Want to deliver crisp, clear copy that gets results? In this live webinar recording, consultant copywriter George Reith shows you how to avoid common writing mistakes that could be holding your B2B content back.
There’s a big gulf between clear, concise writing, and copy that distracts from your message. But bridging that gap might not be as difficult as you think.
Whether you’re a veteran B2B copywriter, or someone who’s new to content writing, avoiding the seven most common copywriting mistakes can help you can level up your copy – and deliver outstanding results.
With plenty of real-life examples, you’ll learn how to:
- Focus your writing around clear, logical structures
- Understand your audience and what they want to read
- Dissect and improve your B2B copy
The full webinar transcript:
David: Welcome everybody, thank you for coming.
I am thrilled to say that this is quite possibly the most popular webinar we’ve run to date, and with good reason. You’ve made a very good choice in joining us today. Our expert George is probably too polite to say so, but he really does know what he’s talking about.
George has got about a decade experience of writing content for some of the biggest tech brands in the world as well as mentoring many of our new recruits here at Radix and setting new writers off on a good path.
So really, when it comes to giving you advice on straightening out the errors or the potential mistakes and pitfalls that you might make in your copy, you really could be in no safer hands, and it gives me great pleasure to be embarrassing him like this.
So before I go on too much further, I’ll hand over to George Reith, George, take it away.
George: Well, thank you David for that very glowing introduction it’s made me quite rosy-cheeked and thank you everyone for joining in today. I’m really excited to talk to you about a topic near and dear to my heart, which is making lots of mistakes and trying to recover from them. But yes, I. I’ve obviously called this The Deadly Sins of B2B Content. B2B technology, that’s the sector where I specialise in, in terms of content writing and marketing
But I think this does have an application to quite a broad range of people so whether you’re writing content regularly for your brand or someone else’s. Or if you have to don the hat of writing sometimes to review someone else’s work and broader marketing role play or coordinating your content efforts, and I think there would be something here for you.
On the B2C side as well, if you’re a business to consumer marketer or content creator, I think there was something here for you too, but you may have to put up with some very B2B focused examples.
Just a little bit of housekeeping.
Again, as we’ve said, please jump in with questions early and often. Pop them in the QA box as soon as they come to your brain. We’ll try and sort of answer questions as we go through each section of the webinar, but there will be time at the end for a chunkier, more general Q&A session, so please be up front with your questions.
And in terms of what we’re going to cover today, it’s quite a packed agenda, but we’ll get through it.
We’ll be looking first on why I’m focusing on mistakes – there’s wisdom to the madness. I’ll also tell you a little bit about me, I’m not going to massively oversell myself or anything, but I figure you might want to know that it’s not going to be a complete waste of your time. And then we’ll cover the Seven Deadly Sins in order and in each one will obviously delve into that challenge a little bit more.
I’ll give you a real copy example I found out in the wide world and I’ll show you how I tweak it and give some general advice on avoiding that stake in future.
And then of course, at the end, as I said – time for a few questions and answers which would be really great.
But first, this is where the first poll comes in you can get a little bit of interactivity in there, so it’s not just me rambling on. I’d like to know a little bit more about you.
Some of you have already been typing in the chatbox and telling us about where you’re from, and I’d love to know a little bit more about your specific role and how involved you are in in in writing.
Are you a freelance writer? Do you work with an agency and in-house writer? Are you in another marketing role that isn’t directly responsible for writing, but is adjacent to it? Or are you something completely different? Maybe you’re a student. Maybe you’re a role I haven’t even thought of.
I only had so many radio buttons so you can click other and feel free to type in chat if you want to go into detail about what your role is and your relationship to writing in your company.
David: I think we’ve got almost all of the attendees have clicked now, George. I think there are just one or two just being a little shy.
George: Well, don’t be shy there’s no judgment I promise I’m not going to bash on freelancers.
David: It’s a broad spread, I think.
George: It’s a very broad spread, so 29% of you are marketers. Some of you are freelance writers, 10% of you. 19% agency, 33% are writing in house that’s really cool. And two of you have said you’re from another role.
If you’d like to type in the chatbox and tell me what that role is, I’d love to know. My aim here is to just understand a little bit more about the spread of people we have today. Because of course I want to make this as relevant to you as possible, and no point preaching to the choir if everybody’s tilted one way. But we’ve got a really good spread, so I think there’ll be something here for everyone.
The next part I just want to put a little bit about why I’m focusing on mistakes, because it might seem a little bit dreary. But from my experience, mistakes are really easy to spot and can be the biggest thing you can do to give your content a huge boost in terms of quality and performance.
Now of course we would all want to be fantastic writers and to work with fantastic writers delivered the best copy we can. But what defines good versus great can be very fine and difficult to spot, and very subjective.
Of course, what would be amazing copy for, say, a fresh start-up organisation might not be appropriate for a very long-serving institution. So, I think if you focus instead on the fundamentals, it can be a little clearer how to find a path to delivering really, really strong copy that gets you results.
I promise it’s not just me being cynical.
So, a little bit about who I am.
I’m the handsome one, second, from the right in case that wasn’t obvious. But more importantly, I’m part of this really good team, Radix.
And we’ve got about a dozen writers in house writing full time dedicated to B2B technology content. And in my time working here I’ve had the pleasure of being mentored by many of them.
They’ve called me out on the mistakes I’ve made and helped me learn and I’ve gone on to mentor quite a few of them as well and offer the same guidance to new writers coming through.
And in my time doing that, I’ve worked with quite a lot of big names in the B2B sector, and as you know, many of these brands, they don’t become big household names by settling for second best, they will really tell you if you’re not delivering the results they want to see, so I’ve been lucky to work with them and learn a lot in the process.
I appreciate that’s me kind of self-aggrandising saying look at all these brands I’ve written for. So, seeing as this is about mistakes, I should probably also tell you that I had a lot of bad feedback over the years.
