Treat Your B2Bs More Like B2Cs

In an effort to sound like an authority in your field, it’s tempting to overdo the “industry speak” when marketing a B2B product. Though probably absorbed much of the time in industry lingo, your “business customer” is also a real person, who is also a “consumer” with a consumer’s needs and sensibilities. Like anyone, this person is inspired and motivated by simple ideas and simple language, often only reserved for ordinary “consumers.”

The real people behind companies will understand (we assume) the industry jargon and technological terminology, but it is in both yours and their interest to provide an easy read with a clear message. If big words are overused, they can interfere with your main message.

In the proper context and presented in the right way, tech terms and jargon can be used effectively. Just don’t overdo it – especially not on your home page. On your home page, your message should be quick, easy-to-digest and focused on how the reader’s life will improve with your product. Simple ideas and language can still be expressed even if the technological concepts aren’t as simple.

In This Case

In the following example, the site’s message is muddied by too much industry terminology. The product itself is impressive.  It makes online videos stream faster in any situation and with almost no buffering. Both the problem and term are well known. The causes (at least on the consumer end) are not as well known.

[From first posting]: Sadly, there is no mention of buffering anywhere on the site! For my money, if you write something like, “We keep your videos from buffering,” just show me a demo and I’m in! At least, I will be inspired enough to stick around and read more.

Since the above text was first written, the website in question made a few changes. One big one was that they added the word “buffering” and the fact that they “eliminate buffering” from streaming videos. First of all, kudos to them for making this change (I wonder if they read my blog) 😉 However, their current home page is still flooded with long-winded sentences and too much industry jargon.

What’s Missing?

What’s missing is a simple short description with short sentences. This type of description is useful for drawing the eye in quickly. Then, bullets, flash (not preferable), or links to other pages can lead the reader to more details. In general, this website gives us way too much all at once right from the first moment. There are other problems (including with design) too, but I won’t go into those in this post.

I will only add that the intended target for the message is service providers who serve their end consumers’ needs. But the language on the home page confuses this point by speaking to both the service provider and the consumer at the same time. If you actually intend to speak to both companies and end consumers, there are clever ways of creating two convenient streams for each specific user.

It Might Be Complicated, But Keep It Simple

Make your solution’s short description (for your home page or landing page) focused on the most important benefit to the customer. Save the technical details for “Solutions” or “Technology” where there is more space to elaborate. But don’t elaborate too much. If the reader wants to go more in-depth, provide a downloadable white paper or brochure, or encourage questions by phone or e-mail.

Simple ideas inspire people and build great businesses. Communicating a simple idea, however, is sometimes not so simple. It also must be done strategically for the Web. As a solution provider for other businesses, it is easy to forget that you are marketing to people, not just businesses. As businesses, we look for tools to increase our bottom line. As people, we need to be inspired.

Inspire me, and I will sign up for your “Free Trial.” If I’m still happy after the trial, my company will thank you and budget you in.

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Is Your Website Overweight? Keep it Short and Centered on Benefits

Is your website overweight?

Are you writing too much on your website pages?

Have you crossed the fine line between being informative and losing your reader’s attention entirely?

Three Suggestions:

1. What I like to call “the 50% test”

Take a Web page of text that has 300-600 words (or more) and cut it in 1/2. The chances of your reader absorbing what you want them to absorb will increase substantially!

Added-value benefit: Your writing communication skills will improve 100%.

2. Short Sentences (*15 Words or Less)

A supervisor once gave me a mission: write 15 words or less. It was a big wake-up call. At the time, I was writing marketing copy for a B2B software product. I sometimes wrote long sentences with long-winded explanations assuming it would be ok for “industry” insiders.

My perception was that it might make the company sound smarter or more authoritative. Maybe, but when you’re marketing (to anyone), long-winded sentences disrupt your main goal: to inspire a new audience to TRY or BUY.

The risk of long-winded text is causing BOREDOM or CONFUSION. Once this happens, your reader’s attention span flies the coop, and you also risk an overall negative impression of the company. Fat paragraphs can cause the same problems.

I had 2 realizations:

a. When I stayed to 15 words or less, my writing effectiveness improved. The communication of my ideas became much clearer and more efficient.

b. Enterprise executives and managers are people too. Like consumers, they also do not have much patience. They want to read about a valuable solution to their problems. They do NOT want to feel like they’re doing research in a library!

Lesson: If your solution or product is simple, why can’t your description also be simple?

* There are exceptions to the 15 words or less rule.

3. Do NOT Confuse Benefit with Feature. I see this happen way too often.

  • Benefits – how my life will improve.
  • Features – the tools that will help me get there.

You came up with a really cool idea. You invested years in R&D. You hired a crack team of product development experts. Now you have a laundry list of incredible features you want everyone to know about. That’s great! Just be careful where you put it.

Will potential customers want to read about all of these features? They might. Just not all on a Web page and not all at once. Too much too soon.

