Account-based marketing owes a lot of its power to the way its content can speak to this reader in particular, and address their unique needs. But how much tailoring is too much?
Specifically, Rhiannon asked:
“How do you strike the right balance between your brand voice and messaging and hyper-relevance with a client, for example, by using their language?”
To answer Rhiannon’s great question, we’re thrilled to welcome two further well-known experts from the world of ABM. Our special interview guest is Andrea Clatworthy, Head of Marketing Transformation in Europe for Fujitsu, while our guest co-host Judy Wilks is International ABM and Executive Content Lead at Autodesk.
Along with Radix’s own David McGuire, we try to get to the bottom of how to show a customer or prospect you really understand them without being, well, creepy.
You’ll find a full transcript of this episode at the end of this post.
Need to balance relevance for the client and your own brand voice? Here are the key takeaways from the podcast:
1. Use the client’s language
It’s important to mimic the language your clients use when they talk about their business. Make sure that everything you say to them, you put in the context of their brand – not your own. According to Andrea: “It could be as simple as just recognising whether a client calls their customers ‘customers’, or ‘consumers’, or even ‘clients’.”
2. Focus on your customer’s worries, not your brand
Relevance to the reader is all-important in ABM, but it can be especially tough to find that blend between what your brand wants to say – and how it wants to say it – and what the reader needs to read. As Andrea explains: “Whilst your brand is important to the customer, it’s not the primary thing that they are worrying about.”
3. Be careful how you use research
With a lot of B2B content, there’s a temptation to show more of your research than you should. But in ABM, the risks of getting it wrong are even greater, so be careful – if you tell your reader things they already know, you’re not going to get very far. And remember, there’s a fine line between “personalised” and “creepy”.
4. Understand how people consume content
Finding out how your audience consumes information can give you a good indicator of how to deliver your content. “It’s worth the effort to find out if a client is turned on by numbers and graphs,” says Andrea. “Or if they prefer video over written, or they like snackable content rather than long-form. Figuring that out can be really helpful.”
5. Don’t tell the client you get them – show them
This golden rule holds true for any writing, but if your ABM content can show an understanding of your reader’s business (without telling them their business) you can provoke a powerful response. As Andrea explains: “If you get it right, the reader or, if you like, the consumer of your writing, will have a positive emotional reaction. And they’ll be more likely to share content internally and be your advocate.”
Want some further reading? Here are the sources Andrea mentions:
- For a great primer on ABM, Andrea recommends Bev Burgess and Dave Munn’s excellent book A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing.
- If you want to gain an insight into how people like to consume information, a good starting point for Andrea is DiSC® profiling.
Here’s what you can expect in this episode…
4:01 – David poses Rhiannon Blackwell’s question to Andrea Clatworthy.
15:00 – Co-host Judy Wilks gives her thoughts on Andrea’s insights.
21:58 – Judy and David discuss the fine line between “personalised” and “creepy”.
24:23 – Sarah Mullaney from She’s a Writer shares a copywriting pro tip.
25:05 – David updates us on the search for the best B2B content of all time. Ever.
Got a question? We’ll find the answer.
To get your burning B2B content question answered, just send us a voice memo at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if there are any other thoughts you’d like to share, you can connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter: @radixcom.
How to listen:
- You can download the episode here (right-click and select “Save As”).
- Or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.
- Alternatively, add our RSS to your preferred podcast player.
- Thanks to Andrea Clatworthy for sharing so many ABM insights.
- Heartfelt appreciation to Rhiannon Blackwell for her question.
- Cheers to Sarah Mullaney for sharing a fantastic copywriting pro tip.
- And enormous gratitude to Judy Wilks for being an excellent guest co-host.
Podcast editing and music by Bang and Smash.
Transcript: B2BQ&A 111 – How can ABM content balance relevance and brand voice?
Rhiannon Blackwell: How do you strike the right balance between your brand voice and messaging and hyper-relevance with a client? For example, by using their language.
Judy Wilks: Well, what a great question from Rhiannon, and something that’s very close to my heart. Let’s ask Andrea Clatworthy of Fujitsu, what she thinks.
David McGuire: Hello, listener, and welcome to B2BQ&A, the podcast where we go in search of an answer to your question about B2B content writing. This is episode 111.
Judy: Account Based Marketing, or ABM for short, relies on your content talking to a very specific audience about their very specific needs and concerns. But the big question is: how do you balance that with delivering your own messaging and brand voice at the same time?
