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Six powerful ways to start any marketing message

Create superior content that engages prospects at every stage of the B2B marketing funnel with these simple copywriting tricks.

We all know the stats in your marketing reports often aren’t up to scratch. The email open rates aren’t high enough. No one is reading your blog posts. Hardly anyone is clicking through to your product pages or requesting a demo of your services.

Faced with disappointing figures, you’ll inevitably end up pulling your hair out trying to work out what’s going wrong.

Well, we know why more people aren’t reading your marketing content. And it’s not what you think.

It’s not because your subject lines aren’t strong enough, you’re promoting it through the wrong channels, your site isn’t mobile and SEO optimised – or anything like that.

It’s something far more basic. Most marketers barely even give it a second thought. But getting it wrong will kill a content campaign.

In fact, this is the reason that 80 per cent of people will stop reading an article after the headline. And it’s why most of the people who do get past that point will get bored after just 15 seconds. What’s more, this applies to every single piece of content your organisation creates – from a simple blog post to a flagship research report.

You see, the success or failure of any content initiative almost always comes down to whether you’ve asked yourself a simple question: “What does my customer already know?”

Are they already familiar with your brand? Do they know about your products and how you can improve the way they do business? Do they even know why they should care about the problems you can solve for them?

“Everything your prospect knows before you engage with them will determine not just what you say, but also how you say it.”

Even if you’re selling the same thing to everybody, each person you approach will only respond to certain kinds of message – depending on how aware they are of who you are, what you’re selling and why you’re selling it.

This is a key argument in advertising copywriter Eugene Schwartz’s seminal work, Breakthrough Advertising.

Today, we’ll take this idea and apply it to the B2B marketing funnel. Along the way, you’ll discover six powerful ways to start any marketing message – and see how you can use them to tailor specific pieces of content for each stage of the buyer journey.

But first, we need to take a closer look at a concept Schwartz calls the ‘five levels of customer awareness’.

The role customer awareness plays in the marketing funnel

How direct you can be with any promotional message depends on how familiar your audience is with what you do.

If your prospect has already bought one of your products and loves your brand, you can place them on the ‘most aware’ end of the scale. It’s safe to be quite direct with these customers.

Then, there are those who already know what you do and how you can help them, but for whatever reason have yet to make a purchase. You would still place these prospects at the bottom of the sales funnel, but they require a slightly lighter touch than your existing customers.

Prospects who are unaware of your specific solution but know there are businesses out there that do what you do are ‘solution aware’. These prospects are generally somewhere in the middle of the funnel, just below ‘problem aware’ prospects – who only know the frustration of the problem they’re trying to solve.

Finally, there are your unaware prospects. These are businesses your organisation can help, but which either don’t know they have a problem or don’t see why they should care about fixing it.

It’s safe to assume an unaware prospect will respond badly to a call from a salesperson. But they’re great people to target with a top‐of‐funnel content marketing campaign.

As you nurture prospects through the marketing funnel, it’s important to consider how aware each of the people you’re targeting currently is of your offering and tailor your approach accordingly.

Of course, in the world of B2C people will often engage with an advert, learn about a product and make a purchase all in a single sitting. But because of the amounts of money involved and the complex nature of what we’re selling, the buyer journey is much longer in B2B marketing.

So rather than jumping straight to the sale, a B2B marketer will typically target the same prospect over time with a range of different content pieces containing increasingly direct messages.

Each stage in the marketing funnel has its own challenges. First, you must get people who often don’t know who you are to care about an opportunity or challenge they might not know exists. Then, you have to show them why yours is the best solution to their problems. Finally, you need to give them a compelling reason to act now to solve that problem.

Tailoring specific messages for each stage of that process might seem like a daunting task – but it needn’t be.

To help you create effective content for each stage of the buyer journey, here are six powerful ways to start any marketing message.

1. The offer lead

When someone knows exactly who you are, what you do and why they should care, all that’s left is to give them an offer they can’t refuse.

This is usually left to the sales team in the world of B2B, but there may be opportunities to deploy offer‐led copy in certain circumstances. For example, you might decide to place an upsell offer on your pricing page to target customers who are about to make a purchase.

In many ways, this is the easiest kind of copy to write, as your audience is already invested in what you do. Focus on the most emotionally compelling detail of your offer. Underscore the most valuable benefit of the deal in your headline and elaborate on that benefit in the copy that follows.

