The title says it all. I’m going to walk you through a few tips that will help you write good well.
So why am I qualified to give this advice?
Well, I write. A lot.
In the past few months alone, I’ve written north of 30,000 words just on label manufacturing. And throughout the years, I’ve written hundreds of thousands more on topics like additive manufacturing, injection molding with bioplastics, conducting geotechnical soil reports, designing emergency power supply systems … and, well, you get the idea.
I also routinely consult with internal marketing teams at manufacturing companies about how they can improve their writing.
There’s a reason my last name is “Wright.” Some things are just meant to be.
Before I hop on my soapbox and preach about my craft …
… we need to agree on what makes B2B marketing content “good.” Call me crazy, but I firmly believe the effectiveness of your writing has nothing (or, at least, not much) to do with how good it sounds.
Let’s not kid ourselves. We’re trying to educate prospects and drive sales, not write the next Great American Novel.
Here’s how I define good marketing content:
- Good content speaks directly to one person. To know who it should speak to, you’ll need to identify the companies you’d most like to do business with and list out the people within those accounts you’ll need to get in front of to win the account. This video walks you through how to do that.
- Good content is narrow in focus, solving one specific question or addressing one pressing problem. If you try to boil the entire ocean in 1,000 words, you’ll fail. (Believe me. I’ve tried).
- Good content is helpful. If you aim to answer a question, then answer it. In full. Don’t create a piece that dances around the topic without offering utility to the intended audience.
Basically, good B2B marketing content should read like a one-on-one conversation between your brightest minds (engineers, leadership, salespeople) and your prospects. And to feel like that, you need to know who your prospects are and address the things that keep them up at night (pain points, questions, hesitations) head-on.
To that end, the writing advice I’ll give here won’t be about where to put commas. Although, if you must know where I stand on the matter, I strongly recommend avoiding the Oxford comma. If you disagree, take it up with the Associated Press.
Instead, I’ll offer actionable advice that’ll make sure you achieve your primary goal:
Helping your prospects.
After all, if you keep helping them, they’ll come to recognize you as a trusted advisor. And when they do have a problem, or are ready to buy, it’s your company they’ll phone.
Okay, now that we agree on that, let’s get to the good stuff.
Tip 1: Be painfully specific
Corporate Ipsum will suck every last bit of meaning from your writing if you let it:
- “Industry-leading innovation”
- “Best-in-class products”
- “Professionally cultivating one-to-one customer service with robust ideas”
Sure, those phrases sound nice — smart, even — but they mean absolutely nothing.
Don’t join the echo chamber of manufacturers using jargon and empty phrases to shout, “Look at how great we are! Let’s circle back on how to achieve synergies! Buy from us!”
Be bold. Say something specific.
Copywriting pioneer Claude Hopkins said it best:
“A man may say ‘Supreme in Quality’ without seeming a liar, though one may know that other brands are equally as good. But just for that reason, general statements count for very little. But a man who makes a specific claim is either telling the truth, or a lie. People don’t expect the advertiser to lie.”
You’re probably saying, “Great advice, Claude, but how do B2B manufacturers do that?”
Glad you asked. Like this:
- Don’t just talk about how smart your engineers are. Detail the time North America’s largest transit company needed to address the issue of sparse charging infrastructure for their battery-powered bus fleet, and you designed and built a hybrid diesel/battery charging container in just four months.
- If you’re going to write about sustainable packaging materials, go past vague generalities. Turn your deep expertise into specific, helpful content that actually solves a problem. Give your prospects small, but very impactful actions they can take today to make reduce the burden their packaging places on the environment.
- Your team is great at solving problems? Okay, but that claim would be a lot more convincing if you walked me through a real example of a time you solved a problem. Show me your thinking. Show me when you couldn’t solve the problem at first, but persisted anyway — and succeeded. Like this case study about when metallurgists led a part failure investigation on behalf of a client.
- Instead of touting how great your customer service is, tell the story of that time you hired a private jet (on your dime!) to get a mission-critical part to your client just to minimize the downtime on their packaging line.
As you’re writing, look out for vague throwaway phrases, and sprinkle in some specificity — bolstering your claims with stories only your company can tell.
Tip 2: You can make your article as long as you want but it doesn’t mean people will actually read it
^ That headline is a train wreck. It’s about 17 words longer than it needs to be. “Be brief” would’ve gotten the idea across just fine.
