I read a lot of B2B marketing content from technology companies. As a writer who creates content for these companies, I constantly peruse white papers, case studies, brochures, blogs and anything else I can get my hands on from my clients and their competitors. I evaluate how they define the market problem, what features and benefits they offer, what sources they’re using, and any other competitive insights I can glean.
But much of the time, I find myself having to read through the copy—one time, two times, three times. My eyes glaze over. I slap my face. I drink a sip of black coffee or green tea. I go back to the beginning and try yet again.
In short, the copy is boring.
Despite all the buzz in the blogosphere and on social media about brand storytelling and the need to create “compelling” content, many vendors clearly haven’t gotten the memo.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that B2B technology solutions themselves are boring. Fields like predictive analytics are truly amazing, for example, with their ability to predict fraud before it ever happens.
So if the products are interesting, why must I hold my eyelids open to get through most of this stuff?
I see several mistakes over and over. The copy is hard to follow. It’s hard to care about because it focuses on the vendor—not the customer. And it has the personality of a salamander. While great brand storytelling is clearly your ultimate goal, simply addressing these issues will go a long way toward giving your solutions the marketing content they deserve.
Hard to Follow
The most fundamental problem with B2B marketing content is that it’s confusing and hard to follow. Often, figuring out what the vendor meant to say requires the deductive genius of Sherlock Holmes. Do you really want your customers guessing about what you meant to say?
So what specifically makes this copy difficult to understand? Common issues include:
- Long and winding sentences. Sentences should be no longer than two lines. Preferably, much shorter. It’s hard to figure out where a sentence is going when it meanders in and out of subordinate clauses for three or four lines.
- Wordiness. Boring content uses 10 words when 3 will do. Make sure each word does useful work—or off with its head.
- Repetitive and redundant. Boring writing often says the same thing over and over and over, whether it’s in the same paragraph or in multiple sections of the paper. This isn’t to say that you won’t ever repeat content. For example, white papers have an executive summary that summarizes what the paper is about and a conclusion that summarizes the main points. You may also repeat some content in captions and call-outs. These repetitions are deliberate and acceptable. Bad writing repeats concepts in different parts of the paper seemingly at random. You can consolidate these repetitive sections by making sure your paper has a logical flow.
- Passive voice. You’ll have a much easier time following a sentence when you know who did what to whom. When the reader has to root around for the subject like a boar looking for truffles, your writing is in big trouble.
- No logical flow or connective tissue. Some boring papers lack a logical argument. They seem like random pieces of information plopped on the page. Generally, you need good segues and other connective tissue to explain how one paragraph relates to the next and supports a cohesive argument.
- Buzzwords/Jargon. Unfamiliar buzzwords and jargon can stop a reader dead in their tracks. While it’s true that many of your customers are well-versed in technology, they may not be an expert in your technology. Unless you’re positive that your readers are extremely familiar with a term, be sure to define it at first reference.
Of course, it’s possible to have clear writing that’s still boring. This usually occurs because the paper has failed to address the topic from the reader’s perspective.
- The writing touts the company. If a piece starts and ends by talking about your company, that’s boring. As a reader, I want something interesting to draw me in. It could be a human interest anecdote, or more likely a brief statement about some problem I’m likely to be experiencing.
- Hype and puffery. Copy that jumps up and down talking about how great the company is boring. What’s interesting is what’s realistic.
Je Ne Sais Quoi
You can’t put your finger on it, but something’s just blah. What’s the cause?
- No personality. Here you have to walk a fine line. You want copy to sound professional. But you also want it to sound like it’s written by a person, not some bot. Don’t remove every clever turn of phrase in an effort to sound professional.
There are many more rules that will make your writing better and draw your reader in even more. But putting out copy that doesn’t turn your reader off from the get-go is a good place to start. Make sure it’s clear. Make sure it talks to the reader, and doesn’t just puff up your company. And insert as much personality as you can will go a long way toward improving much of what’s out there.