I was young and foolish once too.
I’ve had a few things come my way, more general, gentle feedback at the top, ranging to the soul-destroying and the nightmare-inducing down below.
You know, you can’t win them all.
But I’ve learned I’ve grown from this, and I feel it’s helped put me in a place where I can help other writers, both in my organisation and hopefully in yours to correct mistakes and not get this kind of feedback.
So, let’s move on to some of these seven deadly sins and what we can do to avoid them, so my first one is making promises that you can’t keep or won’t keep. And I do mean literal promises here.
If you’re sending out an email that says hey, come join this webinar and then there’s no webinar, it’s a pretty obvious one. But I also mean more generally. Setting up a punchline. You then have to resolve it later in your content. You can’t leave loose threads.
So internal logic is extremely important. You have to resolve points that you set up. You can’t just throw out a challenge and then never address it later in your ebook. It feels unsatisfying. And I think it’s very important to make it very clear to the reader how everything connects in your piece.
I’m not saying we need to be really direct and spell it out. But I think if there’s not an obvious chain of, setting up a challenge and then going OK, here’s how this affects you, and here’s how this solution comes in, and here’s the benefits. If that gets muddied, I think it can be something quite tiring to read, and obviously, especially for those in B2B like me, we write for very smart people, sure, but I don’t think anyone ever complained about something being too easy to read.
So, I think making it straightforward and obvious where the logic is going in your narrative, is a really crucial thing to do. Here’s a bit of an example for you.
Obviously, in the era post GDPR, it’s quite hard to accidentally wind up on a mailing list, but before then it was a bit more of a Wild West. I somehow got signed up to a newsletter from a company that does consultancy around regulatory compliance, which I know is probably getting everybody feeling very excited right now.
And I’m on this newsletter and I don’t mean to pick on them. I actually don’t think it’s bad content at all. It’s very targeted to the topic at hand, however, there’s a few things I’d like to tweak, particularly about this one, I think it has quite a clear through line about Sarbanes Oxley compliance, new ways to do it and they’ve got a webcast about it, which sounds great. My issues that we start off with the title. It’s really good, it talks about Sarbanes Oxley and internal control systems. Then we’re like banging webinars in straight away. OK, fine. Then back to Sarbanes Oxley again and a little bit more about that. Then ‘join this webcast’. OK guys. And then I’m going back to Sarbanes Oxley.
It’s a little stop-start.
They try and dovetail a little bit too much. I think it just slightly over complicates the flow of the email. So what would I do to tweak it? I keep the title the same because I like it. It even tells you how long the webcast is going to be nice, and I just keep it more straightforward.
We’d start with Sarbanes Oxley. You’d set the scene hey, you might need another way to approach compliance with this particular regulation. We’ve got a webcast that can help you do that. We’ve got lots of experts talking on it from the Big Four, and if you tune in, you’ll learn one, two, three, four bullet points of really amazing benefits that the reader will get.
Hopefully, you get the idea that just by simplifying the: setting up the problem, moving forward to the solution, which of course is to go through to the webinar, it’s just going to be a little bit cleaner.
How do we avoid this sin in general? how do we stop that from happening in the first place?
First thing is to of course plan your structure before you start drafting. I find when you’re looking for how threads connect, particularly in an ebook or a long blog. If you’re looking at a whole draft full of words, it can sometimes be hard to spot those connections and make sure they’re there. I think if you plan it in advance and you’re just looking at the list of bullet points in an outline or a plan, it’s much easier to see. Oh yeah, I’ve talked about this challenge and I never come back to it. I need to put something in here to resolve that point.
You got to edit ruthlessly, of course. I’m sure everyone here knows that. I’m going to be beating this point quite a few times because it’s really important and it ties up quite a lot of things. If you edit a lot and you take the time to really go through these multiple times, it can be quite easy to see where you’re not quite guiding the reader enough. So I think that’s a really important way to avoid this as well.
So before we move onto this second one, and you’re probably all excited to dive into it. I thought I’d take the opportunity, David, have you had any Q&A is coming through yet?
David: No questions yet, but Miriam, she’s one of the people who clicked other, said she manages a team of freelance and in-house writers and editors.
George: Nice, very cool. Miriam well, hopefully there’s something for you here that will be useful for, probably not yourself, but maybe your team would find something that’s beneficial.
Well again like I said please jump in with your questions I’m sure it’s just because you were so enraptured by what I’m saying. You just want to hear me keep going with no interruption, but please do interrupt me and give me a chance to catch my breath.
OK, let’s move on to the second one: Not getting to the point.
I think this one is pretty obvious, but we’ve got a few things we can say here. So obviously you only get one chance to make a first impression. You don’t have long to capture your readers attention, depending on what you’re writing. If you’ve got a whole ebook to play with you have more room. If you have an email, you may have a single subject line in which to really get someone’s ears perk up, and you can’t waste that opportunity. And I think we all want that perfect intro that sets the scene, but then gradually goes into more specifics.
But I think if you put it too high level, especially if you don’t have a lot of words to play with, it can get people to tune out pretty quickly. I’m sure we’ve all seen that content that starts ‘Within today’s challenging economic climate’, and we’re just sat there going: oh yeah, that challenging economic climate again, huh? So of course, we want to avoid things like that. Not saying anyone in this room of course have made that mistake, but I’ve seen it happen. So you need to pick the right ticket to go.
So we have a weird example. It’s a project I worked on, and I can’t show you any copy as I don’t want to break another screen. I can show you this picture from the Greek mythology Canon. If anybody can guess who this is, you get a Gold Star. I’ll give you a few seconds to have a think. I promise this is relevant by the way.
If you guess that this is Prometheus, you would be correct and you can give yourself a pat on the back and for anyone who isn’t familiar with that myth, Prometheus climbs Mount Olympus and takes the fire of knowledge, brings it back to man so they can become enlightened for the first time and Zeus does some very horrible things to him in punishment.
