In her book Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, Ann Handley tells us that B2B sales and marketing are more emotional than B2C.
Her reason? “No one ever got fired for buying a jar of chunky peanut butter instead of (the superior) smooth.”
Because of the more complex B2B buyer’s journey, and often high-priced products, things can indeed get… personal. The stakes are higher. A B2B buyer’s reputation may be at risk.
B2B buyers are motivated by both business and personal reasons. They have what Steve Slaunwhite calls a ‘split personality.’
What does this mean for you, the writer?
It means your B2B writing must contain both facts and emotion. But how do you bring emotion into your writing process?
Design Your Writing Process a la Handley
You probably have some form of writing process, with steps that take you from the research phase all the way to publication. If yours is a little vague, you may want to formalize it, because — Ann Handley writes — “we need a road map to get us where we’re going.”
While most people use seven steps, she suggests adding an extra 10 steps to ensure “ridiculously good content.” Some extra steps include:
- inviting your reader in the room for the third draft,
- using an AI editing tool (such as Grammarly),
- reading your draft out loud, and more.
Ann calls her writing process GPS for “Go, Push, Shine” to describe the three phases of producing content: research, writing, and publishing.
To add B2B emotion to your writing, you must first develop empathy for your reader.
This happens in the research phase.
Step 1. Develop empathy for your reader.
Ann Handley tells us that empathy is not a gift but a discipline. It requires effort and diligence.
The key to developing ‘pathological empathy’ is to ‘relentlessly focus’ on your client’s prospects and understand their interests, needs, and challenges.
Some research steps include:
- Talking to your client
- Talking to your client’s sales team
- Do your own online research
Your goal in the research phase is to understand what’s keeping your client’s prospects up at night.
What are their business motivations in relation to your client’s business?
More importantly, what are their personal motivations?
It is at this stage that you may want to draft the profile of your client’s ideal customer, often referred to as the B2B buyer persona.
Step 2. Uncover all the (emotional) benefits.
Once you have a B2B buyer persona in place (or you’ve asked your client for theirs), it’s time to shift to the specifics of your client’s product or service.
Ask “So what?”
To write content related to a specific product or service, you must write down all the benefits to the B2B buyer. This is usually done by asking the question, “So what?”
Dig deeper by asking “So what?” repeatedly until you identify all the tangible and emotional benefits.
Tangible benefits vs. emotional benefits
Tangible (or practical) benefits are the answer to the B2B buyer’s question:
“How will this product/service affect the business?”
They are directly related to the features of the product or service.
For example, the tangible benefit of an advanced printer that prints twice as fast (i.e., the feature) as a competing product might be that it will save the company time, which reduces costs.
Emotional benefits are the answer to the question:
“How will this product/service affect me personally?”
An emotional benefit for the B2B buyer purchasing that advanced printer could be that saving the company money will make them look good.
A product or service can affect a B2B buyer personally in several ways: how they work (productivity), how they feel (well-being), or how they are seen (reputation).
Step 3. Writing the emotional benefit (s).
You’ve done the research.
In the writing phase that follows, Ann Handley reminds us that we must make sure our readers “see themselves mirrored in our content.”
She reminds us of a few writing rules:
Use customer-centric language
This simple rule means that you use “you” rather than “we.” The idea is to address the reader directly, such as “Create virtual events for your business […]”
Use a conversational tone
Good copywriting shouldn’t be stiff or very formal.
The trick is to imagine you are sitting for coffee with your reader, having a one-on-one conversation with them.
This is where an AI editor gets handy: it will flag the issues below and suggest corrections. The most important ones?
- Avoiding jargon, buzzwords, and complex words (e.g., prefer “difference” to “differentiation”).
- Using the present tense.
- Choosing active voice over passive voice.
Make your reader think “It’s me!”
To ensure your readers feel seen and heard, make sure to:
- write the content with one person in mind (addressing the B2B buyer persona).
- use the words your readers use (these were identified during your research).
- add your readers’ own comments and quotes, if possible.
Your goal is to understand your readers so well that they will read your content and think “It’s me!”
How Much Emotion Is Enough?
Still, B2B is not B2C… So, how much emotion are we talking about?
In B2B writing, features and tangible benefits still make up most of the content.
In his AWAI program, Steve Slaunwhite uses the analogy of a cake, with the icing representing the emotional benefits and the cake the tangible benefits.
“You can’t overdo tangible benefits,” he says, but “you want just enough icing to make it taste great.”
Too much of it, and the B2B buyer is likely to view it as hype or exaggeration.
For example, when writing a sell sheet, you might list one or two emotional benefits for seven to eight tangible benefits.
Emotion is important, but you can’t get too emotional with B2B buyers.
B2B Writers Help Build Relationships
Perhaps you are marketing your own B2B writing business.
Perhaps you are working on a project for one of your B2B clients.
In both cases, an important part of your work is to build or facilitate relationships (between your B2B client and their customers, for example).
Allowing your readers to see themselves reflected in your writing is key to create maximum engagement.
Ultimately, the ability to appeal to a B2B buyer’s emotions will differentiate a ‘good’ content writer from a ‘ridiculously good’ content writer.