasionally in your B2B copy. For example, it’s OK to start an occasional sentence with But or And. The same goes for writing incomplete sentences and one-sentence paragraphs.

Don’t go overboard with these techniques, of course. But when used in moderation, they can be very effective in B2B copy.

10. Write using the active voice and in second person.Writing in the passive voice severely weakens B2B copy, as does writing in the third person. There are very few situations that call for passive or third-person writing, so you should avoid it in almost every instance.

How to Create a Content Marketing Program from Scratch: Part 3

The past few months I’ve been talking about how to create a new content marketing program from scratch. The last article described how to build a content marketing team and create a workflow map to ensure that your content is published and distributed on a regular basis.

Today I’m going to conclude the series by discussing how to generate topic ideas, whether or not you should curate content, how to promote your content, and the importance of measuring the results of your content marketing program.

Generating Topic Ideas

For many organizations, the biggest challenge to maintaining a successful content market program is generating a steady stream of topic ideas. Countless programs have died on the vine because no one was responsible for creating an editorial calendar.

There are no shortcuts here. Making sure you have enough good topic ideas to feed your content engine will take time and effort on the part of one or more team members. It might make sense to assign this task to several different people and hold regular brainstorming sessions to kick around ideas. This will remove the burden from one person and help ensure that you get new ideas from several different perspectives.

The best way to keep your idea funnel full is to stay on top of the latest news and trends in your industry. Subscribe to industry trade journals and newsletters. Regularly visit industry websites. Listen to industry-focused webinars and podcasts. And attend seminars and trade shows that discuss issues pertinent to your industry.

My focus industries are business and finance, so I have a subscription to The Wall Street Journal and read it every day. I also cover several niche industries, including automobile dealerships, so I stay on top of developments here by subscribing to industry newsletters and blogs and regularly visiting industry websites like WardsAuto.com and NADA.com.

It’s helpful for me to maintain idea files for the different industries I cover. Whenever I see something that might be a good topic for one of my clients, I print it out or save it in an Outlook folder.

Curating Content: Pros and Cons

Content curation is the process of compiling and organizing content created by others to share with your readers. For example, an e-newsletter or landing page might include links to a number of different articles, blogs and videos that are all related to a certain topic.

While there might be a place for some curation in a content marketing program, I don’t recommend using this as your sole method of content generation. There’s only so much value you can add to a bunch of links that you’ve copied and pasted from somewhere else.

If you do opt for content curation, make sure that the material you link to is of high quality and relevance to your audience. It’s usually a good idea to add your own commentary to the content so you’re offering readers something more than just a long laundry list of links.

Promoting Your Content

The greatest content in the world won’t do you much good if nobody ever sees it. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to promote your content so it’s viewed by as many people as possible.

Most e-newsletter publishing platforms include buttons you can click to automatically share your content on popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. (In Constant Contact, it’s called Simple Share.)

But don’t stop here — there are numerous other ways to promote your content, both online and offline. For example, you can share links to your content in forums and discussion groups, print and online ads, press releases (both digital and physical), direct mail pieces and emails. Also build relationships with industry bloggers and influencers who will help promote your content for you.

Measuring Results and ROI

One of the best things about content marketing is your ability to measure the results. This can help you gauge the return on investment (ROI) for the time, money and effort you’ve devoted to your program.

Go back and review the business objectives you set for your content marketing program (read the first article in the series for more on setting goals and objectives). For example, do you want to build brand awareness, boost customer loyalty and retention, generate quality leads or cross-sell products and services?

Based on your objectives, decide which metrics you’ll use to measure ROI. These might include things like:

  • New subscribers
  • Online form completions
  • Resource downloads
  • Social media shares and comments
  • Qualified leads
  • Website metrics (e.g., page views and time spent on the site)

Remember that not all the benefits of a content marketing program can be measured by digital metrics. For example, it’s hard to put a number on the value of enhanced brand awareness. The most important things to remember when gauging the ROI of a content marketing program are: 1. Give your program enough time to generate results, and 2. Choose metrics that are directly related to your business objectives.

Creating a Content Marketing Program from Scratch: Part 2

Last month, I started a new blog series that describes step by step how to create a new content marketing program from scratch. The first article focused on the importance of committing to your program, defining the audience for your content, creating a strategy and selecting the right distribution channels.

Click here to read the first article if you missed it. Today we’re going to talk about building your content marketing team and creating a workflow map to ensure that your content is published and distributed on a regular basis.

Build Your Content Marketing Team

Keeping a content marketing program running smoothly requires a dedicated team of individuals who are responsible for handling specific responsibilities. This team may consist of staff members, outside contractors and freelancers, or a combination of both.