It’s not a very nice tale, so I’ll leave it at that. But anyway, I was asked by a client to edit a 10,000-word thesis someone had written on AI and its place in the modern world. It’s a very focused paper on ethics. It was all about what happens when businesses start using AI. What moral conundrums do we need to consider as artificial intelligence becomes more pervasive in business and our lives?
And they started with this big Prometheus myth. Now it was a long paper, so they had a fair bit of time to kind of weave in this metaphor first and I was quite excited when I read it. I thought, I see where you’re going with this. Fire of knowledge – this is like the AI is bringing a new fire of knowledge, but if we’re not careful we will be punished as well. I thought that’s cool. I like that. Unfortunately though, the Prometheus myth carried on for another 2000 words and it’s safe to say that my enthusiasm was slightly dampened by the end of reading that many words on it.
It wound up being an OK paper actually in the end, but yes, there was a lot of cutting to do in that section. So how would I tweak it? You don’t need to waste your time too much with this. I would simply only use 250 words to talk about Prometheus or if it was going to be a much shorter piece. Probably have to cut it completely. Which is a shame, but there we go. You’ve got to kill your darlings from time to time, as we all will.
So how do you avoid this sin more generally? Of course you need to be very aware of what you’re writing. As we’ve said already, if you’re writing something longer, you have a little bit of time to play around with. If you’re writing an email, or a very short blog, you cannot waste a single word. You need to be absolutely ruthless about getting to the point very quickly. I’d also urge you to consider who you’re writing for. A little bit more about this later.
Knowing your audience but at a high level. We’re talking about the idea that some job titles are going to be much more time-poor than others. Now if you’re writing for the C level, very high-level decision-maker, they probably have some time built into their role to consider strategically important things and read content about it. So you maybe have a little room to play with.
More than you would certainly if you talk to someone on the ground like an engineer, or a person on the sales floor. They’ve got a lot of work to do, and they don’t have time to read a very long Prometheus myth. So I would urge you to get to the point and make it very clear to them what the benefits are quick.
And of course, my old favourite suggestion. Do some editing, get someone else to read it, preferably because while you may love your extremely extended complicated fancy intro, someone else might read it and sort of go. What’s this? So that will give you a very quick clue as to whether you’re spinning your wheels a little too much in your intros.
So David, feel free to jump in and shout if you get any questions. If not, I’ll just carry on.
David: We have got one. Melanie says, ‘Any top tips for identifying the most important information to keep in long pieces like the ones you describe?’
George: Ah, see that is an excellent question, and I’m not going to answer it right now because you’ve given us all a bit of a spoiler alert. For one of the upcoming deadly sins. So hold fire on that Melanie. I promise I’ll get around to it. I will answer your question and thank you for typing it in.
So let’s jump on to the third one: Having too much to say. Hopefully, this one will wrap up your point Melanie. Normally I think a lot of whether it’s an internal stakeholder you’re working with, an external client, or a freelancer working in an agency? I think some clients or stakeholders think they’re doing us a massive favour by sending them through loads of information on products you’re writing, on business, etc.
Sometimes it’s a bit of a curse if you have too much to look at – too much to try and cram in. It’s very busy in your content. You can have too much of a good thing. In my view, I think every single part of your content should do one thing and do it impeccably well.
So every sentence has one clear topic. Every paragraph has one big thing It’s trying to cover. Every whole piece of content even, needs to have a focus. Obviously, something larger, like an ebook, you can pull in some other strands and go into a bit more detail, but I think you shouldn’t stray from the core message you’re trying to get across.
It needs to have that. Driving force behind. It all needs to do one thing, and do it as well as it possibly can. Here’s a little example of how that works with my compliance partners. Sorry again for picking on them. We’ve got quite a lot going on in one paragraph. In orange, I’ve highlighted quite a lot of challenges raised about this topic of harnessing technology to mitigate compliance risks.
They start off the challenges. Of course, it’s very advisable. They then move on to some of the benefits that floated in purple. Some of the reasons why you should definitely be looking into this and then give a suggestion of some solutions you might take to solve these issues. However, that’s all in one paragraph. It’s quite a lot to digest.
If I was a compliance professional in this landed in my inbox, I might be a bit turned off by how quite feastly this paragraph is. So there’s a few things we can do to tweak things like this. I’ve switched the title around, it’s a bit picky on my part, but I think leading with the benefit and then talking about the solution just feels a little bit more relevant and shows the reader they’re definitely going to get something out of this.
And then I would focus on one thing at a time in each paragraph. Short paragraphs are really appropriate for emails in particular. So I have this short one here diving into a little bit about some of the challenges people are facing currently. Then I’ll talk a little bit about what people do to solve it, the dangers of not investigating this properly and sitting on your hands. And then of course we do the big reveal of got to get this asset, it’s going to tell you how to fix that.
So again, probably the same rough word count there just split up. And I think it immediately makes things more readable, more clear, hopefully more helpful. So back to your question, Melanie from earlier, how do you avoid this sin?
You need to know what to cut and when to cut it, and unfortunately a big part of this just comes down to experience. But of course I’m sure lots of you have that experience already. You’ve already got that intuition. I think people sometimes need to give themselves permission to listen to that gut feel.
Things like, is this relevant? So I would urge you to listen to that voice in your head I urge you to be extremely ruthless with the information you’re given. Anything that doesn’t support that one thing the piece needs to do, that paragraph needs to do, etc. I think you should be quite bold about cutting it or moving it somewhere else to another piece of content.
And I think you shouldn’t be afraid to explain why you’re doing that. I think you know our clients, our stakeholders, our subject matter experts come to us because they want expert guidance on what good content looks like And I think we need to be courageous and saying to them, I’m telling you as someone who does this a lot that you need to focus on this. This is your ticket.
