7 ways to liven up old-school B2B copy

Stuffy writing in B2B marketing copy often doesn’t work. Here are seven quick ways to liven yours up.

7 ways to liven up old-school B2B copy

B2B tech copywriting has come a long way over the years. Not just in the technology we write about, but also how we write about it.

In B2B, writing in a snappy, engaging style is an instant, effective way to differentiate your brand. When your text gets to the point, in sentences that are quick and easy to read, it shows you value your reader’s time. It also proves you know your stuff well enough to explain it clearly.

And that’s an opportunity, because many brands still take a formal or “old school” approach to B2B content. A lot of your competitors are making noise, but not much more.

So, what can you do about it?

There are plenty of easy tweaks you can make right now, to give your copy a little more impact and set your brand apart from the old-school crowd.

Let’s take a look.

“Old school” writing wastes readers’ time

For the purposes of this post, “old school” writing is the traditional style of copy that’s been used in B2B marketing for several decades.  You know the stuff: it’s academic, formal, sometimes stuffy, and is often wordy where more concise sentences would do.

There are people who believe there’s more legitimacy in a formal, academic-style – which can be fine in the right format or environment. It’s all about audience and context.

The problem is, reading complicated text takes longer, and B2B decision markers are time poor. People often don’t have the time or attention span to read dry and complicated content.

Research by Prezi suggests that longer content can still hold attention, but people are being more discerning with what they read. This means that it’s more important than ever to make your content as interesting as possible.

Here are seven ideas to get you started.

1. Look outward and focus on challenges

The most effective copy in any format talks about the reader and their challenges – not about you and your capabilities. This is your opportunity to empathise with your audience and offer solutions – and only then bring in your products, services, and expertise.

Instead of talking about what you do and what you can do for your customers, focus on your audience. What do they care about? What challenges do they face?

Moving from a feature-led approach to focusing on the benefits to your reader will ensure your customers aren’t left thinking “so what?”

(In fact, my colleague David created a fantastic short video explaining how this works with web copy.)

2. Be specific

There’s more content being created than ever before and it’s only set to increase. But here’s the problem: there’s also a skills gap, so you’ll find that there’s a tonne of re-hashed topics out there.

You’re unlikely to win customers’ attention with content they’ve already read elsewhere.

The fact is, to break through the sea of content out there you need to say something unique or useful – and a great place to start is by being more specific than your competition. Think about the particular people you want to reach: their challenges, their hopes, their attitude to work. Then ignore the crowd, and write directly to your ideal customer.

Remember: if you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one.

3. Be careful with jargon

How much jargon does your audience understand?

If you’re writing for a non-technical business reader, maybe not a lot. And you might want to dial things back a bit to make your content easy to digest.

But if they’re engineers or techies, the likelihood is a lot; potentially, more than you. And in B2B, that’s potentially a bigger worry than blinding your audience with science. You need to speak their language, and if you mishandle industry terms your reader uses every day, you’ll blow your credibility in an instant.

The crucial thing is: make sure you and your audience are on the same page, and understand the same thing by every word you use. Scattering jargon you don’t understand is a bigger risk than using none at all.

4. Get to the point

For me, a long, wandering preamble immediately puts me off reading a piece – and I’ll never get the chance to find out how interesting the subject might be. Because if the language you’re using is boring, the automatic assumption is that the subject matter will be boring too.

And I’m just a B2B copywriter. Imagine how little patience a time-poor B2B decision-maker would have.

That’s why it’s vitally important to get straight to your argument, cut the waffle (remember: more words don’t equal greater value), and inject your own personality into the copy, right from the start.

5. Lose the passive voice

Switching from passive to active voice is one of the most effective ways to give your copy more punch – and give you an edge against your competitors.

Grammarly has some useful advice on how to spot if you’ve written a sentence in the passive. Simply, if you can add “by zombies” after the verb (highlighted in green in the example below) it’s passive.

For example: “the new servers were installed overnight” would become “the new servers were installed by zombies overnight”. The sentence still makes sense, so it’s the passive voice.

(Whereas “the company installed the new servers overnight” wouldn’t make sense as “the company installed by zombies the new servers overnight”. So it’s active voice.)

6. Appeal to emotion (where appropriate)

Most decisions – even in a business context – aren’t made using logic or reason. They’re based on challenge-driven emotions (and then rationalised later).

It’s why using emotive language that taps into people’s challenges is far more effective in selling your products or services than simply setting out bare facts.

One of the best ways to resonate with an audience is to set up a piece of content with relatable challenges that make people say, “these guys genuinely understand my issues and what I’m trying to achieve”. You can tell a compelling story, and offer the immortal copywriters’ phrase “if this sounds familiar…”

Only then should you propose your solutions to these challenges.

7. Use design to your advantage

And finally, no matter how great your copy, it’s worth investing in some decent design work.

If your content looks eye-catching from the off, it will not only be able to shine through the masses of other content out there, but your audience will also be more likely to engage with it.

After all it looks different, and it sounds different. Why wouldn’t they want to find out if the content is different too?

Graduate from the old school – one step at a time

If you think these changes might be a bit much for your stakeholders, remember: you don’t need to make them all at once. Even applying a couple of these tips will have a significant impact on your content, and once you start to see results, it’ll be easier to justify doing more.

Or, if you’re not confident in your ability to make the break into a clearer, more modern style of content, feel free to get in touch with us. It’s exactly what we do all day, and we’d love to give you some idea of how a fresh approach to your writing might sound.

Further reading…

Does your B2B tech copy pass these five tests?

For marketers reviewing content, it can be tricky to pinpoint exactly what you do and don’t like about someone’s writing. Start with these five questions.

More posts you might like…

Avoiding v12 hell: how to stop your B2B content getting stuck in approvals limbo

There are many reasons why a piece of B2B content gets trapped in endless rounds of edits. Here’s our guide to avoiding practically all of them.

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It’s a heart-wrenching moment when your content misses the mark – but there’s no time to waste moping about it. Steve shares how to get a problem project back on track, and turn a content SOS into a memorable success.

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