Why Shouldn’t B2B Content be Interesting?

Lois Lowry’s The Giver turns the idea of a Utopian society on its head. Built on the ashes of an apocalypse, this Community eliminates suffering and strife by converting to “Sameness.” Unfortunately for them, Sameness bleeds out every shred of memory, creativity, and emotion.

Something like a lot of B2B content marketing.

When did we decide that rote sameness is the mark of a professional piece of content?

the-giver

It shouldn’t be that way and doesn’t have to be that way, not when your content writers know the difference. Here is what your writers should know:

  • Understand your difficult role as a B2B marketer. You strive to help your clients hit their marketing objectives and sales goals. You position and focus and create the content that reels in the leads. You don’t stop until you fill that sales funnel — in fact, you don’t stop at all.
  • Understand the value they offer. Content writers who know what they’re doing lighten your load by taking on your strategies, messaging, facts, logic, and stories. They build them into persuasive content, and analyze the analysis so they can adjust and improve your content. Then they do it all over again, as long as you need them.

For details on how your content writer can improve your business, check out “How B2B Content Writers Help Their Marketing Clients Succeed. (You’re Welcome.)”

White Papers and Benefits: from Bullets to Stories

White papers and benefits“Benefits, benefits, benefits,” or as I prefer to call it, “Benefits, shemefits.” How often do you see — or probably write — a grocery list of benefits in your white paper? I’ve done it myself, but now I see the light.

Of course people need to know what your offering is going to do for them, but a dry list of bulleted phrases doesn’t cut it.

Let’s look at the difference in an IBM white paper and web page about SmartCloud. If you break down the listed benefits you get something like this:

  • Schedule and hold online meetings.
  • Safely share files.
  • Chat with other approved users.
  • Manage your projects.
  • Network with prospects.

Granted that in a real piece of content there would be some explanation after each bullet point. But you would still have a dry bulleted list of unrelated information that doesn’t paint any pictures. So instead of a benefits grocery list, IBM wrote this:

The SmartCloud Notes solution was designed to let you work seamlessly with people inside and outside of your organization. You can meet online, share files, chat, manage projects, network with potential clients, schedule meetings and send and receive mail anywhere, anytime. Whether you work remotely, manage remote teams or need one place to bring colleagues, partners and vendors together, our offerings help you transform your business into a social business.”

Is it great literature? Hardly. Is it kind of vague? Kind of. But does it illustrate a complex offering’s benefits in the context of the prospects’ environment? Yes. And that’s the point.

There’s an adage in fiction writing that works very well: “Don’t tell. Show.” In your white papers — heck, in most of your content — illustrate the benefits. Tell the stories. Present the facts and persuade; argue rationally, sum up neatly. And punch it up with stories, visuals, and a human approach.

B2B and B2C Marketing Converge… NOT

Great comment from Anthony Lombardo on the mythical convergence of  B2B and B2C marketing approaches. I could not agree more.

… B2B trends follow B2C with a good 12-24 month lag, sometimes even more. That gap is shortening though, and the two seem to be on converging paths. So right now you can innovate on B2C, then double your ROI by repackaging for B2B – or at least that’s the thought. But that doesn’t work. B2C focuses around a single user and impulse buying. B2B is slower, requires support of the entire buying team, and is much less likely to succeed with impulse tactics. While some of the technology will be shared between B2B and B2C, the application of that technology is a lot more complicated and specific to the market.

From Frumpy to Fabulous: Building B2B Content around Stories

tell stories words in wood typeI’m a B2B content writer. I’m also a storyteller. I thought that didn’t apply to business until I realize that my favorite pieces, the ones that I enjoyed the most and that worked best for my clients, were the ones that used a narrative structure for their content branding pieces. These are the marketing pieces that tell your company and product story: the case studies, web pages, articles, and white papers that you want customers to remember.

What Makes a Technology B2B Story?

B2B marketers don’t usually think in storytelling terms but the stories are all around you. Let’s look at some real life customer stories:

Customer Story #1. What if your customer’s story is that their backup software is jamming them up every night? The story they want to hear is about how another IT department at another company was able to install a different backup that worked right away, that integrated with their scripts, that slashed backup times from 14 hours to 14 minutes, and that let them send their older backups to the cloud. The IT department is smelling like roses. That is the story this company wants to hear. Are they going to hear it from you?

Customer Story #2. How about this story: What if an IT administrator have put in so many SharePoint systems that she can barely manage to keep them running optimally, let alone help users with advanced features? The story is that a very large investment is turning bad and people are blaming her and her team. She wants to hear a story about she can turn their problems into business gold by deploying an external storage grid, and how she can do it did it quickly with an excellent ROI. That’s a story that she and her team wants and needs to hear. Are you telling that story?

If you’re not telling stories like these then why not? IT and executives are too busy to read marketing content as an intellectual exercise. You need to persuade them, convince them that you have what they really need. Otherwise what’s the point?

You Have a Story to Tell

B2B marketing content can be dry, pompous and obscure – a deadly combination. But it doesn’t have to be, not when it’s telling a story that your customers want to hear. The result is story-led content branding that generates leads, shortens the selling cycle and increases sales.

This type of story is the one we all think about: something that happened to someone. It has a beginning, middle and end; it has elements of conflict and solution. In B2B marketing terms, the customer success story is the most obvious example. Another example are pieces like solution briefs that also tell a customer story in more technical detail. These are exceptionally popular pieces, and with reason – they work. They may be written, video, audio, a slide show – the medium is secondary to the story.

Types of Content and the Stories They Tell

Is all B2B content stories? No. Purely factual content like data sheets, how-to’s, or manuals is not. But any time a piece of content needs to be persuasive, then it needs to tell a story. Let’s look at some examples of content branding types in those terms.