Of course, if you’re not comfortable doing that, totally get that. I think just bat it back to them and let them answer the question. Say look, there’s a lot here, we’ve only got 500 words. What’s the top thing? What are the two things we need to say? What’s the one thing? Ask them the question and let them guide you that way.
Well, hopefully that answers the question for you Melanie. A very roundabout way with multiple slides, but we got there. In the end.
Cool, so David, do you feel free to interrupt me answering your questions or I’ll just. Keep climbing through.
David: I think we’re alright to, to keep going. I just kind of was making the point in the chat that I think a lot about, as well as experiences, about knowing your audience and what they care about. Why it makes a difference to them as well. You know, having your audience in mind is always important when you’re cutting stuff.
George: Absolutely. It’s a topic I may or may not address later. Okay, enough spoilers. Let’s crack on. And again, like I said, if there any questions, I really enjoy answering them.
The next one is a bit of an inverse from that last thing, having too little to say. Of course, we know if you’re running on fumes, you’ve got no brief in front of me, it’s a very challenging situation to be in. So you’ve always got to be ready to ask for more. We’re writers, marketers, we’re not alchemists, you can’t make something out of nothing. You’ve got to have some information to process and turn into fantastic products.
I’ve seen quite a few people try and do that thing where they’re a little afraid to ask subject matter experts a question they don’t think is smart enough, they’re worried they’re going to sound stupid. So they assume I’ll just google it, it will be fine. That sometimes works, but it’s a big risk and I don’t think it’s worth it.
And I think this one is particularly difficult, because in my opinion, every writer has a unique tell when they don’t have quite enough to say and they’re playing for word count. A little bit more on that in a minute. But first, a quick example from you.
I’ve not picked on the compliance people this time, to vary it up. And so a very short thing from an email marketing company about email deliverability and the perils that come with it. Quite interesting topic, we’ve got a bit of an issue here in they submitted a cardinal sin of emails where we’ve have quite a good title here, and then immediately repeat it basically in different words, in a slightly more fleshed out way.
Everything it’s saying is good, and it’s actually pretty punchy, it just feels like it’s kind of playing for time. And it tells us there’s a lot of expertise, but it doesn’t really show us how, it doesn’t go into details of what we might learn and things like that. It’s just a few things missing. I’d like a bit more of a teaser of what this guide is going to do for us as readers.
So how would I tweak it? It’s a bit tricky this one because I’ve literally just told you not to go off having no information, but unfortunately I couldn’t download the guide, it’s a bit of an old email. So I’m committing my own sin and I don’t have the information to rewrite this properly.
But I’ve given it a go anyway. I’ve thrown in a few questions in the title and the opener just to spice it up. We’re not quite repeating ourselves, we’re asking the question, why exactly does this happen and what can we do to stop it from happening? It’s a bit cheesy. I know. But I didn’t have much to work with and we’ve all got to do it sometimes.
And then I’ve just tried to be really concise for the rest of it. Our guide is going to answer those questions for you, it’s going to give you some tips. And I put the thing about the decade of experience, doing a practical guide, and it’s going to show you how to do these three things. Those bullets would be the key, I think that’s the point where you have to reveal a bit about what that guide is going to say. But I’m not able to do that, because I don’t have the guide. Sorry. Hopefully, you can see what I’ve done there to just speed through. I think if you’re really stuck, and you don’t have the information, you’ve just got to be concise. That’s the sort of key here.
So how do you avoid this in general? As I said, I think every writer has a waffle phrase, they have a particular approach they use when they’re a little bit nervous. And I think over time, you can work out what your own is. And that makes it very easy. Because the moment you spot yourself using it, you can be like, yeah, I need to get some more content in here, I need to get some actual ideas thrown in, I need to go back and ask my subject matter experts for more info.
I can’t really talk about waffle phrases. Now without telling you my own. I need you to promise me that you won’t tell any of my colleagues, David’s going to hear it. But if any of the others here are going to pull me up on this interview, I’m going to have a really hard life. So keep this to yourselves. My waffle phrase is that I use that sentence structure where you go: While x is important, you must also consider y. And you know, it’s not a good use of words frankly. So I’m working on it, don’t worry. But I’d urge you to try and identify your own open phrases so you can work on those too and strip them out.
Of course, you need to identify when you don’t have enough information and be ready to ask for it. I was always told that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. One day, I’m sure someone will prove me wrong. But in general, in my experience, and I’ve been on quite a few calls, I’ve never heard someone who’s an expert in their field get annoyed answering questions on it. Most people like to talk about what they’re familiar with, what they know, and what they’re experts in. So feel free to ask questions, even basic ones, people are happy to give you the information. The only silly thing you can do is not ask the question and then start using waffle phrases like the kind I just told you that I use.
There’s your way to prevent this from happening. This is one of the ones I think where prevention is much better than cure, try and do these things really early and get that information while you’re on call with subject matter experts.
Okay, moving on, do stop if there’s any questions and I will answer them. So too much writing, not enough editing, we’ve been building up to this one, the big editing one. I know you probably all have heard this a million times before. But we’ll put a bit of interactivity in just to keep you on your toes. I’d really like to know a little bit more about your general approach for editing. Copy that either you’ve written, or you’ve seen from someone else.
We’ll put up a poll in a second. I’d love it if you can let me know your general approach. I’ve got a few here. Obviously, there’s so many ways to approach this so please select other and type a little bit in in chat if you’ve got a really unique way of approaching editing. Maybe you’ll be teaching me rather than me teaching you on this one.
Cool, so everyone had time to enter an answer. Remember, don’t be shy. There is absolutely no judgement here.
David: Yeah. There are just a few people that are either being shy or they’re checking their emails.
George: I’m not going to put anyone on blast. Do use spell check. That’s cool. I’m into it.