If you want anyone to slog their way through to the end of your article, always cut your first draft by at least a third.
Yes, even if you think your first draft is perfect and this advice couldn’t possibly apply to you.
There’s always room for improvement. Cut your intro down, tighten your sentences, put the good stuff up front and get rid of any and all fluff.
As fellow Gorilla writer Toby Wall says, “Content may be king, but brevity is the emperor.” I happen to agree.
Tip 3: Never sacrifice clarity
When given the choice between being clever or explaining something clearly, always choose clarity. It’s great if you can create something that’s both fun to read and easy to understand — but being clear always comes first.
Tip 4: Roll up your sleeves
Don’t be fooled — writing is hard work.
Writing mediocre copy is hard enough. But writing copy that resonates with your target audience will require some serious sleeves-rolled-up work.
If you aren’t an expert in the topic you’ll be writing on, then you need to do the work to become one. Or, at least you’ll need to seem like one in your writing.
Here are a few ways you can level up your knowledge in an industry:
- Interview subject matter experts — There’s no substitute for true expertise, which is why we conduct an interview for every piece of content we write. If you prepare thoughtful, well-researched questions, an interview will allow you to tap into the expert’s decades of firsthand knowledge and transform it into exceptional content. To learn how to prep for interviews, give this article a skim.
- Dive head-first into research rabbit holes — I’m not talking about Googling a few basic terms. I’m talking about the type of rabbit hole where you put your phone down, end up reading regulations over lunch and have an a-ha moment that NFPA Level 1 roughly equates to NEC Article 700 for “emergency systems.”
- Learn from your mistakes — Inevitably, you’re going to get something wrong. When an expert corrects something in a piece, accept their change and use that information to become a more informed writer on every subsequent article you turn in.
- Document everything — I personally have a 166-row spreadsheet filled with links to guides, articles and magazines that I routinely reference, as well as a separate folder of transcripts from interviews with subject-matter experts — and that’s just for one client.
To get a glimpse at how much work you should put into researching, interviewing and writing, you can check out this article. It’ll walk you through the Gorilla writing process, from ideation to publishing.
Tip 5: Good content reads like a one-on-one conversation
And any conversation requires you to understand a few things:
- Who are you talking to?
- How much do they already know about the topic you’re discussing?
- What questions do they need answered?
- What keeps them up at night?
Let’s say you’re writing two articles: One geared toward an engineering lead, and another toward an operations manager.
The engineer won’t want any fluff. Zero. They need to know, in no uncertain terms, how your machine will actually work. Detailed, no-frills case studies or highly technical articles speak well to this audience. Err on the side of writing a 101 primer, and you’ll lose their interest in the first few sentences.
Operations folks care about the uptime and the bottom line. They don’t need quite the same in-depth discussion about product design — but they’ll care about throughput, support, ease of maintenance and other factors that will improve efficiencies on the plant floor.
Do you see how you’ll need to write very differently for these two audiences?
That’s why we usually fill out these ideal customer and buyer persona templates ahead of writing any content. So we have a document to reference that shows us what each audience cares about and what questions they’re asking, as well as their level of knowledge about your product/service.
When you’re evaluating a draft to see if it’ll actually be helpful to the person reading it, a little empathy goes a long way.
You’ll need to walk a mile read a thousand words in your customer’s shoes.
Imagine you’re an engineer, and you’re reading the article you wrote. Ask yourself:
- Does this fully answer my question? Or does it dance around the issue?
- Is this telling me stuff I already know, or filling in the gaps in my knowledge about this topic?
- Do I smell fluff? Salesy-speak?
- Is this about me, and my problems? Or is it about how great the company is?
- What value do I get from reading this?
The answers to these questions should guide your revisions, allowing you to fine-tune your writing to speak to this audience’s level of knowledge, pain points, questions and preferences.
And regardless of the audience, make sure to write in a conversational tone. Write the way you talk, not like you’re vying for a spot in a peer-reviewed journal.
Good content should feel like a one-on-one conversation in a coffee shop, not a stuffy lecture you’d hear in an ivory tower somewhere.
Go forth and write
That about covers the basics. Good writing isn’t about grammar and it certainly isn’t about sounding good — it’s about fully addressing the needs of the person reading it.