Written by Eric Pulsifer, Content Marketer

7 B2B marketing myths to unlearn: how to create human-centered content

Like most human beings, B2B marketers love a clever, creative B2C campaign.

If you’ve been in B2B marketing for a bit (or a marketing Slack channel for five minutes) you’ve likely seen people pass around links to engaging B2C marketing efforts — from a perfect playful explainer video for a podcast-making app, to a 404 error page that’s a 10 out of 10, to an absurd chicken-warming PC from KFC.

Slick, fun, and inventive approaches inspire marketers of all stripes. But that inspirational rush from superb B2C marketing content is regularly followed by a feeling of B2B marketing being a different world.

We tell ourselves B2B marketing has to be grown up, serious, and sensible. It’s no-fun nuts and bolts. It’s fiber-rich khaki content. And it can leave a marketing practitioner’s creative sweet tooth aching for more.

While there are plenty of ways B2B marketing is different from B2C marketing, there’s also a way to balance professional and personable.

Why do you need human-centered content?

Maybe you don’t think your content needs to be personable. Maybe you’re just not convinced human-centered B2B content will work for your brand or your audience.

But marketing is an ever-changing thing, and old-school ideas about what B2B content is or has to be don’t always still apply — especially after the last year.

Jennifer Chase, SVP and Head of Marketing at SAS, sums it up like this for Forbes:

“2021 will call on brands to authentically infuse empathy and emotion into their brand strategy . . . A brand strategy with heart and humanity will inevitably lead to stronger emotional customer connections, especially when customers recognize that a brand aligns with their values — in good or bad times.”

Now’s the time to be a human, which can be a little trickier than you might think when it comes to B2B content.

Human-centered B2B marketing isn’t just more enjoyable to create and consume, it can be much more effective. Taking a human-centered approach to your content can help you better generate B2B leads.

To help, here are a few tips to inject some humanity into your B2B content as told through 7 B2B marketing myths I’ve heard over the years.

1. “You can’t use contractions in enterprise marketing.”

I’m not sure what some B2B marketers have against the conversational contraction, but I’ve heard similar sentiments come from the mouths of multiple people with their hands on B2B brands.

Perhaps it's the apostrophe’s slouchy silhouette. Maybe contraction critics aren’t sure where to draw the line. (Not literally—we’ll assume they know where the apostrophe falls—but maybe they fear common contractions like it’s and we’re are a slippery slope to awkward ones you should obviously avoid like there’re or I’d’ve.)

Even buttoned-up brands like Intel and Microsoft use contractions in B2B content.

I would argue nixing contractions in your content entirely makes you sound like a robot, but even robots use contractions. Ask Google Assistant or Alexa and see for yourself.  

There’s an argument to be made for avoiding contractions if you’re writing for an international audience. And you’ll want to leave them out of legal copy. But otherwise contract away! You’re unlikely to offend your customers with contractions.

2. “We need to squeeze in more of our messaging.”

Ah, messaging. Can’t work without it, and can’t work with it (if you try to cram four-pages of unnatural marketing gobbledygook into every asset you create).

It can be hard to not throw the kitchen sink at your customers—as painful as it sounds on the receiving end. I get it. You want to shower them with all your carefully chosen adjectives!

But less is more in many pieces of content. Boiling things down to their essence takes time and energy. As Mark Twain said, “I would have written you a shorter blog post, but I didn’t have enough time.”

Go Marie Kondo on your content and only keep what brings you joy . . . and leads to conversations and conversions.

Keep your one-pagers down to one page. Aim for one-minute videos. Focus on a single key takeaway (not five) and there’s a chance your audience might actually remember it.

Need a test? Read your content aloud. Aim for sentences short enough to be read aloud in a single breath. Reading aloud is also a great way to do a human gut check. Does this sound like something a human being would say?

Of course, long-form content has a ton of value, and more in-depth pieces have a place further down the funnel. But know when to keep things succinct.

Each piece of your content is a part of a bigger puzzle. Be mindful about what you’re making, who it’s for, and what it’s supposed to accomplish. That transitions nicely to…

3. “IT pros don’t drink lattes.”

Your B2B content should be informed by well-researched personas, not shallow stereotypes or uninformed assumptions.

I once worked on a video for a project targeting SMB (small and midsize business) IT pros and had a marketer call out a scene where the hero IT pro works from a coffee shop. “IT pros don’t drink lattes. Can we have this be an energy drink?”

