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Speaking the language of small business | B2B Marketing

Small businesses are fed up and corporations don’t know where they’re going wrong. Molly Raycraft talks to both sides about the key to targeting small businesses with words.

From the dawn of time, communication has been deemed an essential part of human society, proven by its preservation in cave drawings, hieroglyphics and the ancient art of smoke signals. But so has language’s role in influencing relationships; send out the wrong message and you’ll be seen as the enemy, but hit the right note and you’ll gain trust.

When dealing with small businesses, an overarching amount of trust is thought to be needed to compensate for scepticism in the market due to corporations’ misconceptions of what a small business wants and needs. The term SME or SMB is a prime example of this. The small business market is bigger than any other group of businesses by size, and with that comes huge variety. Fail to acknowledge this in the way you speak to small businesses and you might be out the race before it’s even started.

Targeting the small business                                                        

For Grayson Kemper, senior content developer and marketer at B2B insight provider Clutch, language is imperative. “It’s paramount really,” he explains. “The sort of language used determines how well you’re able to connect with your target audience.”

This connection is something that can take a great deal of research, to understand your audience and what kind of language is most likely to resonate. “We use keyword research if we’re writing a particular piece of marketing content based around a certain topic word,” says Grayson.

Keyword research uses Google search to identify the volume at which people are searching certain words online – and words that relate to them. “This gives you a good idea of where to target your content, and how many people are searching a word or interested in buying your product or service. Then you can tailor your content to speak directly to that group,” he explains.

Clutch carries out an annual small business survey, and Grayson says small businesses are more conscious of price and personal relationships, although he admits this can differ depending on the sector. “They really thrive on that customer service benefit, so when you’re marketing to the small business audience, connecting with them on those topics may lead to a deeper level of engagement.”

It’s this, Grayson says, that should guide your marketing language. “It seems pretty obvious to speak to small businesses directly when you’re writing to them but use language that has more to do with personal connection and value.”

Being clear in this message is equally important and Grayson reminds knowing your customer is the ultimate deciding factor on how you should communicate. “If you’re marketing to an audience that isn’t totally familiar with your industry then it’s important to realise that jargon-y terms may not engage them at all.”

While business spiel can be an easy way to sound like you know your stuff about the industry, Grayson says it’s often unappealing because it isn’t authentic. “People get caught up in business jargon. Using terms like synergy may make you sound a little bit smarter but it doesn’t necessarily translate into actionable advice for actionable communication,” he says.

But what happens if you do go down the jargon route before realising it doesn’t appeal to your audience? “It certainly wouldn’t be good,” says Grayson. “But it would also present a learning opportunity. It would be back to the drawing board but you’d have that experience to draw from so you know what’s wrong.”

Listening to the big business

Although some companies get it wrong, Emily Bentley, marketing manager at IT services provider Communicate, doesn’t believe all corporations have a misconceived idea of what all small businesses, like hers, want. “I feel it’s more brand dependent and some larger B2C corporations have got their tone right,” Emily says. But the problem appears to be rife in B2B where the stiff corporate tone is just not appealing to small businesses. “Perhaps B2B marketers could take note from what they like as consumers and lend a little knowledge to their own tone of voice?” she suggests.

For Emily, the marketing messages that really cut-through are inviting with a warm and humorous tone that doesn’t make her feel stupid. And similar to Grayson she highlights the importance of clarity. “The consensus is not to bamboozle with science,” she explains. “No one wants to feel stupid when reading materials. I always think ‘keep it simple, stupid’ – and it’s exactly the same with the design.”

Sometimes marketers can spend so much time making noise around a product they accidentally digress away from the thing businesses care about: why should they buy your product? Something Emily refers to as the ‘so what’.

Emily believes moving away from ticking the corporate boxes with unnecessary jargon would rectify this focus. “At the end of the day everyone is marketing to fellow human beings – corporate or non-corporate – so I have no doubt that if the tone was adjusted to be less corporate and more human, it would be beneficial.”

Speaking in a more human language appears to be the place to start if you’re having an overhaul of your house style. Despite the various sectors and sizes, Emily believes the real key element is just to be human – something greatly missing from B2B space in comparison with B2C. “It’s human-to-human regardless of whether it’s B2C or B2B,” she says. “I think there’s an element that a general tone would suit across all industry types and sectors. Obviously there are niches and if you are distilling your proposition into something very niche then knowing your audience and talking in their language is key.”

5 key points to take away

  • Know your customer:

     Ensure you’re researching your audience in order to understand what kind of language they use and connect with. Keyword research can help you in this.

  • Focus on the right subjects:

    Establish what your audience are conscious about and mould your language around that. Small businesses typically care about personal connection and value.

  • Be clear:

    Nothing builds disconnect more than business jargon. Make sure your language clarifies your message – people don’t like feeling stupid.

  • Stay human:

    Avoid corporate language especially if your prospect doesn’t have extensive knowledge in the sector you’re talking about.

  • Focus on the why:

    Don’t just plough into marketing message with what your product or service is – explain why they should buy it.

Think Small: How to market to small businesses

In this marketing success pack, B2B Marketing and Earnest offer advice, opinion and first-hand experiences of targeting and engaging small businesses owners.

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