Understanding the Nuanced: The Careful Practice of B2B Writing

Nathaniel Hawthorne famously said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” And business-to-business (B2B) writing can be an outright struggle. It’s a multi-dimensional and strategic practice of communicating complexity with finesse. It aims to appear so simple and digestible that it conceals the complex thought and process that lies behind the words. Take naming a product. It seems simple enough, yet it can take months of research, computer algorithms, and spreadsheets filled with thousands of options before settling on an ideal combination of syllables.[1] It may seem absurd, but some creative agencies exist to provide the sole service of naming products and brands—and they do so at a premium price. So why is all this time, money, and energy spent on crafting short headlines, emails, websites, and every other word that a business publishes? There are the obvious reasons: avoiding typos, crafting tone, ensuring professional content, and communicating with clarity. However, there are other considerations and goals weaved into the copy that are a bit more nuanced. In B2B writing, you must marry the technical and emotional aspects of a topic and tailor it to your audience. Connecting with a specific group of people, whether small business owners or C-level executives, requires familiarity with a distinct lexicon and the idiosyncrasies of their role. It’s the writer’s job to discover what words motivate the desired action. There are important differences between B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) writing. One isn’t necessarily harder than the other, but they do differ in strategy. Any discussion of the two will necessitate some generalizations and assumptions that are not universally applicable. B2B writing is often more technical and is written for a longer customer journey aimed at the professional. B2C writing, however, tends to be more emotionally driven, relying heavily on feelings of fear, greed, exclusivity, and sex. B2B still uses emotion, but has to appeal to the professional and personal aspects of the audience. The tone tends to be more formal and the value must be conveyed in that context—new servers won’t make you more popular, but can give you a competitive edge. The strict parameters are why B2B writing is especially challenging and why I would argue a more difficult creative endeavor. It may only be my opinion that B2B writing is a bigger creative challenge, but there’s no debate that B2B eCommerce is a bigger market. Forrester Research recently projected that U.S. companies will top $1 trillion in eCommerce sales by 2020—nearly four times the B2C market.[2] That means the words on the page will be doing the heavy lifting for sales. And with that much money at stake, you better make sure they’re worth reading.   [1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/magazine/the-weird-science-of-naming-new-products.html [2] http://www.zdnet.com/article/b2b-ecommerce-sales-to-top-1-trillion-by-2020-forrester/

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