What Count Basie Can Teach You About Writing B2B Marketing Copy

Piano One of my favourite musicians is Count Basie. He was known for his minimalist approach to playing the piano and leaving lots of space between his notes. His music was exciting not just because of what he played, but what he didn’t play.

I was listening to Count Basie the other day and began to think about how his minimalist approach could be applied to writing marketing copy. Here are my thoughts:

1. You don’t need to say everything. Many B2B technology marketers want to tell potential customers about all of their product’s features. If you have a complex product, this can amount to tons of copy that most people won’t read. While late-stage leads may want to know more about your product’s specific features, early-stage leads are more interested in discovering how your product can benefit them. For example, I just wrote brochure copy for two software packages. Instead of filling the brochures with tons of copy about all the products’ features, my client wanted to keep the copy light and focus on what the software could help users achieve. The purpose of the copy was to inspire readers to see what’s possible.

2. Use lots of white space. Research has shown that readers are less apt to read huge blocks of text. Just like Count Basie left space between his notes, you should leave space on your page. Keep your paragraphs short, use bullets and highlight important points in bold. This will make your copy more readable and encourage skimmers to pick up on your key messages.

3. Eliminate adverbs. Powerful verbs can pull readers into your copy and encourage them to take action. Just resist the urge to add descriptive words that end in “ly.”  Adverbs are often unnecessary and can slow down the pace of your copy. Try some of these tips to clear the clutter out of your marketing copy and make it swing! Feel free to share your thoughts and favourite Count Basie tunes below.

Image provided by www.freedigitalphotos.net.

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9 Comments

  1. Nice piece, Rachel. I love drawing marketing lessons from our other interests, and your parallels between Basie’s music and copywriting/design are spot-on. I’d also add the importance of bright, concise headlines and sub-heads. Like a good drum fill or piano flourish, an effective sub-head adds impact and excitement without creating distraction.

    Your post reminded me of one I wrote some time back linking restaurant music to branding. Here’s a link if you’re interested: http://bit.ly/SOC65

    Jude

    1. Hi Jude,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, compelling headings and subheads can be a nice flourish while appealing to readers who skim the copy.

      I also just tweeted your blog post. You made some good points about how every little thing matters when it comes to how your customers experience your brand.

      Perhaps the Italian music made its way to the sushi restaurant I went to last week. There’s something odd about eating sashimi while listening to “Volare.”

      Cheers,
      Rachel

      1. Hi Rachel,
        Thanks for the tweet. I appreciate it.
        Sashimi meets “Volare.” Hmmm, that might actually be cool if done by a Japanese pop band. 😉
        One more rule I like to follow; do a search on the word “that” in your copy and 9 times out of 10 you can eliminate it.
        Thanks again,
        Jude

  2. Rachel, congrats for the best “What X Can Teach You About Y” post in a long time!

    While I do have some reservations about your point #1 (I believe in being thorough instead of teasing—you just need to present the details in a way that doesn’t suffocate the reader), I’m all for points #2 and 3.

    Especially #3. I’ve sometimes tested my own copy by removing all adjectival attributes and adverbs from the first draft. There’s usually a way to compensate for most of them by using verbs.

  3. Hi Kimmo,

    Thank you for your comment. Point #1 can also be, “write as much as needed, and no more.” It’s not about teasing readers as much as providing them with information that’s relevant to their needs and stage in the sales cycle. I find that many companies try to give readers too much information, which can lower the effectiveness of the copy.

    For point #3, I’ll use Word’s find feature to search for all instances of “ly” in the first draft of my copy. Most of the time, the adverbs can be eliminated or replaced with a stronger verb.

    Thanks again.

    Cheers,
    Rachel

  4. About point #1: “Good copy is as long as necessary”. The truth is you can’t know what stage in the sales/purchase cycle a person is when finding your content (it seems to be a common fallacy that you could somehow control this). That’s why I consider too much to be better than too little. There are ways of making “too much” fade into the background for those who don’t need it.

    Re #3: Way to go! Violent agreement here.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    Best,
    Kimmo

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