David: Oh, there’s at least one other that would be interesting to know in the chat what that is? Yeah, there’s a couple of people that haven’t yet but we can, you know, they may be busy or something. So we can maybe close the poll rather than the waiting for absolutely everybody.
George: Yeah, that’s fine. Let’s just share the results.
David: It’s interesting. There you go.
George: Nice. Okay, cool. No one’s just relying on spellcheck. Very good. Well done, passed the first test.
Cool. A lot of people taking multiple passes to each document. That’s really good to hear. I think. I’ll go on to this in a minute. But I think if you have to review something on your own without anyone else looking at it, that’s kind of the best way to do it.
Someone said here: multiple passes, then subject knowledge expert, their internal reviews. Nice, Emily, you are living the dream. This is kind of what we want. It’s about just putting multiple layers of editing in as we will see.
Cool. So I think you’re all experts on this. So I won’t take too long banging on this one. But I think it’s a Hemingway quote this one: there’s no such thing as good writing only good editing. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. The best writers in the world have never produced a perfect first draft. So what hope do we mere mortals have?
Everyone makes typos. Everyone flubs. It’s fine. Just get it down on the page. And editing is where the quality comes into it.
I do think if you write something, you’re probably too close to review it really well. Sometimes we have no choice, of course, deadlines looming, and no one has space in their diary or colleagues are slammed as well. Sometimes you’ve got to review it yourself. But I think the human brain does a horrible thing where it fills in patents, it doesn’t look at what’s on the page, it thinks about what we thought about while we were writing. And you can miss out on some, in my case, real humdingers of typos, let me tell you. So get someone else to look at it with a clear head, you’ll pick up a lot of things that way.
I can’t really show you an example here, by the way, because, in theory, you should never see this in live copy that’s out there. And again, I’m not going to pull up my own day laundry too much on this webinar. So no example, but I can give you some tips on how to avoid it. Of course, the big one is to just get someone else to look at your work. If you can push back a deadline, if you’ve got enough room to do that, to get someone else to put eyes on it. It’s worth doing.
If you are going to edit your own work, I always suggest going really slowly. I mean, almost read aloud every syllable in your head. If you try and read at the speed you normally would when you’re just reading something to digest information, it’s inevitable, you’ll skip over a few things. If you take the time to really go through each word each syllable at a time, you’d be surprised how much you’ll catch.
And of course, nearly everyone’s doing this already, take multiple passes through the document. I try and split it up into different goals each time. So I think one looking at the structure on out any big ticket things were like a paragraph isn’t mixing together or anything like that. Then you can go through and look at the phrasing and only need sentences that just aren’t quite landing. And then when you sorted that out, you can look through the grammar and the typos and the fun stuff.
Nice. Yeah, good point about the read-aloud feature in Word, David, that’s a bit of a secret weapon. One of the people I’m tutoring at the moment they use the word read aloud feature a lot. And I’m always knocked out by how consistent their copy is. So it’s a really good one. Do put headphones on. It sounds a bit weird with the animatronic question from the Microsoft Office Suite. That’s a really good suggestion.
Cool. Okay, barring any questions, move you on to the next one. Appreciate I’ve been going for a little while I hope everyone’s hanging in there, we only got two more sins to cover – some pretty juicy ones. So do stay tuned. The next one is being too clever. Now I’m going to sound like the fun police here. When I say being clever, I don’t necessarily mean you can’t talk about complex topics or use industry jargon and technical terms. Of course, in B2B, you’re going to have to do that at some point, otherwise, you’re not going to seem credible to your audience.
I mean, that kind of writer clever, when someone’s itching to get a pun in or can’t get away from this wordplay. I’ve got the structure for a case study; it’s going to be really original. I think, you know, for a very experienced hand those things can come together nicely. But I think for the most people, I just say being focused, being disciplined rather than smart is the way forward.
If you get overly clever writing, I’m going to again, break one of my rules, because I’m going to use a metaphor to explain to you why you should never use metaphor. It’s that David Ogilvy saying about copy being like a shop window. If there’s anything on the glass, any kind of smudge, you’re no longer looking at the product behind the window, you’re looking at the smudge. In this case, the copywriter is the glass in case that wasn’t clear. So even if you succeed at landing your convoluted wordplay, if the reader suddenly goes, wow, that writer is really smart, you’ve kind of failed at your job, because they’re not thinking about the product or the company that you’re representing. And that would be a real shame. If you join this webinar, you’re probably very smart. So sadly, all of you are susceptible to this particular one. So make sure you keep paying attention.
We don’t want to distract from what we’re trying to promote. Of course, let’s have a look at this one. Right. So this is an interesting one, because I actually quite like the metaphor they’re going for. They’ve got this thing about compliance professional, it’s like a cardiologist, and of course, the compliance shock being non-compliant – it’s like a corporate heart attack. As you see, they have to spend quite a lot of time setting this up, they have to tell you what each piece of this metaphor is doing, who’s what, who is the surgeon, they’ve got to set all this up.
And then obviously, the writer clearly recognises this is quite a lot of mental burden to throw in the first two lines of emails. Like this little thing I’ve highlighted here, they sort of go back to it acting as corporate cardiologists like now thing I just wrote. Yeah, remember that? It’s a little funny already. This bit in green though, this is the good bit, right, so they get to the end, and have this nice surgical precision descriptor – lovely. They then talk about things like good bedside manner in practitioners, stuff like this is great. They talk about prevention, being better than cure, serious illnesses needing immediate resolution. This is all good stuff. And this is the bit you want. This is the bit that actually clarifies what they’re trying to talk about. They just had to get through a lot of words to reach that point. payoff is good but I’m not sure it was worth it.
