In this post (originally published on B2B Marketing Magazine), I dedicate a poem to my fellow B2B marketers. It’s a poem about avoiding publishing marketing content that totally sucks. I’ll get to it in about three minutes, but first I thought I’d share with you the disappointing B2B marketing circumstances that inspired me to write it. I have a sneaking suspicion the scenario will be all too familiar to you…
A personal anecdote and thrash metal drummers
Ignoring for a moment the recent onslaught of GDPR emails, B2B marketing generally seems to generate a lot of unsolicited and often tedious emails. By way of a personal example, in addition to being a B2B marketer, I’m also a buyer of B2B services. In the past 12 months my team has bought from copywriters, designers, market researchers, martech suppliers, web developers, videographers, systems integrators, SEO specialists, trademark attorneys, printers, translators, caterers, jelly bean companies, umbrella salesmen and a host of others. And, consequently, the word must have gotten out that I’m a buyer, because I get a lot of emails trying to sell me something…
In the past two weeks alone, I received in the region of 300-400 unsolicited emails from B2B companies. Add to that the 15 or so people that tried to sell me something on LinkedIn, plus the three-dozen cold calls I received, and the cumulative result is a heck of a lot of noise. A heck of a lot of noise on top of the 400+ bona fide work emails I also received over those two weeks. And the 40+ hours of meetings I’d been invited to attend. And also the actual work and team activity I had to do in that time.
The result? My work life is noisier than a thrash metal drummer in an alarm-testing facility. I’m sure your world is similar. And – most pivotally of all – I’m pretty sure each of our respective target customers’ worlds are just as bad.
Stating the obvious – slim chances
I should imagine trying to be heard over a thrash-metal drummer in an alarm-testing facility is a pretty challenging feat. Alas, the same is true of earning the attention of B2B customers. Our chances of getting anyone to read our respective messages, let alone respond to them, are often slim. And – stating the bleedin’ obvious – those slim chances typically rest on the impact, relevance and persuasion of our communications’ opening headline – and then the impact, relevance and persuasion of each of the lines and visuals that follow. If those lines and visuals don’t immediately pique interest or outline exactly how the reader will benefit from reading on, then our marketing communications are likely doomed. There are just too many other emails, messages, meetings, tweets and the like sitting there, ready to tempt the reader away.
I’m absolutely certain that each and every one of us B2B marketers knows all of that. But how then do we reconcile that with the fact that, of the 300+ unsolicited B2B marketing emails I just received, over 90% of them broke the golden rules of marketing communications. (That is a euphemism for ‘over 90% of them were about as enticing as three week old milk’). They transgressed some ageless truths of B2B marketing, namely:
- the emails either focused on exactly the same things that everyone else is talking about, and approached those topics in exactly the same way; and/or
- they focused on the writer’s self-interest, not the reader’s self-interest.
On the first point – marketers failing to find fresh topics or angles – I received over 100 emails saying exactly the same things about exactly the same topics – AI, Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and marketing technology being the worst recent offenders. Those, of course, are just examples from the marketing industry. I’m sure that, in other B2B industries, other topics see similar levels of spam. Brexit, cloud computing, blockchain, cybercrime, digital disruption, sustainability, autonomous cars, coal prices in China and a host of other topics probably inundate customer inboxes in the same way that ABM or marketing technology inundate ours.
On the second point – marketers writing from a self-centred perspective – “Our monthly newsletter,” “We are video content specialists,” “Come to our unmissable event,” “We’d love to meet you” and hundreds of other similar opening lines in my inbox failed to answer the vital questions ‘So what?’ or ‘What’s in it for me?’ Even worse, they failed to dangle a huge carrot in front of me that might spur my curiosity in some way.
My point here is that someone out there may want 50 identical email updates from different sources about blockchain or ABM or other hot topic. If the topic is hot enough, at least one of those 50 identical emails should get a click-through. But, given the congested world of a customer’s inbox, our likelihood of being the lucky provider that gets that click-through will always be far greater if our email headline has the strongest hook. A hook that either spells out exactly what problem the email will help a customer to solve, or intrigues the customer sufficiently to make them want to learn more.
In summary, beyond finding completely new topics to talk to customers about, or funding surprisingly creative ways to approach those topics, there is only one way to win the battle of the inboxes – and that is to get better at writing headlines and body copy. Which means either hiring a copywriting pro, and/or attending a writing training course, and/or endlessly writing and rewriting our headlines and body copy until they become unignorable – as media magnate William Randolph Hearst was famed to do.
And all of that is critical because us B2B marketers should never forget that our poor customers are working beside a thrash-metal drummer in an alarm-testing facility.
A light-hearted ending: A B2B marketing poem
Beyond a (hopefully helpful) reminder of the need to continually invest in high-impact copywriting, I share all of that to visualise for you the circumstances that inspired me to write my B2B marketing poem. A poem entitled ‘I didn’t open your email – the headline totally sucked‘. (The original working title was ‘I didn’t open your email‘, but I thought you’d be less likely to read it).
I didn’t open your email – the headline totally sucked
Dear B2B brands, please forgive me. I’m not being rude.
I don’t want you to fester or brood.
I’m not being difficult, nor tough, nor defeatist.
I don’t want you to feel ignored or mistreated.
It’s just that I’m busy, I’m hectic, I’m swamped.
And your email didn’t grab me, didn’t act as a prompt.
It got lost in the noise – it got masked by the crowd.
It sat there, quite hushed, not shouting out loud.
For my inbox has become a dire, endless battle.
200+ emails a day, rubbing shoulders like cattle.
I just haven’t the time to read through them all.
I’ve got too much on to trawl through the sprawl.
I’ve other things to do, other things on the go.
Like hitting my objectives – priorities – you know.
So unless your mail’s opening line is just right,
You’re going to have to get used to a fright.
Your email is just noise – just wallpaper to me,
Like a tiny drop of water, in a vast, open sea.
There’s only one way to swim and not sink.
Only one way to ensure your click-thru’s don’t stink.
And that’s to make sure the benefits I’ll get
Are laid out, super clear, from the very outset.
For the art of persuasion is based on one thing,
And that’s knowing the value that you truly bring.
How your product or service will improve my life.
My problems you’ll solve – how you’ll end my strife.
Which means focusing on the challenges I face,
And bringing me ideas to put them in their place.
Your ‘unmissable’ offer is all about you.
And frankly, quite bluntly, I couldn’t give a poo.
Don’t talk about yourself or the cool things you do.
That’s not the way to achieve cut-through.
Just send me something personal – full of empathy,
And never forget to articulate “what’s in it for me?”
Further reading – one idea on how to pick a great marketing topic
By the way, if you are struggling to come up with cut-through email marketing titles and topics, here’s a further thought on the topic >