B2B Copywriting: Interview with Miller McMillan
This is one of a series of occasional interviews with top practitioners on topics of interest to B2B lead generation, marketing and new business development professionals.
Miller McMillan is a copywriter who worked on high-profile accounts at ad agencies in Atlanta and Boston before establishing his copywriting boutique in Los Angeles. Miller has worked with such clients as CNN, Hughes, Nestlé, Avery and Microsoft. His copywriting capabilities include websites, direct mail, email, ad campaigns, brochures, slogans and names.
Miller, it seems to me that copywriting plays a big role in B2B lead generation. Am I right?
Absolutely. Copywriting can attract, educate and motivate prospects through a variety of media, including websites, email campaigns, Twitter, direct mail and other options.
Based on your experience, Miller, what are some of the secrets to success regarding B2B copywriting?
It’s really critical to understand the prospect’s needs and challenges—almost like a psychologist. Then the challenge is to deliver bite-sized information that answers questions and builds confidence, moving the prospect toward action. Benefits are everything. We can talk all day about features and still not capture and cultivate leads. We need to quickly communicate how our product or service meets a need, solves a problem and helps an organization move forward.
Today our copy talks to search engines as well as human beings, so we need to address the interests of both. Ideally, well-written copy puts keywords in the right places without a lot of conscious thought. But we can do more to optimize our writing by following the evolving guidelines for SEO writing.
What must a good copywriter do to avoid the mistakes you see others making regarding copy for lead generation?
Write less and say more. Wordy copy is a turnoff. The challenge is to be concise yet complete.
Love subheads. Ideally the reader can skim through a document or web page—reading only the subheads—and get a good idea of what’s being offered. Pages with lots of uninterrupted text are not likely to be read.
Ask early and often. I see a lot of writing in which the call to action is hard to find. Big mistake. The copywriter needs to give the reader many opportunities to call, email or take other action. The skilled writer makes generous use of “exit ramps” to steer traffic to the next destination.
In fact, it’s good to have jumping-off points on virtually every spread of a brochure and every page of a website or direct mail piece. Phone numbers, email links and buttons are powerful assets to accelerate the selling process.
Be honest, avoid vagueness. It’s so important to tell the truth and not mislead with copy. Buyers have keen radar and know instinctively whether they are experiencing a credible message.
Pay attention to design. Although often overlooked, great design provides a platform that supports the copywriting message, giving it credibility, appeal and a better chance for success.
Miller, if a company wants to generate more B2B leads for the products or services it sells, it is critical for its web pages to be found at the top of the search engine results. How does this change the way you write copy for those web pages?
It’s important to be up to date on SEO techniques that drive search engine results. Using keywords, tags, links and relevant content is critical to being visible in search results.
Can a copywriter be a generalist and still be effective, writing everything from lead generation copy to search-optimized web page copy to content such as case studies, white papers and how-to guides?
That’s a great question. Sometimes a marketer may want a copywriter who writes how-to guides every day, or whose middle initials are S.E.O. In other cases, a fresh approach from a highly versatile writer who “gets it” may be helpful.
When I think “generalist,” I think “versatile.” There are copywriters who have an excellent grasp of many product categories, media and techniques—and who offer an array of writing styles to match the specific marketing challenge.
One of the little-known facts about copywriting is that a truly skilled copywriter has an ability to learn very quickly—and a great capacity to capture what is relevant and communicate it effectively across a variety of platforms.
Miller, do you have any advice to share about how to find a good B2B copywriter?
Recommendations from colleagues and designers are a great place to start. One might also try searching the web using keywords that relate to a specialty. When taking such an approach, it is important to look at relevant work, talk by phone and request references.
That said, I think the real test is how you feel when reading a writer’s copy. Do you feel engaged intellectually and emotionally? Do you want to read more? Do you feel like you’re part of a conversation rather than the recipient of a monologue? Is the copy effortless to read and understand?
From a marketer’s standpoint, is it better to work with a copywriter by the hour or by the project?
I think per project works better in most cases. The marketer has the advantage of knowing total cost up front, including revisions. An exception might be a project that is not concretely defined. For example, a marketer creating a website may not know how many pages or how much text will ultimately be needed. Here, the hourly approach offers flexibility in accommodating an undefined scope of work.
Are there any final thoughts you want to share with our readers?
Technology is great, but, ultimately, human minds and hearts make purchase decisions. Use SEO and other techniques to stand out, but remember the importance of the human connection. Make sure your copywriting is concise, engaging, honest and likable.
Miller, thanks so much taking the time to share your thoughts about B2B copywriting with our readers.
Readers, please join in the conversation.