Should Your B2B Copy Be Long Or Short?

Imagine that a client has contacted you to discuss a potential copywriting job. His company is about to launch an exciting new industrial gizmo, and he needs a product brochure written.

No problem so far.

Then, during the discussion, the client throws you a curve ball. He unexpectedly asks, “Oh, by the way … what size of brochure do you recommend? A two-page ‘sell sheet’? Or a longer four-panel brochure?”

The client is assuming that, since you’re writing the copy, you’ll know how much room you’ll need.

So, how do you answer his question?

The good news is, you don’t have to guess. There are specific questions you can ask that will help you determine how long your B2B copy needs to be, whether you’re tasked with writing a brochure, web page, white paper, or advertisement.

In fact, even if the client doesn’t ask, you need to ask yourself these questions before you begin to craft your B2B marketing piece.

  1. “Is it a standard format?”

    Many B2B marketing pieces have a standard format that influences how much copy you have to work with. For example, a press release to announce a new B2B product is typically no more than a page or two in length. So, the word count will fall somewhere between 400 and 1,000. A Google Adwords advertisement is severely restricted in word count – just 85 characters in total. (Including spaces!)

  2. “Is the size and/or layout carved in stone?”

    Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice. The size, shape, and even the basic layout of the B2B marketing piece are already completed. Your job is to write copy that fits. This isn’t the ideal situation. But it happens. For example, you might get asked to write a case study that fits a pre-existing two-page template. If your copy runs over, you’ll be asked to trim it back.

  3. “What action are you asking the business buyer to take?”

    If the purpose of the marketing piece is to generate a lead – by persuading the business buyer to request a free white paper, for example – then you may not need much copy. After all, no money is changing hands. However, if you’re asking for an order, it’s going to take a lot more words to convince the business buyer to sign his name to a company purchase order.

  4. “How emotionally involving is the buying decision?”

    How much of the buying decision is emotional rather than practical? Purchasing a new photocopier for the office is a practical decision for most business people, usually requiring just a persuasive explanation of the features and benefits. But an executive team-building retreat at some exotic locale would require longer, more descriptive copy.

  5. “How dependent is the prospect on the copy?”

    How much is the business buyer dependent on your copy to get all the facts and information he needs to make a purchasing decision? If you want to motivate someone to order a $950 software program with your direct-mail letter, you may need several pages to make a convincing argument. However, if the prospect is shopping for a new stapler online, then a one- or two-paragraph product description may be all that's required to win the sale.

  6. “How expensive is the product or service?”

    The rule of thumb is: The bigger the price tag, the longer the copy. If you’re promoting a one-day seminar for $99, you may be able to get away with a four-panel brochure. But you’ll need a lot more copy to convince a sales manager to invest $3,500 in a weekend professional development bootcamp.

  7. “Is there any brand power?”

    How well-known is the product or service you’re promoting? If you’re writing an email campaign to sell subscriptions for Forbes magazine, you may not need a lot of copy. People are already familiar with and trust that publication. However, if the company or product is unfamiliar to the reader, you will have some credibility building to do. And that will take more words.

  8. “Is the product part of a high-interest topic?”

    If business buyers are highly interested or enthusiastic about the topic your product or service represents, then they will read a lot of copy. For example, a warehouse manager who is under pressure to reduce workplace accidents (and the liabilities associated with them) will be highly motivated to read about a new workplace safety program.

Determining copy length is not a perfect science. But the above questions will help. If all else fails, follow this well-known tip: “Write until your copy does the job. And then stop typing.”

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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: May 25, 2009

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