Five trends that changed B2B technology copywriting in 2012


2012 was the year content marketing went mainstream in the B2B technology sector – which made it a very interesting twelve months for us here in the copywriting trenches.

 

We’ve put together an audio presentation about five trends we’ve seen this year (sterling work by our research and marketing exec Emily, who researched, wrote, designed, narrated and recorded it!) but I think it’s worth recapping them in a blog post too.

Obviously copy is a huge part of content marketing – ebooks must have text, infographics must have facts and labels, and videos must have scripts, so we expected to see demand for our writing services increase as content marketing became more popular.

What we didn’t expect was that our business would double in the space of a year – but that’s what happened. (Cadbury’s Heroes all round in the Radix office!)

That 100% growth was down to five main trends:

1. Content formats started to fragment. Up to the middle of the year, we were mainly writing four types of content for our clients: white papers, case studies, ebooks and e-newsletters. Three of these have been B2B technology content staples for years, and the ebook boom was pretty well underway by the second half of 2011.

Then, around May-June, everything changed. Clients whose campaigns had previously only consisted of webinars and the odd white paper suddenly started coming to us with huge lists of things to be created – lots of it intended for social sharing and mobile viewing. Suddenly we were writing copy for in-depth infographics, snappy infobites, interactive e-books, animated product demos, live-action videos, and much more.

Breakdown of the content types we wrote this year

Nowhere is this more evident than in infographics, which comprised precisely 0% of our output before May, and now account for a massive 20% of it.

We’re still writing lots of white papers, ebooks and case studies, but the variety of content that we’re writing has increased massively.

On average we’re now writing copy for seven infographics a month, often involving a lot of visualisation of industry trends – which is one of the reasons we created a dedicated researcher role here at the agency this year.

2. Programmes of content replaced one-off pieces. Increased use of marketing automation software is probably behind this one. In 2011, very few marketers in the UK were using tools like Marketo, Eloqua or Silverpop to create long-running marketing campaigns designed to maintain regular contact with leads through the very long buying cycles that we have in the B2B tech sector.

(In a depressed economy, when you’re looking to spend £1m+ on a new go-faster server or CRM suite, it takes a long time, lots of due diligence and many people to make the final buying decision.)

Now, lots more marketers are using these marketing automation apps to nurture leads over the long term. That means feeding them with regular, useful and relevant content as they – ideally – move down the marketing funnel to the point where they’re ready to buy something.

So whereas before, a campaign might have consisted of one downloadable white paper with some telemarketing follow-up, and a lot of leads thrown away because the customer wasn’t ready to buy there and then, a campaign may now comprise an introductory video, a number of carefully-targeted ebooks and checklists, a set of case studies and one or more webinars.

Stan Woods of Velocity Partners [disclosure: Radix client] gave a really good case study presentation at Econsultancy’s Funnel event in November on why this approach works better – see video below.

And the main campaign may be supported with blog posts on particular topics of interest, infographics to pique attention, and infobites for sharing across social networks to increase awareness.

All that means a lot more copy – and that’s something that’s definitely driven our growth this year.

3. The mobile boom. Mobile is a huge topic in B2B marketing, which now needs to adapt to audiences that are only or primarily using smartphones or tablets to view, read and share information.

Arguably, though, its impact on the copy side of things hasn’t been so radical. We’ve seen ebooks designed with tablets in mind, and infographics slimmed down to infobites for smaller form-factor devices, but there’s not really such a thing as ‘mobile-optimised’ copy. If anything, social media has been a bigger driver of shorter, snappier, more engaging and more shareable content.

For now, our main concession to mobile optimisation is in writing email subject lines that get the key reason for opening the email into the first 20 or so characters, so the impact doesn’t get lost when the subject line is truncated on a small-screen device.

We haven’t yet seen clients do device-specific or location-based campaigns – maybe those have yet to make the leap from B2C to B2B – so we haven’t had to take our audience’s location, device or current activity into account in the copy we write, but that may come along in 2013. It’ll be a nice challenge if so!

4. The return of corporate blogging. Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, a set of (ongoing) tweaks to its search algorithms to penalise sites using poor quality content or content taken from elsewhere on the web, have had an interesting impact on the work we do.

In a nutshell, Google now tends to favour sites with fresh, high-quality, original and relevant content that are linked to from sites with a lot of authority, as opposed to fresh, low-quality, duplicate and keyword-stuffed sites that are linked to from anywhere, which is what worked before.

That’s led to an upswing in corporate blogging. For a while it looked as though corporate blogging was on its way out (maybe because marketers got distracted by the audience-building potential of Twitter and Facebook, and momentarily forgot that all those Twitter and Facebook posts had to link through to something), but this year we’ve seen it make a huge comeback.

The fact that Google likes high-quality content that gets linked to by influential sites and people is one factor behind the increase in blogging, but it’s not the only one. Content marketing depends on the production of content that’s authoritative, engaging and relevant to the buying audience.

In B2B technology, where a single purchase can easily run into millions of pounds, the quality, reliability and expertise of the vendor is critical to the buying decision. Tech companies that put out poor quality content are effectively saying “look at us, we’re rubbish”.

One of the best ways to produce high quality content is to get a professional writer to mine the company’s experts – and its customers – for nuggets of useful information, combine them with industry insight, and create a series of blog posts that reveal that expertise and insight to the buying audience. That’s led to a lot more blog-writing work for us this year – and I’d expect to do even more in 2013.

5. The rise of visual content. If you’ve been in B2B tech for a while, you’ll know that, as an industry, we didn’t really used to do much in the way of pictures. Marketing was mainly academic-style white papers peppered with a few charts and solution architecture diagrams, or written case studies with at most a couple of photos of the customer company, but more likely just its logo.

That’s all changed as marketers started to realise that B2B buyers are people too, and people respond better to interesting, captivating visual content than to huge chunks of dry text.

So while white papers and case studies are still very much part of the mix, there’s been a definite move to making them more visually appealing, with interesting graphic design, fewer words (and more conversational, enjoyable-to-read words) on the page, and a lot more emphasis on using live-action video, digital animation, interactive features and infographics to get the message across and make interesting points come alive.

For us, that’s meant learning a whole lot of new skills this year, especially working far more closely with designers than we ever had previously. We’ve had to really think hard about how our copy is going to look on the page, how it’s going to complement the design, and what the designer needs to know about how the copy works and how it should come across.

It’s been a big learning curve, but the results have been great – our copy has never looked this good! Here are a few of our favourites from this year – all done with Velocity, who have a fantastic team of designers:

And that’s it – five trends that changed our business in 2012. We’re really looking forward to what 2013 brings, and we’ve been asking some marketing friends in the industry for their predictions – look out for that in the next post.

Header image “Gallipoli Trenches” by State Library of South Australia used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


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