So this is an interesting one to tweak, by the way, because I really tried hard to keep the metaphor and just make it smoother. But I realised that would kind of break the rule I’ve just told you not to do. So I’ve kept it very simple, just gone for putting your compliance to the test, changed it to just a compliance shock. That’s pretty obvious what that means. And then saying that, if you don’t do anything, you could be at risk. We’ve got to change your approach; a stress test is going to help you do that. Join our webinar, and we’ll tell you how that works and what it looks like. I know it’s, not fancy, it’s boring in comparison to our corporate cardiologist. But sometimes this is the job, we just need to be clean, clear, and hopefully get really good results.
So, what are we going to do to prevent this from happening in the first place?
You need to keep simplicity as your guiding star and sometimes just be prepared to get out of your own way.
Yes, you’re a very clever writer, I know because you’re here. But sometimes we need to not be clever. We just need to be effective. Which is a sad thing to say but then I would recommend, I’m not saying you can never use puns or metaphor, I would just set an impossibly high bar for them. I would really interrogate everyone you use. Is this actually making anything clearer?
In particular if you are writing for a specific industry or sector. The bar needs to be so high you can almost never clear it, because while you’re dabbling in the world of say, logistics and transport management, the person you’re writing to has been in it for 20 years. So you’re very clever thing about driving better results and getting the brand in the fast lane – they’re going to be rolling their eyes and just probably going to ignore you. They’ve heard it all before.
Unless you’ve got a genuinely fresh plan about that industry, which I mean, if you do fair play, put it down, but if not, I’d steer clear. I just said steer clear which is a pun about transport, sorry.
I’m breaking a lot of my own rules today.
So again, just reiterating, you want to sound good rather than clever. Something can flow nicely, you can use some clever writing tricks to sound good and have impact, but you just want to leave the word play and puns out of it a little bit.
OK, before we move on to the next one, I’ve seen a QA thing pop up, David. You’d be willing to read it out to me.
David: Yes, indeed it’s Emily, she says: could metaphors also lose people who don’t have English as a first language?
George: Oh, that is a great point, Emily. It’s really good. I haven’t even crossed that yet because it’s quite a niche use case. But yes, metaphor is extremely difficult to translate, right? So whether you’re writing for somebody who’s using this as a second language, they obviously have to translate it in their own head, and it can very quickly lose them. Or, heaven forbid, if you’re working on a piece that has to be localised by another company, you are really setting them up for a hard time.
That job is really difficult. So don’t make it any harder.
This is another reason, I think, to keep things clear. Just a tiny example for you, I won’t take too long with this, but I had a really good one quite early in my career where I was writing a piece that’s going to be translated into Spanish, and I talked about how if you used a particular type of a database, you could reap the benefits of a more efficient organisation. And was told basically that the idea of reaping the benefits translates very poorly into Spanish. It’s all associated with death. It’s not like the reaping of corn in a field. It’s like the reaping of souls and the grim reaper. Probably a better fit for heavy metal lyrics than piece about databases.
So I learned that the hard way, so that’s a great point Emily. Thank you for asking that question and giving me an opportunity to give you a quite laboured anecdote. Thanks everyone listening too that. It’s always fun to share battle stories.
David: It might be, sorry I’m just aware – if she’s still in the room – that Anya is here as well. So it might be that if we want to talk more about translation, we can maybe do that. Later in the Q&A, if Anya wants to give us any insights in the chat as we go as to how easy or hard metaphors are in the translation as I know that’s Anya’s specialism.
George: Anya, if I knew we had an expert like you in the room, if I’d really thought about that, I wouldn’t have said so much about it. Because maybe you’ll tell me that I’m completely wrong. That It’s actually OK to translate. You can let me know later we can have a little chat about it.
But ah, we’re going to move on to the final deadly sin we’ve all been waiting for: not knowing your audience which I hinted at earlier. And I know you’re probably like, yeah, yeah, I know yeah, we get told this all the time in content. But I want to put a little bit of a spin on this because it’s not so much about knowing your audience like who they are, but it’s more like what they know. Because I really think that a job title only tells you so much.
I’m sure we’ve all sent out briefing documents or receive them and you’ve got that ‘who’s the audience’ box and people just fill in C level. They just run off job titles, database administrator, database engineer and you’re like OK. But really it’s kind of superficial information, right? Like obviously you need to know their job title, that helps you hone in on quite a bit.
But I’ve seen those like Persona documents where they create characters like Engineer Eric and all this stuff. It’s quite fun. It helps you remember things. But knowing somebody’s age gives you a little bit… you might know a little bit more about that about their level of experience say. But I’m not sure that tells you as much as you want to know really about that person who’s going to be reading your piece.
I think the key is to know what they, you know, particularly if you can get quite granular with it. If you’re writing about a particular topic in your industry. Does this person know a lot about it? Is this familiar to them but maybe it’s got a twist? Is this just old hat and you want to speed through it? Because you obviously don’t want to bamboozle someone with loads of really complicated stuff they’ve never come across before. But you also don’t want to teach grandma to suck eggs. They’ll be sitting there rolling their eyes like yeah, I’ve heard of the cloud get to the point.
So we need to know of course what they know. And also who they know, because we obviously want to be as specific as we can with our audience. If you know you’re writing for just a CIO, you can be really targeted about the challenges they’re facing and the benefits they’re going to get from a solution. But if there’s other people involved in that decision-making unit that they have to get sign off from, we suddenly need to cast them out a little bit wider.
Because sure, your technical engineer may be providing something for about an Ethernet switch or something fun and jazzy. Obviously you’re cramming loads of technical detail for them, but then they’ve got to send it to the CFO, or the procurement head. And you know they’re going to be looking at it like, I don’t know what this means. So you suddenly need to try and find a way to get information into them: it’s going to save you money, it’s going to cut this many man hours out of your engineer testing. So that’s really going to shape how you focus in your content.
