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B2B storytelling: How to make your content stand out

Everyone in marketing knows the value of a good story…don’t they?

Historically, the answer for B2B marketing has been ‘no’. But that’s changing, as these great examples of B2B storytelling show.

“How do they do that?” I hear you ask. The article points to some of the relevant factors: LinkedIn has a clearly defined niche and promotes its value relentlessly; Salesforce uses case studies really well; Cisco uses humour. All good weapons in your storytelling arsenal.

All very specific, though. What if humour isn’t appropriate — or you’re just not very good at it? What if you’ve got multiple propositions that all need equal airtime?

What struck us about the examples given wasn’t so much the specifics of what they’ve done well, but the more general principles that we think they exemplify.

When we try to bring storytelling to B2B marketing, these are some of the key things we’re usually aiming to do.

1. Make your audience invest with emotion
Connecting with emotion in B2B marketing is perhaps not as easy as in B2C, but it’s always something to aim for.

The Cisco example shows that humour is one way to do it, if you’ve got the chops. Fear can have its place, too, though too much negativity can have the wrong result (you want to use the carrot as well as the stick.)

Whatever emotion you use, use it with caution; you don’t want people remembering only the emotion, but rather the message you’re using the emotion to convey. This is why one of the most powerful ways to connect with people’s emotions is to tap into the stories of your customers.

As the article points out, for Kickstarter this is very much part of their business (their users tell their own stories), but Salesforce proves that you don’t have to be selling stories to master the art of bringing customer stories to life.

2. Gain trust through authenticity
As we’ve pointed out before, businesses today need to show that they’re open and honest; human rather than a faceless corporation.

But you can’t simply sound authentic, you actually have to be authentic Which means that, like LinkedIn, you really need to take the time to think about developing your value proposition from the customer’s point of view (and if you have many products, services or audiences, you may need to do this for all of them).

Another effective approach is what Salesforce does with its customer community. They’ve developed a space for customers to discuss their experience (positive or negative) without any influence from the company itself.

No selling. No corporate spin. You can trust that everything on there is 100% genuine. People respond to that.

3. Be memorable
The Zendesk Alternative. Need I say more?

Unfortunately there’s no formula for the kind of creative, outside the box thinking that will make you really stand out from the rest. Nor will time and budget always make room for it.

But there are other ways to be memorable. If, for example, you can avoid an over-zealous corporate legal team diluting every bit of your content with ‘maybe’s and ‘might’s, you can be memorable for having and expressing opinions.

B2B marketing is historically very cautious, and we’re not suggesting that you make wild claims that can’t be backed up. But there’s really very little danger in being a little unexpected, a little controversial now and then. If you have something interesting to say, say it!

Let’s move B2B marketing forward
This blog was inspired by an article pointing to a few great examples of B2B marketing. But that kind of article is much harder to come by than we’d like.

Read any article outlining great examples of content marketing (here’s one from the Content Marketing Institute) and you’ll be lucky to find B2B examples referenced.

It’s up to all of us to change that by daring to be more emotive, authentic and memorable with our marketing. Let’s go!

Abridging quotes – how to do it properly

A great quote can give a piece of writing impact and emotional context, making it more compelling for the reader (as this case study demonstrates). But many people struggle to give you a quote that packs a punch in just a few words. If you don’t want your brochure, case study or presentation to lag, you may want to shorten a wordy customer quote. Sounds straightforward enough, but people get nervous about how to do it properly. So let’s take a look at abridging quotes.

Deleting words: the ellipsis

If you’re removing some words from your quote, simply replace them with an ellipsis (…).
For example:

Jon at HN says, “Agency life is fantastic because it’s so fast-paced and the clients are so varied; you’re always working on something new and exciting.”

Becomes:

Jon at HN says, “Agency life is fantastic… you’re always working on something new and exciting.”

Adding or replacing words: the square brackets

If you need to add words for clarification, you put square brackets around the words you’re adding. They can even replace the words you’re clarifying, like so:

Jon at HN says, “It’s fantastic because it’s so fast-paced and the clients are so varied; you’re always working on something new and exciting.”

Could become:

Jon at HN says, “It [agency life]’s fantastic … you’re always working on something new and exciting.”

