We are all taught how to use grammar from an early age. But are the rules you learned in school really set in stone – and could abandoning them actually boost your B2B marketing copy?
In my time here at Radix, I have learned from a team of skilled writers who have a lot of experience writing for the world’s biggest B2B brands.
One key lesson? There are some “rules” of grammar that should be broken – or, better yet, not regarded as rules at all…
Rule #1: Thou shalt not start a sentence with a conjunction
This rule may be the most popular of the bunch, ingrained in us from the very beginning. As children we tend to overuse conjunctions, because we don’t yet grasp the subtleties of punctuation and clauses. This creates an abundance of unnecessarily short sentences. For example:
We went to the beach. And we found a crab. And a shell. And saw Uncle George. And ate ice cream. And then we went home.
And that’s why teachers tell us not to do it.
However, there’s no rule against it. And when used thoughtfully – by trained adults – short sentences starting with conjunctions can actually be very helpful. Especially in B2B marketing copy. They can:
- break up long pieces of text
- making the copy easier to digest
- add emphasis to a specific point
- create a sense of urgency and dynamism
For example, witness the difference between:
Our new cloud solution is helping our North American customers increase productivity by 75%, cut operational costs, and boost IT team morale.
Our new cloud solution is helping our North America customers increase productivity by 75%. And it cuts operational costs. And boosts IT morale.
Rule #2: Thou shalt not end a sentence with a preposition
This idea originates from ancient Latin, and though many Latin rules have made their way into English grammar books, this one doesn’t necessarily fit. As the Oxford University Press explains,
“There’s no necessity to ban prepositions from the end of sentences. Ending a sentence with a preposition is a perfectly natural part of the structure of Modern English.”
Enforcing this rule can make text disjointed and uncomfortable to read – things very few B2B tech brands want their copy to be. For example…
Which of these common business goals does your company aspire to?
…is much more natural than:
To which of these common business goals does your company aspire?
Death to the present participle, or why “-ing” is not your friend in B2B headlinesB2B copywriters rely too much on present participles in headlines, straplines and titles. Here’s why that’s a bad thing.
(and we’re back in the room…)
Rule #3: Thou shalt never use the passive voice
Many B2B brands’ style guides encourage their writers to use the active voice because it’s direct, engaging, and, well, ‘active’. All of these are great qualities. But this doesn’t mean that the passive voice should never be used.
The passive voice allows for a variation in the tone of your copy that, in the right context, can be incredibly helpful.
In a B2B case study, for example, the passive voice can be used to keep the emphasis on the customer – and what they’ve achieved – as opposed to the product or solution they’re using (always a good idea, as our guide to B2B case studies demonstrates). For example:
Fiona was impressed by the new cloud security system, which cut her downtime in half.
The new cloud security system impressed Fiona by cutting her downtime in half.
The passive voice can also be used to express something in a less confrontational way as it alters the tone of the copy. Imagine if all your brand’s copy was written in the active voice. Something as simple as your requests for payments could look like this:
You haven’t paid this invoice.
As opposed to:
This invoice hasn’t been paid.
If it’s good enough for William Blake…
I think it’s safe to say breaking these “rules” won’t do your copy any harm. It might even add some diversity to your writing.
And if the pedants disagree, feel free to point them in the direction of this blog.
If it’s good enough for Blake, it’s good enough for us!
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green
(Just one word of caution. There are some rules you’ll never want to break: the ones set out in B2B brand style guides. There’s no better way to guarantee your copy will returned to you covered with exasperated comments and tracked changes!)
So, which “rules” do you think hinder great marketing copy?
Feel free to join the debate (there’s bound to be one) on social media. And if you want more B2B copywriting tips – straight to your inbox – be sure to sign up to our newsletter.