1. Know the subject. (I mean, REALLY know the subject.)
This is where it all starts. You have to know your subject matter inside out. Usually, that involves talking to the experts. You need to be great at asking the right questions and at listening hard to the answers. You need to be able to get along with people who would rather be doing something else than talking to some idiot from the marketing department.
It’s only when you talk to the experts – the people who know the product well, for example – that you’ll get to the really good stuff. The details about the situation that will get readers to sit up and take notice. Being a good copywriter is at least 50% about being good at going out and finding the good stuff, even if people in the business don’t think it’s there.
And if at all possible, try to experience the subject matter yourself. If I am writing about a new type of exercise bike I want to ride it for a while and try all its settings and features. I need to experience it in a way that works for me, so I can write with authority and confidence about it. A few years ago I wrote about a new type of very expensive pillow, so the client gave me one and I slept on it for a week before starting on the copy.
2. Tell a story
You’ve heard this one a thousand times already, but that’s because it’s a good one. Usually there’s a story to be told. A beginning, middle and end that can guide the reader through what you want them to know.
For a new product, the beginning might be that someone spotted an opportunity to help businesses improve efficiency. The middle might be years of product development. The end might be the launch. That’s the basic framework, but within each element there will likely be plenty of meat to put on the bones: the detail that fleshes out the story.
3. Get personal
Most people like people. We like reading about them. We like their story. So if there’s a person who features in the subject matter, see if you can focus on them.
On a simple level, an interview with a qualified expert on a subject is generally going to be a more attractive proposition than a general guide to the subject.
Compare these teasers:
Option one: ‘Read our five-point guide to getting the best car insurance deal.’
Option two: ‘Veteran insurance claims assessor Tom Upton shares 30 years’ experience on the must-have features of car insurance.’
But see if you can go one step further and really bring out the personal story. Has Tom met people who lost a lot through choosing the wrong insurance? Is Tom part of an initiative to improve road safety standards?
4. Focus on one thing
Imagine for a moment that a journalist is faced with the task of writing a story about someone who has just renovated and sold a house for a big profit. The actual story will involve many different things. There’s the financial side, right down to what mortgage arrangement they had, their previous experience, the suppliers and tradespeople they used, how they juggled family and work commitments, the local market conditions, and so it goes on.
So guess what journalists do? They look into all the detail and pull out one especially unusual or interesting facet of the story, and focus on that. It could be that the project took just two weeks, or that the developer was 18 years old, or that builders found a rare fossil in the floor. This is bread and butter stuff for journalists. They are always looking for an angle to bring subject matter to life.
It’s an approach that you can take in your B2B writing to. What angle should you go for? Of course it should be one that will resonate with the people you are aiming the piece at. One question to ask is: what is the biggest problem that this product/service/project solves for people? If you can find an angle based around that problem, and its solution, you are on a winner.
5. Be reader-specific
One challenge with B2B copy is that it might be read by several types of person in an organisation. If I’m writing something about a new piece of sales software it might be read by the sale director, sales manager, sales people, head of IT, finance manager and so on.
Covering all the bases in a single piece can be tricky. But if I commit to writing pieces aimed squarely at a single type of person, I can make it much more interesting. So how about a suite of pieces, with each one clearly labelled as being for a specific audience? Or if it has to be one piece, let’s break it into chunks and use clear subheadings so everyone knows which bit is for them.
So the next time you write B2B copy, try some new techniques for bringing it to life. No matter how dull the subject matter might be at first, if you dig deep, get to understand the people behind the subject and look hard for an angle, you can liven up the message.