The Two “Secret Ingredients” of Compelling B2B Content

June 9, 2020 by
Two "secret ingredients" of compelling B2B content

"What's your biggest challenge when creating compelling content?"

When Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, asked that question on social media, the most frequent response he received was, “Keeping it original and interesting.”

As a freelance writer and blogger, I can tell you; that's a serious challenge. And it’s not just a problem for writers. Creating compelling B2B content is key to the success of your content marketing efforts.

Consistently creating content that your prospects find compelling is essential to:

  • Audience engagement
  • Social sharing
  • Building a loyal following for your content and your company

That consistency—keeping it original and interesting—is easier to achieve when you know the two “secret ingredients” that fuel compelling B2B content.

Those two secret ingredients are usefulness and fascination.

Let’s first look at each ingredient separately. Then, we’ll examine how to put them together.

The first secret ingredient of compelling B2B content: Usefulness

“Usefulness” refers to the informational aspect of your content: what readers will learn that will be useful to them in business.

Usefulness can go by other names. You might call it “relevance”—to your target audience, their problems, needs and desires. Brian Clark prefers the word “meaning” which he believes implies a high level of value.

In a B2B context, I prefer the term usefulness. Businesspeople are looking to solve problems. So, the aim of all B2B content should be to provide information that's useful in solving those problems.

The second secret ingredient of compelling B2B content: Fascination

“Fascination” is where imagination and creativity come into play. It can come from the use of an interesting story, from an analogy, a metaphor, a simile. It’s anything that adds an element of intrigue, fun or shock to your content.

Look at the following three headlines from previous posts on the CopyEngineer blog. Each contains elements of usefulness and fascination. I’ve highlighted the fascination element in bold.

Is Navigating your Mobile-Optimized Website Like Shopping at IKEA?

Engage More Prospects in Less Time with the ‘Crisco’ of Content Marketing

Four Uncommon Content Ideas for Marketing to Engineers

In the first, I used a simile to compare something that is a concern of my target audience (their website’s user experience) with something that’s completely unrelated, but with which my audience is probably familiar. This headline arouses curiosity (fascination), because there are aspects of shopping at IKEA that can be viewed as either positive or negative, depending on your point of view.

The second headline promises information that is useful to marketers—how to engage more prospects in less time—but then uses an odd analogy—Crisco vegetable shortening—to add an element of fascination.

Your fascination element can be quite simple. In the third example, anyone who needs to market effectively to engineers (most technology marketers) would likely be intrigued by the prospect of learning “four uncommon content ideas” geared toward achieving that goal.

Fascination takes a topic that might otherwise be boring and makes it entertaining, engaging, and memorable. This is good for your marketing, as your audience members are more apt to remember not only what they learned, but also your brand and what you do.

Combining the two ingredients

How do you blend usefulness and fascination in a single piece of content?

Start with your headline.

In direct response copywriting, one of the most famous headline-writing formulas is The Four U’s. The four U’s represent the four most common attributes of powerful headlines. They are:

  • Useful
  • Unique
  • Ultra-specific
  • Urgent

Most effective headlines contain at least three, if not all four attributes.

As you can see, the first of the four U’s is the same as our first secret ingredient: usefulness. ‘Unique’ means your headline should be something your reader hasn’t seen before. ‘Ultra-specific’ means your headline should make a very specific promise to your reader. Finally, ‘urgent’ indicates that your headline should compel the reader to act now rather than later.

The fascination element of your headline is something that is a combination of unique and ultra-specific. Look back at our previous examples. The simile comparing navigating a website and shopping at IKEA is both unique and specific. The same is true of ‘the Crisco of content marketing’ analogy. Finally, the third headline is unique and ultra-specific in its entirety: Where else have you seen ‘four uncommon content ideas’ aimed specifically at marketing to engineers?

What about the ‘urgent’ element? We tend to downplay urgency in B2B, as most B2B sales are considered purchases, not impulse buys. We don’t normally urge our prospects to “call before midnight tonight” or “order now, while supplies last.”

