Help Wanted: B2B Copywriters

I remember gloomily prognosticating to a fellow copywriter five years ago that the Internet was going to lessen the demand for copywriters.

At that time, it seemed short text e-mail messages would replace the need for long direct mail packages. And once you had a Web site, there would be no need for a printed brochure.

I’m happy to report my negative forecast was 100 percent wrong.

Instead, my inbox is jammed and my phone is ringing off the hook with B2B clients needing copywriting services. Many are requesting long-term retainer relationships, which used to be very hard to sell to a client in the past.

Why the change?

Here are a couple of trends that I see from a copywriter’s perspective:

  • Clients recognize frequency as a factor in staying top-of-mind with their audience. At the recent ClickZ Specifics: E-mail conference, I sat in a session where three major companies found their response rates actually increased by upping the frequency of their e-mail messages. Response decreased when frequency was reduced. This doesn’t mean you should bombard readers with non-stop promotional messages, but instead varying communications with e-newsletters, alerts, surveys, Webinar invitations, and more.
  • There are so many more ways to communicate than ever before including Webinars, podcasts, blogs, and online video, as well as those labor-intensive e-newsletters. The need for content is unrelenting. And because marketing departments have to plan, budget and execute all these communications, there’s no time to actually write copy in-house.
  • Salespeople are demanding more ways to communicate with customers Their colleagues in the marketing department, who are concerned that salespeople could be writing e-mails that are off message, are instead writing the more online communications for them — and getting completely overloaded in the process.
  • You can’t depend on just one e-mail to do the whole job To market a conference, for example, you need at least 5 e-mails besides postcards, brochures, direct mail, and telemarketing. I’ve seen that number increase dramatically recently.
  • More is expected of B2B marketers than ever before You must offer white papers and case studies to build credibility for your company and to use as offers for your online and offline marketing efforts.
  • You can’t write just an HTML e-mail It must also has to be versioned as a text e-mail. Both must be tested to see which one performs better in terms of deliverability and response.
  • More audience segmenting means more versioning That can add many extra hours of copywriting time to an assignment.
  • Lower e-mail deliverability rates mean you have to go back to using snail-mail to get through to clients. B2B clients are going back to tried-and-true postcard campaigns as a way to stay in touch with the prospects they’re missing online. Most marketers now realize they actually have two types of audiences: those who respond to online promotions and those who respond to direct mail. Often, there’s not a lot of overlap. It seems most people have their preferred communications medium.
  • Creativity is needed to break through the clutter When e-mail marketing was new, writing text e-mails was often relegated to a junior marketing person. Now that both the B2B customers and the industry are more sophisticated, there’s a greater demand for creative that really stands out.
  • Subject lines must be eye-catching and relevant to get opened Without the benefit of color, graphics, or even a different font size, your whole e-mail return on investment depends on 5 or 6 carefully chosen words.
  • Interactivity breeds multiple e-mail messages and auto-responders I once wrote 64 different responses for a daily online sweepstakes that was versioned a number of ways. Though on the face of things the messages were quite similar, there were subtle variations in each that took a creative mind to figure out and to write.
  • Speaking of auto-responders, clients are slowly realizing confirmation messages and the like are hidden gold and should be treated as a creative assignment. Earlier in the year, ClickZ columnist Jeanniey Mullen cited the statistic that 74 percent of the general population will open and read a service or confirmation e-mail within one hour of receipt. If you’re not using these e-mails to up- or cross-sell, you’re leaving money on the table.
  • Advertising agencies aren’t particularly good at long copy assignments This isn’t a universal criticism, and direct marketing agencies are better at longer text then the general agencies. But usually an agency’s focus is on “big picture” concepts. Writing a series of e-mails, a white paper, or a case study are often assignments best given to seasoned copywriters who are experienced in your industry. Even then, a copywriter who excels in direct marketing may not be keeping up with e-mail best practices and therefore may not use this powerful medium to its full advantage.

By the way, this isn’t a cleverly cloaked ad for using my copywriting services. I’m already almost completely booked up for 2007 with a number of retainer clients, and projects from a loyal customer base of ongoing clients. Instead, it’s a strong recommendation to develop your own “bench” of B2B copywriters with the skill sets you need: e-mail, direct mail, print advertising, Webinar and podcast scripting, etc. so that you always have the right set of hands working on the right project.

In a future column, I’ll discuss what to look for in B2B e-mail copywriter.

Send your best e-mail copywriting samples to Karen now for inclusion in a future column.

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