In a few moments, ABM expert Andrea Clatworthy will answer that very question posed by our friend and colleague, Rhiannon Blackwell of PwC.
Plus, we’ll hear a copywriting pro tip from Sarah Mullaney and get an update on your search for the best B2B content of all time.
David: Before all that, let’s do some introductions.
My name is David McGuire. I’m Creative Director at Radix Communications, the B2B writing agency, and I’m delighted to say that we have another ABM leader as our co-host for this episode. It’s Judy Wilks, International ABM and Executive Content Lead at Autodesk.
Judy, thank you so much for joining us.
Judy: Thank you for having me. I’m very happy to be here.
David: That’s some job title. What does it actually involve?
Judy: That’s a very good question. So, in a nutshell, our team designs and creates content that does two things: content that fuels regional ABM programs and content that fuels global executive engagement within Autodesk.
David: So, from that point of view, as well as Andrea’s viewpoint, which we’ll get in a minute, you’re very well placed to help us answer Rhiannon’s question as well. So, that’s amazing. Thank you so much.
Before we get on to that, though, would you mind performing your first official duty as our co-host and telling the listener how they can get in touch with us?
So, listener, if you have any comments or suggestions, you can find Radix on LinkedIn or Twitter: @radixcom. Or, if you want us to answer your question in a future episode, just record a quick voice note and send it in by email: email@example.com.
David: That’s amazing. Thank you.
Judy: Now it’s time for our B2B Q&A for this episode. It comes from someone I know well from the ABM circuit; it’s PwC’s ABM leader for global marketing, Rhiannon Blackwell.
Rhiannon: How do you strike the right balance between your brand voice and messaging and hyper-relevance with a client – for example, by using their language,
David: Thanks, Rhiannon. It feels like we have a lot of ABM experts on the show today, which is great, because this really is an important question.
Relevance to the reader is all-important in ABM. When we’re writing ABM content, it can be especially tough to find that blend between what the brand wants to say and how it wants to say it, and what the reader needs to read.
So, how can you strike that balance? Well, I asked Fujitsu’s Head of Marketing Transformation in Europe and long-time ABM evangelist, Andrea Clatworthy. And I started by asking her Rhiannon’s question: just how do you balance client relevance and brand voice?
Andrea Clatworthy: This is such a great question. And it’s not an uncommon one.
It’s like a “depends” answer, which is never a good one, but I think it’s right to find the balance. And so thinking about it depends. For instance, if what you’re trying to do with your customer is perhaps reposition yourself, then you probably want to dial down your brand a little bit – without breaking the rules – and use more of the customer’s voice.
If perhaps it’s a new customer, or it’s new territory for you and you’re trying to break in, then perhaps you want to dial up your brand whilst recognising their voice. So it’s a really fine line.
And I find what we try and do when we’re creating the story and the narrative and the value proposition, we’re thinking all the time about what’s important to the customer. And whilst your brand is important to the customer, it’s not the primary thing that they’re worrying about. I would edge towards dialling it down just a little bit, but don’t break the guidelines.
I think it’s really important not to break your brand guidelines because they’re there for a reason. But you can stretch them. And you can take some liberties… perhaps.
Having said that, sometimes it’s appropriate to use some of the branding elements that your customer might have. So perhaps they’ve got an imagery style that you want to mimic rather than be 100% them.
Or it depends on what the communication is that you’re going to be providing. So, supposing it’s in the form of an infographic or something, as part of a conversation, and you want, you expect, and you’d love them to then use that asset, that you’ve created for them, with their stakeholders in their company, as part of their business case process if you like. Then you might want to make it slightly more their brand.
So, even though it looks like yours, and you’re suggesting this awesome thing, it’s easier for them to reuse that asset.
David: And that makes their life easier and turns them into kind of a representative of you. And I guess that goes for both brand elements, design-wise, but then also if they have a particular vocabulary, like a particular way of talking about a subject or an issue.
Andrea: Yes, there might be a project name that they use, or it could be as simple as just recognising whether they call their customers “customers”, or “clients”, or “consumers”? So, use the language that they use when they talk about their business.
David: Is there a chance, though, that a writer working on ABM Content could almost be too keen to show how much research they’ve done? And end up either telling the reader something they already know? Or just being a bit creepy?
Andrea: Yeah, that creepy thing is spot on, isn’t it? And actually, it’s relatively easy to get it wrong and I’ll give you an example of somebody pitching to me.
