4 ways to get better content from your B2B writer
David McGuire of Radix Communications says that if you want standout content, choosing the right writer is only the beginning
If you want a return on your marketing investment, it helps to have the best content. And so – being a savvy B2B marketer – you go in search of the best writers and other creatives, to help you make something that stands out, and that your audience will actually read.
But here’s a secret: that’s only the start.
As someone who reviews B2B copywriters’ work for a living, I regularly see a curious phenomenon. The quality of work the same writer will produce can – and does – vary quite dramatically between clients.
Quantifying the quality advantage
It’s not just anecdotal. At Radix, we've been piloting a new, 15-point quality check on the first draft of all client projects. And while this is designed to help us ensure consistent quality in everything we send out (and to highlight training and development opportunities) it has also revealed something else: quite how much the work is a collaboration between the writer and the client.
In several areas we check – like having a clear sense of audience, or the amount of unique value and insight the content brings – some clients’ first drafts consistently score higher than others.
That’s not to say that a marketer should ever expect or accept substandard work. You’re working with professionals, and you should get exactly what you were expecting, on time and on budget. And our QA process makes sure everything is tip-top before it leaves our warehouse.
But still, some clients get more than they were expecting.
There are clients – and projects – that make a writer’s eyes light up. Where they’ll go above and beyond the brief, to create something really extraordinary.
As a marketer, what can you do to benefit from that extra enthusiasm? We’ve spotted four traits that can help.
1. Be really specific about what you want, and who it’s is for…
There’s a common misconception among clients that, to a creative, a blank sheet of paper is a gift. Usually, it’s torture. If a brief is too open, it brings uncertainty and doubt. That can lead to a first draft which is so far from what you were expecting, it ends up being beaten to death with amends.
What creative people love is to solve problems. Give us a clearly-defined set of parameters to work within, and that’s when we’re able to come up with something that’s really surprising.
As David Ogilvy once said: “Give me the freedom of a tight brief.”
Importantly, that includes being really specific about who the audience is… and who it’s not. The more clearly you can define who you want us to write for, the better the piece will resonate. (By contrast, “businesses with under 200 employees” is not a useful target audience; it’s 99.4% of all the companies in the UK.)
Tell us about the reader – not just the vertical and job title, but their priorities and their state of mind – and your content will come alive.
2. …But be open to feedback and ideas
Here’s an important caveat: your writer likely has long experience writing for audiences and markets like this. So respect the expertise you’re paying for.
For example, the best clients listen carefully when a writer says a brief won’t work. Not only does this help to avoid phoned-in copy (it’s understandably hard to put your heart into a project you don’t believe in), but that mutual trust and respect means they’ll try all the harder. Also, they might just be right.
Seriously? This piece is about a specific, techy part of the automotive supply chain, and you’re going for the SEO keyword “car”? Sure, it’s your funeral…
That doesn’t mean you always need to agree. But if you can take a minute to listen, consider an alternative view, and explain the context for your decision, it's a great way to consistently keep your writing on point.
Importantly, this includes backing your writer in front of your stakeholders. Believe me, it’s no fun reworking copy that was supposed to be “approachable and a bit edgy” because some manager’s English teacher once said you can’t start a sentence with “but”. It’s the kind of feedback that provokes much swearing, and your writer won’t forget it if you just waved it through.
But show you value the writer’s expertise, and you’ll have a fan (and absurdly good copy) for life.
3. Give your writer access to the right people
In B2B – and especially in tech – you’re not the expert. And neither am I. But between the marketer and the writer, we need to create content that demonstrates the brilliance of your organisation, and delivers real insight to real customers in the real world.
The easiest way to make that happen is to introduce us to people.
For starters, your technical and product geniuses – the ones who can tell us just why that Triple-Widget Flangelator™ is such an important leap forward for the industry – are pretty much a given.
There’s a perception that these people won’t give their time, because they’re busy (or, if we’re honest, because they distrust and underestimate marketing). And sometimes that’s true. But every organisation has its share of talkative geeks – the ones who are only too thrilled to have an interested audience – and those people are B2B marketing gold. Cultivate them.
If you’d spent six months in a research lab perfecting a product feature, wouldn’t you like the opportunity to talk about why it matters?
But it’s not just the chatty boffin that can help your writer. That negative-sounding salesperson can give us an unorthodox, ground-level view of why people actually buy. And the more of your customers we can talk to, the more we’ll understand their world and how they handle technical jargon. (Fun fact: every case study I work on makes me a better writer for that brand.)
4. Be nice
When you’re at the end of the content marketing food chain, a little courtesy goes a long, long way.
I don’t mean you need to shower your writer with praise and gifts all the time – and you can and should make it very clear if you’re unhappy. But equally, when you’re pleased, take a moment to say so too.
In each case, be specific. Knowing what you’d like to see more/less of in future makes us better at the job. And the more we can get right in the first draft, the more it saves you – and us – time. It also shows you’re paying attention, and you would (I hope) be shocked at how many marketers aren’t.
After a long, hard day in the copy mines, a simple “Thank you – I especially loved this bit…” can make all the difference.
Better still, make that appreciation public. Good copywriters get most of their work through recommendations and referrals, so being the kind of marketer who is happy to give credit is a sure-fire way to get to the top of the favourite-clients list. (And yes, we do all have one.)
Professional relationships are human relationships too
Of course, you don’t have to do any of this. You’ll still get content that’s perfectly fine and if your copywriter doesn’t give you content of the right standard, you should absolutely find one who does.
But in a world that’s swamped with B2B content, look at your competitors and ask yourself if “perfectly fine” is going to cut it – or do you want your writer to go further, because they actually care about your success?
More to the point, maybe ask yourself why you wouldn’t do any of these four things – and how you’d like to be treated, if it was you.