Marketers know that selling to other businesses is a different endeavor from selling to consumers. For many companies, “different” translates into dry and boring. But why should it? Even though you’re selling to a “business,” you’re not selling to a faceless entity; you’re selling to a few key decision-makers, and they’re just as human as consumers are. Take a look at these key attributes of B2C and how they can invigorate B2B content.

Influential partners

Celebrities pepper ads for every type of B2C product: Betty White for Snickers, Matthew McConaughey for Lincoln, and a bevy of stars for beauty products. Tiger Woods for Accenture and Gwen Stefani for HP show that world-famous celebrity endorsements aren’t unheard of in B2B, but endorsements can have little ROI or even backfire.

Fame is relative, however, and so is relevance. Enter influencers. They exist in every industry, and unless you’re at the top of the mountain, you have your own, and you either subscribe to their blog, follow their posts on LinkedIn or look forward to their next book. It might not be a direct endorsement; it could be a co-hosted webinar about an issue you both care about or an interview on your company blog.

B2B or B2C, name recognition matters. So, while you might not get your company associated with, say, a George Clooney, getting associated with someone meaningful for your target audience is valuable—potentially more valuable than a more famous but less relevant name.

No one’s saying that a B2B brand should be live-tweeting the Oscars, but timely content can have a measurable impact on your business’s visibility and web traffic. Live-tweeting Dreamforce or another industry event could be well worth your time. Other examples include using a hashtag to target users across social channels, buying ad space in an event brochure or even posting a billboard ad during that event.

You also don’t want to seem like you’re living under a rock. With social networks, marketers know their audiences top to bottom. 20 years ago, you would’ve had to guess at broad interests of your target, but now you can know everything from education level to the type of TV shows they like to watch. If a majority of your target happens to be early tech adopters, you can look at content from Wired and Fast Company to inform the feel of your own content, as well as write blogs tying into those interests. If they’re also early adopters, you’re not going to want to distribute your content in an outdated way. Whatever you find their interests to be, use those to inform your content strategy—there’s no excuse for guesswork anymore.

Be human

The fact is, you can’t have the same tone for B2B content as B2C. You need a heft that you don’t necessarily need in a Skittles commercial that only has to say, “Skittles are delicious candy.” You need to provide value. There’s a value in delicious candy, but the benefits are far more short term than for B2B. That said, you don’t want to be hard to read. Here are a few things to avoid whether you’re writing a blog, a web page or ad copy:

  • Don’t use big words for the sake of using big words. Sure, you can flaunt your vocabulary and call something “laborious” in your content. But that’s a little laborious. You can use “stiff” or “forced” with more impact. Write what’s natural, not what sounds more “sophisticated.”
  • Don’t talk down to your audience. Before you get to writing, you should know your audience. So while you don’t have to flaunt your vocabulary, you also shouldn’t over-explain concepts that should be second nature.
  • Don’t write for search engines. SEO is important. We all know that. Keyword stuffing or trying to awkwardly fit keywords into key placements is going to look, well, awkward. If people don’t like your blog, the most optimized page in the world won’t save you.

As you write, remember to be consistent. If you’re going to be serious because your industry demands it, own it. Don’t be serious on some pages and joke-y in others and don’t start being kitschy because you think it might be cool. Do it if that’s what you find your audience needs.

Gap tried to “modernize” a few years ago, but did so without regard for their audience. You know the Gap logo: Skinny capital letters against a dark blue square. Remember when it went Helvetica? Probably not, because it disappeared after a week after it was unanimously bashed. Craig Smith offered, “Where marketers often go wrong is they think they have identified an opportunity for the brand to evolve and become something else, become more modern, and they think they can shortcut this.”

Avoid the hard tell

Anyone who’s had to write has heard “show, don’t tell.” It’s the reason that when you open up a magazine, an ad for a watch doesn’t have a paragraph on why you should buy the watch. It shows you someone hip and successful wearing that watch.

Because of the complexity of many B2B offerings, sometimes our flexibility to not tell is a bit limited. You can’t advertise your product with a neat visual because it might take at least two sentences to start explaining what its capabilities are. While you might not avoid telling entirely, you have to start with subtlety.

Subtlety expresses itself in a few ways. The first is that the sole purpose of your content shouldn’t be to tell people why your product is so wonderful. At the end of the day, yes, you’re selling a product or a service and you want people to buy it, but you want to demonstrate your value to each individual company. Telling naturally has a focus on the person telling and not the person being told.

Customers don’t want the hard tell; they want to be educated and helped. Start with your customer, not your product. From your customer’s interests and needs, you can then begin framing content around how your product or service can enrich their lives, in addition to other content around what interests them. Salespeople should be presenting that educational content in a similarly customer-centric way.

B2B content may rarely approach B2C in terms of emotional heft and connection, but at the very least, it can grip a reader or introduce someone to your brand in a way that will separate you from the sea of unread content.

Image credit: Stand out from the crowd by Steven Depolo | Creative Commons