Potential customers look for benefits. What will I get out of this solution? How will this product improve my life? If you list too many features without focusing enough on benefits, you’ve lost your reader. They may simply conclude that they don’t need all of this stuff and surf  to a different beach.

How do you know exactly which features they need? You probably don’t. Just do not confuse features with benefits.

You DO know how your product can benefit someone. If you didn’t, you would never have invented it! Help your reader relate. How did you feel when you had a problem? Does your website inspire them as much as you were inspired in the beginning?

Think of writing fewer words as losing 10 or 15 kilos you really didn’t need. Some websites I’ve seen should try losing 50-100 kilos! If I’m speaking to you, you may need to hire a personal trainer.

Imagine the benefits! 😉

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Example of a Short Description: Before and After

To follow up my previous post about writing short descriptions, I have offered an example – a “Before” and “After,” if you will.

I chose this one in particular because it appears on the homepage of  an attractively designed website. The site however fails to present its content in the most readable and actionable way possible.

For now, I will leave the rest of the pages alone and address only the short desciption that makes these COMMON MISTAKES:

  • The overuse of buzz words or industry jargon
  • Sentences that are cumbersome and long-winded
  • Ego-centric or company-centric language
  • Not enough emphasis on straightforward benefits

To the writer’s credit, there are benefits mentioned, e.g. “TCO, paradigm-shifting price performance (which, I believe, are pretty much redundant) and on-board networking capabilities.” However, the reader will not immediately notice them because they are buried inside long-winded, jargon-filled, ego-centric sentences.

For a short description to capture a reader’s imagination, it must speak simply and directly to his pain and how it can be eased. This description attempts to do this, but fails in its lack of simplicity.

“Paving the way for the mobile wireless backhaul revolution, XXX Wireless Communications delivers carrier-grade milimetric-wave Gigabit Ethernet radio solutions with paradigm-shifting price performance. Offering the industry’s lowest total cost of ownership (TCO), and incorporating on-board networking capabilities, XXXX™ solutions from XXX are ideally suited for the both mobile backhaul and carrier Ethernet business services.”

In the following rewrite, I present simplified talking points that should make an interested reader want to read more.

XXX Wireless Communications is easing the backhaul pains of mobile operators and Ethernet service providers with low-cost wireless solutions that dramatically raise backhaul capacity.

XXXX from [Company X] delivers carrier-grade milimetric-wave Ethernet radio solutions scalable to Gigabit capacities with a TCO up to 90% lower than existing solutions.

As two short paragraphs, this re-write is much easier to read. The one long and cumbersome paragraph in the original version might keep surfers from even attempting to read it.

Notice: In the first paragraph, the most sensitive issues in this realm are presented as:

  • Easing backhaul pains
  • Low-cost
  • Dramatically raising backhaul capacity

Even someone who doesn’t know what is meant by “backhaul” can understand these points as worthwhile benefits.

In the 2nd paragraph, I left in the long technical industry name of the solution simply because it is important to identify up-front the specific type of technology being offered.

Finally, I mentioned 90% because it effectively demonstrates what the company means by “low-cost.”

As an added bonus, my rewrite has 7 fewer words than the original. For an effective short description, the “description” must be sufficient and the shorter the better.


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Writing Your Short Description

Dear Startup owners,

5 Easy Steps to creating your home page “short description” that will actually be read:

  1. Write the coolest most techy sounding buzz word packed 2-3 sentence company or product description you can.
  2. Destroy it and take a deep breath.
  3. Answer this question: What are 1-3 ways your product/service will make people’s lives easier?
  4. Write the answer down.
  5. Publish it on your home page and in other strategic Web locations.

Recommended template for a simple and effective short description:

[Company Name] delivers/provides [a really awesome hi-tech product] that keeps your desk clean, finds you great deals on things you actually would buy, and automatically calls your wife right as she was about to call you.

Sign me up for this software! The point is that no matter what the product, people want and need plain straightforward language. Give it to them.

A Clear Choice:

EITHER enter into a competition with your competitors to see who can come up with the coolest markety buzz words (but you have more important things to do) …

OR, cut to the chase and clearly express how your product improves people’s lives, i.e. saves money, time and energy, provides easy access to accurate information, or prevents nuclear holocaust. THIS will make your readers want more and click to get it.

This approach will work for both consumer and B2B markets. Do not assume that because you’re a B2B provider, you need to use fancy language to impress a potential customer. They’re not simple-minded “consumers,” but they are people too, with limited patience and time. Simple language can be refreshing and effective for someone who is immersed in techy industry docs and memos all day.

Good luck! And, let me know if you use my template. 😉

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How I Found My Startup Niche

“Should have hired a professional.”

Recently, I read an insightful Harvard lecture published on the Web with a straightforward perspective on how to start a startup and significantly increase the chance of its success. I am not starting a startup (at least not yet), but I gained one or two nuggets of good advice to apply to my non-VC backed venture.

