What is “Good” B2B Marketing Copy? – Part 1

What is “good” B2B marketing copy? You’d be surprised by how many B2B marketing managers struggle to answer that question.

I’ve been a marketing manager, I’ve worked with marketing managers, and I’ve networked with marketing managers. There are a lot of opinions and a surprising amount of confusion.

There are many reasons for this state of affairs.

One is that there are two kinds of B2B sales. B2B buyers purchase transactionally, or through relationships.

And that difference requires two different kinds of marketing.

A transaction is one of those purchases that doesn’t require deep thought or engagement. When the Purchasing Manager logs on to an office supply website to buy binder clips, THAT is a B2B transaction. He doesn’t research binder clips, talk to binder clip salespeople, look up binder clip reviews. He just buys them.

It’s relatively easy to identify good transactional marketing by that simplicity. And generally, B2B transaction sales can be tied to a marketing piece. If you send a direct-response letter and it beats the control — that’s good marketing!

However, many of you will be writing about products and services that require a relationship sales cycle. Those products aren’t purchased from a catalog because they’re too complex. They require a salesperson, armed with tools and content, to educate prospects, build relationships, and complete proposals.

IT equipment is a good example of a product that usually requires a relationship sales cycle. No corporate purchasing agent buys 1,000 computers without due diligence. They inevitably do research, talk to salespeople from competing companies, have multiple meetings, and take months to make a decision.

With relationship sales, customers rarely point to a spec sheet or video and say, “Ah yes, that’s the thing that made me buy.” The influencers and buyers are digesting many marketing messages and sources of content. They’re also being affected by conversations with salespeople and internal discussions.

The big challenge in relationship B2B marketing is uncovering measurable cause and effect. Without measurement, it’s not uncommon for “good marketing” to be identified by gut feel, by instinct or opinion.

In transactional marketing, data usually trumps opinion. In relationship marketing, the absence of data allows opinion to win out.

I’m not faulting honed instinct — great copy should ‘feel’ right to a trained writer. But undeveloped instincts undermine efficiency and effectiveness.

Here’s an example of how that plays out …

In many businesses, many managers play the rock fetch game with their employees to try to find good marketing. Never heard of the rock fetch game? Let me illustrate it for you.

Employee goes to his manager with a marketing message. Manager says, “I don’t like it.”

Employee says, “What’s wrong with it?” Manager says, “I don’t know. Come back with something else.”

In other words, “Your rock is ugly, bring me another rock.”

Employee returns with a new marketing message. Manager says, “I don’t like it. There’s something about it that’s good, but I don’t know what it is. Bring another message and let me look at that.”

Employee sighs. Employee goes away, writes a new message, and the cycle repeats again.

That’s because most marketing decision-makers base their view of “good marketing” on what’s worked for them in the past. Often the manager is looking for an eye-catching rock he or she saw years ago.

I once worked with a sales vice-president who looked back nostalgically on his days as a marketer. At least once a year, he’d barge into our marketing deliberations. Each time, he’d demand the same program. He wanted us to mail thousands of pop-up, cardboard product mock-ups to procurement managers.

Once upon a time, that had worked for him. At least in his memory, it produced results. And he generalized from that experience and used it as his litmus test for good marketing.

We tried it. It failed miserably. Twice. His opinion just didn’t align with the data.

In the absence of overriding data, you can get stuck with the rock fetch game. And as a freelancer, you want nothing to do with it. It’s tedious and slowly ruins your morale, your productivity, your bottom line, and your life.

Okay, I’m exaggerating about it ruining your life. But you get the picture.

Have you ever experienced the rock fetch game? If so, I can help.

In the next post, we’ll talk more about overcoming it, sidestepping it, and moving forward while educating your client about effective marketing content.

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Published: September 6, 2012

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