So, I’m a gamer. And somebody came in to see me, I reached out to them and said, you know, tell me stuff about your proposition. And they came to me, and they’ve ABMed and done everything personalised and tailored to me, which is great. And they focused on this gamer aspect. And I like a particular type of game, but they pitched to me using first-person fighter game, and they’re not the sorts of games that I like.
So they got the gaming bit, right, but they got the type of gaming bit wrong. So instantly, I’m kind of like: this is a bit creepy, and it’s wrong. So I gave them that feedback, you know, say thanks ever so much. It was so nearly right but made it completely wrong.
So using that research correctly is a trick there.
David: And I guess that must be easier – or maybe riskier – if you’re writing to accounts that you know well.
Andrea: If it’s an existing account, it’s much easier to get that balance right, because you know them and you’re in dialogue all the time, and you know completely what you’re doing. And the marketing part of that ongoing engagement will be reflective of the conversations that the account team or whoever is having.
So it’s much easier to get that right; it’s much harder when you don’t really know who you’re talking to. Then you probably edge a bit more on your brand, but reflect the language that you know that they use.
David: And when you’re doing your research in that case, and you’re thinking about the challenges they’re facing, and how your products and solutions can match that, how much are you thinking about the position that the company’s in? And how much are you thinking about the individual role? Like, are you thinking, “Oh, this is a company in the retail sector,” or are you thinking, “This is a CTO,” or whatever?
Andrea: It’s a bit of both to be quite honest. And then a bit contextual.
A company in the retail sector might be in growth mode, or they might be in massive reduction mode, as we’re seeing happening across the piece, they’re just reflecting where they are, because the language that you use might be slightly different.
If they’re in growth mode, and they’re being really prosperous, then they’re going to have a slightly different outlook on any future investments that they’re going to make, compared to if they need to reduce in one shape or form whether that’s people, or stores, or whatever. So it is both.
That persona piece is important too. So if it’s a CTO, then you know, there’s loads of work on personas and I think most people are probably reasonably comfortable with those.
But, then if you know who that CTO is, as a human being, then picking up on some of those things is equally important if you can get it right.
So I think that there are a few bits to this. There’s a bit about emotion. If you get it right, the reader, if you like the consumer of your writing, copy, assets – whatever it is – they have a positive emotional reaction, hopefully. And then they’re more likely to continue the conversation or, you know, share internally, and be your advocate. So, that’s a very clear signal.
David: I’m interested in the emotional response. What kind of response is that? Is that kind of a relief at feeling seen; that someone is recognising what they’re struggling with? Is it kind of delight and surprise, like, what sort of emotions are you seeing from the best content that you send?
Andrea: Yeah, those ones, and “relief” is a great word. Because actually, if you get the personalisation bit right, and what you’re suggesting you can help them with is right as well, then that’s the combo, because what you want people to do is to choose you above everybody else.
So, if you’ve delivered those messages correctly, you can kind of get a sense that these people get me and I can see how we could work together. And they’re going to solve a business problem one way, shape, or form, whatever that might be, with me when I choose to work with them.
So, it’s a bit of euphoria as well, I guess,
David: It’s not adding on something to make them feel emotional. It’s actually listening and thinking about what they really need, and then expressing that in a really kind of clear and impactful way.
Andrea: I think you’re spot on. That listening piece is really important, isn’t it? If you think about the old elephant adage: two big ears so do the listening first. If you get that right, then it can really help.
Now, how do you listen? That would be the next question.
We can read stuff, right? But quite often, if you’ve got an account team in with that account, they’re really getting to know those people, that person. So that they’re your primary source of that first-party insight if you like. It’s really important to include them in the process that you’re going through to create whatever it is you’re creating.
David: Okay, so we’ve thought about the branding, the voice, the vocabulary, and the kind of messaging that you’re aiming to deliver to make that connection. What else is important in ABM content that really works?
Andrea: Great question, again. I think it’s worth considering the format of the content that you’re going to be delivering.
Understanding how people consume information can give you a really good indicator of how to deliver that content. So, if somebody is very much numbers based, then think about making sure that there’s numbers and perhaps graphs.
If somebody likes to consume video over written, or perhaps they like snackable content rather than long form, and then working some of that out can be really helpful.
And clearly, you want to use omnichannel anyway. Don’t just rely on one thing.
