Should B2B Copy be Devoid of Emotion and Salesmanship?

October 16th, 2008 by Bob Bly

LT, a veteran B2B marketer, took me to task in an e-mail he sent me, in which he disagreed with my claim that many consumer marketing techniques can be profitably applied to B2B selling.

According to LT, good B2B copy meets the following criteria:

1–It is completely fact-based — full of numbers, statistics, graphs, tables, charts, data, specs,and whatever other technical content the prospect needs to make a correction buying decision.

2–It appeals to logic and rational decision-making. Business prospects are professionals, and to pander to them with emotional consumer appeals insults their intelligence.

3–It is short … as short as possible. Business prospects are busy and have too much to read. The less there is to read in your copy, the greater your response rates will be. Long copy in B2B gets tossed in the trash.

4–The style should be “professional,” not the “conversational” style we advocate for consumer direct response. “These are eduated people and you must talk to them on their own level, which is high,” says LT.

5–You should liberally and deliberately use jargon. The prospects use it, and you want to speak their language, not yours.

In your experience, is LT right? Is brevity, directness, jargon, and heavy technical content the best way to sell to the B2B market?

Or do the same appeals that work so well in consumer direct response — e.g., curiosity, flattery, fear, greed, guilt, exclusivity, human emotion, and a me-to-you conversational style — also boost response in B2B?

What say you?

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18 responses about “Should B2B Copy be Devoid of Emotion and Salesmanship?”

  1. Stacey said:

    Are you kidding?

    LT: It is completely fact-based — full of numbers, statistics, graphs, tables, charts, data, specs,and whatever other technical content the prospect needs to make a correction buying decision.

    Stacey: I disagree. Not all B2B works that way. It depends on how they use what you are selling and your customer. If you are selling pharmaceuticals to a doctor and someone is selling promotional supplies to a doctor for his reception area or furniture for his pediatric department, you have to appeal to him differently. Some things require emotional pitches. I know of a Park Avenue Lawyer who contracted with a storage company merely because their direct mail package and message appealed to her emotionally and made her connect with them. Though it contained the necessary facts, there were no stats, tables charts, etc. It contained the basic information she needed to make an intelligent decision. And, by the way, almost nothing makes her emote . . . positively!

    LT: It is short … as short as possible. Business prospects are busy and have too much to read. The less there is to read in your copy, the greater your response rates will be. Long copy in B2B gets tossed in the trash.

    Stacey: I disagree. This is a mistake many copywriters make. If it takes more text to successfully execute the thrust of your message, NEVER be afraid of more text, especially in B2B. Often, the more information you include, the better. B2B professionals are very busy and oftentimes, they’d prefer to read more, because it gives them more meat with which to have an intelligent discussion and cuts down on the conference time when they meet with you.

    I don’t agree with a lot of other things LT said, but I just don’t have the time.

    Bob: In your experience, is LT right? Is brevity, directness, jargon, and heavy technical content the best way to sell to the B2B market?

    Stacey: No.
    Bob: Or do the same appeals that work so well in consumer direct response — e.g., curiosity, flattery, fear, greed, guilt, exclusivity, human emotion, and a me-to-you conversational style — also boost response in B2B?

    Stacey: Some of the same appeals work, not all.

  2. Alan said:

    While I think you need to deliver a message of substance and relevance to a B2B audience,sticking to a straight “just the facts” writing style can result in copy that doesn’t fully connect with and excite your audience. It’s been my experience as a B2B copywriter that there’s value in being conversational and injecting some humanity into even the most technical of messages. The main thing is to know your audience, talk about what matters to them, and maintain credibility by never crossing the line between conversational and “cutesy.”

  3. James said:

    I agree with most cases except # 4.

    The person that will make the decision is just that… a person. They are susceptible to the same emotions that any other person is. They want someone they can trust and that they can relate to.

    I have no problem with using facts and jargon… that is good, but if the person can view you as a friend because of the personality you bring, they will more likely decide in your favor.

  4. Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan said:

    Some of my thoughts…

    1) There must be a good logical-emotional ratio. I think some emotions are good, but what I’m against is repeated emotional hot-button pounding. B2B buyers buy for their companies, using their companies’ money, so they buy differently from B2C shoppers.

