October 2, 2020

Formal writing in B2B marketing is over

By Jennifer Priest

Even the biggest companies are transitioning away from using a formal writing voice and tone in business to business marketing in the last five years.

Consider the following statement:

“Any integration of software applications should produce a business benefit; a tangible saving or an improvement and a ROI (return on investment). We have selected seven that can apply to any business. These benefits can be realized as a result of enhancements to existing software systems by improving the way data is collated and shared. In some cases, the benefits are realized as a result of improved capability and capacity and not just through time saving workflow. For more information please visit our webpage on software integration.”

Did you actually read that? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t—it’s a real snooze-fest. But it’s a good example of the kind of writing that some people consider “professional” for business-to-business (B2B) communications.

The problem is that no one actually reads writing like this on the web. It’s too much work, and no one has the time. On the web, people are hunting for information. In other words, they skim until they find what’s important to them, and only then do they start really reading.

But some business owners and managers still tend to hyperventilate when they see informal writing. Here’s why they need to get used to it.

Rise of the Disruptors and Challengers     

Chances are, if you’re a business owner reading this, you’re not managing a giant corporation. You’re managing a challenger company (a smaller competitor) or even a disruptor (a different kind of solution all together).

Either way, if you’re the refreshing alternative, why would you want to sound like the stodgy behemoth?

If you’re new and different, you need to write in a style that “sounds” like you’re different, and that should become your “brand voice”.

A brand voice, as we call it in marketing, is the writing style, including everything from word choices to sentence length to grammar standards. While the tone may be adjusted for different media and different situations, it should be consistent across channels, and align with the brand’s personality.

Even the Corporate Monoliths are Changing  

Here’s an example of how the world’s largest enterprise resource planning software provider, SAP, speaks to supply chain managers and the large corporations who employ them:  

You’d never confuse that language with the wording on a Sunday flyer. But it’s clear, easy to read and even speaks to the emotions of supply chain managers who want to do well at their jobs and advance their careers.

Here’s how one of the most serious and authoritative companies on the planet, McKinsey, appeals to arguably the most serious industry in the world, aerospace and defense:

While it does mention industry-specific terms like “acquisition systems”, the text is very clear. 

Think About Your User and the Purpose of the Piece      

As with most things in marketing, everything depends on your target audience. But there’s also an intersection with the purpose of the piece and the brand.

For example, if you’re writing technical documentation for engineers, you’d better use accurate terminology, technical details, and plenty of charts and diagrams. But if you’re trying to entice those engineers to try a new software platform, you’ll get better results by using language that highlights the benefits as clearly and quickly as possible. 

That’s because no matter how smart you are or how long you’ve been in your field, your ability to process new information drops as you get busier, especially if you’re multitasking.

Above All: Define Your Writing Style     

The most important thing for your brand is to consciously decide everything to do with the voice and tone, and to document the decisions in a writing style guide.

Guides like these can save incredible amounts of time in verbal explanations and correcting errors any time a new writer comes on board. 

It’s certainly a great way to help avoid the ultimate results-killer in marketing: relying on personal preferences to make decisions.