Poetry in B2B: epic sword of lightning, or really bad idea?

With marketers looking for new formats to engage prospects, it can only be a matter of time before white papers start to be repurposed into poetry. George has one word of advice: don’t.

Does poetry have a place in B2B copy?

As B2B content marketers look for novel ways to engage customers, they’re leaving no avenue unexplored. In the past couple of years we’ve seen marketers experiment with rap battles, pop songs, quizzes and even colouring books.

It can only be a matter of time before B2B marketers turn to poetry. Maybe they’ve already started.

Before that happens, I’m here to tell you outright that poetry is not the rich seam of gold the B2B marketing world is looking for.

And I say this as a man who really enjoys poetry. I studied English at degree level, and spent my university years as that guy who wouldn’t shut the hell up about trochaic substitution and envelope rhyming.

But as much as I love a good verse, I feel very strongly that B2B marketers should not attempt to look to poetry for content inspiration.

Hey man! What’s wrong with poetry?

Nothing at all, good fellow! In fact, I’d argue that a good poem can say far more in a shorter space than a similar amount of prose can – something that may sound incredible to any copywriter who’s grappled with Twitter’s unforgiving character limit.

But the problem is that once you’ve packed all that delicious meaning into your quatrain, it’s up to your reader to unpack it again. And isn’t the point of good B2B copy to be direct and straightforward? It’s unlikely that many business people have the time or inclination to sit down and deconstruct your beautifully-nuanced sonnet.

Harsh! What would the great poets of old have said?

Probably not a lot about B2B marketing, but they certainly had a bit to say about poetry; most of it supporting the idea that poetry is its own end, and shouldn’t be used to support another agenda.

Take this particular gem:

“Poetry is a sword of lightning, ever unsheathed, which consumes the scabbard that would contain it.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry

At first, this sounds awesome. Which marketer wouldn’t love to wield of sword of lightning? It sounds like exactly the sort of thing that would turn (although possibly also decapitate) heads, grab readers’ attention, and stand out from that pile of musty white papers your competitor keeps churning out.

But wait! What’s this bit about “consuming the scabbard that would contain it”? That doesn’t sound quite so awesome. What might a “scabbard” be in B2B, and can we risk having it obliterated by our lightning swords?

I wouldn’t go as far as to the say that the format or platform of choice is the scabbard. You’d have to write some really explosive poetic copy for it to completely consume LinkedIn, or the fabric of language itself. (Seizes gauntlet – Ed.)

Instead, I’d argue what would be consumed by such deep poetry is the very product, service or content you’re desperately trying to promote.

So you’re saying that poetry will sell less?

Yes. The best content marketing should take its audience on a journey; guiding them to a product or service they want or need. The marketer’s aim should be to bring them speedily and efficiently to this destination; not to impede, delay or outright prevent their arrival.

So once you know what you want your prospect to do, it’s inadvisable to stay their hand from the ‘Buy Now’ button (or other vital CTA) by asking them to read an epic poem, no matter how epic or poetic. All this will do is slow down the buyer journey unnecessarily.

As one of the world’s greatest copywriters, David Ogilvy, said: “a good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.” (I realise we’re talking about content copy, not sales ad copy, but bear with me.)

And that, right there, is the issue with poetry in B2B. There’s no way to get a poem unnoticed by your readers. It will catch, snag and slow them down at every stage of the buying journey, and that just won’t do at all.

(My colleague Kieran, however, believes poetry does have a place in B2B copywriting.)

Need someone to wax lyrical for you?

Or write down to Earth B2B copy? Contact us today.

Header image includes an extract of “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth.


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