Of course, urgency can arise at any time in the minds of our prospects, when they suddenly have a problem they need to solve. One might argue, therefore, that by making your headline, useful and fascinating, you are compelling your audience to read now, so they’ll be prepared when that moment of urgency arrives.

Write your headline first

Always write your headline before you write the rest of your content.

Your headline makes a promise to your reader. The body of your content must fulfill that promise, or your readers will feel they’ve been misled you and your headline. Shame on you both!

Write your headline first to ensure you’ve included both usefulness and fascination in your promise. Then write your body content to fulfill that promise. If you write your body content before you write your headline, you’re likely to leave out the fascination element. That will make it much more difficult to write a compelling headline. Writing your headline first, then writing your body copy to fulfill your promise helps you fully incorporate that element of fascination.

Fascination doesn't always require cleverness

Ultra-specificity can often provide fascination without much help from uniqueness. That's one reason why numbered list posts do so well. They promise a set of small items that are easy to use, like a tool kit.

Larger numbers can be especially fascinating. They offer value, as in this example: 43 Tips for Generating More Sales Leads with Direct Mail.

Sometimes, usefulness is fascinating and compelling in and of itself. That’s especially true if your content addresses a problem that’s troublesome to your target audience and that problem is seldom addressed elsewhere.

Gaining customer approval of case studies, for example, tends to be a sticky wicket for many B2B marketers. So, a straightforward, useful headline like 3 Major Case Study Approval Roadblocks… (and how to get past each) can (and did) work well.

Don't rely on fascination alone

Remember the second headline I quoted, Engage More Prospects in Less Time with the ‘Crisco’ of Content Marketing?

When I originally published that piece, I had titled it simply, The ‘Crisco’ of Content Marketing. It was short and sweet, and I thought it was intriguing enough to entice my audience to read more. In that article, I likened the versatility of the Q&A content format to that of Crisco shortening—as described by the character Minnie in Kathryn Stockwell’s novel, The Help.

But there was no usefulness in the headline, only fascination. I forgot to apply the four U’s that day. It was only later—when I wanted to refer to that essay in another piece—that I recognized my omission and corrected it.

That’s an easy mistake to make. Sometimes, we become enamored of an element of fascination, because it has meaning to us. We forget our audience doesn’t know the whole story yet. If our readers don’t have the context, our clever analogy or metaphor isn’t likely to fly on its own.

Remember, without a promise of a benefit to be gained by reading your content, it's unlikely your headline will be engaging and compelling.

Don't be afraid of putting a few people off

Finally, don't shy away from taking a controversial stand. Technology marketing tends to be dry, so taking a strong position on a topic can add an element of fascination. You need only browse the news headlines or certain Twitter feeds to be assured: polarizing opinions draw an audience.

Nothing you publish will appeal to everyone in your audience. Even some of your most loyal fans may not agree with everything you say. That’s okay. You don't need to please everyone every time. You just need to build a loyal audience made up of good prospects for what you're selling. Or as Brian Clark puts it,

“The point is to bond strongly with someone rather than boring everyone.”

Takeaway points

  1. Perhaps the biggest challenge of creating compelling B2B content is keeping it original and interesting.
  2. The two crucial elements that make for compelling B2B content are usefulness and fascination.
  3. To be useful, your content should provide information that helps your prospects solve their problems.
  4. To add an element of fascination, find a story angle, analogy, metaphor, simile, or other device that makes your content entertaining or interesting to read.
  5. Start by incorporating elements of usefulness and fascination in your headline, then deliver on the promise of your headline in the body of your content.
  6. Tastes vary, so don't be afraid of adding fascination elements that might not appeal to everyone.

Next steps

Need help creating content that engages your audience, gets shared on social media, and builds a loyal following among your prospects? Contact Copyengineer at info@copyengineer.com.

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