Or

Jon at HN says, “[Agency life]’s fantastic … you’re always working on something new and exciting.”

See also: The importance of punctuation

Use with caution
Simple as it may be to abridge quotes from a formatting perspective, it’s important to remember that your abridged quote needs to still carry the same meaning as the full quote. Sometimes including or excluding one word too many can change the meaning of your quote. Revisiting our example above, changing:

Jon at HN says, “Agency life is fantastic but challenging, because it’s so fast-paced and you’re always working on something new.”

To:

Jon at HN says, “Agency life is fantastic … you’re always working on something new.”

Isn’t right – you’ve changed the meaning of the original sentence from a qualified endorsement of agency life to a wholehearted one, somewhat distorting Jon’s views in the process.

Clarifications also need to be treated with caution to preserve the meaning of the sentence. Changing “Agency life is fantastic.” to “[HN] is fantastic” would, sadly, be straying too far semantically to be an acceptable reflection of what Jon said (though working at HN, of course, IS fantastic; the sentence is perfectly true).

Should you bother?

If you’re finding it hard to make a quote fit your purpose, one option is simply to rewrite it – as long as you make sure the person you’re attributing the quote to approves it. It’s common practice in B2B copy to convey the sentiment and meaning of what someone originally said, but using language that is perhaps plainer, or more specific, or more emotional than originally expressed — then get them to approve the new form of words. We generally find that those we talk to are happy to have their sentiments expressed more concisely and clearly, to make their point more effectively.

For more advice on tweaking your language to give it more impact, check out our blog on straight-talking (and discover why Simon Cowell and President Obama are more similar than you might think). Or get in touch and let us see if we can help you convert your lengthy prose into converting content.

B2B copywriting: cut corners, not quality

Recent reports show that marketers are working harder than ever. For content marketers, a significant contributing factor is, no doubt, the sheer quantity of content they’re expected to produce.

Now we know you all love your jobs — marketing is the best job in the world after all — but that doesn’t mean you want to spend your whole life in the office.

So is there a way to cut corners with your B2B content, without taking a corresponding hit on quality? We think there is and here’s how.

1. Use time-saving tools Because, after all, the quicker you do things, the more likely you are to reacquaint yourself with the outside world. We use most of these tools here at HN and our loved-ones are grateful.

  • Hootsuite and Sprinklr are great tools for managing your social campaigns, helping you to store and schedule social content and measure its effectiveness.
  • Trello is a very flexible, online, collaborative project-management tool that works well for small teams and short projects (the kind that don’t call for Gantt charts, reporting, or active time-tracking). It also has a free, entry-level option.
  • Have you ever jotted down inspiration on a coffee-shop napkin, but struggled to take it to the next stage? Well, now there’s even technology to convert handwritten notes into digital content.

2. Repurpose content Once you’ve produced a great piece of content, don’t settle for using it just once. A good way to squeeze everything you can out of it – and get it seen by a wider audience – is to convert it into a new format. Another way to cut corners is to recirculate content without changing it. Or both. Here, for example, is another chance to read a post we repurposed earlier … about repurposing content.

3. Bring in extra help We would say this, of course, but agencies can be a great way to offload some of your work without decreasing your output. As well as sharing the load, an agency can become like an extension of your marketing team, helping you solve challenges quicker and save you even more time.

What are your favourite time-saving tips? Why not share them in the comments below?

B2B conferences: generating content to maximise ROI

B2B conferences are a fantastic way to connect with colleagues and customers, old and new. But they don’t come cheap. A lot of time, money and stress (!) go into them, so it’s only natural that you’ll want to maximise your return on investment from the conferences you organise. Fortunately, with a little thought and preparation, you can turn your conference into a content marketing machine. Here are some of our favourite ways to generate great conference-inspired content.

1. Video vox pops
Vox pops (vox populi, voice of the people) are informal interviews and a great source of soundbites that you can use on your website. Talk to your customers in coffee breaks or at networking receptions and get their take on the day. They’re really easy to do, too – all you need is a cameraman and an interviewer mingling with the crowd. Don’t forget to ask for permission from the interviewee, though.

