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Step #1 in creating ideal B2B lead generation copy.

After a short stint writing copy at an ad agency, I discovered the world of B2B direct marketing. The difference that made me love it is that B2B direct marketing requires an action on the part of the prospect or customer — so every dollar that’s spent is trackable.

Step 1 Lead Gen. Ltr.Early on in my B2B marketing copywriting career, a colleague recommended that I read Successful Direct Marketing Methods by Bob Stone (later Bob Stone and Ron Jacobs). It was from that book that I learned the foundation of B2B marketing lead generation best practices that I still use today. It still works and it’s a perfect formula generating outbound B2B marketing lead generation sent by email or snail mail.

There are six important steps in the perfect B2B marketing lead generation copy. Here is the first.

Step #1 — Open B2B lead generation messages with copy that addresses the prospect’s biggest pain.

In the B2B marketing lead generation world, testing continues to show that HTML-designed emails and direct marketing mailers that are heavily designed do not perform as well as text emails or traditional letters in #10 envelopes.

When using text emails or traditional letters, the opening line is the most-read part of any B2B lead generation copy. This opening sentence needs to focus on the most significant pain suffered by the prospect group in relation to the product or service being marketed. Basically, this is the approach that gets the prospects’ attention and lets them know that the message is for them.

As long as their #1 pain is being addressed, the context of the opening can take many forms, as Joan Throckmorton outlined in her book Winning Direct Response Advertising.

  1. Directly address the pain in a generic form: “Tracking labor hours for employees across the globe is a huge challenge.”
  2. Start with an invitation: “You are invited to discover how you can simplify the tracking of labor hours for your employees across the globe.”
  3. Use a quotation: “According to a recent Business Week survey of CFOs, ‘68% of global companies identify employee labor hour tracking as their biggest challenge.'”
  4. Identify your prospect: “As CFO of ABC Company, you know that tracking labor hours for employees across the globe is a huge challenge.”
  5. Take an if/then approach: If you’re looking to simplify the tracking of labor hours for employees across the globe, then . . . .
  6. Ask a question: “Are you feeling overwhelmed by the time and cost involved in tracking employee labor hours for employees across the globe?” I personally do not like this approach because questions force readers to think. As I’ve covered in earlier posts, B2B marketers don’t want prospects thinking. We want them to intuitively react to the message.
  7. Be negative and instill fear: The inability to accurately track labor hours for employees across the globe can have a huge negative impact on your bottom line.”
  8. Build a fantasy: Imagine gaining a 20% increase in revenue by being able to accurately track labor hours of employees across the globe.
  9. Open with an analogy: Find out how today’s financial executives are handling labor hour tracking more easily than putting on their shoes in the morning.
  10. Tell a story: “In November of 2012, John Smith, CFO of XYZ Company, discovered a painless way to handle the tracking of labor hours of employees across the globe.”

Which of these approaches to choose will depend on what type of content or information is being offered. Next week, I’ll cover Step #2 on how this opening can lead instantly into the offer of content with information to help the prospect see how they can overcome their pain.

B2B marketing’s 6 most common design mistakes

My recent post on “B2B marketing’s 10 most common copy mistakes,” attracted many readers. Since copy doesn’t stand alone, it made sense to update and repeat a post from 2009 on common B2B marketing design mistakes.

That post began with me talking about why I love “direct” marketing more than advertising.

Direct marketing is a discipline built on the testing and measurement of every element of a marketing campaign to let the market reveal which approach produces the most response. This ability to learn what works and what does not, gives each new B2B marketing campaign the potential to be more successful than the last — and to make B2B marketers smarter.

Direct marketing has been around for over 100 years, so those B2B marketers who have come before us have tested EVERYTHING. Granted, different products and different target markets can produce different results, but there are some findings that are pretty much universal. That’s because human nature is universal. So here are the design mistakes I see most often that can affect the performance of a Web site or other marketing effort:

1. Treating copy as a design element: Words laid out in a cute shape or design manner are unreadable. B2B marketers want the design to reflect their business brand and style, but the purpose of marketing design is to make the message as inviting and readable as possible. Designing headlines with some words larger than others also diminishes readability. Headlines in sentence case are more readable than those in title case or all caps.

2. Running copy lines across a full page from left to right: The eye moving across a computer screen or printed page from left to right can easily lose its place. The harder a B2B marketing message is to read, the faster a prospect or customer will stop reading it and move on. In fact, in email marketing, the rule is to put no more than 70 characters, including spaces, on a single line.

3. Not including visuals: The message offering a white paper is stronger if a visual of the white paper is included. Using pictures of people on Web site pages, landing pages, printed materials, and emails subliminally makes a company look human and adds a level of comfort to those thinking about responding. A visual that directly supports what is being said makes the message stronger.

