B2B content writing that stops the scroll: The art of the unexpected

Back when I was a B2B property journalist, I started a bog-standard, state-of-the-market feature by drawing comparisons with famous pieces of art.

I wrote that if the market were a painting, it would be less like Monet’s Water Lilies and more like Dali’s The Putrefied Donkey.

Writing something unexpected can be a good way of grabbing attention. Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The point was to grab attention with my opening line by throwing in something unexpected yet illustrative of the point I wanted to make.

I chose words and created an image that readers flicking through the magazine wouldn’t usually read.

Whether you are writing an article or a LinkedIn post, if you are following the usual tropes with all your content, you risk being lost in the crowd.

It’s not necessarily about saying something different to everyone else; you can have a similar idea just present it in a different way.

Getting creative

I could have said the property market was challenging or leasing conditions were difficult. But that’s what everyone else would say, so I got creative.

And I returned to the art theme running, concluding how the market might be a different painting in 6 months.

Let’s look at it another way. Which quote would make you want to read the piece more:

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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
Photo by Simone Secci on Unsplash

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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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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The benefits of putting personality into B2B content

‘I don’t think sounding authentically you is the exclusive preserve of social media.

When I’m writing and commenting on social media, Grammarly grumbles at my word choice. Or rather, it points out that I overuse words such as ‘great’, ‘brilliant’, ‘really’ and ‘excellent’.

Make your writing sound human. Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

But when I am writing as myself, rather than for a client, those words are me. They are words I say—a lot.

I see social media as a conversational platform. It’s not a report or a brochure; it’s me talking to my connections, so I use the same words I’d use in a conversation.

They reflect who I am. Why hide my personality?

But I don’t think sounding authentically you is the exclusive preserve of social media.

Think of it another way. If you go to a networking event, how do you talk to people?

Do you talk in a manner that makes you sound like a PowerPoint presentation? I doubt it.

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Learning the hard way how to write web content headlines

When I first started writing my theatre blog 11 years ago my headlines were rubbish.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

I was trying to be clever or witty, sometimes using puns or a play on words.

But the more I learned about writing online content, the more I realised my approach was entirely based on what worked in print rather than online.

My experience and background was magazine journalism after all.

An article in a magazine or newspaper has images, graphics, tables, box-outs, subheadings etc. which help grab attention.

And an article in a magazine may already have context.

If someone has picked up a copy of ‘Window Box Weekly’, they are probably interested or at least curious about window boxes.

Try to find your own content

A big test was trying to find my own theatre blog content using Google. I knew I’d reviewed a particular production, but my ‘clever’ headlines meant it wasn’t coming up in searches – certainly not on the first few pages of results.

For example, I saw a play called Grief by Mike Leigh, and the headline of my review was ‘Good Grief?’

See what I did there? It might work if the piece sat in the theatre review section of newspaper or magazine, alongside a production photo and a subhead.

But out of context and with just two words to go on, it didn’t work so well.

Getting savvier about online search

As I started to understand how people find stuff to read online (search engines, social media etc.), I realised my headline style needed to change so that people could find my blog posts.

And know what they were about from the headline.

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