Two important ideas struck me bluntly on the brain. First, if you want to start a startup, think of something in the world that “sucks” and then make it not suck. The honorable guru/programmer/hi-tech entrepreneur Paul Graham delighted in this quite economical word several times, presumably to connect with his young “Generation Next” audience and to make his point clear and simple.

There is no magic or mystery in it, he proclaimed. You’re not reinventing the wheel. The Microsoft’s, Google’s and Apple’s of the world did not invent something that did not exist before. They simply identified something that “sucked” in the world and knew how to make it not suck with genuine technical know-how and limitless creativity.

It’s been almost two and a half years now since I strolled wearily and wide-eyed from an El Al jumbo jet as a new immigrant into Ben Gurion Airport. It has been almost a year since I began writing marketing copy for Israeli startups.

As a new Israeli and someone who appreciates the great spirit, energy and creativity of the startup game, I’m am doing my best to make a valuable contribution.

In the spirit of learning from smart entrepreneurs about improving the world, and in Paul Graham’s cut-to-the-chase vernacular to Harvard computer science students and Bill Gates wannabees, “look at something people are trying to do and figure out how to do it in a way that doesn’t suck.”

With that said, one of the things that drove me to get into this business was my discovery of mountains of marketing copy, mostly on websites, that really sucked. As I browsed and clicked, the opportunity presented itself like a hot summer day to the ice cream man.

The amount of bad Web content writing being published was inexcusable. Call it gross incompetence, ignorance or lack of budgetary priority. Whatever the reason, my mission became clear: help startups communicate their product concepts and offerings as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Note: Israel is not the only place (including my home country) stricken with an epidemic of bad writing about good products.

I kept asking myself the same question. How could businesses expect to be taken seriously with such poorly written and formatted English?  In addition, with an attention span of under 10 seconds, boring, confusing or long-winded copy can cause missed sign-ups and lost sales.

If your writing is sloppy and unprofessional, you’re losing a lot of potential customers to confusion, boredom or impatience. No one has time for undecipherable, unattractive novel length essays.

Granted, we are talking about (non-native English-speaking) Israeli companies with Israeli managers and Israeli employees. But, we are also talking about professional people with professional standards, investment money and a lot at stake on their paths to global dominance.

What’s worse are Israeli CEOs and CTOs with American or British university degrees and fluent English who think they can write their Web content by themselves. After all, they are the founders and/or product developers and should be able to write about it, right? Wrong.

Extensive knowledge on a particular topic does not necessarily equate with an ability to write, and in particular for marketing purposes. If presented in the right way, content can be an attention-grabber, make the right impression and support a brand. The value of great marketing copy must be felt, understood and of course measured. Only then, will it be brought up a few lines in the budget.

Sometimes I have a “hard sell” convincing startup managers of the value of hiring a professional to develop their website content. Most of the time people don’t think twice about hiring a plumber even though they have the right tools at home to do the job.

Let a professional do a professional’s job and in the long run everyone will be happier (and there will be no flooding in the house).

Exception: A lot of so-called marketing writing “professionals” (only because they’re taking money) leave an aftermath of frustration and dissilusionment in their path. Sometimes I have to mop up the mess, rewriting cumbersome and boring descriptions of exciting and innovative products.

Shameful!

I’ve also encountered Israeli executives who assume that just because I am a native English speaker, this alone qualifies me for the job. Granted, it helps, but there are plenty of native English speakers who are mediocre writers at best.

I only bring up the “native English speaking” thing because it is sometimes turned into a justification for bargaining down the price, as if they are thinking, “Come on, how hard could it be? I was going to do it myself. I just need someone to make sure everything is spelled right and capitalized. And maybe throw in a few cool American sounding phrases while you’re at it.” Argh!

Does it sound like I’m exaggerating? Sadly, I’m not. Of course there are Israeli startup executives who do not take this naive approach to their websites. But there are enough of you out there who do, and it needs to stop!

In these shaky economic times (excuse me for sounding cliché or campaigny), often the first budget item that gets slashed is marketing (large companies obviously can avoid this problem).

Cutting marketing, while tempting and seemingly logical in the beginning, can be harmful to a young company in the long term, disrupting the important initial process of shaping and putting out the right message.

If you’ve created the next great software the world can’t live without, leave the marketing content and strategic messaging to a professional. You could probably speak for hours and write volumes about your product and all of its cool features. This is not such a bad thing – in the proper context. Personal blogs, user manuals, or a university lecture series can be wonderful outlets to expouse and expand.

But, for marketing content, spend your money wisely and  find a professional. Your message and content should be crafted carefully for bottom line action.

Let’s leave words to the wordsmiths, technology to the technologists and together we will make the world a more peaceful, prosperous and less sucky place for all of us to share.

Best of luck!

I’d love to hear your comments, stories and experiences, both positive and negative.

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