Everything you 'know' about being a marketing copywriter is wrong

David McGuire busts four myths which make marketing copywriters sabotage their own work.

Something has gone terribly wrong with B2B content marketing.

All over the world, B2B brands are choking the internet with grey goo – samey, low-value content that makes differentiation ever more difficult, and is even an impediment to buyers.

And the problem, dear marketer, is you. You’re sabotaging your own content, and you don’t even know it.

It’s not your fault. The truth is, most marketers have spent their careers honing sensible, time-honoured instincts about the kinds of copywriting that will lead to success. Those instincts are honest, well-intentioned… and absolutely useless for creating content that works.

For example, here are four honest instincts that will undermine the effectiveness of your content marketing, every time.

Instinct 1: Aim for a bigger audience

For a B2B copywriter like me, it’s absolutely essential to have a clear idea of who you’re writing for. It’s what helps to make a piece personal and engaging.

But ask a B2B marketer about the target market for a content piece and – all too often – they’ll remind you of Gary Oldman’s corrupt DEA agent Stansfield, from Léon:

“Bring me EVERYONE!”

It’s entirely understandable. There are so many people who might potentially influence a B2B buying process – and the bigger your service or product is, the more people it touches, and the more you could potentially tell them.

So you aim wide. Because a bigger audience means more people in your content marketing funnel, means more leads, means more revenue, right?

Not necessarily. Because if your content aims for everyone, you’ll usually reach nobody. That’s especially true now there’s so much STUFF out there for a buyer to wade through. If you go broad, you can’t go deep with any individual reader.

Imagine you’re the customer experience manager at a large retailer. Call volumes to your team are stretching your budget, but you don’t want to damage your reputation for great service. And you only have time to read one ebook. Will it be:

Strategies for digital transformation in retail


How to move to multi-channel service, without harming your retail brand: a guide for overworked CX managers

(I’m being facetious, but you get the point.)

To really make your content resonate, you need to target until it hurts. (And if you’re not a little worried about how many people you’re excluding, you’re not doing it right.)

Instinct 2: Deliver results quickly

I’ll be frank: here at Radix, the growing popularity of the adage “good, fast, cheap – pick two” has been helpful to us. Ten specialist copywriters in one room mean we can generally turn quality work around pretty quickly – and brands understand there’s a cost for that.

But being known for quality at speed has its drawbacks too – and it’s an aspect most B2B marketers don’t see. Because while we meet some pretty challenging expectations, our copywriters tell me they could maybe go even further, and come up with something truly exceptional, if only we had more time.

Sometimes, the opportunity cost of good, fast content marketing is the great idea you never had. And it’s intangible, so it’s easy to write off – especially when there are schedules to build, stakeholders to appease, revenue targets to hit… and competitors doing their darnedest to beat you to the punch.

The result is pretty obvious: B2B marketing gets faster. Relentlessly. The proportion of urgent, short-deadline work we receive – both from our agency and direct clients – increases. And as writers, our opportunity to really surprise and delight the reader starts to dwindle.

It’s a strong marketing copywriter who can habitually build just a little breathing space into their content creation schedule, on the off-chance that you might get something amazing.

But if you want to take your content marketing from good to great, that’s what it takes.

Instinct 3: Think about your reader’s education

OK, this is probably one you picked up from your stakeholders in turn. The idea that – because your reader is an expert and your brand needs technical authority – making your content marketing readable is somehow “dumbing down”.

But studies show the more educated your audience is, the less likely it is that they’ll be impressed by elaborate vocabulary and labyrinthine sentence structure. Because, if you think about it, they’ve heard it all before. It’s nothing unusual.

And while you’ll certainly want to include some very specific technical terminology, that doesn’t mean you need to deliver those terms wrapped in language straight out of a doctoral thesis or – worse – a management handbook.

Think logically. A senior audience is usually time-poor, working under pressure, with many things to think about. And if they’re reading on a mobile device, that adds a further barrier to comprehension.

All in all, a senior reader is most likely to value your content if you say what you mean, clearly, in a succinct and engaging way. And when you do that without making what you’re saying any less accurate, that’s an excellent demonstration of quite how well you really do understand the subject.

As a rule, the more complicated the subject, the simpler the language you should use. Don’t think of it as dumbing down; you’re opening up.

Instinct 4: Selling cheapens good content marketing

Sure, there’s a tonne of B2B content around at the moment, and a lot of it isn’t very good. But I’d suggest that’s not the only reason why B2B buyers are having a harder time making a decision than they used to.

When you think of the biggest differences between content marketing and the traditional kind, you’ll quickly come across the idea that it’s not always helpful to talk about your product or service. You build an audience, then you build a relationship, and you demonstrate your expertise, and hopefully you earn the right to sell.

And at the top of the funnel, that’s absolutely right. But for a lot of marketers (maybe the ones who had to fight especially hard to establish the concept), not-selling becomes a mantra: content marketing’s defining quality. The thought of being that salesy person makes you clench a little bit, even when your prospect would actually really appreciate some guidance in that area.

A dogmatic approach – whether it’s never selling or always selling – is easy to understand. But ultimately, it’s focused on your agenda, not your customer and what they really need.

As copywriters, one of the tweaks we’re asked to make most often is to increase or decrease the amount of selling in a content marketing piece. The reason is almost never to make it more helpful for the reader – which surely is the real defining quality of content marketing that’s truly great.

Brilliant, differentiated content marketing is still possible

The irony is differentiating your content marketing is actually still pretty easy.

You just have to think about your customer before yourself, and give them something they really need – not what you wish they’d want. And ideally, do it in a way they haven’t read before.

But delivering that value does take a little more time, a little more thought, and a whole lot of strength to go against your marketing instincts. Or you need a copywriter who knows you well enough to push a brief back if they can tell you should be aiming higher.

Deep down, you know good content marketing is not enough. Let’s shoot for brilliant.

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