2. Promo video
If you’re capturing the talks, atmosphere and highlights from the event, you’ve also got other video options. You could create a short teaser video, inspiring people to attend next year, or a longer summary video so those who couldn’t make it don’t miss out.

3. Blog posts
Every one of your speakers will be talking about a topic relevant to your business – and each session should be viewed as a potential blog post. Sometimes, we’re asked to provide a writer to attend sessions and write them up afterwards. Equally, you could invite each speaker to pen their own post at a later date. It’s a great way to quickly generate a bevy of relevant, topical blog posts that simultaneously position your event as a valuable gathering place for your target market.

4. Live tweeting
Though social posts from a conference have a limited shelf life, they can pay dividends on the day. Create an event hashtag for attendees to use when tweeting about the event before, during and after. Those who can’t make it can also use it to get involved.

5. Surveys
We don’t just mean a satisfaction survey. Asking just a few questions of attendees can give you valuable data about the issues facing your customers, their opinions on current trends or whatever you want to ask them. You can use the data as the basis of an infographic or blog. If you ask enough questions, you could even write a short paper.

Have a plan for your conference-inspired content
However you choose to generate content from your next B2B conference, the most important thing you can do is to plan it well. How will you use each piece? What part will it play in your sales cycle? If you can fit conference-content into your wider content strategy, then you stand to generate some truly impressive ROI from your next event.

Have you held a conference recently? Or are you thinking about holding one? We’d love to hear about your content plans for it. Why not leave a comment, find us on Twitter or drop us a line at LinkedIn?

Exit, pursued by a bear: another content marketing lesson from Shakespeare

April may have come and gone, but this year still marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. In this post, we take a look at one of his greatest enigmas – and the content marketing lesson we can draw from it.

‘Exit, pursued by a bear’, appearing in Act III scene iii of The Winter’s Tale and heralding the death of Antigonus, is perhaps one of the most famous stage directions ever written — not least because there are none other like it in all of Shakespeare’s collected works.

A lesson from the Bard

But famous and unprecedented as this stage direction is, I can tell you (based on the rigorous test of asking all of my friends) that though many people have heard of it, they often know nothing else about the play it comes from (possibly not even its name).

I don’t pretend to know the mind of someone who’s been dead for 400 years, but I’d hazard a guess that Shakespeare probably wouldn’t be thrilled that one of his plays is best remembered for a stage direction. Which suggests, to me, a lesson about content creation: if you’re going to do something different, make it count.

Redesigning your white paper to be visually stunning (for example) is a great idea – unless it becomes remembered as ‘that paper that looked great’ rather than ‘that paper that was really engaging and made some great points’.

Where there’s a Will (Shakespeare), there’s a way

Innovation in content creation is awesome and absolutely to be encouraged, but how can you be sure it isn’t going to do more harm than good? Here are a couple of options to test any new concept.

1. Prototype it. Get a sample made up and think through the effect of the finished piece. Will it (still) have the result you’re looking for?

2. Ask someone not connected with the project. It’s possible that you’re too close to the content to see the impact your ideas might have – so find someone who isn’t involved and get their opinion.

Perhaps we’re being a little unfair to Shakespeare. Given that he purportedly invented around 1,700 of the words we use today, it’s fair to say that most of his innovations supported his content, rather than distracted from it. With a little thought, yours could do the same.

Five tips for optimising PDFs for search engines

The Internet is arguably the best — and certainly the most accessible — source of personal and business information. But unless we know exactly what we’re looking for, we rely on search engines to help us find that needle in a haystack. That’s why many companies (especially those in the IT sector) have web infrastructure in place designed to ready their content for the web.

The popular PDF format is ideal for sharing your valuable content — almost anyone, on any computer system, can open a PDF file. And it’s a great way to ensure your content always looks good and prints properly. But, while most leading search engines can now read and index the content of a PDF, there are still steps you can take to optimise your PDFs for the search engines.