    3) Serious buyers want to know as much as possible. They make high-ticket decisions, and therefore need lots of information to make the right decision. See one of Bob’s reports on the Saab brochure.

    4) I believe in a mix of professional and conversational. The buyer is a professional but also a human being, hence I believe in the balance. But I also think that it would be a mistake to write to them at a grade 8 level. Many of these buyers have advanced degrees and often know more about the topic than the salesperson or the copywriter.

    5) Yes, I agree. I think jargon can be used and this creates a peer-level connection between buyer and seller.

    I love using curiosity in my writings but I always stay clear of flattery, fear, greed or guilt.

    I guess, I could use some greed or fear to boost response, but it goes against my own values.

  5. Louis Burns said:

    It seems like the absolutely correct answer is that you have to test it. The question then is what to test.

    The best performing promotion will no doubt be somewhere between a statistical analysis and a straight emotional plea. Even so, people are people and any promotion that’s completely devoid of either component probably won’t work as well.

    Your best bet is to realize that people are people and while you may want to take it up a notch from writing to an 8th grade level to a 10th grade level (depending on the market), most experienced copywriters will tell you to include some degree of emotion.

    It can be a both/and rather than either/or situation. The best result will be found in the right amount of each for the particular audience.

  6. DMWrecks said:

    My best advice for B2B marketing material has always been guided by the ‘Powerpoint’ principle: meaning, give enough factoids that the buyer can add to his/her presentation. Emotion can play a roll, but if your copy saves time to digest the purchase via powerpoint. It helps a lot. I’ve seen vendors who leave their PPs in ready format with the prospects to help them with justifying the sale to management

  7. Cynthia Maniglia said:

    The short answer:

    It depends on two things:

    1) WHICH BUSINESS you’re marketing to … project managers and chemical engineers, for instance, have a different mindset than, say, graphic designers or photographers.

    And

    2) what are you selling?

    The even shorter answer is really a question:

    What is most appropriate?

  8. dianacacy said:

    This is great. I’ve only worked B2C, but have thought about getting into B2B too.

    I always felt that the logic to emotion balance is different in B2B, but that you still needed some emotion in there. The person making the decision is still a human being. Exact details would depend upon the prospect’s business and situation within the marketplace.

    Just my thoughts on it.

  9. Cynthia Maniglia said:

    Oh, something REALLY important I forgot to add:

    This overall discussion is very relevant to a writer who is writing for a B2B client that has NO real “knowledge” of what kind of approach or appeals makes their targeted audience respond best. That is, they haven’t tested extensively or at all … or maybe they don’t have any audience feedback.

    I almost always get information from my B2B clients about what irks or fires up their audience … how they like to be approached … etc. For example, I’ve been told that one particular audience was “very literal” and therefore, a certain phrase wouldn’t fly – and so on. That’s shorthand for the kind of info. a seasoned B2B client will pass on about their audience.

    When the audience is NOT so defined, the answer is – you’ve got to test. Just as you would with any or type of marketing. See what works best.

    Now if you have to advise a client on which way to go, you’d better have some back up to support your stance. And that doesn’t boil down to black and white (emotional versus robotic) … it’s a very multi-faceted sort of thing. And needs to be customized – so going full circle, back to my original comment (or rather question), “What’s most appropriate?”)

  10. Cynthia Maniglia said:

    any other type

    (sorry for the typo – letters got lost in my editing)

    : /

  11. Fiona Fell - The Profit Maximsing Web Geek said:

    It sounds to me that LT is of the mind set that a spec sheet full of measurements, sizes, numbers and graphs should be enough to seperate his business from the next when selling to other businesses.

    I am not quite convinced.

    Businesses are run by people not computers.

    Individuals interact with an advertisment, direct mail package or web site. And those same people hand over their credit card and then use the product or service they bought.

    I know I am moved by emotional or emotive copy, and not just spec sheets. Copy gets me to the point of wanting to buy, and the spec sheet, which I think LT is saying should be enough to sell the item, assists me in adding logic and reason to my buying choice.

