Correctly executed, the written word can be a powerful means of establishing your business in the hearts and minds of your potential customers. Many of us are inhibited, however, by popularly held—yet largely mistaken—ideas of what good business-to-business copywriting should be.
Here are five of the most common and destructive myths that may be undermining the impact of your copy:
1. "Don't be negative"
Of course you want to cast your business, and therefore your brand, in a positive light. You would never say something destructive about your company or your customers. But we're marketers, not cheerleaders—when we avoid saying anything negative, regardless of context, for fear of tainting our message, we're cutting our firepower in half.
Fear is every bit as powerful a motivator as desire, and when the situation is appropriate it makes perfectly good sense to communicate the negative consequences of not taking action or not buying your product.
Rising costs, safety hazards, failing health, lost opportunities—any of these "negative" issues and many others may be exactly what you need to articulate in order to make the best case for your business. Just be certain that you don't leave your prospect dangling in fear; position your offer as the release from the tension, the solution to the problem.
2. "Appeal to the intellect, not the emotions"
Some people say that consumer copy speaks to the emotions, business copy to the intellect. Let these people believe what they like, but don't let them write your copy. Truth is, consumers and business folk are the same people, just in different roles—we don't leave our feelings at home when we punch in at work.
Think about how key decisions are made in your office. Do they come after carefully considered, rational analysis? Or are they usually spurred by the hope to succeed, a fear of failure, a desire for recognition and a reluctance to be humiliated? B2B is every bit as emotional as B2C; it just speaks to a different set of emotions.
To create impact, your copy has to target the right emotions (depending on the nature of your offer and industry). Without them, your message loses urgency and your business simply loses, period.
3. "Lead generation is everything"
Many B2B enterprises run on a familiar sales model: Just get the lead, then let the sales staff do the rest.
But think of the context of your sale, especially when your product or service is large, complicated and expensive. Chances are, you'll need the buy-in of many players, with different roles and titles, within the same client organization. And to get to your foot in the door, you'll have to build confidence and credibility in your organization, an effort that usually requires many "touches," or contacts, before the prospect will let you in.
That's why front-loading all your marketing messaging on lead generation often misses the mark. Instead, develop a copy strategy that distributes your messages to many different players at several points along a tapering sales pipeline.
Consider all the tools at your disposal—from dimensional (3D) mail to e-newsletters, seminar promotions, whitepapers and more—as tactical elements designed to draw you and your prospect closer together with each contact. That way, you'll build a virtual relationship that makes your ultimate request for face-time much more likely to attract a favorable response.
4. "Our mission statement and business philosophy help distinguish our company from the competition"
Think so? Then spend a few minutes surfing the Web sites of your competition with an eye toward reading their mission statements and philosophies. Funny, but you're going to see that they all look similar and awfully familiar... a lot like your own statements and philosophies.
Do yourself a favor and leave the manifestos to communists and college students. All that high-minded blather is really little more than corporate narcissism. Instead of talking about yourself, invest your resources into talking about customers—their needs and how you meet them.
The real way to distinguish yourself from the competition is in the quality of the experience you give prospects and customers. Show them that you understand who they are and what they want, then demonstrate your ability to deliver the goods. That'll make a real statement in the minds of your prospects.
5. "Our tone must be professional and businesslike"
One of the privileges of being a copywriter is that I get to meet many brilliant people who are capable of expressing their ideas intelligently and with great passion. But all too often, these same talented people produce marketing materials that are dry, lifeless and dull. Why? Because they want to appear "professional," which usually translates into prose larded with passive sentences, excessive use of the verb "to be," and empty jargon such as "proactive," "solutions" and "paradigms."
The next time you write, forget about trying to appear "businesslike" and really get down to business. Be direct, forceful and concrete. Write as if you were talking one-to-one with a good friend you respect. When you blow the dust off your prose, you'll find the clarity you need—and the conviction that wins your prospect's attention.
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