Updated: Jul 5, 2019
Fact: writers rarely get trained for B2B technology writing, it just kind of happens. You deliberately or accidentally fall into a tech company, breath in all their communications, the bytes and bites, brand style guide (if they even have one), and somehow it all comes together. Rinse and repeat for next company.
But no matter how much writing experience under your belt, it doesn’t mean you’re cranking out good, compelling writing – that task requires a more Herculean effort.
For starters, writing about features and benefits of non-human technology has innate issues: How do you make those products interesting? How can you move the reader along to the next step? How can can ensure they won’t yawn, or worse yet take a power nap?
Writing B2B copy over two decades, I’ve seen my share of snoozefests and poppin’ copy. We all know that in the digital age of distractions, smart, engaging copy isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s the mandate. Competing with thousands of other websites and incoming messages, texts, plus other online choices, your content needs to stand out – or your reader is out.
Here are some techniques I use to turn up the volume and make my writing count.
Focus on helping your customer—always❤️
I know, obvious right? But you’d be surprised how many times I run across copy that is me, me me: let me tell you how great my product is, look at all my shiny bells and whistles. But that is not solving the customer’s problems. I still have to check myself, especially when I’m working with a product manager or marketing mucky-muck who thinks his or her widget is the best thing since sliced…circuits. It’s an essential ingredient to any good B2B writing, better yet all marketing writing.
Ixnay the jargon and buzzwords
Let’s play a drinking game: how many times do you see the words “leverage” or “enable” in technology marketing writing? Yeah, we’d all be drunk by now. Cut those altogether. No one talks that way nor should they unless they’re an AI-fueled robot. Though it’s tempting to use easy-access words, especially when you’re under deadline, take the time to find that perfect synonym. If branding will allow, use “craft” instead of “expertise,” or “technology muscle” instead of “innovate.” Swap “very easy” with “effortless.” Or even small tweaks like “exceed expectations” to “defy expectations” can make a difference. Be creative, not lazy.
Surprise Your Reader
There’s nothing like a one-sentence paragraph to stop your reader in his or her tracks.
A sentence that stands by itself in a sea of others beckons the reader and gives you a potential hook to read the entire blog post, case study or whatever you want eyeballs on. Make sure that sentence has impact. If your reader is scanning (trust me, they will be), it could be the only words they read. Choose carefully.
Or try a skillful use of the em dash — which can create drama and emphasize an important point — but don’t be overly dramatic with every sentence, make it count.
Flip Clichés Upside down
Many a corporate communication organization, especially global companies, wisely implement a no-colloquialism policy. Americanisms like “follow the leader” or “the stakes are high” can cause confusion to non-native English speakers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use well-worn phrases that most cultures do know. For instance, “Time is on your side” can be turned into a statement to create urgency and also give a confident spin, such as “Time is not on your side when…”
Be a Person, not a Monolith
Some larger companies like to mention their name over and over in communications as if the person didn’t realize where they were, while others use the “we” and the “you.” Smaller companies tend to be more comfortable with this language but frankly, the big multinational ones need it the most – they are impersonal corporate entities. In the real world, people like to be spoken to and with directly. Personal pronouns are warmer and help build a connection. Don’t get carried away with it, but weave in various places to keep that thread going.
Use Provocative Questions and Bold Statements🔥
When writing my first direct mail campaign early in my career, my boss said to me, “Never start an email with a question because if the answer is no, they’ll stop reading.” Point taken, but there are still plenty of ways to sidestep the inevitable yes or no and get your reader to think and engage with the copy. It could be a rhetorical question like “Why are you paying for extra services you’re not using?” Or a statement like “XYZ thinks everyone should pay for full service, but we disagree.” Don’t be shy about challenging your reader’s thinking and throwing in some fun with language. Speaking of which…
Inject humor –But With a Slow IV Drip🎭
I’ll be the first to laugh at a good pun, funny joke, or amusing alliteration. And there is definitely a place for it in B2B copy – it just needs to be the write one. (sorry couldn’t help myself). But before you trot out your comical stylings, make sure the brand voice has the flexibility, the wit is in context, and humor that is accessible to all. If your reader doesn’t get it, the joke’s on you. Making someone smile or laugh is one thing; turning them off is quite another. Irreverent, self-deprecating humor like on this CB Insights page, strikes the right tone: “In God We Trust, Everyone else Bring Data.”
Embrace the writing rhythm🎼
Short sentences are great for understanding. Long ones can be woven in to make a point when they need to (but 25 words max). Much like the way we speak, writing has its own pattern. Otherwise, we’d be completely monotone. Make sure you mix it up so you’re not fatiguing the reader. Get it?
That also means mixing bite-sized paragraphs mixed with chunkier ones to keep the tempo going. And don’t forget to add guideposts like bullets and headlines so you keep the reader moving through.
What are some of your tips? What’s your pet peeve or joy in writing and reading B2B copy? ☺️😜🤓😩😖