And another thing…How to keep B2B writing focused

This is something I get asked about a lot: How do I keep my B2B writing focused and to the point.

There is a temptation to cover a lot of ground in articles and stories, particularly when it’s a big topic. Sustainability is the one I find hardest to keep succinct.

Slightly out of focus picture of the word Focus spelt out in lights
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It can be difficult seeing the wood for the trees when you have a lot of information to work with and so much seems relevant.

Writing for print can be easier because you have to keep to specific word counts, but most content is online these days, so word counts are far more flexible.

In my early years as a magazine features writer, I quickly learnt how to hone in on what is critical for the article. We were time-poor, and overwriting, then editing down just wasn’t an efficient way of working.

Going a little bit over was fine as it was easy to cut words tightening up the copy in the edit. But having to cut out huge chunks to make it fit the page just made the writing process more time-consuming.

There would inevitably be far more information than I could include in a feature, so I learned to plan out my features and keep it focused.

Carefully plan your article

Spending time planning before you put your fingers on the keyboard makes writing much quicker and can stop you from getting overwhelmed by too much information – or sidetracked. Here’s what you can do.

List of the main points you want to make. If that list is getting long, then think about how you can trim it down or break it up into more manageable chunks.

Remember, stuff you dump from this piece can be content topics for another day, so don’t bin it completely.

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Is your B2B content alienating your readers?

I read a piece of B2B content yesterday. Well I tried to read it.

The content writer was obviously well-educated and had tried to be clever in how they presented key points but instead had made the piece inaccessible.

Notice board that says 'Insert Something Cleve
Photo by Olivia Bauso on Unsplash

It was already a technical topic but was peppered with historical references to illustrate what they were trying to say.

References that didn’t mean anything to me and had to look up.

I was so busy trying to work out the historical references I ended up not really understanding the points the content writer was trying to make.

The thing is, if your audience finds your B2B content difficult to read and understand, there is a good chance they will probably throw in the towel rather than persevere.

Or if they don’t get a particular refererence, they may misunderstand your point.

Using unfamiliar references can also alienate your audience, which is the opposite of what you want.

Your copy may even give a whiff of showing off or sound slightly smug and knowing.

Encourage reader engagement

None of which is particularly good for encouraging reader engagement.

If your target audience is engineers with a love of medieval literature, then fine, reference The Wife of Bath (Chaucer) in a piece about designing steel supports for large glass feature windows.

But if the majority of your audience don’t have a penchant for old English fiction, then it’s probably best to leave Chaucer on the bookshelf.

You could explain the reference if it’s easy to do so, but only if it doesn’t hugely detract from the flow of the piece.

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3 ways to turn a conversation into B2B content

If you write B2B content for your business, there’s a strong chance you’ll have to create blog posts and articles based on conversations you’ve had with colleagues/clients.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

There are different ways to approach it depending on how you want to use the conversation and get the information across. For example, how much of the ‘interviewees’ voice do you want in your piece of B2B content?

Here are three different styles of write up to consider with pros and cons:

1. Simple Q&A

This can be the easiest way of getting across someone’s thoughts and ideas on a topic.

Writing up can be easy, too, particularly if you carefully plan your questions.

If you can, order your questions so that there is logical flow to them.

This means, when you come to write up your Q&A, you’ve already got a structure, so it’s just a case of trimming and editing the answers into coherent (and concise) written English.

If it’s been a more organic conversation, it can make it more tricky to pin down specific questions and answers. And you’ll have to work out a logical structure.

Q&A style interviews, because of their structure, means it’s harder to give context and background or set the scene (planning your questions can help).

But while you can rewrite your question to introduce a particular point, you don’t want them to be long and rambling.

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Four ‘rules’ about B2B content writing you can ignore

Writing styles, communication and language evolve, but it sometimes feels like B2B content is stuck in the past.

From the questions and comments I get, there are several misconceptions about writing B2B content (and copy).

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

But here’s the thing: I’ve never found the rule book that sets out what you can and can’t do.

Which is good news for B2B content creators because it means you can make your own rules.

It’s about what works for you and your brand, your tone of voice, how you want to be seen and crucially, getting your message or story across.

But first, you need to let go of the invisible rule book:

Rule 1: You have to use technical language to sound professional.

B2B content is about communicating an idea, a story or message to your existing and target clients, peers, partners and potential collaborators.

And you want to do that in a way that is clear and easy for your audience to understand.

Using technical language risks misunderstanding. It can alienate your audience, or they simply won’t read on.

Just because you understand those words don’t assume your audience does.

Research by King’s College found that words and phrases the media commonly used, such as ‘woke’ and ‘culture wars’ are not as widely understood as their use would suggest.

Writing simply and clearly is not dumbing down; it’s the clever way of getting your story or ideas or messages across to your audience.

Rule 2: You have to use fancy words

A lot of B2B content uses words that you would never use if you were talking to someone. Would you say ‘utilise’ or ‘commence’ in a conversation?

The people you are writing for are no different from the people you speak to, so why use a different vocabulary?

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How much do you plan a piece of B2B content before writing?

I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say I have a detailed plan for every piece of content before writing it because I don’t.

But listening to a podcast interview with a B2B content writer talking about how they plan features and blog posts got me reflecting on my own approach.

And I realised that I don’t use the same method for every piece.

Photo by Felipe Furtado on Unsplash

Over the years I’ve got fairly adept at planning in my head or structuring as I go.

But when I started as a features writer on a weekly B2B magazine, I would always write out a plan for each piece.

It made writing a lot easier, particularly in those early days when I was new to the subject matter (commercial property) and new to writing features.

Now I adapt my approach depending on the starting point.

Sometimes I’ll get off a call with a client and already have a pretty good idea of the key points and main angle.

Select the juicy bits

I might free write the first few pars before going back to the transcript to start pulling out the juiciest bits, shaping and ordering them.

If the conversation with the client was a brainstorm around a few thought leader ideas, and the task is to pick out the best and write it up, then I’ll hone in on what felt like the strongest or most developed idea.

Listening to how the client talks about something can be a good indicator of where they have the strongest views or ideas. This is also key for capturing the client’s tone of voice in the piece.

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