We Like Interesting Businesses. Marketing People Don’t Get It
I’m having an interesting internal narrative about my marketing writing. I have multiple B2B clients I do content for. They all have templates, briefs, and style guides, and they are all identical. If you write a long sentence, no matter how elegantly structured, it is bad. Or a long paragraph, even if the subject is complex and really requires it.
The ‘rules’ guarantee a generic message
These rules are creating marketing that is unintentionally generic and generic is bad. Let’s look at an example with insurance companies. Insurance is a commodity business. Plans and pricing are basically the same, which means they have to compete on service. But insurance is also boring, unexciting, and it is really a necessary evil, all pretty big marketing hurdles.
Comedy can work for B2C. B2B, not so much
But Geico realized they needed to do something to stand out, so they went with comedy. A tiny lizard with a mini British sports car and a priceless accent. And a parallel campaign that positioned them as insurers of the absurd. State Farm soon followed, as did Progressive. And now we have a humor war going on in insurance marketing.
At least these guys understand that standing out is better than the generic messaging. Apple realized early on that they could position as the little guys, the David facing the Goliath (ahem, Microsoft). They still love the outsider story though they are the largest and most profitable company on the planet. Being a little guy made them the big guy. But they always had a story and a voice of their own.
Copycat B2B marketing is easy, but…
It is hard for a B2B business to go their own way, marketing-wise. There is risk. But there is also risk in being just one of the options with the goal of making a buyer’s short list. Staying within the lines will probably guarantee you consideration, but it will not create a definition, in the buyer’s mind, of the best or coolest choice (yes, buyers always want to work with interesting people- their jobs are tedious and boring and they pay a personal price if you suck).
Writing, in marketing, is now central to B2B messaging. People expect access to good, non-hype information, but it does not have to be boring. Figure out what makes your business unique and project that. Don’t copy style templates from the internet. Don’t let SEO gurus cripple your content with questionable ‘rules’. They are guessing and Google is miles ahead of them.
I’m evolving my view of doing this kind of writing. It is lucrative and I can do it in my sleep (don’t tell my clients!). So I’m not turning it down. But I have realized that it was polluting my non-business writing and that cost me on multiple levels. When I stopped calling the shots as a marketing lead and went freelance, I became a resource for words, not a resource for direction.
Don’t mix up rules with strategy
I understand this and don’t have a problem with it. It’s my choice. Even as an executive I worked for CEOs who read the same stuff as their peers and decreed that we must do the same to compete. I do not believe this constitutes strategic thinking. But in software, especially smaller companies with young founders, there is a serious lack of strategic vision.
Tech start-ups should not emulate the big guys
Startup culture views itself as cool but is decidedly uncool when it comes to messaging. Please don’t mistake an ad copy gimmick like those insurance ads with comedy. That’s not B2B, so they can play more. But don’t be that interesting company that wants to sound like the big guys. The big guys are boring because it takes so many people to approve anything.
Remember, even when marketing enterprise software, there needs to be a voice and a story that compel. A voice and a story. Full stop.