Content marketing programs usually require team members to accomplish the following tasks:

  • Project management and oversight
  • Topic idea generation
  • Creative, which includes both writing and design
  • Content optimization to maximize Search Engine Optimization (SEO) results
  • Content distribution and promotion
  • Metrics review and determination of content marketing ROI

Depending on how large and complex your program is, team members could include the following:

  • Chief content officer— Responsible for content planning and overall program performance.
  • Content writer— Creates the right content to support program goals.
  • Editor— Ensures that the content is accurate and matches the desired style and tone.
  • Designer — Ensures that content is presented in a visually pleasing manner and meets all corporate style and branding guidelines.
  • Content strategist— Creates content calendar and chooses the right distribution channels.
  • Content optimizer— Performs keyword research and provides writer and editor with short-tail and long-tail keywords to be used strategically to boost SEO results.
  • Social media manager— Manages and promotes content across key social platforms and oversees online comments.

Carefully critique the skills sets and capabilities of your internal staff to determine who would be best suited to handle each of these roles. If there isn’t a staff member who seems capable of handling a particular role, start looking for an outside contractor or freelancer you can hire.

Create a Workflow Map

Let’s face it: Creating and managing a content marketing program can seem daunting, even to an experienced marketing pro. Even after you’ve covered the basics like creating a strategy, defining your audience and building your team, there are a lot of different moving parts to coordinate.

The best way I’ve found to get everything organized and keep a content marketing program running smoothly is to create a workflow map. Here’s a sample workflow map that was used by one of my clients recently for a weekly blog:

  1. Content strategist creates editorial calendar for the next quarter’s weekly blogs.
  2. Content optimizer provides writer with short-tail and long-tail keywords to be used in each blog.
  3. Content writer drafts week one blog and sends to editor for review.
  4. Editor tracks changes to the blog and returns to writer, who sends edited blog to designer to select graphics.
  5. Writer loads copy into content management program (such as WordPress) and alerts designer.
  6. Designer adds graphics and alerts chief content officer that the blog is ready for final review.
  7. Chief content officer approves blog or requests any final changes from writer and/or designer, then schedules release.
  8. Rinse and repeat the next week.

Note that this is a simple, bare-bones workflow map for a single weekly blog. It doesn’t include multiple back-and-forths that could occur between steps, or content promotion and metrics review that should occur after the blogs are released. All of these could double or triple the number of steps actually involved in publishing a weekly blog.

Next month we’ll discuss topic idea generation in more detail, as well as content promotion, a content marketing budget and measuring the ROI on a content marketing program.

How to Create a Content Marketing Program from Scratch

I’ve been writing a lot about content marketing lately, since that’s what I specialize in. Last month I shared some tips for creating better content and before that I talked about content marketing trends that are hot right now.

Now it’s time to really dig in to the “meat and potatoes” of how to create a content marketing program. This month I’m starting a new series that walks through the process of creating a new content marketing program from scratch.

Can You Commit to a Content Marketing Program?

Before you commit to creating a content marketing program, you should first make sure that content marketing is the right strategy for meeting your goals. Successful content marketing requires a significant investment of time and money and a long-term commitment. So be sure you’re prepared to make this kind of commitment before launching a content marketing program.

Content marketing tends to work best for businesses and industries where customer education is crucial. The financial services industry where I specialize is a good example. Financial and investment products can be complicated and lots of folks are unsure about how to manage their personal finances. So there’s ample opportunity for creating content that helps educate people about money management and investing.

An effective content marketing program can help you accomplish a wide range of business objectives, such as:

  • Building brand awareness.
  • Boosting customer engagement.
  • Generating quality leads.
  • Improving customer retention.
  • Cross-selling and upselling products and services.
  • Establishing thought leadership.

The idea is to educate customers and prospects so that they trust you enough to do business with you. Content should notbe hard sell — in fact, just the opposite. You want to demonstrate that you are the expert in your field and readers should hire your business to help them solve a particular problem or take advantage of an opportunity.

Define Your Audience and Create Your Strategy

Start by defining the audience for your content. In financial services, we often segment audiences based on their income or assets. Content targeted to lower-income and less-wealthy readers is written at a more basic level, while content targeted to what we call high-net-worth individuals is written at a more advanced level.

With your audience defined, it’s now time to create a content strategy. This starts by identifying content themes, buyer personas and the voice, tone and personality you want to convey with your content.

A wealth management firm I started working with earlier this year sent me a detailed content strategy document that contained an analysis of six broad topic categories. The analysis included SEO data for search terms related to each topic, the seasonality of the topics and potential article ideas categorized by topic. We then created an editorial calendar with specific articles scheduled to be published each month for the rest of this year.

Don’t neglect the importance of voice and tone when it comes to your content strategy. You may have worked hard to create an image and personality for your business in the minds of customers and prospects, and this should be reflected in the tone of your content.

Think of Rocket Mortgage, for example. They’ve created a fun, whimsical image for their brand with their goofy TV commercials and print ads. So have insurance companies like Progressive, with Flo the blue-bibbed insurance lady, and Geico, with the gecko and the caveman.

