Copywriting guru David McGuire’s tips and tricks on how to create great copy
In a recent B2B Marketing Podcast, David Rowlands, editor at B2B Marketing, spoke with Radix Communications’ creative director, David McGuire, about tips and tricks that can help you to write great content in the B2B world.
McGuire shared his views on what it takes to create memorable copy and engaging case studies, as well as the role of tailored copy when approaching ABM and how copywriting is a craft that needs constant honing.
The five key pillars of good copywriting
McGuire started off by outlining Radix’s five key pillars of good B2B copywriting: accuracy; clarity; authority; empathy; and wizardry.
- Accuracy: needless to say, good writing cannot be full of errors or mistakes, whether that be spelling, grammar, or facts and figures. However, this on its own won’t get you far.
- Clarity: building on this foundation is a clear message and structure that’s easy to understand – an especially crucial element when dealing with complex subjects within B2B.
- Authority: B2B content usually involves writing about a job the reader knows well. So writers need to “sound like they know what they’re on about” by using industry language and the right technical vocabulary so that readers “trust you as an expert.”
- Empathy: paying attention to who your audience is and what they care about, so your writing is relevant to their interests and challenges.
- Wizardry: B2B is chock-full of content, so you also need the je ne sais quoi that makes your piece stand out and spurs your readers on to do the thing you want them to do.
Clarity: the key to good copy
When it comes to copywriting in this sector, clarity is king. McGuire puts it simply: “Everyone in B2B is busy. Clear content is measurably faster to read.” By “writing clearly, you are saving your audience minutes” – a ‘popular’ move to say the least.
For McGuire, the most important thing to remember is that the reader has to care about what they're reading. "They are reading it for a reason," McGuire says. "And usually that's because they hope it will help them do their job."
Ultimately, it should be clear what the reader can take away from any given piece of content. If it's not, you've lost them before you've even started.
Subheadings must include the key information
Clear writing and clear presentation and go hand in hand. The truth that all writers have to face is that readers skim articles. Sadly, McGuire explains, readers are “more likely to read a caption under the image rather than your carefully crafted body copy.”
Ensuring your subheadings include the key takeaways of the following paragraph is a great way to turn this habit to your advantage. Rather than writing ‘The results’ for your case study, try: ‘ROI increases by 300%’. That’s a sure fire way to get your reader’s attention.
In addition, the use of bullet points and placing facts and figures in an ‘at a glance’ box provides an opportunity to make copy clearers still. As McGuire maintains, readers’ eyes go everywhere apart from the main body text. He advises making design ‘scannable’, checking this with a five-second flick test: if you glance over the page, what information do you get? “That impression,” he testifies, “is everything.”
When and where to use humour in your copy
McGuire doesn’t shy away from the use of humour and informality. His three ‘tone of voice commandments’ are simple: don’t force it, don't try too hard; and just be natural. “Write as you would speak on a really good day,” he adds, “albeit when you’re feeling particularly clear.”
Humour can be a risky game. McGuire stresses the importance of context: does it fit in line with your brand and messaging, and will your customer be receptive to it? McGuire cautions writers who impede the reader’s understanding by trying to be ‘too clever,’ especially by “sacrificing clarity for the sake of a pun.” If given the choice between clarity and humour, McGuire clearly prioritises the former.
Approaching case studies: The hero asset
For McGuire, case studies should follow the ‘classic hero’s journey,’ with a clear beginning, middle, and successful end. In other words, the customer in your case study is the hero. Your organisation is just the enabler of the customer’s success.
“Your customer is Luke Skywalker,” McGuire explains, whilst your brand should take the role of sidekick. “The brand never blows up the Death Star themselves” – it merely helps the customer to do so. Ultimately, the customer should “own the achievement.”
McGuire’s metaphors don’t stop there. He likens the case study reader to the ‘before photo,’ and the heroic customer the ‘after.’ Case studies should be presented as a goal the reader can achieve. They too can be the hero of your next story (with your help, of course).
Creating a ‘bespoke’ ABM experience through personalised copy
When it comes to tailoring content for ABM, McGuire advises matching the level of personalisation to the strategic importance of the account. Even long pieces, he maintains, can be “completely bespoke” if dealing with a high-value target, whereas ‘one-to-few’ campaigns might benefit from tailored sections embedded in a longer, sector-specific piece.
How to develop your copywriting skills
For most of us, McGuire states, writing is a skill learnt at school. Writing in a work context where “no one ever really took the time to train us how to write” can therefore feel disproportionately personal, compared to other workplace tasks.
So, as a starting point, McGuire reminds us to start with basic copywriting principles, such as deleting the word ‘that’ where possible, and reading your copy out loud (or using a “Read Aloud” feature) to listen for mistakes and clarity. Once these foundations are in place, it’s important to keep learning and improving.
His copywriting course (running 24-25 November) seeks to give objective structures and approaches, helping writers to evaluate work from a position of “does this work or not rather than do I like it.” His aim is for his delegates to take away tools that they can use to improve their writing from the very first day. If you’d like to join David’s course, just click here.
An overview of McGuire’s advice
- Subheadings, a clear writing style, and making use of visual layout are all key factors to make your writing as easy to understand as possible. Remember your readers will usually skim rather than read.
- Approach humour and informality with a degree of caution. Make sure it suits the context, and don’t force it. Clarity comes first.
- When dealing with case studies, make your customer the hero and when it comes to ABM, curate a ‘bespoke’ piece
- Copywriting is a dynamic rather than static skill. Although writers are perpetually enhancing skills, they should not forget to follow the core lessons learnt.