Taking the “Boring” Out of B2B Content Marketing

I used to teach freshmen composition at a local university. 

You may have taken this class in college. You probably didn’t enjoy it. The class was a requirement, and the students who took it were there to get it over with. 

As I chose readings and designed assignments each year, I learned something that helps me in my current role: I learned how to get people talking

Finding the Passion that Makes Sentences Sing

Many of the students in my class were athletes who hated writing. If I asked them to write a descriptive essay about, say, their neighborhood, they’d fill it with clichés and vague sentences. So, instead of choosing a writing prompt from the textbook, I’d ask them about the most exciting game they’d ever played. 

These formerly dull writers would come to life. Given the right topic, their words would leap from the page. Their sentences would have an energy that even experienced writers can’t always generate. All it took was finding that question – that topic, that job – they felt passionate about. 

I think about this whenever I write for a tech or manufacturing B2B company. B2B content marketing for industries like medtech, managed IT services or cooling and ventilation can be tough to get excited about. And it often shows: too many B2B companies publish bland content that doesn’t represent what’s really cool about their line of work—leaving the thoughtful prose and engaging storytelling to B2C brands. The result is content marketing that isn’t interesting to read and, therefore, not as effective. 

I once toured a manufacturing plant and was fascinated as I listened to an engineer talk about the to-the-millimeter precision of his tools and how vitally important his job was to industries like aerospace and oil and gas. It was an industrial process I’d never heard of before. As this engineer rattled off numbers and statistics, I realized that his kind of passion was infectious. 

And that’s what copywriters need to tap into. 

6 Tips for Writing Engaging Technical B2B Copy 

If B2B marketers and copywriters can inject a little bit of the energy that engineer felt as he talked about industrial honing – or the beauty in description that my student athletes tapped into – then their copy will sing. Here are a few more tips for writing engaging B2B copy: 

  • Interview the Right Subject Matter Expert

When it comes to B2B content, especially highly technical content, you shouldn’t try to muddle through on your own. And you shouldn’t just rewrite information you find on a competitor’s website. To be a true thought leader in any industry requires original ideas. Regurgitating information from articles you find online won’t cut it. 

My advice? Do the work and get the right people talking. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. Subject matter experts can explain difficult concepts, which a skilled copywriter can then present from a fresh angle. Asking the right questions (even the stupid ones) and allowing conversations to unfold is key. That’s what will produce thought-provoking and valuable content. 

  • Use Jargon Sparingly 

Too many writers fall back on industry jargon. It’s understandable; there’s a balancing act between speaking to an audience that understands the industry – and doesn’t need basic concepts explained to them – and writing about complicated, highly technical subjects that require precise language. But while jargon can be useful for SEO purposes, it can’t do the whole job a copywriter is called to do. It can’t grab attention or get a reader to engage with a brand. There’s just no story in jargon. 

  • Lean Into the Specs and Numbers 

Details, on the other hand, matter. Details about manufacturing or IT that might make a layperson’s eyes cross mean something to your target audience. So, lean into the specs and numbers. Put them front and center. To the right people, they’ll tell a pretty compelling story.

Once, I wrote for a company that did custom casework – basically the countertops and cabinets, soffits, lighting sconces and other custom products used to furnish a restaurant or dentist’s office. When I got these craftspeople talking about the type of material they used to make a countertop resemble hot-rod chrome, for instance, or the exact dimensions required to create a 3-dimensional, tapered diner counter, their words painted pictures. Suddenly, the back-and-forth process of typing measurements into a computer, envisioning a project on a drafting table, and wrestling laminate into a new shape took on the suspense and gravity of a hero’s quest. 

  • Write to One Person 

Experienced copywriters suggest that you imagine having a conversation with an actual person when you write. This is good advice, and I’ll add to it: think about what your actual person might geek out about. Then, fire them up. 

Here’s what I mean: I worked with a writer and social media phenom who discovered an entire community devoted to scrapping and metal recycling. She “listened” to what this community said online. She was able to engage them with highly specific, industry-related content they loved debating amongst themselves. Before long, this community became a fan base, trading the type of user-generated content some B2C companies can only dream of. All for the type of industry many people wouldn’t think twice about. 

