B2B buzzword bingo: The COVID-19 edition
David McGuire of Radix Communications shares 12 tropes to avoid in your marketing at this unprecedented time (whoops, there’s one)
One strange side-effect of the current 24-hour news cycle is how quickly a phrase can be overused – and turn from a helpful expression to an irritating cliché. For those of us writing B2B content, judging that mood has become one of the trickier parts of the job.
B2B marketers are thinking along the same lines. At the recent B2B Marketing Leaders virtual roundtable, it was great to hear how marketers are taking the lead and setting the tone for their organisations: authentic, helpful, humble and human.
They’re right to do so. Because even though this situation has shown that B2B audiences are perhaps more open and forgiving than we once thought, this is still a moment where brands can gain or lose the sought-after “trusted advisor” status. If people feel vulnerable, they will remember whether you helped them, or tried to capitalise on it.
12 COVID clichés to avoid in your B2B marketing
There’s no judgement here; we’re all making this up as we go along and it’s inevitable there will be missteps along the way. Besides, the picture is changing all the time, and a phrase that was honest and true last week can look tired and cynical today.
But nonetheless, there are a few common tropes in COVID-era B2B marketing that we should really put to bed.
Since this crisis began, the over-use of the word “unprecedented” has been quite… well, you can fill in the punchline yourself. By now, it’s pretty clear that these are uncharted waters for all of us. If you really need to draw attention to that fact, could you at least find a different way to say it?
2. “In these challenging times…”
See also: “testing times”, “strange times”, and Doug Kessler wrote a whole blog about “uncertain times”. Choose whichever version you like; the result is the same. This is simply the way B2B copy starts now – it’s the new “In today’s fast-paced digital world”. And just like that phrase, it’s the fastest way to show your reader you have nothing new to add. Like I tell delegates at B2B Marketing’s copywriting training course, just put a line through everything up to the comma, and what you’re left with is what you really wanted to say.
3. Offering help, without actually helping
Count the number of emails, blogs, web pages and social media posts you’ve read over the past week, claiming to be 'here to help'. Now, how many of those were actually helpful – say, offering a free service that makes your job easier, or a practical guide to something new you have to do? As Joel Harrison put it in his excellent leaders roundtable summary: “Writing earnestly about your wish to be helpful, isn’t the same as actually helping.”
4. “We’re here for you"
What is this, Friends? This sentiment may sound well intentioned, but it’s vague enough to ensure nobody actually asks for any help. In what circumstances should someone contact you, and what will you do when that happens? It feels like a disingenuous invitation to a sales call.
5. Boasting about your good deeds
It’s brilliant that your brand is helping the community to get through this, and that you’re taking steps to keep your people safe. But when you email me to brag about that (and some brands have), I instantly doubt your motives.
6. “New normal”
This one shows how quickly things can change. As we’ve grasped for a way to talk about the future, so many of us (me included) have landed on this phrase that it has already stopped being helpful shorthand, and become a tired B2B cliché.
7. Hiding your real message
Between juggling emails, video calls, kids, and the endless cycle of doom on the news, the chances are your reader is pretty distracted. So make sure your content gets to the point quickly. Don’t get so bogged down in the compulsory COVID preamble that you bury the most important thing you have to say. And (unlike some brands I could mention) maybe don’t send a rambling, 400-word email with a title like “A Letter from the Executive Team”. Instead, subject your content to the five-second test.
8. Ignoring COVID completely
While I admire the reluctance to chase ambulances, there’s something weird about content that steadfastly refuses to even acknowledge that your reader’s world has changed completely in the last couple of months. It’s like a relic from a simpler time. That goes for the message, and the language, too – the other day I got an email suggesting I “supercharge” my website. That’s a strange word to use when people feel vulnerable and stressed; I doubt anyone feels much like supercharging anything just now.
9. “Now, more than ever”
Self-congratulation is not a great look at the moment. So if your message amounts to “See? That thing we were already talking about is even more important now”, you might want to rethink that.
10. Coronavirus discount
Ambulance chasing by the back door. Being helpful is great, but if you’re trying to recoup lost sales (or capitalise on an opportunity) by making your product more affordable, you’re not helping your customer. You’re helping yourself – and your audience is smart enough to spot it.
11. Assuming everyone has spare time
People aren’t commuting, can’t go out, and in some cases are unable to work, so it’s tempting to assume they have nothing better to do than attend your webinar, or read your blog. But that’s not the reality for anyone I know – and I’ll bet it’s not true for you either. Right now, your audience is coping with seismic change. They’re trying to plot what work even looks like, while every aspect of the day job has become more difficult – and often they’re doing it while looking after children. As one friend put it: “I’m working harder than ever, and working is harder than ever.” Your content needs to respect your reader’s time more, not less.
12. “We miss you”
Some businesses can get away with this – and yours probably can’t. If you work at a small company where the person writing the words knows the person who will read them, then by all means go ahead. In that context, “we miss you” is really good copy – it’s an honest feeling, expressed in everyday words people use. But in a broadcast email or generic web page from a big B2B brand, it sounds forced – like when your bank pretends to be your friend. The key question is: “Is it true?”
People can smell bullshit, so say what you really mean
There’s a torrent of B2B content and communications out there, as everyone races to reposition their messaging. If you want to stand out – for the right reasons – be wary of the default language that has sprung up around COVID. At best, it makes you invisible; at worst, you can look disingenuous and opportunistic.
Instead, think about your customer – the new challenges they’re dealing with, and the context they’re in. Think about how you can help that human being, and talk to them like they’re sitting opposite you, in the most honest and direct way you can.
Today, good B2B marketing is not about you. And the secret is, it never really was.
Have we missed any annoying B2B COVID-19 clichés?