Having met many IT pros, I know plenty who do appreciate a cortado or pour-over as much as the next coffee snob. Like all audiences, IT pros are humans and not cut from a single mold.

While you can never speak to every interest or preference your audience has for caffeinated beverages, you can speak to pain points they identify with. Not only will you not offend your audience by assuming they’re a one-dimensional caricature, but you’ll increase your chances of success.

4. “This won’t work for all of our audience.”

You’re right. It won’t.

Not every piece of B2B content you create is going to work for every member of your audience. And it shouldn’t. Writing for everyone means writing for no one.

Trying to have one piece of content that speaks to all of your audiences is a losing game. Do a CTO and an entry-level member of the data team have the same pain points in their day? I’m guessing not.

This goes back to doing your homework and investing the time and energy into understanding your buyers’ personas and personalizing content to speak to one of those, not all of them.

A one-size-fits-all approach basically ensures your marketing will feel off to everyone leaving you with ineffective, watered down CTAs (calls to action) and a library of stale content.

5. “This sounds too casual.”

Often B2B content reads like it was written by students trying to impress a teacher rather than humans talking to other humans.

Granted, you may want to take it easy on the slang and dad-joke puns in assets for the C-level crowd. But don’t swing too far in the opposite direction.

Never say “utilize” when you mean “use.”

In fact, consider swinging all your synonyms toward simplicity rather than SAT study guide. Your customers are humans of the 21st century — not Victorian scholars.

How casual you get can vary based on the type of content. Maybe you don’t want to get too playful in a deeply technical whitepaper. But . . . there’s also something to be said for delighting your customers in unexpected ways. Give a little extra care where other brands may not invest the time; it can pay off.

One potential way to add a bit of delight to some dry content is to put some of yourself into it. Maybe it’s a pop-culture reference. Maybe it’s an anecdote. Not everyone is going to be into the same movies and hobbies as you, but people are drawn to other people passionate about the things they love. (See: Roman Mars geeking out over flag design or Kristen Bell sobbing over sloths.)

6. “We need to use more jargon.”

OK. I’ve never actually heard anyone say this one. But leaning too heavily on jargon that may not be used by people in the industry (or that may be understood but perceived to be marketing "buzzwords" and therefore not worth consideration) is a bad move. This pops up often in B2B marketing to highly technical audiences with astute BS detectors.

Like the reluctance to use contractions or write casually, I feel like leaning too heavily on jargon has a lot to do with our insecurities and fears about not being taken seriously.

But littering your content with excessive acronyms isn’t going to convince anyone you know your stuff.

If your content needs to explain, lean heavily in favor of excessive clarity. Perhaps the person on the receiving end of your content is new to their industry and doesn’t know the lingo. Or maybe you’re so deep in the weeds you’ve forgotten that the new concept you’re talking about might be completely new to your potential customers.

Most importantly, when getting technical, don’t fake it. Rely on the pros. Tag in subject-matter experts with a deep understanding and true insights into the subject of your content.

7. “We can’t do cartoon characters.”

Some B2B brands can take themselves too seriously to be open to creative ideas. Maybe your business is serious business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ever use illustrations or animated videos.

Illustrations don’t have to be silly. And “cartoon characters” and animation aren’t just reserved for quirky startups and consumer brands. Look at the websites of SalesForce, Mailchimp, and HubSpot. They all feature illustrations front and center.

Illustrations are engaging. And since there’s more room for interpretation in an illustration than a stock photo, we can often see ourselves in the art.

As a motion graphics designer I know likes to remind clients, people love animation. Three of the top five highest-grossing movies of 2019 were animated.

You don’t have to make a kangaroo in a three-piece suit for your next infographic (though it would probably be cool if you did). But don’t shoot down illustrations entirely.

Take an abstract approach for something more sleek if needed. But please — take it easy on the stock photos and footage. If you wouldn’t spend three minutes watching a snoozefest filled with generic business imagery in your free time, why would your audience?

Invest in human-centered content

Does your audience like dry, impersonal content? Maybe they do—and maybe you know that. If so, then keep on keeping on! But don’t let dull be the default in your B2B content. A human touch can be the difference between B2B content that gets it right and content clunkers.  

Ready to level up your content game? Thaynes Marketing’s team of savvy B2B marketing specialists can help you craft human-centered B2B content that strikes the balance between professional and personable with relatable creative that is clean, concise, and (occasionally) delightful. Contact us to get started.

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