It’s that kind of passion that makes B2B copywriting interesting: finding it, injecting it into a brand’s story, and igniting it in their audience.  

  • Provide a Solution to a Problem 

As with any good piece of marketing, it all comes down to this: what job is the product or service designed to do, and how will doing it make a customer’s life better? 

This goes for B2C and B2B content alike. So: why is the cutting-edge AI in a company’s product so important for the hospital nurses who will be using their software? What makes the manufacturing process at a prefabricated construction facility so groundbreaking, and their products so innovative? 

Making solutions the goal of your copy – and telling the right story, in the right way, to the right people – will help you uncover the spark in B2B content. 

  • Finally, Consider the Bigger Picture – the Why 

The final thing to always keep in mind is the company’s why. Every business – no matter if it’s in shipping, cybersecurity or heating and cooling – has goals beyond the bottom line. They’re in it to make a useful impact on the world around them. 

One of Atomicdust’s clients hardens the metal components needed to make safe, reliable seatbelts. That highly specialized, specific product may sound boring – until you think about the car crash you passed on the highway and the family, alive and unhurt, standing beside a nasty-looking wreck. 

So, once you’ve “zoomed in” to the details, zoom back out. Consider the bigger picture. The why. That essentially human reason B2B industries are so important. With a story any human reader can relate to, a process that hardens metals suddenly becomes that much more fascinating – and your brand does, too. 

Whatever You Do, Don’t Be Boring 

I used to tell my students, “If you’re bored writing something, I’ll be bored reading it.” 

Our job as content creators is to amplify the importance of B2B brands and engage customers with the kind of details that energize them, not make their eyes glaze over. But first, we have to find those details. Mull them over. Make them reveal themselves.  

Clearly, I’m not an expert in transportation logistics, Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) or HVAC systems. And if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that drafting copy for these industries would be a long slog. But here’s the thing: once you find the right subject matter experts and tap into their passion, B2B content isn’t bland at all.   

Learning About the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

Several things can be true at the same time.

She had every right to interpret my surprised look the way she did. I cried in the bathroom because I didn’t mean to be racist; a Black coworker consoled me. “That woman was taking it to extremes,” she said. Later, I would learn about the way white women sometimes weaponize their tears.

I was a teenager working at McDonald’s and I’d never seen a $100 bill at a McDonald’s before. The woman said, “now, why is my money looked at like that?” I stammered; I was sorry.

I had a lot to learn.

*

I graduated from high school in Tulsa in 1995. I watched the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing on my classroom TV in April of my senior year. I had not learned – not in middle school or in high school – about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. All I’d ever been told, or at least what I remember, was that there were rumors of a mass grave in the cemetery you could see from the highway.

My best friend in high school was a Native American who’d been adopted off an Omaha reservation by a white family – illegally, it turned out. Her parents were evangelicals. We met at a summer camp the church sponsored.

(Oh, I’d learned about the Trail of Tears. When you live in Oklahoma, you learn about that. It’s history, and Oklahomans are proud of their history as former Indian Territory.)

I was a teenager, a white girl, a quiet, good girl who went to church every Sunday. I didn’t think I was a racist. I barely spoke in high school. (I hated it, to tell the truth. There, the pretty blond cheerleaders all thanked “their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” whenever they won an award. I always rolled my eyes at that. The few African-American students at my high school sat at their own lunch table.)

My best friend went to a different school, and I usually dated boys from different schools. One boy (who was white but part Choctaw with olive skin and green eyes – he was dreamy) went to Booker T Washington High School, which was primarily African-American. I was supposed to meet him at a football game. I stood in a crowd looking for him. I was surrounded by Black teen boys, all taller than I was, and I must have shown my discomfort. One said to me, “don’t be scared, little white girl,” and laughed. Not unkindly.

*

When I went to college, I lost some of my shyness. I found friends. I studied abroad twice. I learned.