4. Presenting the message in big, long paragraphs: Other B2B direct marketers have tested this and proven that paragraphs of over four lines look like work to read and reduce response. Busy B2B buyers don’t want to have to work to get information. Good readable copy is easy to scan. That means using bold subheads, bullets, indents, numbers, and other devices that make the message easy to understand by scanning the page.

5. Hiding the call to action: Presenting links online is pretty easy. But if B2B marketers want a response from any printed material — letters, sales sheets, data sheets, and brochures — the call to action needs to be prominent and clear. Prospects need to see the phone numbers, URLs and/or email address quickly and clearly so that they know instantly what they must do to respond.

This last note was mentioned in the recent “10 common copy mistakes” post as well. It’s frightening how often I see this design error — in fact I’ve seen entire Web sites designed this way.

6. Reversing body copy out of a dark background: This practice reduces readability by over 30%. Web pages, ads, fliers or mailers with all-black backgrounds and light copy are the worst. Reversed headlines are OK, but not body copy. Dark type against a light or white background is always the most readable.

Don’t let your developers grow up to be marketers.

A long conversation on the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) this week reminded me of an old country song that became a number-one hit recorded by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

Written by Patsy Bruce, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” tells of how cowboys never stay home and are always alone. This may or may not describe what it’s like to be a marketer today, but the conversation resulted in a very clear demonstration on why it’s critical to keep technical product experts out of the marketing arena.

The conversation began when an executive in a B2B start-up software company turned to the individuals who developed the product to create its Web site. Once complete, he went onto MENG and requested that other MENG members take a look at the site and answer these questions:

  1. What does the company do?
  2. What is the target market?
  3. What are the unique benefits it provides?
  4. Why should I believe that it does this better than a competitor?

The very few truly technical members reviewed multiple pages and were able to answer the questions. The rest of us couldn’t even answer the simple question of what the company does. We reviewed the entire Web site and still did not know what the software did, who would use it, or why.

The final comment by the exec that began the conversation was, “I have to say that I was overwhelmed by the quality of the replies. I gave up rating the quality since all were valuable and helpful. While they were each individual, I did see a clear pattern, with which I agree. Now we see why it is a bad idea to allow the technical people to design and implement a company’s website however good they are at writing code!”

Why shouldn’t people who know the product best write the Web site or help with marketing? It’s not the job of marketing to use the product. It’s the job of marketing to translate the features of the product into user benefits. We don’t need to know how a feature does something automatically — just that it is automatic and that it will save the user time, or money, or effort, or reduce risk, or a number of other benefits.

Marketing should always talk to those who know nothing about the product or service and are just looking to solve a problem. It’s rare to find a developer who can turn the complex into simple, straightforward, benefit-oriented messaging that’s critical to effective marketing.

So, B2B executives, don’t let your developers grow up to be marketers. It may not keep them from being lonely, but it gives your Web site a chance to be productive.

Help your B2B marketing prospects get the message.

My colleague and white paper writer extraordinaire Jonathan Kantor, the White Paper Pundit, is now sending out a newsletter called “Short Attention Span Marketing Tips.” His September issue makes it very clear why he picked the name. I suggest that all B2B marketers take note. He explains,

“In today’s ‘sound-bite’ world, it’s getting harder to pay attention:

  • We don’t read articles — we scan headlines and sub-heads.We prefer short SMS text messages to email.
  • Social media platform Twitter is based on messages of 140 characters or less.
  • The ‘3-second rule’ — the amount of time a web surfer will spend on a page — is a key factor in website design.
  • Television news — the industry that invented the sound-bite — has succeeded in reducing a complex news story to a few seconds.”

He’s right and this reiterates why it’s so important to follow these B2B marketing copywriting and design rules:

  1. Make your message scannable. Put the heart of the message in the headline, the subheads, bullet points and the call to action. If the reader is grabbed, then and only then will he or she read the body copy.
  2. Make your headlines strong benefit statements or promises of a benefit. That is, don’t make them information such as “Sarbanes-Oxley Compliant” but deliver a benefit such as “Stay compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley — effortlessly.”
  3. Make your headlines and subheads action statements. Write using words like Save, Get, Win, Start, Learn, Discover and dozens of other words that get your readers involved with your message.
  4. Keep emails under 250 words and keep lead generation letters to one page. I’ve worked with a client who had many lawyers involved in the marketing process and insisted that every possible caveat be included in every message. This approach diminishes the effectiveness of every marketing communication.

Think bullets. Think short paragraphs. Think reader benefits. B2B marketing must be inviting and informative even when it isn’t read word for word.

Jonathan Kantor is the principal and founder of The Appum Group, “The White Paper Company.”