On the B2B side of content marketing, content managers, copywriters, designers, and anyone involved in the content creation process might feel creatively handcuffed. After all, doesn’t B2B call for a mostly dry, professional, and —let’s face it, boring—tone? We are talking mostly talking about facts, figures, features, and putting an emphasis on business benefits here. You’re informing and educating and trying to entice interest, but you might not always think you are doing much to intrigue, inspire, or even entertain.
B2C marketing, on the other hand, allows for more fun. You can dazzle customers with your designs and words. You can take more creative risks, make jokes, and put more emotion into what you’re producing.
However, things are changing, and they are changing fast. So, there’s a glimmer of hope for B2B marketers looking to scratch that creative itch.
The walls have been coming down between B2B and B2C. Customers are now expecting to see more B2C in their B2B. While there was some room in B2B for humor, emotion, and fun before, now there is more. The shackles are coming off; you can put more creativity into your B2B content now. You can aim for a more artistic design or actually crack a joke or two on your social media feed.
Try this one: Do your followers want to know what a pirate’s favorite content format is?
WebinARRRs about B2Sea.
Well, maybe that joke isn’t so great, but you should be careful, as a sense of humor is always a hugely subjective thing.
Still, it doesn’t mean you can’t be somewhat playful, and you can be cleverer than before. Are you advertising an event and want to make it sound fancy? You might want to describe it as, “One of the most prestigious awards in the industry, won on one of most important nights of the year at our biggest and grandest event!”
You can glam up the language as much as you like.
What about a cartoon strip being featured in your newsletter? Or references to zombies on your cross-channel marketing guide because it came out on Halloween?
These and more are all feasible ideas. But they will not always work nor will they always be appropriate, not for B2B or B2C.
Even if there’s more B2C in B2B, not all B2C brands are alike and not all B2B brands are alike. Thus, they won’t all sound alike. Sometimes, you might even find that there’s some B2B in B2C. It greatly depends on your audience, what you’re writing about and creating content about, and how you are writing and creating that content.
Remember, you are not using your voice when producing content for your brand. You are using your brand’s voice.
Most brands have a style guide that they might have based off of AP Style or the Chicago Manual of Style, or a combination of both with certain tweaks and changes. AP, or Associated Press, is what you see in most newspapers and publications. The Chicago Manual of Style is what you’d see in a book.
AP Press tends to skip lines between paragraphs and omits the Oxford Comma (or serial comma). Chicago indents at the beginning of paragraphs rather than skips lines and uses the serial comma. There are also differences in how to do citations, where to add hyphens, certain spellings, capitalization, and more.
Your style guide will indicate how something is to be written, including what should be capitalized, how some jargon is spelled and used, what a headline should look like, and so on. Moreover, a brand is a business’s identity. It is the experience a consumer has with a business’s services and products. It has its own characteristics, which you must embody as the brand’s voice when you produce content.
This might make content creation sound more stringent and restrictive than you are thinking it should be. However, consider that a person has different sides to them. They will not always speak in exactly the same way with the same tone. The same is true of brands.
Just as the situation a person is in and their mood will change how they speak, the type of content, its format, and its audience will dictate what sort of tone the asset you are producing needs.
An email, for example, could have a little humor and even try to be cute with its language and images. A whitepaper, though, needs to be straightforward and informative. Some type of guide could have a breezy, causal tone but still needs to be professional and to get to the point, since you should be making the information it provides easy to read and understand. Trying to make jokes would get in the way of that.
Videos and podcasts will inevitably have more of the personalities of the people featured in them coming out but that is part of what makes videos and podcasts enjoyable. Plus, they can stay on topic and hit the major points that they need to and reinforce the brand’s messaging in their own voices.
Blogs can be a different story. Most people expect them to be written in an even more casual tone than most other content and to contain more opinionated subject matter. Still, sometimes, a blog needs to be done in the brand’s voice, if, say, it’s an announcement or news or information from that brand. Other times, it might feature multiple contributors who come from different companies and industries.
The blog itself will have its own set of standards to meet, as it will have its own topics and you would want all the articles to get to the point rather than have someone go on and on about something unrelated or a personal anecdote about how they went camping during the summer or how much they love avocados. If it is your personal blog, feel free to talk avocados and camping all you like, but people aren’t reading a business blog for that.
Such things can easily make a business blog’s readers lose interest, especially when the point to a business blog, regardless of its tone or voice, is to deliver some type of insight, knowledge, or information. You have to get right to that, even if you are doing it in a clever, creative way.
So, remember, blogs might be a collection of voices, but they still have to have something to say and offer value. It might not be the brand’s voice, but it has to be written in a style that can be appropriately affiliated with the brand.
Much of the time, you’ll have to use your best judgment and writer’s instincts to determine the proper tone and what might be appropriate and what might. The style guide will help, as will studying past content and seeing what worked before and what the analytics say got the best response from your audience.
In addition, you should bear in mind that writing a piece about having more of casual, relaxed voice should have a more casual and relaxed voice. Writing a piece about having a livelier tone and more of a sense of humor should have some liveliness and a sense of humor. So, the writing and subject matter can dictate the tone.
Sometimes, you might want to experiment or try something different to get a better response from your audience. You might try something out on your blog, since it tends to be more relaxed and casual than your usual marketing materials. Your data might be indicating that your audience needs something new across all your marketing to excite them. What kind of content do your customers prefer? What else do you think you can try that might in the same vein or that what they liked before could serve as a springboard for?
What are your competitors doing? How are they experimenting and breaking the rules? Perhaps you can take some cues from them and whatever your analytics and the feedback you get from your customers are telling you.
However, you might have to start writing and producing something to see what a piece of content is, what its format should be, its tone, and the point it’s trying to make. Rewriting and revising are important keys to content creation, as are your own creative talents. Data, a competitive analysis, a content audit, a content strategy, and a style guide can all point you in the right direction, but your own instincts will tell you the best way to write or create anything for the brand and the tone and voice it needs.
You should also focus content on your organization’s goals. How can you successfully go about this? Read “Do More with Content Marketing” for some tips.
Michael McNichols is a Senior Content Manager for Oracle Digital Marketing. He has over ten years of experience in professional writing and has been widely published.