I moved to Phoenix and taught middle-schoolers whose parents had come up from Mexico, whether legally or not. I loved them. I learned.

I moved to St. Louis and taught Black high-schoolers. I learned about Pruitt-Igoe, where many of their grandparents had lived. I learned how they felt when Michael Brown was killed. I cried with them, and I learned.

I thought back on my sheltered teenage years in Tulsa. Whenever I visited extended family members in Independence, Missouri, it was like nothing had changed! And even though I loved them, visiting them made me feel like I was in high school again.

*

I am still learning about white privilege and Black trauma. I know it’s not any Black person’s job to educate me – I have to do the work.

I’m still coming to terms with what it means to be raised as a Christian and still believe in God when, to be honest, many evangelical Christians make me uncomfortable. I’m angry when politicians (who depend on the evangelical vote) try to block the teaching of race in classrooms – but I have to laugh, too.

How can you block what’s in all of us – all over this country – California to Tulsa and St. Louis to the Florida coast? What was in me, an unhappy white teenager; in the Black students at a mostly-white school who sat in a circle around their lunch table; in the Omaha-Sioux girl with white brothers and sisters; in the pretty cheerleaders and the tall young men at Booker T. Washington High? How can you?

How can you block our own history when we all have so much more to learn?

The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Poet to be Your Content Marketer

Pro: We care about language. A lot. We choose our words carefully, and they’ll convey – precisely – the message we want them to convey.

Con: We’ll sometimes spend 10 minutes pondering the denotation and connotation of a single word in a 1200 word article.

Pro: We’re great at synthesizing disparate pieces of information.

Con: We may make connections that no one asked for, and then write a blog about these connections that few will read.

Pro: We understand the constraints of formal verse and the fact that structural constraints often make writing better. So, fitting our prose into a scaffold of SEO best practices won’t be too difficult for us.

Con: We may enjoy constraints so much that we begin writing our web copy in iambic pentameter – just for fun.

Pro: We see life from a different perspective, and we’re sure to bring up interesting ideas in a brainstorming session.

Con: We see life from a different perspective, and we’re sure to bring up completely bonkers, irrelevant ideas in a brainstorming session.

Pro: We have an impeccable sense of timing in verse, though our sense of actual, recordable time can be… skewed.

Con: Logging time – what’s that? Wait, how much time did we spend on this task?

Pro: We write persona poems, so creating customer personas are a piece of cake.

Con: We may enjoy imagining the internal lives of customers a little TOO much.

Pro: As employees, we’re curious, imaginative, flexible, and dedicated to craft.

Con: If we stare off into space for minutes at a time, don’t be alarmed. We’ll come back to Earth soon.

Iceberg

The iceberg blinked
And the sailors squinted against the cold.
It couldn't be seen, with the sky so full of stars
And ice splinters making halos around the lamps.

Things seem to disappear,
Just so. You say you should have known,
But you were in the bracing wind or 
Sweat was dripping into your eyes
Or something. Whatever it was, it meant

That what happened next felt inevitable.
Felt like Zeus aiming his bolt at your heart.
Felt like time buckling 
Or your soul from a forgotten past life
Shoving you--go on, now. Go. 

Traveling In Spite Of

When some people think of travel, they imagine setting aside several hundred dollars to visit an all-inclusive resort. They imagine a river cruise they’ll take once they retire—once the bills are paid, the responsibilities handled, the day-to-day toil done. 

But travel isn’t really like that, not for everyone. I think of my traveling adventures as “in spite of.” That is, in spite of heartbreak, in spite of poverty, in spite of direction or expectation. 

Travel, for me, has always been a gift, bestowed whether the time was right or not. Inserted into my days to teach me something or take me out of my head. It’s always been something like grace: I never deserved it, but there it was, to make me humble and bring me joy. 

*

I was a student on a scholarship in Vienna when my parents called, long distance, to tell me they were getting a divorce. I remember walking along the Ringstrasse that night, processing the news in the solipsistic way a 20-year-old processes news. Yet, feeling safe. 

It was safe to walk the damp cobblestones. It was a wonder to be there—my first trip abroad. 