So I’ve got a bit of an example for you here, compliance people again, sorry. And of course I know I’m not a compliance professional. I’m not the target audience for this. And if they are specifically aimed at compliance professionals in United States-based organisations, this is good. It’s very specific. It’s got a lot of technical acronyms and jargon that let you know, this is for you, Mr US based compliance professional.
But if there’s any doubt that it can go to people who aren’t in compliance or aren’t based in the US, I think we need to do a few things. We’re looking at things like 10K and 10Q filing which is an SEC filing requirement we’ve got the SG language disclosures, which is a pretty well-known acronym in that circle, but maybe not more broadly. SEC, of course, you probably know that, but maybe not. You’re not in the industry. Go back to 10Ks and 10Qs, which might be unfamiliar territory.
What would I do to make it better? It’s quite easy, you can find substitutes which… It’s a careful balance. We don’t want to damage our credibility. We don’t want someone who is a seasoned compliance veteran to look at this and go, this person doesn’t know my needs, so they don’t know my industry at all.
But if we’re trying to cast the net a little wider and a little broader, we could do things like just removing the acronym. Mention that there’s going to be a panel of experts and we’re going to review these three things. I’ve worked on the bullet points, so I’ve spelt out what SG is but then put it in brackets.
So we’re saying, look, we’re not idiots. We know that this is a known term. Here’s the acronym, but just in case you don’t – spell out once.
I feel a bit cheeky; I’ve just put guidance bodies like the SEC, you’re going to learn some of these things from the SEC and others.
Obviously I’m making an assumption that you cover beyond the SEC filings in this webinar. Maybe they don’t, but things like that can just make it so that, because maybe the audience landing on this is based in the US, but what if they want to send it to a colleague who works in the Canada or French office and suddenly they might be looking at it going, OK, this isn’t for me then. So we want to avoid that.
So something like that can help. And I just changed 10Q and 10K to quarterly and annual filings, it’s a little simpler. But again, like I said, this might be an overedit. If you knew for sure 100% of your audience was going to be based in the US and are seasoned there – you wouldn’t need to do this. But it’s got some good ideas hopefully, about how you might tweak it to broaden that a little bit for a wider decision making unit.
What are you going to do to avoid this in general then?
You got to understand hot topics in your target industry. I’ve seen loads of B2B tech content that talks about the cloud like it’s a new thing. It isn’t. So don’t do that. You’ve got to know how familiar audience is with the topic that you’re writing about. You can obviously talk about basic things everyone knows you might need to set the scene, but if you know that they know it really well already you can just skip to that.
That’s it, thanks for sticking with us. I know that was quite a long one. There was a lot to get through.
I’m just going to summarise. You’ve got seven sins. Here’s your seven top tips to avoid them in rough order of how you might approach this:
- You’re going to think about your audience. You’re going to think about what they know specifically to help guide you on how granular you need to get in your copy.
- You’re going to ask those stupid questions and your subject matter expert or stakeholder is probably going to thank you for it when they get really, really strong copy at the end.
- You’re going to work out what info to include, what to ignore. I want you to be as brave as possible about going back to your stakeholder and going, nope, sorry, we’re not putting any of that in we need to stay focused.
- I’d urge you to plan out your narrative structure in advance just to work out any weak links between sections and try and show them up.
- Get to the point as quickly as you can. No extended elaborate interest please.
- Keep it simple. Keep the metaphors to yourself. Tell them to your colleagues and have a good chuckle over the water cooler. Don’t put it in your copy necessarily.
- And of course, edit, edit, edit again. I don’t need to tell you all that, you’re doing it pretty well so far.
Right, pretty breathless after all that. Maybe you are to. But have you got any questions for me now is time to ask.
Of course you can ask questions about the webinar, ask questions about writing life, the universe, I might not have answers, but I can try.
David: While we’re waiting for people to type their questions and to find out whether you know Anya is happy to be picked on, to talk about translations and metaphors.
Is there one thing here? If you could only take one tip, or if you could only kill one sin, what would it be?
George: Probably the editing one, right? I came back to it quite a few times. I didn’t want to make this really basic in the sins I covered by the way.
As you might have noticed, I tried to go for more high level, how you approach copy. Because I thought if I just told you don’t make typos, that’s such an obvious thing it wouldn’t be worth saying. But I think that sort of stuff has a huge impact, right? You could see an amazing piece of content and then you see a rogue typo right at the end. Suddenly, it just sort of discredits the brand you’re representing. It’s a really unfortunate thing. It happens to everyone. The only way to stop it is to edit really well. So that’s the one I’d go for. So if the one thing you’re going to take from this is that, then that’s good.
David: Good stuff, Anya’s happy to chat. We will do that in in a moment.
I have another question from Emily. If you don’t have enough information about the audience, is it worth seeing if you can talk to the salespeople who are dealing with them to get more info?
George: Absolutely I think the link between sales and marketing is very crucial in most organisations for this exact reason. If you can talk to a salesperson, it’s absolutely incredible for that, because not only do they know a lot about the units, of course, as they talk to them every day. They will be able to give you stories about talking to that audience. That will tell you so much more than a job title a few lines in a brief will tell you. You will learn way more for a single anecdote than anything else, so you’re spot on Emily. Talk to sales if you can. Not always easy because they’re busy people. If you can speak to them, they are an untapped resource in your organisation, especially for those of you working in house who hopefully have a direct link to people in sales. If you can talk to them, please do.
David: OK, I’m just going to see if I can switch on Anya’s microphone, so Anya can tell us about whether metaphors are indeed difficult to translate and to localise. It might help to start by introducing yourself, Anya.
Anya: Hello hello.
Sorry, what you can’t see is I have this weird robotic arm on the side that I have to keep wiggling up and down to make sure it’s on, I’m so sorry.
So hi. Yes, I’m Anya.
I’m the managing director of AJT. We are a translation and localisation specialist for the European market. So we translate a lot of business to business marketing content predominantly for UK companies as well as American companies who want to come into the European market.
