6 ways to improve your B2B copywriting skills (with winning examples)
It’s an age-old question: how do you produce flawless copy that taps into your reader’s emotions? Michael King speaks to four copywriting experts to find out how to improve the quality of your writing to deliver maximum impact
As a writer, using superfluous words to sound more sophisticated is an easy mistake to make. But as you'll undoubtedly agree, it’s not about fulfilling the writer’s self-interest, it’s about the reader and delivering content that they find engaging. As long as you have your reader’s best interests at heart, the copy you write will resonate. After all, you want to be seen as a copywriter, not a sloppy writer. Here are six tips to help you sharpen your writing skills.
1. Write for one, specific person
David McGuire, creative director, Radix Communications: It makes no difference whether you’re writing a personal email or a web page that’ll be seen by thousands – at any one time, your reader is one person. If you can think of them in that way, you’ll naturally stop trying to address a crowd (no 'some of you might think…'). Focus on the way your one reader is thinking and feeling. That’ll make you sound more persuasive and human.
More importantly, if you can be specific about who that individual is, you can be far more relevant to your audience. In the example below, Aon knows who’s likely to visit a website about employee benefits – so there’s no need for any introduction. They can jump straight in by talking to the reader about their employees (because of course the reader is someone dealing with employees) and what their HR department wants to achieve.
2. Challenge three-letter acronyms (TLAs)
Glenn Sturgess, head of copy, OgilvyOne Business: No prize for guessing that technology companies are steeped in technical terms and TLAs. It’s a copywriter’s job to challenge this, not champion it by simply trotting out the same B2Bull. At OgilvyOne Business, we don’t shun the use of jargon, full stop. Instead, we tune in so we can understand the complexity, idiosyncrasies and nuances of our clients’ organisations. We interview the experts, asking seemingly obvious questions. This approach doesn’t necessarily generate quick results, but it pays in the long run. Only when you understand a highly technical world like an insider can you write about it with confidence and authority. And then explain things in relatable, relevant ways.
Analogies are great ways of doing this. So we applaud the online technical dictionary Sideways Dictionary (see below) for its down-to-earth definitions of all things technical. And for the contributions that paint memorable pictures in our minds using the power of imagination. Take a look at sidewaysdictionary.com if you like the idea of comparing big data with a blue whale’s diet.
3. Give the reader a reason to care in the first five seconds
David: In B2B, everybody’s busy – so get to the point. Fast. But actually, this is about more than just valuing your reader’s time. It’s also about understanding that everyone is being bombarded with information and messages, all the time. That means you, as the writer, have no time for a warm-up – get straight to it. Your email, blog post or letter needs to get your reader hooked in five seconds max.
In this example from VoxGen, the title is unequivocal but promises a benefit. The standfirst summarises the whole post in two lines flat… and then: boom. You’ve captured the reader’s attention with a story. Note how the visual/emotional image comes first – the explanation comes in the second sentence. There isn’t even a single “Imagine…” at the start to set it up. No words wasted; straight in.
Your first 20-50 words need to surprise your reader, make them smile in agreement, or explain what value they stand to gain out of reading further. And it needs to make them feel like this piece is written with them in mind. Ideally, it needs to do all those things at once.
4. Pick words you might actually use in real life
David: Just because you’re at work and you’re writing something down doesn’t mean your language suddenly needs to wear a tie. But we all do it all the time: people who sound like normal human beings in real life start writing ‘utilise’ where they’d usually say ‘use’, and ‘yourself’ instead of ‘you’. Passive sentence structure is deployed, and the resulting sentences are made to sound more complicated.
People do this because they think it makes them sound professional. In fact, it makes them sound like a tedious pain in the arse.
In the MATS Low-Code example below, development has been made easy for non-technical people. It’s clear, logical and user-friendly, and the language used for the web copy tries to convey exactly those qualities.
You’ll notice it’s never sloppy, unprofessional or ‘dumbed down’; it’s just calm, confident and easy to read. Language is a big part of brand positioning – and that’s as true for your personal brand as it is for your corporate one.
5. Keep social media copy short and very sweet
Ian Delaney, editorial director, Text100: For this post, we wanted to show the scale of transformation in the industry and explain the part Cisco had to play in it – all within 140 characters. By seizing on a shareable, bite-sized talking point, expressed in simple language, Cisco was able to reach a wider audience and showcase its expertise about the future.
The #Digitizemanufacturing hashtag was a wider campaign we ran for Cisco at Hannover Messe – one of the world’s largest trade fairs for a number of industries, including the industrial automation and energy sectors. The aim was to not only promote its presence at the event, but to position the company as a leader in the manufacturing space. The image was chosen because it brings to life the use of IoT technologies in the manufacturing space. As a socially-led campaign, optimised versions of the image were placed across Cisco’s platforms – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Service specific brand channels, such as @Cisco_IoT, were chosen based on the relevance of the audience and the topic we were discussing.
6. Be accessible
Lucy Brice, copywriter at Barrett Dixon Bell: It can be difficult to pitch at the right level when writing for a B2B audience. But even experts in your brand’s field will appreciate language that’s easy to read and accessible. Find the time to discover your brand’s tone of voice and carry this through all channels to ensure consistency.
Here, splitting the information up across the page in an easy-to-digest way – through the use of infographics, technical papers and product information – helped to improve the user journey on Ara Cool’s webpage and allowed us to see which content was being engaged with most. This helps to inform future activity for Huntsman and other clients. In this case, 27% read only the release, but 89% read the release and more.