You have learned well, my Chasers

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Back in the day, much b-to-b copywriting was as warm and engaging as an industrial spec sheet. In cold, clinical language, copy touted product features, but it rarely attempted to connect with the target audience by discussing benefits in more human terms. Copy talked at readers, not to them. This column has long believed that copy is more persuasive when it speaks to the reader as an individual—as if it were one friend telling another friend about a good thing. In our scan of a half-dozen trade publications this month, we were expecting to find plenty of examples of ads whose copy failed to connect with audiences because of their impersonal tone. But we didn't. Examples were few and far between. Maybe we weren't looking hard enough. Or maybe the b-to-b world has bought into our argument. Or just maybe, our 79-year crusade to improve the craft of b-to-b advertising has come to a logical end.

On second thought, we'll march on because there's no telling what might happen if we give up the Chase. Ads like this one from Trendnet might again become commonplace. The photo of a woman lost in thought notwithstanding, the ad lacks a human touch because there's no genuine attempt in the written material to connect with the target audience. Trendnet merely belts out a series of bullet points trumpeting its line of wireless networking devices. A chart listing its products, the product numbers and the size of the rebate for value-added resellers takes the place of a block of copy where Trendnet could make its case in a more conversational manner. The ad has an old-school, low-budget look.

As noted, there was no shortage of ads whose writing sparkled on the strength of their personal tone. That can often be accomplished through frequent use of such personal pronouns as "you" or "we."

The personal-sounding tone usually begins in the headline, as was the case with an ad from McAfee Inc.: "Now you can offer threat protection so comprehensive it even secures your bottom line." We counted two personal pronouns and two benefits in the headline alone. It gets even better in the copy block as McAfee speaks person-to-person to an audience of value-added resellers: "Small-to-medium-size businesses are the fastest-growing market for security spending today. As a McAfee SecurityAlliance member, you'll be part of a global network working to connect SMBs with the industry-leading intrusion prevention solutions designed for them. And you'll receive all the assistance you need, including free online training and certification, performance-based rebates for qualifying partners, plus exclusive access to our Web portal for priority marketing and technical support."

Sharp finds the sweet spot with its audience of security executives by appealing directly and personally to their self-interests. Again, the conversation begins in the "How secure is your digital information?" Copy crackles with personal pronouns that almost mimic the language of a company sales rep.

"Make sure your copier is security compliant. Financial facts, personnel records, customer lists: networked copiers/printers process sensitive information every day.

To protect this weak link, we've created our Data Security Kit." Readers will undoubtedly be engaged by the writing.

A final example comes from Maxtor Corp., which features the very human image of a trio of earnest-looking technology resellers under the "You've helped them build their business. Now it's easier than ever to back it up. That same friendly "how-can-we-help-you?" tone carries through in the copy designed to sell an automated backup for small-business servers.

"With automated backup software and no media to swap, the Maxtor OneTouch II Small Business Edition is the easiest way to protect your customers' data. Simply connect the drive, install the software, and their data will be backed up-automatically-every night. Our unique remote notification capability lets them know their backup is successful."

Not only is the frequent use of personal pronouns important, but so, too, is a simple, brisk writing style that uses active rather than passive voice and avoids advertising cliches. M

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