B2B Content Type

Story Choices

Customer success stories The most obvious type of B2B story. They tell stories about how your customer won their battle using your product. They’re very popular with prospects.
Industry articles Industry articles are factual and we don’t think of them as a story. But the best ones are: they tell a story about how a technology approach is solving real industry problems, and by extension will solve the reader’s problems too.
White papers Like industry articles, a white paper builds a persuasive argument around serious customer issues and how your product solves them. The most compelling white papers structure their persuasive argument around the story: the customer’s conflict/challenge, the way forward/solution you offer, and the happy ending/benefits.
Company Backgrounders Backgrounders can be dry as dust but they shouldn’t be. Tell why your company was founded, what challenges it has met, what big customer challenges it solves, the exciting place it is now, and where it is going. This is the story that grows trust and invites customers to take that journey with you.
Blogs Small chunks of blogged content tell parts of your story: what you offer, who you offer it to, how it works, why it matters. Consistent blogging expands the story by convincing customers that you are smart, trustworthy, and have the answers to their pressing problems. And blogging that displays the writer’s personality is even more compelling for your readers and goes a long way towards building trust.
Many Mediums for the Story There are many other types of content that can and should tell your stories. Webinars, video, podcasts, brochures, websites and more: all of these content types brand your company and offering as a crucial solution to your customer’s problems – a company that they can trust to be their partner now and in the future.

Let’s talk today about how I can help you tell your story to customers. Call me at 760-954-1807 or e-mail me at christine@christinetaylorcompany.com and let’s get started.

Energize a Boring White Paper

PAPER - 3D colored type on white background with design elementCall me a snoop, but when I’m at a technology conference listening to a speaker, I glance around at what other people are doing on their laptops. I swear to you I am not looking for

intellectual property, which is a good thing because I wouldn’t find any anyway. While the speaker drones on, people are typing emails, checking their Twitter feed, and reading news sites. I’m pretty sure I saw one top analyst sneak onto a recipe site.

And that’s happening when people are trying to look polite and attentive. So when your white paper comes over the transom, how are your would-be readers going to react? They don’t need to be polite to their email, so will they scan your headline and make a run to the recipe site? You hope not.

White papers are not cheap to write. Even when you write them in-house, you still devote a staff person to the research and writing. Don’t forget the interviews with the subject matter experts. Then you have the designer, the media placement people, the marketing campaign people, and even the salespeople. You need your white papers to sell. So why in the world should you take all this time to write a boring white paper?

No Pulitzer’s Here

Granted, a good white paper isn’t going to be up for Pulitzer Prize. They’re factual and logical, they’re aimed at an IT audience, and they’re talking about technology and not the latest celebrity breakup. But white papers equally do not get prizes for incredibly dull.

Build your white paper from these beautiful bones to grab and keep interest:

  1. Your reader must care about the topic. You can’t control individual readers, but you can promote the heck out of your paper and make sure it appears in your prospects’ favorite channels.
  2. You need a good headline. You don’t have to be uber-clever, that strategy can backfire with IT audiences. But don’t put them to sleep either in the first six words.
  3. You need a good opening. This is a great place to sketch the problem that your prospect probably has. If you are speaking to your prospects’ pain points, they’ll listen. They’ll read on. Create a compelling thesis statement by telling them that there is a solution to this big problem, and they’re going to find it in this paper.
  4. Clarify your points. When I went to Fuller Seminary about 1 million years ago, the Presbyterian preaching professors drilled into you that each sermon needed a strong intro, an inspiring conclusion, and 3 clear points in the middle. Plus never go longer than 20 minutes. White papers aren’t sermons, but the best ones present a distinct set of supporting points. 3 to 5 is ideal, each supporting and expanding your thesis statement. You are creating a logical progression of thought leading to your conclusion and call to action.
  5. Speaking of which, write a strong conclusion. Now sum up your sub points and map them to your thesis, conclude how right you are, and how very smart your customers are going to be by taking a specific action. Call a number, email someone specific, or best of all follow a link to a landing page specific to this white paper.

Adding Some Skin

In addition to this working skeleton of a persuasive essay, you’re going to want to add to some skin to the mix. By the way, I apologize for the autopsy-like imagery. Apparently, I watched one too many NCIS episodes.

  • Visual interest. I’m a writer, not a designer, but so much content is flowing through marketing channels that your white paper needs to stand out. A good headline will help immensely, and so will solid design. Note that I did not say flashy. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with flashy except when the visual elements overwhelm the written message. This might be fine in fashion marketing, but is not be fine with an IT readership. Use clear and interesting design elements to draw attention to the paper in general, and to your main points and evidence in specific.
  • Tell stories. Yes, stories. Even in a white paper — perhaps especially in a white paper — you want your readers to picture your technology in their environment, solving their problems and making their professional lives worth living. But if you don’t communicate that happy story to them, they might not get it at all. Don’t give them that chance. Tell stories that demonstrate how serious their challenge is, and what a risk they’re running by not solving it. (Admittedly you don’t have to go all the way to “and everybody dies,” which is the story summary for every tragic opera ever written.) Tell the truth about the very real risk they are running by not adopting a solution like yours. Then tell the story of how your solution works and how it greatly benefits your customers.

Your white papers must be clear and be logical. They also need to be interesting. And that means excellent flow, visual interest, and good stories that stick to their ribs. Or rather stick in their memory… once again, sorry for watching all that NCIS.

 

Christine Taylor may be too smart-alecky for her own good, but she writes a mean white paper. Talk to her today at 760-954-1807 or email her at christine@christineltaylor.com.