On the flip side, traditional financial services firms usually convey a more conservative tone with their messaging. Who can forget the Smith Barney commercials where the distinguished-looking John Houseman, sitting in an elegant restaurant or standing in front of a historic mansion, says that Smith Barney “makes money the old-fashioned way — they earnit.”

Choose Your Distribution Channels

The next step is to identify your content distribution channels. These typically include the following:

  • Your business website and email
  • Industry-specific and special-interest websites and discussion boards
  • Social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter
  • Image-sharing platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and SlideShare
  • Video-sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo

One of the great things about content marketing is that once you’ve created content, it can be repackaged and reused across many different channels. For example, this article I’m writing now is posted as a blog here on my website and I’ll also send it out as an e-newsletter. And I’ll include links to it on my Facebook and LinkedIn pages and my Twitter feed.

Next month I’m going to dig deeper into the content creation process itself, including how to generate topic ideas and how to devise a workflow that ensures you have a steady stream of new content to fill your pipeline.

5 Tips for Creating High-Quality Content

In last month’s blog we looked at some of the interesting (at least to me!) data contained in the Content Marketing Institute’s recent B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report. This is an extensive report that’s chocked-full of valuable data, so I spent some more time this week combing through it.

Two statistics from the report really jumped out at me. The first one is the fact that the average business today is spending a quarter of its marketing budget on content marketing. That’s amazing when you think about it because a decade ago, “content marketing” didn’t even exist as a formal marketing discipline.

The other stat that grabbed my attention was this: The main success factor cited by businesses with successful content marketing programs is high-quality and efficient content creation. In other words, they’re producing great content, and they’re doing so in a way that doesn’t tax their financial or human resources.

Defining High-Quality Content

I guess it’s logical that high-quality content is critical to a successful content marketing program. But let’s stop for a minute and answer an important question: What exactly isquality content?

To me, quality content checks each one of these boxes:

• It’s well-written. I’m constantly amazed at how much poorly written content there is on the web today. For some reason, there appear to be different writing standards for print vs. online publishing. Crappy content you’d never dream of seeing in print is all over the Internet.

• It’s relevant. For example, most of what I write is for business and financial services clients. I have to know and understand these industries intimately, as well as a number of niches within them, in order to write content that’s relevant and useful to readers.

• It’s timely. The best content has a shelf life and expiration date. That’s not to say there’s no place for evergreen content, but the more timely a piece of content is, the more likely it is to draw eyeballs.

Creating High-Quality Content

So how can you go about creating high-quality content in a more efficient way? Here are 5 tips to get you started:

1. Sharpen your writing chops. There are no two ways around it: If you want to create higher quality content, you have to improve your writing. And there are no shortcuts to becoming a better writer: It takes lots and lots of practice.

Start by studying good writing. Which publications and websites do you think are especially well-written? You might also invest in some professional training, such as taking a writing course online or at your local community college. Most importantly, you should make regular writing a part of your routine, even if it’s just a few minutes a day.

2. Keep an idea file. Great content starts with great topic ideas. And you’re going to need a lot of ideas if you want to feed an ongoing content marketing program for more than just a few months.

Start a new file (either paper or electronic) for storing topic ideas as they come to you. For example, whenever I see articles in The Wall Street Journal or some of the industry niche publications I read that I think would be good topics for my clients, I print them out and put them in a manila folder.

This is old school, I know. But having paper copies makes it easier for me to keep my ideas organized and easily accessible.

3. Follow current developments in your industry. As noted above, quality content is tightly targeted to your industry niche. So you need to stay on top of what’s happening in your industry in order to create content that your audience finds useful and relevant.

To do so, you should be reading industry publications and websites regularly and subscribing to industry-focused e-newsletters and podcasts. Also attend industry trade shows and conferences whenever you can and take advantage of opportunities to pursue continuing education opportunities in your industry.

4. Learn the fine art of repurposing. Keeping a content marketing program humming along smoothly requires a steady stream of fresh content. One way to keep the content pipeline full is to repurpose content you previously created.

For example, I once combined a series of articles on cash flow management into a more comprehensive whitepaper on the topic. You can also take the opposite approach by breaking up a whitepaper into a series of articles and blog posts to be sent out in your e-newsletter and posted on your website and to social media.

5. “Have a take … do not suck.” Sports talk radio host Jim Rome used to say this to callers. What he meant was that callers should have their own unique thoughts and perspective on an issue and not just parrot what they heard other people, especially so-called “experts,” say.

The same thing applies to your content. It’s easy to just rehash research or curate content from a Google query, but the best content brings something more by adding your own unique observations to the topic. This also helps position you and your business as a thought leader in your industry.

Keep These Tips Handy

If yours is among the 91% of B2B organizations that has a content marketing program in place, you need to do everything you can to boost the quality of your content. These 5 tips are a good starting point — keep them handy so you can refer back to them easily while you’re creating new content.