Time for another interview with the PMG experts! This go-around, we focus on the topic of creative writing – and what it really means for B2B marketing. In the Q&A below, you’ll find detailed responses from two of our very talented content marketing and copywriting specialists – Robyn Bradley and Liz O’Neill, each with a solid background in Creative. But before we get into the nitty gritty, here’s a little bit more about these queens of the quill!
- Robyn is a PMG copywriter by day and novelist by night. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University in 2008. Her work has appeared in FictionWeekly.com, Metal Scratches, and The Breakwater Review, among other places. She self-published two novels and is working on her next book.
- Liz, a content marketing specialist for PMG, graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Her first “real job” after grad school involved scouting and reviewing popular advertisements/ad agencies, which totally piqued her interest in the stories marketing copy can create. Well, that and Don Draper. That’s how she landed in copywriting.
Though both of these PMGers can identify as creative writers, it’s not necessarily their go-to claim to fame – as “creative writing” is often misinterpreted in the B2B sector, particularly if you serve a more technical client base. Even Liz admits she doesn’t like to lead with the “creative” writing label when discussing her background with clients, as some executives hear “creative writing” and tend to imagine they’ll wind up with a flowery, artsy, esoteric campaign message.
But we know good content marketing is not a flight of fancy. It’s much more about giving structure and energy to the substance and expertise those executives and subject matter experts already have. So I spent some time with these two PMG copywriting experts to specifically discuss creative writing – and why marketers with this background can and should leverage their creative strengths when it comes to producing B2B content. Here’s the Q&A…
How can a writer become more inventive? Are there any writing exercises you’ve used that you find really work?
RB: The best way to become more “inventive” is simply by trying different stuff and taking risks. Not all clients are open to risk-taking copy, but when I find one who is, I usually allow myself to get playful and see what happens. (Here’s an example of playful copy I wrote.)
LO: In fiction, writing exercises are great for stimulating ideas about character and conflict. When you’re writing a novel or a short story, there are some core questions you need to ask your characters (what do they care about, what are they afraid of). This is similar to how content marketers develop buyer personas and begin to approach prospects with different problems, profiles, etc.
So I think creative writers are incredibly well-equipped to interview experts, understand audiences, and unpack complex subjects. Writers with a background in storytelling are also able to present information in the appropriate sequence, with the right balance of examples/exposition (showing and telling), so as to make readers or viewers feel comfortable throughout the experience.
Is there a 'formula' for writing an attractive eye-catching headline?
LO: The formula for me is usually to draft 10, 20, or 30 options. Sometimes the best one materializes first. Sometimes you have to pull different aspects from a few top contenders. There’s definitely a preset list of marks to hit: catchiness, accuracy, fluidity, brevity… But there’s no preset formula for getting it right. I know there are blog title engines and other automated tools that let you plug in your topic elements. I don’t think it can hurt to try these as a jumping off point, but I wouldn’t cut and paste the results into any final deliverable.
RB: Formulas are a dime a dozen. Just like idioms and clichés. ;) Formulas run the gamut—ask a question, go negative, go positive, be punny, etcetera, etcetera. But here’s the dirty truth about headlines: “eye-catching” doesn’t necessarily mean “effective.” Sometimes straightforward headlines are more effective than so-called clever ones, which is why testing is critical.
Why is it important to put an original spin on blog content?
LO: Because people are smart and search engines are smart. Both are getting really good at finding the very best resource on a given topic. Both are getting really good at devaluing the posts that are written just to keep a blog calendar current, while attempting to game the keyword system. If you don’t take the time to see what others have written on a given subject—and then try to add to that conversation in a useful, substantive way—all you’re doing is creating more noise.
RB: Simply put, there’s too much content “out there” as it is. If you want people to care, to remember you, to potentially subscribe to your blog, then you have to give them something they can’t find anywhere else. That something is your original spin. This is why you have to be careful if you decide to use content farms—sure, they can churn out cheap content to fill your blog, but it certainly won’t be original.
Any tips for crafting creative landing page content?
RB: Again, test, test, test. Writing creative copy is FUN, but like anything else, you need to test it and make sure your creative copy is converting, which is what matters. That said, I do recommend using a conversational style, since that makes it easy for people to read and understand. Make the “what’s in it for them” benefit super clear.
LO: If the offer (eBook, white paper, etc.) that the landing page is promoting is well-written, the LP copy should be a cake walk. If you’re struggling with landing page copy, I would say that’s a sign your offer is something less than compelling. It’s like the difference between writing the movie trailer for Casablanca versus, say, Captain Ron. You might just need to go back and provide more valuable material.
What are your thoughts on writing for SEO? How do you work a keyword strategy into your copy?
RB: I always write for humans first, search engines second, especially now since the Google algorithms are getting better at taking things like context and synonyms into account. Focus each page on a specific keyword phrase, but only use the phrase naturally—and don’t be afraid of using various forms of the word (plural, singular) in addition to synonyms.
LO: Piggybacking on Robyn’s response, I’d say you have to think about keywords not as boxes to check on your editorial calendar, but as actual queries coming from actual prospects. Sure, fun copy is fun. But copy that solves a problem and saves a busy person from sinking five hours into a research wormhole is truly revelatory. (I should also add that I’ve been using Ahrefs Content Explorer and Buzzsumo a lot to research keywords and the existing content around them.)
How do you effectively facilitate partnerships with clients who do not have writing experience? How important is communication throughout the process?
LO: I think it’s important to start with clear expectations and priorities. Different clients want different things from the writers on their accounts. Some are just looking for someone to polish the language they create. (I shouldn’t say “just;” this is often the most painstaking type of assignment.) Others need help defining their unique value proposition, their company mission, their values: everything. Some are open to interviews and technical questions. Others are relying on you, as the marketing partner, to find subject matter experts and provide those explanations.
RB: Clients who acknowledge they don’t have any writing experience are usually extremely easy to work with—they know what they don’t know, so to speak, and trust my recommendations. If a client has a writing background and/or enjoys writing, my job is to act more like an editor. I welcome both. Regular, honest communication is critical, regardless.
LO: Also, some clients will be putting their names on the blogs and articles you draft on their behalf. Understandably, they are very invested in making sure the copy “sounds like” them, and positions them in a good light, whether they’ve written on their own before or not. Drafting copy every day, across multiple accounts, you might sometimes forget the profound responsibility in that. Don’t!
Why are creative content writers essential to the B2B marketing world?
RB: It goes back to your “original spin” question—creative content writers can find that original spin and/or get the client to embrace that original spin, which is essential in order to stand out in an increasingly cluttered content marketing world.
LO: B2B content can be complicated. It has to support a longer buying cycle, and oftentimes it needs to represent complex products or services. In addition to attracting qualified leads, B2B messaging needs to educate, build trust, assuage fears, address different (sometimes competing) agendas, and still sound like something worth reading or watching… It takes a strong, multifaceted writer to accomplish all that—the technical components, the humanistic component, and the energy/personality piece.
A big thank you to Robyn Bradley and Liz O'Neill for their contributions to this post! Do you have any more creative writing tips to add to the discussion? Feel free to leave a comment below! We’d love to hear from other writers who have had interesting experiences working in the B2B world.