One example of this technique in action is Dropbox’s pricing page copy upselling users to its B2B service and offering a free 30‐day trial.

2. The promise lead

David Ogilvy once wrote an ad for prospective agency clients with the headline “How to create advertising that sells”.

The headline itself implies a powerful promise designed to entice prospects into reading on. In the copy that follows, he outlines 38 advertising lessons Ogilvy & Mather has learned in all its years of doing business.

It’s a clever approach because the promise implies that his agency will help you sell your products. He then goes on to prove this by demonstrating just how much he and his colleagues know about impactful advertising.

This kind of approach is perfect for targeting ‘product aware’ buyers who might be thinking about making a purchase. Use it when creating content for bottom‐of‐funnel campaigns offering things like product demos, free trials or customer stories and testimonials.

3. The problem/solution lead

This approach works best when your prospect is aware of their problem but doesn’t yet know yours is the best solution to that problem.

Content for the middle of the marketing funnel will often adopt the problem/solution format. It’s less direct than our first two lead types, and it works because it tells a story your prospects will find instantly familiar and relate to on an emotional level.

Making problem/solution leads work is all about showing empathy. You need to target the worries that keep your prospects up at night and stir those emotions. But at the same time, you can’t linger on the problem for too long. Be sure to eventually provide a credible solution to their worries.

You won’t find a better example of this idea in action than HP’s The Wolf, starring Christian Slater. It paints a chilling picture of how a hacker might infiltrate a company’s security network and positions HP’s products as the best way to protect your business from that threat.

4. The secret lead

You may recognise this lead from the start of this piece. It’s an old school technique stolen from the world of door‐to‐door sales.

The best travelling knife salesman doesn’t walk up to your front door with his briefcase open and his wares on display. He keeps them hidden away in a plush velvet pouch and tells you: “In this pouch are the finest knives you will ever lay eyes on. They are made from the sharpest steel known to man and will slice through steak like butter.”

This approach works by playing on your prospect’s natural curiosity. Framing your pitch as if you’re revealing a big secret buys you time to list the benefits of what you’re about to show your prospects, so you can teach them why they should care about the vital information you’re about to share.

It’s unusual to see this approach used in a piece of B2B marketing collateral. But, it can be a great way to begin a blog post or thought leadership pieces at the top of the sales funnel.

5. The proclamation lead

The promise of unique insights is what makes the ‘proclamation lead’ work. This opening draws less aware prospects in by offering them information or analysis they simply won’t find anywhere else.

In their book, Great Leads, direct response copywriters John Forde and Michael Masterson argue that the power of this storytelling technique is that it grabs your reader’s attention by taking them by surprise.

“A well‐constructed ‘proclamation lead’ begins with an emotionally‐compelling statement, usually in the form of the headline,” they say. “In the copy that follows, the reader is given information that demonstrates the validity of the implicit promise made.”

To illustrate this idea, they give the example of a B2B sales letter targeting doctors with the following message about the reference books they use to make diagnoses: “Warning: your 1995 PDR is obsolete!

6. The story lead

Everyone loves a good story. Even if your prospect has no idea what your business does or why they should care, they will respond to a well‐told story showcasing the human impact of your work.

As we argue in The power of emotion in B2B content marketing, this approach is one of the most powerful weapons in the content marketing arsenal. It’s simply the best way attract someone completely new to your business and get them engaging with your content.

You can do this by applying journalistic principles to find the stories bubbling beneath the surface within your organisation, like GE does with its excellent GE Reports content hub. Or, you can simply invent a tale to draw your readers in, like the Wall Street Journal did with this classic sales letter.

Making the six leads work for your business

With these six leads under your belt, you’re instantly in a far better position to go out and create winning content campaigns.

Every marketing funnel is different, and the mix of tactics and content formats you use will depend on what your business does. But, no matter what industry you work in: the basics of grabbing someone’s attention and engaging them with copy are always the same.

Consider how aware your audience is of your offering and tailor your opening to appeal directly to their existing desires and fears. Make your copy urgent, useful, unique and ultra‐specific and people will read it.

So, say goodbye to disappointing marketing reports and underwhelming stats. Put the simple ideas we’ve outlined here into practice and start reaping the benefits of superior content marketing today.

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