B2B content: Using questions in your intro and getting creative

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of your opening line and gave four simple ways to write intriguing intros. One of the ideas was to use a question, and I wanted to explore this a little further.

A neon question mark
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There are different ways of using questions, from the simple to the bold.

Probably the easiest is to ask the question that you go on to answer in your article or blog post. Here are two made up intros to give you an idea:

“How has the pandemic changed demand for offices? There is no doubt that lockdown has forced a reassessment of working practices, but what does that mean for…”

Or

“Will community uses be the key to reviving the high street? With more shopping taking place online, landlords and local authorities are looking for alternative uses to fill vacant retail units…”

But you can get a bit more creative.

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B2B content and the art of writing an intriguing opening line

The headline on your B2B content needs to grab attention and stop the scroll, but your opening line needs to keep the reader hooked and make them want to read on.

It is a powerful combination, but how do you write an intriguing intro to your article or thought leader?

A desk with a notebook and pen in the foreground and laptop behind with a blank screen.
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Writing an intriguing opening line is a powerful tool. There are simple ways of creating intrigue, and you can also get quite creative.

Below are just four ideas to give you a flavour and hopefully inspire your content writing. I’ve made up some examples to illustrate – they are complete fiction, so don’t think of them as actual market commentary.

1. Use a question

Questions can be used in several different ways – lookout for a future blog post on this. But one simple technique is to focus your intro on a question that you subsequently answer in the article.

Framed correctly it gives the reader an indication of what the article will cover and asks a question they are keen to find the answer for.

Examples:

In a competitive post-Covid office market, how do landlords ensure their vacant space attracts occupiers?

Or:

How do you land occupiers when the office market is competitive?

2. Challenge common perspectives (or misconceptions)

Presenting an idea which challenges commonly held perceptions or assumptions – or misconceptions can be a great way of intriguing readers.

It is something unexpected, and people want to know where there might be gaps in their knowledge.

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The myth of ‘sounding professional’ in B2B writing

“I struggle to sound professional when I’m writing for work.”

It’s not an unusual comment from people who aren’t in communications but might have to write stories for internal newsletters, intranet or even external stories.

So how do you sound professional when writing for work? I would counter that question with: What does professional B2B writing look and sound like?

Close up of a man in a business suit straightening his tie. Representative of the false image of a professional 'look'.
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There is a common misconception that sounding ‘professional’ in B2B writing means using a different language to what you would use in a normal conversation.

That sounding professional means using long, fancy words, jargon and ‘corporate speak’.

And following certain rules that were drilled in when studying English at school, such as starting a sentence with ‘and’ as I’ve just done.

But that’s like saying that you aren’t professional unless you wear a suit and work in an office.

It’s stuff and nonsense. Being professional is about being skilled at what you do first and foremost.

The key purpose of B2B writing

And, just as labelling a certain way of dressing as professional misses the point, so does the idea that you have to write in a certain way.

Yes, correct English and spelling are a good idea, but using words and phrases you wouldn’t use when talking to people ignores the key purpose of B2B writing: To communicate.

If you want to communicate a piece of news, pass on information or get people to do something, you need to write in a way that is clear, concise and engages your audience.

And the easiest way to do that is to use familiar words and phrases – the language you would use in conversation.

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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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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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