Using Compelling Content to Reach B2B Decision-Makers
I was asked to write a post about the latest trends in B2B communications, so naturally, my thoughts turned to bylines. (Wait! Keep reading… I promise this isn’t a post from 1987.)
The truth is, I’ve been writing quite a few bylines for various clients lately, so I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how to bring something new to the effort. Bylines have long been a fixture of B2B communications plans, which is a not-so-subtle way of saying they are an old tactic. Old, but only outdated if you allow them to be. In fact, in today’s communications landscape — littered as it is with shiny new toys — a well-written byline is a powerful tool.
There’s no question trade publications took a hit during the recession, but they bounced back nicely. The page count may not be as sizable and, in many cases, they may have shifted online entirely, but they’re there. The ones that survived emerged as valuable resources for B2B decision-makers. The move to digital — a cost-cutting move for most — provided the added benefit of creating permanency for trade articles. Bylines placed in respected trade publications now live on for years in archives and, more importantly, in search results.
We know B2B decision-makers value content when making decisions, and we know prominent trade articles fare well in search results. So why do we so often relegate the byline itself to the last bullet on a slide full of communications tactics?
“Microsite… check. Banner ads… check. Social media… check. Oh, and if we get some time we’ll just dust off that internal email and pitch it as a byline.”
You can do it that way, but it usually ends up being a waste of time and effort. The byline is no different than any other tactic — you will get as much out of it as you put into it. With that in mind, here are five quick tips to maximize your next B2B byline.
1. Establish a point of view. Too many bylines are simply information dumps. “Here’s everything we know about (fill in the blank).” That’s fine, and by “fine” I mean, “a wasted opportunity.” Think about it this way: if you list a bunch of stats for basketball’s best small forwards, what kind of response will you get? Not much. People will glance at it and move on. But assert that Larry Bird edges LeBron James as the starting small forward on the all-time NBA team and, well… get ready. (That may be a bad example, since the answer is clear.)
2. Write with a voice. This one should be simple, but it isn’t. Think about any magazine article — aren’t you more likely to finish and remember it if it’s well written? Why would trade bylines be any different? Infuse the byline with some style and personality. Make it a fun read. Informational doesn’t have to be dull.
3. Avoid repurposing. This is the enemy of the fun read. We’ve all done it. There’s a white paper out there that touches on your topic, or maybe an article from an internal newsletter or — God help you — a PowerPoint deck. (Hey! This has speaker’s notes!) Rather than using these pieces starting points for research, we rip large swaths of text and put together a Frankenstein’s monster of a byline. The result lacks originality, creativity and, most likely, anything that’s going to keep a reader’s attention.
4. Include data to support your point. Numbers create credibility. If you’re calling for tighter regulations, include data showing problems caused through lax oversight. If you’re arguing for total cost of ownership vs. initial capital investment as a purchasing consideration, show the math. Examine the one-year, three-year and five-year payoffs. Do your homework before you start writing, then let the data do the heavy lifting.
5. Eliminate promotional language. Lead the reader to water. Trust them to drink. Don’t pour product-flavored water down their throats. You can write 1,000 words making a great case for an approach favorable to your client or business, but a single sentence promoting a specific product or brand will undermine all the rest. There are subtle ways to introduce brand into a byline—a relevant photo with a well-written caption can make the point without turning a strong byline into a sales pitch.
Bonus tip: Make images more than an afterthought. This tip isn’t about writing a byline, but it’s another way to make sure your byline doesn’t get lost in the crowd. It’s a terrible feeling to work hard, do all your research, write a compelling byline and then watch it get buried in favor of a piece with better photos. A great photo can be the difference between a back-page piece and the front cover. Go the extra mile to make the images memorable.
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