Whatever happened to interrogating the product?
In Richard Curtis’s Notting Hill, there’s a scene in which Hugh Grant’s character has to 1) pretend to be journalist and 2) interview a series of actors about a film he hasn’t seen.
I sympathise with him, because it’s a situation that we B2B copywriters have to deal with all the time. Every day we have to write about products and services of which we have zero first-hand experience.
I’ve been writing B2B copy for nearly 20 years, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the occasions when I’ve been able to get up close and personal with the product I’m writing about (and it’s not through want of asking). During one memorable excursion to Sweden (yes folks, foreign travel), I got the chance to try and smash a security camera with a brick. I failed, by the way.
However, that’s not to say we’re writing blind. Far from it. We will often be provided with a tsunami of messaging houses, white papers, product sheets, case studies, interviews, sales guides, battle cards and so on. All solid stuff no doubt, but when it comes to providing me with what I really need, they’re all fatally flawed for the simple reason that they’ve been WRITTEN BY SOMEONE ELSE. When I sit down to extol the virtues of the client’s latest offering, my source material is someone else’s opinions. Come to think of it, it’s quite possible that they were in the same position as me, which means I’m now working third or even fourth-hand – multiple steps away from the actual gizmo I’m trying to sell. Hmmmm.
Occasionally, we will get to interview product specialists or some of the client’s satisfied customers. Being able to talk to a real person is definitely a step up on having to plough through a wodge of reading material. You can ask questions (more of which later), dig into the detail and try and find a unique entry point for your writing, but ultimately you’re still having to work with someone else’s opinions.
In the B2C world, it’s easy to let the creative team, as Robin Wight would say, interrogate your product. They can test drive your car, drink your gin and experiment with your shampoo (hopefully not at the same time) and use the experience to come up with something genuinely original and insightful to say. With 5G communications, cloud computing and data recovery, it isn’t so simple. But surely, it’s not impossible?
Because you’re worth it
So, let’s think through the consequences of giving creatives first-hand experience of the stuff they’re being asked to sell.
First, there’s greater engagement. The old adage “Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.” applies here in spades.
The creatives can ask a lot of dumb questions. These are invariably the best kind, because they’re the ones no one normally likes to ask, for fear of looking, that’s right, dumb. Good creatives should have no such fear, because they know that dumb questions are the key to genuine understanding.
And when creatives have a thorough first-hand understanding of a product or service, their work will automatically have an authenticity impossible to achieve in any other way. In a world where so many competing B2B products and services are promoted with cookie-cutter campaigns, authenticity and originality are the key to differentiation.
Perhaps the best pro of all is it’s bringing the customer as closer to the product as possible without actually trying it for themselves.
The cons? Well, there’s obviously a cost, a bit of travel, time out of the office, maybe a hotel for a night and so on) but surely that should be regarded as an investment? After all, you might get a world-beating campaign out of it which will repay your investment many times over. Of course, the travelling party will also need to include an account manager because, as we all know, creatives can’t be trusted to behave on their own.
Word of mouth can be incredibly powerful, but it has its limits. You might decide to go to a movie because a friend of someone at the office has said it’s worth seeing, but it’s unlikely you’d spend a six-figure sum on technology for your company based on the same level of recommendation. You’d want to experience it for yourself.
But before that, how about taking in a campaign created by people who have actually experienced it for themselves?