Writing copy for business-to-business communications is like living an episode of Quantum Leap. You wake up in the body of a salesman working in an industry you don’t really know and have to complete certain objectives before you get to go home. It’s thrilling. It’s terrifying. It’s rewarding.
To organize this article, I’ve broken it down into two parts. One for writers and one for clients.
For new writers, here’s how to survive in a parallel universe – the out of body experience that is business-to-business copywriting.
For clients, here’s how to help us cross over into your world.
A project slides across your desk. It’s time to write a brochure for an agricultural company explaining the benefits of accelerated germination in a seed variety. That’s what the project is today. Tomorrow, it might be a website dedicated to alternative energy. It’s all in a week’s work. So, how do you thrive when you’re in over your head?
Step One: Get Your Bearings
Your endgame is to know slightly more than your target audience. I say slightly because while you need to have a clear understanding of the product you are marketing, you still need to disassociate from the brand in order to get into the mindset of the target. For starters, get a general idea about the industry. Wikipedia is my new best friend (sorry thesaurus). Start learning from the ground up. In a busy shop, you may only have an hour or two to get up to speed, so get the basics down for the industry as a whole and then narrow down how your product fills needs within that industry.
Step Two: Find Out Who You Are
Learn your target audience. In Quantum Leap, Dr. Sam Beckett had the privilege of taking over the other person’s body. Writers aren’t so lucky. Put yourself in the position of the target first. Understand the needs of your audience. This isn’t any different than trying to market consumer goods. The difference is that the good or service is more complex than typical consumer goods. Once you can empathize with the audience, become the salesman. Discover what methods the physical sales representatives use to address the needs of customers. Focus on the product and the role it plays in the bigger picture of the business.
For example, if you are writing on behalf of a company that sells cement mixers, fixate on how cement plays into the construction process. Then leverage the product benefit against current cement mixing methods. I repeat, this is basic stuff. But when you’re trying to learn a brand new industry, marketing basics go a long way.
Step 3: Do What You’re Hired To Do
If businesses could write advertising copy as well as you could, they wouldn’t pay you to do it. The most important part of message development is finding the connection between the product and the audience. The second most important role, the thing you’re paid the big bucks to do, is to take that connection and make it memorable. As writers, we sell ideas. We sell the ability to dilute complex concepts and restructure those concepts into relatable ideas that are delivered in a way no one else has thought of before.
Step 4: Remember What You’ve Learned
It’s amazing how everything interconnects. Understanding one aspect of an industry as it relates to the whole will help you when you get a client that specializes in a different part of the same industry. Going back to the cement mixer example, by knowing how foundation works, you’ll be better informed when dealing with an architect. Another good thing about learning how different industries interconnect is that knowledge builds your ability to draw parallels between things. Cement and cake batter might tie in. Architecture and ballet could share a bond. Every opportunity to learn should be seized with wonder and amazement.
You want an agency that understands you. Everywhere you turn leads to busted budgets for marketing messages that are either too generic or too conceptual. This means your copywriter didn’t do his or her homework. Generic copy is usually filled with cliches or messaging that sounds like an ad. “We’re your partner for the highest quality product, at competitive prices with great customer service.” Overly conceptual ads that don’t make sense mean that the writer took one small idea and spun it until it became too big, too lofty to answer the target’s basic question, “What’s in it for me?” These are pretty bold generalizations of course, but if they sound familiar and are causing frustration when you work with agencies, here are some things you can do to help.
1. Give a Tour
Absolute Marketing Group doesn’t charge clients for taking the time to educate us about the industry and what we’re selling. Some agencies do. But even in those circumstances, it’s a good idea to take the time up front to expose your marketing firm to your world. There may be a part of your business that could be a strong asset of the company and turn into great positioning.
2. Water Down. Ramp Up.
Explain everything. Assume nothing, especially in the beginning of your client-writer relationship. Writers need to know how to convey a very complex message, so give them the big picture basics and then work your way into the complexities of your industry.
Seedex, Inc. is a sugarbeet seed dealer Absolute Marketing Group has worked with for the past two years. Seedex, Inc. sells sugarbeet seed varieties to a set number of farmers in the Red River Valley. To be successful, I had to know what the growers know. Once we got the account, I had the luxury to meet with the sales manager and the lead researcher at the local facility. Even though I hail from Fargo, ND, I had zero agricultural knowledge beyond what the average person would know. In just two hours, I was given a comprehensive boot camp on the sugarbeet industry and the product Seedex, Inc. sold. Not only did Seedex, Inc. make its sales goals for the year, Absolute was also able to snag a few advertising awards along the way and keep the client for another season.
3. Find Time to Teach
A good writer always wants to learn. We’ll make mistakes in body copy, especially in the first few executions we do for a client. Take a moment to explain why items were incorrect. It will only help to tighten the messaging and speed up writing projects in the future.
Copywriting is an out-of-body experience. It’s a career path that trumps almost any college course in terms of learning because it’s hands on and real. To take that leap and become aware of how the world works is inspiring. Business-to-business copywriting gives understanding to how our world works and proves we’re all in this together. That’s the moral, right? Can I leap now?