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Make copy conversational

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In an age of social media and social networking, conversations are more valued than commanding corporate pronouncements. For b-to-b advertisers, it's vital to converse with communities rather than lecture a target audience. If advertisers are to be seriously considered part of a community—be it engineers, purchasing committees or the C-suite—they must write the way people speak, aka Chasers' Criterion No. 7: Talk person to person. That long-established Chasers admonition to advertisers is especially relevant these days, regardless of whether the message is being delivered in social media or the so-called old media. In either, authenticity is the coin of the realm. Let's look at several ads whose copy sounds as if it's one friend telling another friend about a good thing. Cognos, an IBM Corp. company that makes performance management software, speaks reassuringly and remarkably personally to a community of business executives whose job it is to make their companies run efficiently and profitably. It's a tall order in tough times. The headline: “The decaf for financial anxiety” sets the tone for the well-written message that's bordered by coffee beans. Here's the lead-in: “All those responsibilities would make anyone jittery. You can never relax. You need to improve the company's financial health while ensuring compliance. You need to reduce expenses and help the business drive profit and growth. And you also need to reduce risk while still delivering consistent results.” The copy empathetically recognizes the problems faced by members of the community. But Cognos doesn't allow the suffering to continue. It steps forward with a solution that's couched in the same personal language of the lead-in: “It's nerve-wracking. But it is possible with Cognos performance management, part of IBM's Information on Demand solutions for business optimization. We deliver the most comprehensive planning, forecasting, consolidation, scorecarding, reporting and analysis capabilities on a single software platform, connecting all relevant financial and operational data. So you can drive growth and ensure compliance.” What makes this copy so compelling and so conversational is the frequent use of personal pronouns such as you and we. Sentences are short and to the point. There's no wasted verbiage. It essentially mimics the way a sales rep would speak to a prospective buyer of a product or service. For DHL, the conversation begins right in the headline: “Nothing says "Try our overnight shipping' quite like a free overnight shipment.” That same person-to-person tone continues in the text that begins: “Whether you're a larger global express shipper or an ambitious local entrepreneur, we know you have a choice in shipping—and we want DHL to be your first choice. We offer a range of domestic and international services tailored specifically for your business—all at a great value. We're confident that you'll be so impressed by our convenient, reliable services that you'll ship with us again.” Amid the course of the conversation, DHL is engaging members of the shipping community to give it a try by offering a free overnight shipment in exchange for answering questions in a brief survey. Based on the tone and language of this ad, prospective customers would quickly conclude that DHL is the kind of business they'd be comfortable doing business with. It's important to remember that an ad offers perhaps the best opportunity a company has to reflect the things that make it liked, respected and admired. A final example comes from the Center for Values-based Health Management, which describes its third law of “healthonomics” in this headline: “Soaring health care costs are only the symptoms. You've got to start treating the disease.” The conversation about health care continues in the text with brisk-paced copy that's punctuated with plenty of personal pronouns: “More employers are rethinking their responses to escalating health care costs. Why? They recognize chronic diseases are the root problem. Example: An employee managing his diabetes might cost $5,000 per year. An employee not managing his diabetes could cost up to $45,000. The win-win here is that by providing employees incentives to lead healthier lives and helping them manage their chronic diseases, you reduce your health care costs. And you'll have healthier employees.” This copy works well because it puts the selling proposition in the terms of the reader's business, not the center's terms. A commanding, preachy tone to the message would not be nearly as well-received as this message that's both engaging and empathetic—the mark of a savvy conversationalist.
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