    A spec sheet will get me to buy a product, but it will not get me to buy the product from YOU. Emotive copy will.

    Fiona Fell
    http://www.FionaFell.com.au

  12. Ashley said:

    I agree with everyone that says that ultimately it’s a person making the decision. In my experience you have to figure out who the decision maker is for buying your product – is it the CIO, CEO, a school administrator or teacher, the person at mid-level that’s trying to move up in an organization and needs to look good?

    Each of these types of people have motivations for buying your product and you have to talk to the emotions behind them. It’s not going to be as emotional as selling teddy bears to parents, but humans are not Mr. Spock and completely logical. There’s some emotion in every decision.

  13. Internet Marketing Archives» Blog Archive » 'Should B2B Copy be Devoid of Emotion and Salesmanship?' by Bob Bly said:

    [...] Should B2B Copy be Devoid of Emotion and Salesmanship?… [...]

  14. Michael Kelberer said:

    Okay, I’ll be the one who says that LT is basically right, and so is Ashley. It all comes down to two basic rules:
    1. Don’t pay attention to rules, and
    2. Know your audience!
    Michael Kelberer
    http://www.writingthatmeansbusiness.com

  15. Nick Van Weerdenburg said:

    I’d love to see some testing on this- split runs, etc.

    Neil Rackham in “Spin Selling” makes the point that discussing extra features reduce sales in the complex sale. This is based on empirical research.

    “Selling is Dead” makes the case of different types of complex sales- aggregate demand, vs. new paragigm, etc.

    Are you selling to someone who is going to buy something no matter what? Is he replacing existing of the same?

    Is the buyer a visionary, an early adopter? Or a conservative? Are you selling a recognized category of solution?

    Should all complex large sale marketing be directed at lead generation and account advancement, with the solution selling process generating the USP and final copy?

    If you write too much copy, do you lock your self out of having the conversation to consult and formulate the solution?

    Maybe there is no answer without answering those questions.

    If anyone knows good sources for B2B copywriting that includes considerations for complex large sales, market adoption models, new paradigms, and marketing in those areas, I’d been very interested.

    I’d also like to see Bob Bly provide his answer!

  16. Ken Norkin - freelance copywriter said:

    LT is wrong on just about every point. He completely fails to appreciate that because business customers are persons, communications to them should try to connect on a personal level. That means starting out by conveying an understanding of the customer’s situation and in particular the problem that your product is going to solve. Then, of course, back up your solution claim with sufficient data to support it.

    But it would be a tremendous mistake to do as LT apparently suggests and let the data try to speak for itself. Instead, you not only need to present the data but tell your readers what it means to them. And often what it means to them is saving time (so maybe they don’t have to work so late), saving money (so they can grow their department or keep their job), closing more sales (so they can earn more commission), increasing their company’s revenue (so they can get a bigger bonus) and in general making themselves more valuable to their employer (so they can win a promotion) — which are pretty emotional benefits to outwardly rational decisions.

    Jargon should be avoided unless it is necessary to connect with the reader or is the only or most accepted way to refer to something in the reader’s industry. Otherwise, you should recognize jargon for what it really is: a convenient cover used by people who don’t really know what they’re talking about.

    And of course B2B writing can be conversational. It should be just as conversational as the in-person B2B sales pitch. Or does LT believe that a salesperson should deliver an academic lecture rather than engaging in a one-to-one conversation? I want my B2B copy to sound like something you would actually say to a prospect. I want the reader to hear my words in their head. I want to write in short sentences as much as I can. And even use sentence fragments to keep sentences from getting long. I want to make continued reference to “you” so that the reader thinks “me” or “I.”

    >OK, I caught myself using B2B, which I suppose is jargon. But it was used in the question, which makes it reasonable to use it in the answer. <

    In the end, the main thing LT doesn’t get is that there are different types of buyers with different information and communication needs. Maybe he’s right that some buyers make only rational decisions based solely on the data. But not every buyer. Not even in business. Most of us know that ourselves from the different personalities of our different clients.

    If this means that LT won’t like my B2B copy, that’s OK. My clients and their customers do.

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