There are some little things you can do. So you can use some DiSC profiling, for example, which will give you an indicator of the type of behaviours and brain workings, to use a non-technical term, that could determine how people like to consume information. So that’s quite a good starting point.
David: It’s really thinking about the individual and what they need, really in a kind of 360 way.
Andrea: Yeah, absolutely. And, we know, don’t we, as good marketeers, that different content and content formats work better at different stages of the customer journey. So, building that in as well to your comms plan is a good thing to do.
David: That’s amazing. Thank you.
So if the listener wants to find out more and really dive into the subject of creating really good ABM content, where do you suggest they go for more information?
Andrea: A really good starting point is a bit of reading. There’s a really great book by Bev Burgess called A Practitioner’s Guide to ABM. And it is a practitioner’s guide, so that’s a great place to start.
I’d also recommend reaching out to organisations like yourself, David.
David: [Laughs] Thank you very much; the cheque’s in the post
Thanks, Andrea, that’s great. It’s so helpful to know there’s no one right answer; you can dial your brand voice up and down – depending on the job your content needs to do.
Judy, what stood out for you there as an ABM leader?
Judy: Well, actually, “everything” is one answer. There was such a lot of great stuff in there and like a topic that I could talk about till the cows come home.
But there were two key things that Andrea said that I think are kind of foundational.
And number one is: never break the brand rules. That’s just a good starting point for any ABM. Not your brand rules, nor the client’s brand rules.
And then moving on, I pulled out this quote, and I wrote it down and I’m going to read it because I think it’s really essential to ABM.
Andrea said, “Whilst your brand is important to the customer, it’s not the primary thing that they are worrying about.” And that’s just absolutely crucial, you know. It’s a nice way of saying the customer doesn’t care about you or your brand. You have to make sure that everything you say to them, you put in the context of their business.
So what that means with getting that balance right between your brand and voice and theirs, is that if you, if your piece, either visually or stylistically shouts your brand, you’re actually not going to get your point across because your point in ABM is always: I understand your business. And if you’re shouting your brand, you’re not going to get that point across. So you need to think about that.
But, at the same time, it’s really powerful when you get it right that you can show the synergies between two brands.
David: So is it more complicated than the way the content sounds, the way the content looks, the vocabulary you choose, the register you write in, are maybe led by your brand, so that it’s recognisable, but the content, the stuff that you write about, the messaging, that kind of stuff is led by their priorities?
So maybe the content is about them, but the branding and the voice are about you? Or is it more nuanced than that?
Judy: I think that is your starting point. And then it depends.
I think you can look at it like a continuum. Absolutely, the content will always 100% be about them. That’s the starting point. But the continuum is then how much do you kind of shift the brand, the tone, the voice, the vocabulary, to reflect the customer, as well?
And that will depend on a couple of things. It will depend on: what is your level of awareness with that customer already, and what is the level of the relationship?
If, as Andrea said, you need to establish awareness with the customer, then you’re probably going to want to lean more towards your brand. But, if you’re at the partnership stage, then you might want to show how the two brands work together, so you really visually and stylistically get that partnership message across.
David: Yeah, and I guess, all of this with the proviso that when you talk about the vocabulary that you use, any specific terminology should be their terminology. So if they call their customers “clients”, or they call their customers “members”, for example, or if they have certain initiatives that they have their own language for, then you should absolutely adopt that rather than trying to impose your terminology on top of something that they would recognise.
Judy: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I don’t really have anything to add to that. I 100% agree.
David: With a lot of B2B content generally, there’s always a temptation, when you’ve done your research, to show maybe more of that research than you should and end up telling the reader things that they already know, to kind of show off how much you know.
I guess that’s an even stronger temptation, in ABM, given how much you will know about your particular audience, right?
Judy: Yeah. And this is a podcast so you couldn’t see me smiling then. But yes, absolutely. That is a real danger because as you say, you do a lot of research into the company and their business and you know a lot about them. And it’s ABM, so you really want to show them we understand your business. But if you just tell them what they already know about their business, you’re not going to get very far.
So I apply the adage here that you don’t tell someone you’re funny, you make them laugh. It’s the same thing: you don’t tell them everything you know about their business, you show that you understand their business by the recommendations that you make in the content.
And, let’s face it, you’re never going to know their business as well as they do. But the value that you bring is that you are an outside perspective. So you show them you understand their business, by adding that outside perspective to what you know about them – and perhaps sending them something they hadn’t thought of before.