  1. Make sure your PDFs are text based. Some PDF programs simply convert text into a large image, which the search engines cannot read. Instead, create the PDF file using a text-based editor like Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat — it will look better too.
  2. Optimise your PDF copy using the same search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques you’d use for your web copy. Use specific keywords wherever you can — in headings and subheads, throughout the body text, in the table of contents and in alt text for images. And use the title as a header or footer throughout the document.
  3. Complete the document properties to prevent search engines from yielding untitled PDF files — making it difficult for visitors to tell if this file is useful to them. If you didn’t add them before saving as a PDF, you can use Adobe Acrobat instead. Add metadata properties at the same time to avoid indexers mislabelling your valuable content.
  4. Optimise the links to the PDF. For a PDF file to be indexed, the search engine must be able to find it. The links to the PDF files should be on a web page that is frequently ‘spidered’ by search engines, not hidden deep in your website.
  5. Build links into your PDF — search engines do recognise these links. So make sure these important hyperlinked words give them, and your visitors, useful information about the content of the page you’re linking to. You’ll also give readers an easy way to click back to your website where you can influence them further.

Have you tried optimising your PDFs for the web? Did it drive more traffic to your website? Get in touch on Twitter, LinkedIn or in the comments section and let us know what you think.

Shakespeare was a content marketer: 3 pieces of evidence

At this time of year, we know we aren’t the only ones bending the bard to our own devices— especially as this year marks the 400th anniversary of the great playwright’s death. But bear with us, because we genuinely believe that Shakespeare was… a content marketer. Content marketing may not have been ‘a thing’ back in the 1600s, but Shakespeare employed techniques that wouldn’t be out of place in today’s B2B marketing world. For your consideration, here are three pieces of evidence:

1: He made the complex comprehensible

There’s no disputing that Shakespeare was a master of illuminating the depths of human emotion and interpreting complex social situations for the audience. While B2B marketers rarely have to include cross-dressing princesses or matters of kinghood in their content, the heart of our work is no less about taking complex propositions and rendering them intelligible for our audience.

2: He was an entertainer

He may be a literary figure today, but Shakespeare wrote primarily to make money through entertainment. His prolific creativity was driven by a need to keep a steady income — so he was after the summer blockbuster, not the arthouse film. Our business audience might be more niche than mass-market, but the challenge of attracting and holding their attention is as pressing for us today as it was for Shakespeare back in the day. Nobody wants to plough through content that “will last out a night in Russia, when nights are longest there” (Measure for Measure, Act II scene i).

3: He spoke to multiple stakeholders

Shakespeare’s audience comprised newcomers and loyal followers, just as we have prospects and customers. And just as we have multiple targets with different needs (in tech marketing, for example, the CIO, the IT manager, and the end user), so Shakespeare wrote for both the general public and the nobility (even the royal family). He succeeded brilliantly in catering to their differing tastes – and also in flattering the rich so that they’d continue to patronise him (which was a good thing back in those days). Learning how to please multiple audiences is surely a task worthy of William himself.

Shakespeare for marketers

We’re continuing the fun with Shakespeare on our Twitter feed, where we’re asking you to identify the play that we’ve taken a popular quote from – with the quote altered to reflect the world of B2B content. So if you’ve got some time on your hands, why not head over to @hnmarketing and take a look?

Why is B2B content failing to engage customers?

Are you struggling to create B2B content that provides business value? If so, then you’re not alone — it’s been said that as many as 83% of B2B marketing leaders are failing to produce content that engages their customers. Here are four top reasons content fails to engage and some practical advice to put it right.

 

Nuturing_contentProblem #1: content focuses on early stages of the buyer’s journey
Picking up customers might not be a problem, but keeping them engaged through their decision-making journey is more challenging.

Solution #1: create nurturing content
Map your content creation to different stages of the journey, and focus on moving the customer from one stage to the next. Then you won’t only be creating content – you’ll be creating a relationship with your customers.

 

Document_strategyProblem #2: no documented strategy
You might have a strategy, but it’s different depending on whom you ask – and that means not everyone is pulling in the right direction.

Solution #2: document your strategy
It’s not rocket science. Get that strategy written down, get everyone on the same page and join up your approach to content marketing.

 

Get_human

Problem #3: stuffy content
“We’re a business and our content needs to reflect that. It’s what our customers will expect. But they just aren’t interested in our content.”

