Putting emotions to work in b-to-b content

Many talented copy writers hate business-to-business (b-to-b) projects. They give a variety of reasons, but most boil down to a lack of deep emotional connection that they can feel in the writing process. Emotions are the fuel that drives writers. And when selling to businesses instead of consumers, they feel stifled. The emotional air is too thin.

There are just two emotions that truly persuade a b-to-b audience. They are the desire to earn more money, and the fear of a responsibility going awry, and its consequences.

That’s it.

Greed and Fear

Together, fear and greed don’t seem like much. But just as some of the greatest photographs are made up of shades of black and white, some truly supercharged copy can come from this limited palette.

Here’s an exercise to show how you can put these emotions to work. Imagine you are writing — or overseeing the writing of — copy for a rooftop heating and cooling system. This system handles entire business campuses, and has a central control called the Ultra Site Minder (this and all names are made up). It also has an improved motion control system for extinguishing lights or lowering thermostats, called the Ultra Sensor, and an Ultra Payback Guarantee.

The superior features of these products are things like this:

  • An ability to monitor and control from afar
  • Sensors that are guaranteed to gently lower temperatures in the winter, when rooms have been vacated for four hours — and do the same for air conditioning during warmer months
  • These same sensors control lighting, and are less prone to leave customers — or other building occupants — in the dark when they are not moving vigorously
  • An improved way to identify inefficient heating and cooling
  • A guarantee that the system will reduce fuel bills at least to the point of pay for itself within 24 months (at the going rate for fuel)

Now try writing headlines that turn these features into benefits. The difference between a feature and a benefit is the emotions that the latter carries with it. Here are three headlines for each of the two emotions:

You’re in control as never before with the Ultra Site Minder

Placing valued customers in cold, dark rooms is no way to deliver savings. Warm to the Ultra Sensor difference!

Sleep better at night knowing the Ultra Sensor is working twice as hard

That was obviously the fear emotion at play — the fear of loss of control, of being cut for not saving enough money, and of missed opportunities. What about greed? That’s a little easier. We all want a raise. And especially in this tight economic climate, it is cutting costs that will demonstrate your value to an employer. At least, that is the case for the person responsible for building operations!

Ultra Sensor upstream reporting makes you the star with the people who count

“I’m reducing costs this weekend using Ultra Site Minder in my cell phone”

“The Ultra Payback Guarantee will pay my salary in Year Three”

Obviously, headlines can only deliver the hint of a benefit. Subsequent copy would expand upon these kernels of thought.

Show, Don’t Tell

One final thought: Writing copy for the web is far more challenging than for print. As recent studies have shown, visitors to sites do more skimming than actual reading. Be succinct, and use the technology to show — instead of tell — wherever possible!

See the accompanying post, and other thought-provoking posts about business-to-business marketing and branding, at The B2B Debate.