By Natalie King published May 13, 2015

3 Ways to Make Your B2B Brand Break the Content Mold

dark-social-activity-coverI’ve got a confession to make.

As a content writer for a number of B2B clients I’ve been coasting – cruising through e-books, white papers, and infographics with the same tone of voice.

This hasn’t been due to writer’s block, laziness, or even my own choosing. Rather, it’s been what the client has wanted … Safe. Clean. Boring.

And, as you know, the client gets what the client wants.

There’s nothing wrong with safe, clean copy. It serves a purpose. In marketing, clarity and simplicity of message are paramount – but I just can’t help thinking there’s got to be more.

At the heart of good content marketing is good content. At the heart of good content is good writing. At the heart of good writing is compelling, irresistibly persuasive tone. So why does so much B2B copy sound the same?

Make no excuses

There’s no reason for B2B brands to be boring. Sure, they might have a smaller, more select audience, and write about niche topics, but that’s no excuse for content that doesn’t engage or excite.

The abbreviation B2B  doesn’t help. Business-to-business marketing isn’t what it purports to be. Nobody actually sells to a business – we’re always selling to people. The truth is that all B2B marketing is B2C marketing because ultimately, everyone is a consumer.

B2B professionals are just consumers who happen to have niche technical knowledge or corporate need. Much like a B2C audience, they buy into brands that communicate clear benefits and leave a lasting emotive impression.

Break the mold

So how can B2B content marketing be less bland AND more brand?

The truth is that B2B marketing is overwhelmingly in need of systemic overhaul … and one blog post isn’t going to fix that. But there are three ways in which B2B companies can start to develop interesting and provocative brand voices that will resonate with audiences, create brand evangelists, and encourage consumers through the sales funnel.

  1. Take a risk

She who dares wins.

Doing something different can be risky – but it’s the only way that B2B brands can expect to be heard in an increasingly crowded market. This doesn’t mean that B2B brands should go down the gimmicky route with cheap gags and promotional ploys.

Content marketing is not about attention for attention’s sake – it needs to be the right kind of attention, from the right kind of audience. Any form of consumer outreach should center on a clear message of benefits arising from use of the B2B product.

However, a fear of losing key messaging around product capabilities often keeps B2B brands in the boring zone.

Compelling content and clear product messaging are not mutually exclusive. You really can have both. A particularly striking example of this is SunGard’s zombie-attack infographic:

cloud-zombie-infographic

The graphic communicates core information around cloud migration with style. An example like this works because :

  • It’s rare for B2B brands to have truly unique selling points that stand out among competitors. (If you’re wondering, “peace of mind,” “premium customer service,” and “seamless solutions” are not unique selling points.)
  • Since so many B2B brands essentially offer the same thing (in this case, cloud migration services), the attention of B2B professionals is not won by the kind of bland, solely benefits-focused marketing copy that they will have encountered elsewhere.

Calculated risk-taking really can pay off.

  1. Hire great creatives – and trust them

It’s the trust part with which B2B brands seem to struggle. In-house marketers know  the brands that they represent exceptionally well; the creatives hired by in-house marketers know  the industry exceptionally well. This necessarily means a bit of give and take.

If B2B brands want to distinguish themselves from others, they need to be open to fresh ideas and suggestions from expert creatives.

This is easier said than done of course. Not all creatives are created equal – and the same goes for their advice. Furthermore, in-house marketers will be held to account on a particular marketing effort’s perceived success. It’s understandable for B2B brands to want to hedge their bets by pushing for safe, conservative content.

However, the end result is inevitably a spate of mediocre work. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. B2B brands serious about differentiating themselves will afford creative resources the room to maneuver, seeing them as more than pen holders and graphic designers. They will move away from quashing the advice of professional copywriters and artists, and even give them the benefit of the doubt on occasion.

Nominated for best use of creative in the B2B Marketing Awards 2014, John McNeil Studio’s work for Juniper Networks shows what happens when creativity is allowed to flourish.

  1. Take a look around

As stated by Picasso and echoed by Steve Jobs, “good artists copy, great artists steal.” To copy is merely to imitate. But to steal is to appropriate – to take that which has been successful elsewhere and make it your own. Any English student will tell you that the greatest writers are the greatest thieves (i.e., Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton).

The takeaway for B2B brands is to explore the content marketing efforts around them. Which companies are producing arresting content? Which brands can be identified easily by their tone of voice and written style alone?

And then get to stealing.

Get to the root of why some content marketing stands head and shoulders above the rest, and integrate these conceptual nuggets of insight into your unique offering as a brand.

B2B brands can look at great copywriting within their own sector for a start … but they shouldn’t stop there. It’s worth exploring the B2C world too. As an innately more creativity-led sphere, it’s a real treasure trove of ideas for compelling copy and content.

One example of this is WorldPay’s Unusual Suspects anti-fraud game, which shows clever B2B “appropriation” of a tried-and-tested B2C technique. Interactive games and quizzes have long been part of B2C marketing and WorldPay takes advantage of this approach, targeting B2B decision-makers in a fun, fresh way.

How do you think B2B brands can work to avoid sounding the same?

Continue to break the boring content marketing mold and make plans today to attend Content Marketing World 2015. Use code CMI100 and save $100.

Cover image by Archbob, morgueFile, via pixabay.com

Author: Natalie King

Since graduating from Oxford University, Natalie King has worked as a copywriter for Octopus Group – a sales-driven content marketing agency with a 10-year pedigree in the industry. The agency vision centres on combining "the art of brand with the science of sales", leading to wide-reaching campaigns that create real ROI. Natalie also works as a freelancer. Find out more about Octopus Group. Natalie can be contacted via email or LinkedIn.

Other posts by Natalie King

  • Chris Willis

    You feel my struggle! Just yesterday we had a meeting on use of “theme” in our internal B2B marketing – and how hard it is not to walk the creative fence without tipping over into trite or appearing too clever for one’s own good. Thank you for the timely and well presented inspiration.

    • Natalie King

      You’re right Chris – it’s a tough balancing act, but so worth it when you get it right.

  • Andy Stonehouse

    Nat – I knew I liked you. Intelligent stuff and I wish more of our B2B and B2C clients would start to both take risks and trust the creatives. The ‘knowing their subject too well’ often translates to trying to say too much and the consist clarity of communication is lost. We do need to have that talk soon!

    • Natalie King

      Thanks Andy! It would be great to talk more :)

    • Daisy Fowler

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  • Paul Mattioli

    Natalie – I would have written sooner but have bee sending your great perspective to a long list of clients… I appreciate Andy’s comments here as well… In addition to most trying to say too much – many clients think their brand speaks for itself… Thanks for this – I’d love to connect with you and Andy!

    • Natalie King

      Thanks for the feedback Paul! Would be great to connect with you. My contact details are at the bottom of the post. Keep fighting the good fight against boring content!

  • http://outspreading.com/ Michelle Lapointe

    “Nobody actually sells to a business – we’re always selling to people”- love this. When we write content, we are intending it to be read by people, not businesses. The least boring it sounds, shouldn’t it attract more attention, and therefore be worth writing in their first place? I agree, no more bland and boring content!

    • Natalie King

      Absolutely agree with you Michelle. ‘Business to Business’ marketing is a misleading concept. Now we just need to convince clients to get on board!

  • Katie

    Great article, Natalie! B2B branding has the tendency to be deemed boring but with the right amount of creative flare – B2B marketers can improve their content marketing efforts. I think B2B brands should use emotions to connect with their audience to avoid sounding the same; emotions in marketing tend to be used more widely in B2C marketing but consumers, marketers and prospects in the B2B industry are just as emotional.