Complex engineering technologies give B2B marketers the opportunity to make a genuine difference for their business. The more complicated the subject, the more a brand stands out when its content explains issues and benefits in a clear, engaging way.
But this content needs technical authority too. It’s all too easy to oversimplify topics like this – especially when complex science comes into play. (We previously wrote about how to cater to an engineering audience to help solve this exact challenge.)
In this blog post, we’ll look at strategies you can use to find the perfect balance between complex topics and concise copy.
Imagine the smartest, most ‘science-y’ person you know
If you’re reading this blog, it means you’re smart. And if you’re smart, you probably have some friends that are too.
Keep them in mind when you write about an engineering topic. Imagine you’re speaking the copy aloud to the most scientifically knowledgeable friend you have. Would they understand it? Would they be interested? Most importantly, would they stare at you blankly and say “yeah, I know what peristalsis is”?
By considering their potential reactions to your copy, you’ll quickly get a good feel for whether you’re in danger of losing your audience to jargon, or at risk of teaching grandma to suck eggs.
Bonus points if you actually get your scientist friend to read your copy in real life.
Explain the basics, but do it quickly
Like with any B2B content, there are often two audiences for an engineering piece: the primary reader, and then a secondary decision-maker audience. Your engineer reader needs to be enthused by what they’re reading, but they might also need to be able to show it to their plant manager/procurement head/CFO/purse-string holder to get them on board as well.
If you need to ensure everyone can understand your content, you’ll have to explain some key terms, acronyms and concepts. But when you do this, don’t dawdle.
If you spend your first three paragraphs explaining the limitations of conventional workbenches, your main audience (the people that stand at these benches every working day) will stop reading and assume you’re just telling them what they already know.
Box outs, quick asides, and short explanations are your friends here. Just as you might spell out an industry-standard acronym on first use before moving on, quickly explain any complex concepts, and then just assume your reader knows what you mean.
Find the business story, then add the science
We don’t need to solve the engineering problem for our audience here. That’s what these people do.
What we do is solve a business challenge. So, if you want to sell a new breed of tool to a mining company, your story isn’t what this material is and how amazing it is. At least not initially. Your headline, your lead point, should be about how much better, faster, cheaper, etc. their operations will be with this new tool.
After you’ve set up the main business benefit, then you can get into the proof points, the science, the logic behind it all. But without that initial promise of improvement, you won’t have much to offer your reader.
Simplify the right stuff – and no more
Radix’s creative director, David McGuire, recently wrote for B2B Marketing about how to simplify complex subjects. He used a three-tier model to distinguish between good jargon, bad jargon, and overly formal language.
With good jargon, we’re talking about terms you and your reader will understand. This is fine. In fact, using it will probably help you build credibility with your audience – but ONLY if you’re using the term correctly – and if your audience is absolutely familiar with it too.
Bad jargon is the stuff that doesn’t really mean much. “Synergies”, “paradigm shift”, that sort of thing. At best you’re wasting your reader’s time, at worst you’re just trying to put smoke and mirrors up to hide a lack of original thought. Neither is a good look.
Formal language is a tricky middle ground. Yes, we’re writing for an intelligent business audience. But at the same time, very few people have ever complained about something being too easy to read. So, when you have needlessly formal language, (“utilise” instead of “use”, “methodology” instead of “method”, passive sentence structure, etc.) it’s worth stripping things back to keep your copy flowing.
Note: the boundaries between different types of jargon and formal language can flex depending on what you’re writing about. For instance, “utilise” is overly formal language in most cases, but if you’re talking about the way a piece of hardware utilises IT resources then it suddenly becomes a piece of good jargon. As always, make sure you know your audience so you can carefully consider what’s good to stay, and what has to go in your copy.
Don’t be afraid to copyedit
Engineering isn’t really an industry. It’s more a group of dozens of sub-industries, each with its own language, terminology and concepts. So, even if you’re an “engineering writer”, there are many topics where you simply won’t be able to talk the talk effectively.
That’s OK though. If you find you’re struggling to nail the language, you may want to suggest copyediting a piece rather than writing from scratch.
And if you can get one of your clients’ experts to write down their thoughts on the topic (or talk with you on the phone while you furiously scribble down notes), that can set you on the right path with getting the “engineer speak” right.
Find the balance between clear and complex
When you produce content about a deep science or engineering topic, you walk a fine line. You obviously want to produce something clear, readable and exciting. But if you push that too far, you risk skimming the surface and not grappling with the complexities of your topic.
And the difficult thing is that there are no hard and fast rules about how you find this balance. What works for an industrial engineering audience might fall flat for electronics components engineers. Likewise, the way you approach web copy for a heating and ventilation company will differ greatly from how you tackle a data sheet on semiconductors.
But by using these five strategies, you can start to find the right mixture between clarity and complexity for your particular project. And when you do that, you can tell a great story, while also speaking in a language that resonates with your engineering audience.