David: Yeah, it’s the same thing as when I’m training copywriters in general how to do this stuff. OK, you’ve got this knowledge about them. So what?
So it’s not, you know, “Ah, this company has workforces on three different continents” or whatever it is, it’s “Because you have a workforce on three continents, you will need to handle time zones in this way or handle collaboration – and here’s a way that we can help you with that.”
Like, we’ve done the thinking around the “so what?” about the information that we have – we’re not just parroting back the information.
I think that’s obviously all the more important in ABM, and I think in any B2B content, that’s useful.
Judy: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, in any content, the more you talk about the customer, and the more you show an understanding of their business – without telling them their business – then it’s going to be more powerful. So yes, that is exactly it.
Which takes thinking. It’s one thing to have a load of data, it’s another thing to then analyse that data. So, suddenly the writer is not just a writer, you know, the writer is suddenly an ABM strategist as well.
And, I always say, “Writing is thinking.” It’s not just about putting words on a page, you’ve got to have those thoughts first before you can then articulate them nicely on a page.
David: Yeah. Do you have any advice on how much of your research it’s even okay to show before you start to kind of worry them that you’re getting a bit creepy?
Judy: Well, now we’re talking about talking to the individual, and as well as talking to the company. And, the topic of creepy personalisation, as I often call it, comes up a lot in ABM. And, I think one good standard is to think: how would I feel if it happened to me?
So, for example, on my Twitter profile, I probably say I’m a cat fancier. But if someone gave a business presentation, and it had cats all over it and used cat analogies, or gifs… is that going to make me like them more?
David: Of course it is! Be honest…
Judy: All right, well, even if you take cats out of the equation, you know, that’s creepy. And we come back to what is the one key word that sums up ABM? It’s relevance. Are cats relevant to that conversation? No, they’re not.
I think it’s much more powerful, if yes, you do your homework about that person, but you also try and understand their values. What are their motivations? What’s their personality type?
So, don’t just kind of look at what they do out of work, “Oh, David plays golf, let’s put some golf analogies in here.” That’s not relevant.
But, if you understand their motivations and the type of person they are, then you can tailor the content in the right way. So for example, if I think of myself as a bit of a change agent – and typically, I’ll have plastered that all over LinkedIn – it won’t be very difficult to find. If I’m that type of person, then you need to position whatever you’re proposing as some bold, exciting, disruptive move.
That’s much more powerful than putting some images of cats or golf into your content.
David: Before we finish this episode, there are a couple more things we need to do. First, it’s time for our copywriting pro tip.
Voiceover: Copywriting pro tip.
Sarah Mullaney: My name is Sarah Mullaney, from She’s a Writer, and my B2B copywriting tip is to have core materials about the values or proof points of the client within reach when you’re writing about them.
You can use these to focus less on what services or solutions the clients are offering and keep bringing the copy back to why the client is a leader in their field and why their customers continue to use them.
This will help you to get into the mind of the reader writing the most purposeful and benefit-driven B2B copy for them.
Judy: Thanks, Sarah. That sounds like a really useful tip for making sure that you can stay on track during the day.
So, David, I gather that you have something to ask the listener.
David: Yeah, I do… To mark the 10th anniversary of this podcast, we’re continuing our search for the best B2B content of all time.
Now, in particular, we’d like the listeners’ help finding the best blog posts, case studies, and web content. There’s so much to choose from out there, it’d be really helpful if anyone could tell us where to focus our search.
All you need to do is to jot down one or two of your favourites and email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just fire them at us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Anyway, Judy, thank you so much for co-hosting. It’s been so much fun to do this with you. I wish we had more time.
Judy: I know. Well, I’ve already said I could talk about this topic forever. So, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity.
And I guess while we’re at it, we should thank everybody else that’s been involved in this episode.
So, in no particular order, thank you, first of all, to Andrea Clatworthy, for answering the really great question. Thank you to Sarah Mullaney for the pro tip. And lastly, thank you to Rhiannon Blackwell for asking the question in the first place.
David: Rhiannon, I hope you feel that we have done you justice.
Remember listener, it could be your question we answer in a future episode.
Voiceover: If you have a question for B2BQ&A to answer, email a voice memo to email@example.com. Or find us on social media.
David: We’ll be back soon for another B2BQ&A.
Until then, make great content. And remember: a writer only begins the content; it’s the reader who finishes it. Well, either them or that stakeholder who won’t sign it off anyway.
David and Judy: Goodbye.