I walked, looking up at the imposing buildings, feeling far away from my siblings and sad (though not surprised) about what had broken back home. 

I think I cried, but I remember the misty evening more than my tears. I remember looking through the light rain under the streetlights at the historicist architecture that was bigger, older, and grander than I was. Everything was all right, I thought, because I was in Vienna. 

*

The next divorce was my own. And thanks to the generosity of my father and brother, I booked a flight to Peru. 

There’s a picture of me from that trip, at the top of a viewing tower above the Nasca lines. I’m wearing a hat—I don’t think I’d bothered to get a haircut in weeks. I’m also wearing a wry smile on my face, and my eyes are not focused on anything. That picture probably reflects, pretty accurately, my state of mind at the time. I did spend much of that trip in the backseat of a car or bus, lost in a miasma of confusion and regret. 

But then there was Machu Picchu! And I found myself staring in wonder at ancient stones joined  together as if they’d grown there. 

There were the Andes, a herd of llama on the side of the road, a flat blue lake that seemed as cold and remote as the mountains. There was the ocean, and the fish prepared in tiny villages, and the wonderful variety at the marketplace. 

I was rescued again. Everything was okay because I was in Cusco. In Lima.  

*

There’s a reason we love travel narratives, and it’s the same reason we somehow find the courage to leave a job, fall in love, or pull ourselves out of bed to take a shower after a deep depression. It’s the same thing Joseph Campbell writes about: it’s the way we find our bliss. Even at the lowest times, and even when we don’t expect it. 

There’s that memory of standing on the St. Charles Bridge in Prague and being in love with someone who’s in love with someone else. 

The 15 hour drive to Austin or to the Gulf with my dog in the passenger seat, just to get out on the road and feel young again. 

There’s the trip to New York when my brother and I argued with our mother and then roamed Avenue A in Manhattan, looking for a good bar.  

And the camping trip on the north rim of the Grand Canyon and the experience of feeling, rather than seeing, the depth of that enormous gorge at night. 

See, this isn’t an uplifting Eat, Pray, Love thing. You still go home, or to a new place, wherever you find one. You still get in your own way and have to take care of your own shit. I still don’t make enough money to travel the way I’d like to. I still sink into ennui, forgetting to enjoy the little wonders of my own town. 

When my family visited Scotland together, we journeyed to the northernmost point of the highlands to see what we imagined were our “ancestral lands.” There, we learned that Sinclair was pronounced less like sin-CLAIRE and more like SINKler. We also got to know a village called Kiess. 

This place was little more than a crossroads with a hotel on one side of the street and a cemetery on the other. As we sat in what appeared to be the only bar in town, the bar at the hotel, we noticed folks coming in wearing 80s prom dresses and wedding gowns. Well, this was strange—

They explained that they were hosting a themed fundraiser, and would we like to join them? We walked a block or so up the road to a large hall where they were selling raffle tickets, drinking Irn Bru, and dancing to—I swear to God—country western music played by a quartet of high school kids wearing identical black suits and skinny ties. 

Well, what else was there to do? We jumped right in. 

I’ll admit to not remembering many of the details of that night. I drank plenty of beer, then scotch, then more beer. I do remember dancing with Simon, a builder who was an inch or so shorter than I was and who gave off an adorable Martin Freeman vibe. He was kind enough to walk us back to our hotel at the end of the night. 

*

The next morning came very early. I shoved my belongings into my bag and stumbled after the family members who’d been smart enough to turn in early. All together, we climbed into the back of an SUV. We were off to visit the nearby ruins of the Sinclair-Girnigoe castle that day, and we couldn’t miss it. 

We were the only ones on the site when we arrived, and it was a clear, beautiful morning. Despite my headache and queasy stomach, I was enchanted. We walked around the ruins. Took photos. Walked down the rocky slope to the North Sea, and back up again to that edge-of-the-world view. 

My hangover caught up with me at one point and I lay down. The tufted grass held me and I remember little gusts of wind and the sound of birds. 

Everything was all right. Everything would be okay.