So lots of white papers, lots of ebooks, lots of websites and the kind of collateral that you will all know about very well.
Uhm, to come to the question about metaphors.
Generally, I would say, it’s not a problem for someone who’s a professionally trained translator to see a metaphor and then translate it in a way that makes sense in the target market.
I think from your example of reaping the benefits.
Of course, if you translated literally, that might cause issues, but you know, a professionally trained translator would look at that like OK, well, what’s the idea behind here? And they might end up translating it in a very straightforward way. So being more to the point and avoid the metaphor, or if there is another fitting metaphor in their language, then they can choose to swap it out.
So generally I wouldn’t avoid metaphors just to kind of make internationalisation easier. But when it comes to things like ad copy, you know advertising campaigns where copywriting is involved. If you were dealing with metaphors there, I would be more careful.
And if you know it’s going to go into other languages, see if you can involve the translation teams if at all possible, not in the creative process, but maybe just checking before you go too far down the line to see that you’re not making some potential faux pas later on when you’re translating it into other languages. Does that make sense?
George: Yeah, thank you for adding that, Anya. I clearly haven’t given localisers enough credit about how they can handle metaphor. This is probably more about my very poor secondary language skills than your profession.
So in general is the message, we take them out, then the shorter copy probably benefits more from simplicity? Do you have more wiggle room for something like that in a longer piece would you say?
Anya: I guess it depends how, in-depth your metaphor is and how much it weaves through the copy. I suppose if you’re saying something like reaping, the benefits, you know that’s more like a turn of phrase that could be easily localised. But if it’s a much bigger metaphor that doesn’t work in another language, that kind of threads through the entire white paper, for example, that might cause bigger issues for sure.
George: Absolutely great. Well thank you for that. I’m wondering now if there’s anything else I’ve always wondered about localisation.
Anya: I’m available for chats anytime.
George: Oh nice, I’m glad to hear it. I might take you up on that. And David, how are we doing on Q&A we got any more through from people.
David: No, I think, either people are typing very slowly or they’re quite happy with everything that they’ve heard, George.
George: Nice well either I’ve covered everything then or you’ve already got me on the 2nd screen and tuned out to something else.
David: Oh Emily, getting involved Emily’s getting very involved.
George: This is great Emily keep them coming.
David: Emily’s saying, have you ever tried empathy mapping to build better persona knowledge?
George: I hate to reveal my ignorance here Emily. I’m not even sure I know what empathy mapping is. Unfortunately, I don’t get the opportunity to get that involved in personas. Normally, by the time something comes to me, I’m just told right, this is it, this is the information you’ve got – work with it.
Very occasionally I might be able to ask: does this person know much about this technology? That’s about the extent of how involved I can get in that process, unfortunately. If you’re able to tell me more about it, I’d love to hear.
David: Emily, would you like us to switch your microphone on so that you can tell us a bit about it?
George: I’m liking this people jumping in business. This is great.
David: Yeah, it’s good, isn’t it?
George: An All-Star ensemble cast.
David: It’s nice, nice and interactive and always good to hear Emily’s voice.
Emily: Hi everyone, I’m Emily King. I’m a senior writer and editor at a software company called BlueFruit Software. We’re actually based sort of up the road from Radix.
David: Cornwall massive.
Emily: Empathy mappings I think I’ve learned from user experience UX side of things because we’ve got some UX experts in house. I can’t quite describe it right now, but it’s something that’s worth looking up. It kind of gives you a canvas to map ideas to that are around certain themes that aren’t things like age and stuff. So it helps you to map things like pain points, things they might be aiming for.
It gives you a different idea to either take some assumptions or some knowledge, ideally some knowledge, and certainly if you talk to salespeople, if you’ve managed to talk to salespeople to take that information and put it to it to help you really consider what might be going on with a particular audience. And the more specific better, especially if it’s someone in a specific organisation, you know a particular role in a specific organisation. Because you could obviously talk about stuff that might have been revealed in, especially ABM, an annual report or similar. And sort of map things from that basically.
But yeah, it’s a UX technique and we’ve been trying it out for some of our persona work.
George: Amazing, what kind of results have you had using it? Has it been a bit of a hit?
Emily: We haven’t done enough development on it yet, but it has helped us focus certainly the ABM side and a little bit on our ebook that we had out recently.
George: That sounds really cool. I mean, it sounds much more like the kind of information that as a writer, I’m sure you’d agree you want to know about an audience. Rather than just this person is a 50 year old IT engineer. So that sounds really good.
I’m glad you were able to jump on and tell us a bit more about it.
David: Thanks very much Emily. That’s super.
I think that’s probably all the questions that we have from the audience today.
George: Great, well I appreciate that did write in.
David: Obviously they can get in touch with us offline or on social media if they want to, as well.
George: Yeah, there’s a few links if you want anymore. We obviously have our newsletter that you can sign up to. You can follow us on Twitter and if you want to get in touch with us about anything, there’s an email address and web link for you there.
Thanks very much for the people who stuck it out and it’s been a bit of a long one. A bit longer than I intended, but I do have a tendency to ramble.
Thanks everyone for joining in and for your questions it’s been great.
David: Thanks very much everybody.
Thank you, George.
I’m sure that yes, lots of thanks coming through for you now in the chat.
They’ve been quiet throughout and now we’re at the end they’re chiming in and quite rightly so.
So on behalf of our audience, I’ll thank you for that, George, that was great.
We hope that will tempt George to do more of these in future.
So if you want to keep updated as we do turn the webinar into perhaps a series, who knows, as those would come live and you can register for those, then get yourself over to the newsletter.
The session will be available on-demand afterwards, but once we get that all straightened out and hopefully, we’ll put it up on YouTube so that you can share it with people and watch from the beginning as well.
So thank you very much for that.
Thank you for coming.
Thank you George and we’ll see you again in future.