Solution #3: get human
Take the suit and tie off your content and turn it into something they’d want to read in the evening, not just at their desk. That’s partially about making it relevant to them, both professionally and personally, but also about the tone and style you adopt.

 

Say_something_newProblem #4: your customer already knows what you’re saying
Your customer does nearly 60% of their decision-making without talking to you. They’re smart and they’ve heard it all before.

Solution #4: say something new
Don’t settle for ‘interesting’ or ‘accessible’ content. Do your research and tell the customer something they didn’t know, which forces them to question their buying criteria. Perhaps they always assumed they couldn’t reduce their energy consumption, for example, when in fact you can help them with that?

 

You can download the full infographic here.

What are your secrets for creating engaging content?

Share your tips for creating content that grabs your audience and doesn’t let go on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the comments section on our blog.

The resurgence of storytelling as a means of persuasion

We love a good story here at HN — whether it’s a novel you can’t put down, a TV drama that’s so gripping you won’t be watching it on catch-up, or the latest Hollywood blockbuster. This is the power of storytelling — it draws you in and makes you hunger for more.

Of course, storytelling isn’t a new idea when it comes to being persuasive. Ancient Greeks, notably Aristotle, understood the role of pathos and ethos — the modes of persuasion appealing to an audience’s emotions and their perception of the speaker’s moral character — in establishing a connection with the audience. More recently, it’s been proven that long copy — when it’s written to influence the cognitive and affective attitudes of an audience — can outsell short copy. That’s despite the trend to distil information into bite-sized nuggets to suit the time-poor society we live in.

We’re not arguing against brevity but in the pursuit of ‘concise’. The bombardment of messages, one fact after another, can sometimes be relentless and tiring for the reader — it takes the pleasure out of reading when it should be a welcome diversion. A swing towards a more engaging approach, where the reader derives enjoyment from reading your material, has to be the answer.

So whether you’re looking to create online or printed copy, the approach remains the same: engaging and thought-provoking copy that involves the reader — whether presented in a hundred words or a thousand — will be far more successful than reams of facts and figures.

There are many ways to make your B2B message more engaging — we’re certainly passionate about video and animations here. But the biggest change we are seeing at the moment is a return to good old-fashioned storytelling, meaning that case studies are taking a far more human angle to draw the reader in and show the personal gain as much as the business benefits. This is great to see, not least because it’s a proven way of creating an environment to sell in but also because it’s just as much fun to write as it is to read.

Have you used storytelling to your advantage? Or were you persuaded by a great story? Why not tell us about it on Twitter, LinkedIn or in the comments section below?

Customer experience: setting the mood with unforgettable content

Have you had an unforgettable customer experience — one that stands out in your memory for all the right reasons? I still remember a call I made to Virgin Airways for two reasons: the hold music was Stevie Wonder’s Superstitious (what’s not to like?) and it was also great quality, unlike most hold music which sounds like it’s being played through a toilet.
In business, it’s not just what you say that matters — the quality and tone of your content can have a massive impact on the way your customer feels about you. Compare a datasheet that’s presented as a dense list of numbers, against one that’s well laid out and easy to understand. The first can leave you feeling none the wiser, while the other can be an absolute pleasure to read.
So how can you give your content this treatment and ensure it gets customers talking?

1: Critically assess the tone
Even if you have brand guidelines, there are things you can do to make your content engaging, lively and an all-round joy to read. Read it to yourself and see if you get bored; if you do, chances are your customer will too.

2: Make sure it’s clean
It might sound obvious, but weeding out spelling errors and grammar mistakes is essential — nothing looks worse than a rogue apostrophe or a typo in the title. It’s essential to do a spell-check, but you could also use a proofreader or engage an agency to create sparkling, word-perfect content.

3: Think about the user experience
The user experience (UX) is something we tend to talk about in the context of web design but it’s equally relevant for content. What information does your audience want to see up front, and where will their eye be drawn to first? Do the two things match? Does your video include lots of text? If they’re watching it on a smartphone, it’ll be too small to read. Putting yourself in the reader’s shoes can really make good content great.

Over to you
What do you do to give your customers an experience to remember? What’s the best treatment you’ve received? Share your thoughts with us in the comments box below, or via Twitter or LinkedIn.