How to write content about a B2B cliché (without sending your reader to sleep)
What do you do if your content topic has been covered a thousand times before? B2B copywriter David McGuire tells all
“The future of work.”
“The Internet of Things."
“Moving to the cloud.”
They’re all important subjects and, if you work in B2B tech, your customers probably need to know about them. They’re areas where your salespeople field questions, and where your experts have something to say.
Normally, that’s a recipe for great B2B content. But there’s one big problem: your subject has been done before – and not just once. Dozens of podcasts; hundreds of videos; thousands of ebooks; millions of blogs.
B2B marketers outside of tech will have their own equivalents. For example, if your content summary includes any of the following lines, you should probably be wary:
“[Line of business] needs to do more with less. How can you spend less time on day-to-day management, and be more strategic?”
“These days, every [job title] needs to be a [different job title] too…”
“Blockchain could have a big impact on [industry].”
“Your workforce is made up of millennials. How should you respond?”
“How should your business adapt in the gig economy?”
Sure, you could just put the topics down and walk away. Me-too content is always going to have a tough time getting engagement. It’ll be expensive to promote, and it could make you look like you’re behind the times.
But wait. What if it’s a subject where you really can say something valuable, that your customer needs to hear? More to the point, what if your stakeholders flat-out insist?
You don’t need to avoid clichés. But you do need to handle them carefully.
As a B2B technology copywriter, it’s a situation I face often: opening a briefing document, seeing a well-worn topic, and gently challenging my client about how their version will be any different.
Here’s an excerpt from a real letter I recently wrote to a client. It suggests six questions to take their stakeholders’ enthusiasm for the topic “why cloud”, and channel it in a more effective direction:
Writing a successful ebook about “why cloud” is difficult.
Right now, the Google search “why cloud” returns almost 1.3 billion results. Over the last five years, the benefits of cloud computing have been explained at length by Microsoft, IBM, Salesforce, Oracle and countless others – and Google searches for the topic have been gradually waning since their peak in 2013:
None of these things mean that writing an ebook on “why cloud” is a bad idea. But they do mean your ebook will have to work especially hard to gain attention, and to contribute anything new to the conversation.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to do this. You can:
- Talk to a niche audience that has never had this addressed before.
- Express an attitude or point of view that is surprising or unusual.
- Pick a really small bit of the cloud topic, and focus on that.
- Use the ebook in another part of your marketing – e.g. as a sales follow-up – instead of as public-facing content.
If you can ask yourself some of these questions, it might help…
Who, specifically, is our ideal reader?
You may well have many kinds of cloud customer – different job roles, industry sectors, and sizes of business. But one of the fastest ways to make your content relevant and interesting to a reader is to zoom in as much as you can, and show how the benefits of cloud apply to one group, specifically. “5 ways data professionals in the public sector can save time using the cloud” might not appeal to many people – but to the right audience, it’s a compelling title.
Why should they read this ebook, and not one of the others on the topic?
Can you explain the value the reader will get from this ebook, that they won’t find elsewhere? Will it contain new information or give a new point of view? Will it be shorter, or easier to understand, or more up-to-date, or more authoritative? Will it share new research, insights, or techniques?
What aspect or application of the cloud are we going to focus on?
Cloud is a huge topic, with millions of potential uses. Attempt to cover too much ground, and your content will be unfocused and vague. So what specific topics will you cover, and why? Often, the more focused you are, the more useful your ebook will be.
What’s important, new, or surprising about that?
When you’ve focused on your particular application, what is exciting or noteworthy about the way you’re approaching it? What’s the five-second version that people in your target audience would share over the fictional water cooler?
What does the reader already know about the cloud when they read this?
When you know who your audience is, you can avoid wasting their time and attention by re-treading too much ground they already know. For example, if they’re well aware of the cloud, then defining it in your text would be patronising, lose the reader’s interest, and signal that perhaps your content is not aimed at them.
What else do they need to know, and why do they care?
If your reader is to learn one thing only from your ebook, what would it be? What is the single most important message for them to take away? And what difference would that message make to them in the real world? (Hint: “They need to know that we provide these services…” is not a valuable message – it’s a sales pitch.)
(Thanks to the client for giving me permission to share. You’re a legend.)
Clichés are clichés for a reason
Often, a topic becomes overused because it’s obviously a good idea. The reason we were all up to our necks in GDPR content in 2017 is because it was stuff we all genuinely needed to know.
But the more popular your content idea, the more you need to lean into the fundamentals of what makes content great: accuracy, clarity, authority, empathy and wizardry (we cover these principles in more detail on the B2B marketing copywriting course). When there’s a tonne of competition, your content needs to be better targeted – and better written – than anybody else’s.
So flip the picture around. Stop thinking about what you want to say, and figure out what your client really needs to know – that hasn’t already been said. That’s where you start.