B2C Talk

B2B copywriting vs. B2C copywriting

Posted on: April 4, 2009

Still talking about the difference between copywriting for business to business advertising (B2B) and business to consumer advertising (B2C).

Given the growth in B2B, and the fact that I came off sounding reasonably intelligent, I thought I should reprint the interview here on my blog.


What is one of the key differences between B2B and consumer writing?

Business buyers often aren’t spending their own money. That’s good and bad. Good because they’re more open to big-ticket purchases. Bad because they usually have to get approval from others. In fact, you must sometimes talk to many layers of a company before making a sale – decision makers, buyers, and end users. All of which means you have to provide more purchase justification than you do for consumers.

Two other challenges also face the B2B marketer:

First, the buying process is often complicated, following a formal, rigid pattern of bids, budgets, bargaining, and analysis.

Second, you often have to get past a ruthless mail room or secretary before your message reaches your prospect.

However, these differences too often overshadow the similarities. Remember, business buyers are people with the same basic problems, fears, feelings, and dreams as everyone else. They just have those problems, fears, feelings, and dreams at work instead of at home. So while your products may be less sexy than in consumer marketing, you must never separate the sizzle from the steak.

When writing B2B copy, do you want to try to individualize the copy or make it appeal to a group of people?

I always try to target my message to one person. If I have to talk to more than one person, the ideal answer is to send more than one message. The broader you make any individual message, the more diluted it becomes.

Instead of one big brochure that tries to speak to three levels simultaneously, why not three smaller brochures, each clearly targeted? Or you can mail the same basic package to different people with versioned letters. Or if multi-level approval is essential and you’re on a budget, turn your one-step into a two-step and provide targeted information for each level as a follow up. There are lots of ways to do this without delivering watered down copy.

And frankly, it’s not the multi-level appeal that cause problems in the typical B2B mailing, but a client who wants to say everything about everything instead of focusing on the problem at hand.

If you want to sell a widget, sell a widget. If you want to position your company, position your company. But don’t try to meet all your marketing objectives in one big campaign.

And speaking of positioning, the best way to establish an “image” for your company is to make sales and put your products into people’s hands. That’s an image that lasts.

What kind of copy motivates a business person to buy?

That’s easy. Copy that has something to say.

Most writers approach a direct mail package or ad or whatever as a word problem. They focus on form over content. But WHAT you say is more important than HOW you say it. Clumsy copy with a powerful message can easily outperform carefully crafted verbiage that says nothing. Of course, it’s best to have both.

The key to having something to say is research. I routinely spend half of every project gathering information. I use the product. Talk to the manufacturer. Read background information. Search the Internet. Analyze test results. By the time I get to writing, I usually know what I want to say and the copy seems to write itself.

Should B2B copy be long or short?

Everyone gets so hung up on this long copy or short copy thing. But the question should be, “How much information does my prospect need to make a decision?” For lead generation, that usually means shorter copy. For direct sales, it usually means longer copy. But each case has to be dealt with individually.

It depends on how familiar a prospect is with your company, product, or category. The price level. The difficulty of switching from product A to product B. And so on.

Instead of saying write long or short, I would prefer to say, “Write clearly and concisely. Provide enough information to make a decision. Then shut up.” The only thing worse than short copy that doesn’t sell is long copy that rambles on and on and puts people to sleep. You can’t bore people into buying.

I know that each element of direct mail has its own role in consumer marketing. Do the elements play the same roles in B2B packages?

Absolutely. Divide and conquer. Here are a few of the basics …

Envelope – There is no law that says you are required to cover your envelope with clever copy to impress a client. You should not expect an envelope to position your product. You should not use it to show off your design skills. Its job is not to entertain or amuse. Aside from holding together the contents until delivered, an envelope has only one job: to get opened.

Letter – Your letter is a sales pitch, meant to be read generally in sequence from beginning to end. It should make a personal, emotional connection. And it should make a promise and ask for the order.

Brochure – Your brochure is factual support for the letter, meant to be scanned or read in any order. It is less personal. It should illustrate features, list benefits, provide proofs, make comparisons, and list technical details to lend credibility to what your letter claims. In B2B it’s often a “keeper,” so it has to be complete.

Order Form or Reply Form – Direct Marketing guru Bob Stone called the order form the “moment of truth.” Its job is not to persuade, but to make response easy and quick. It’s a facilitator meant to keep the action going and not get in the way. Along with order forms, you can include reply cards and reply envelopes in this category, whose job is also to aid response.

Guarantee – A solid guarantee is tangible proof that you’re reputable, and it helps to lower the perceived risk your prospects feel when considering your offer and almost always boosts your response rate.

Testimonials – People expect you to say wonderful things about your product, service, or cause. But when they hear other people saying wonderful things, that’s when they really start believing you. Testimonials support your claims and build confidence. Plus they engage the “bandwagon” effect. All of us look to others to help us decide how to act, to guide our behavior, and to determine whether something is right or wrong. The more people doing it, the more correct it seems.

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