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If you’re a specialist, as some tech writers are, and write only user manuals for software or grants for not-for-profit organizations, you probably don’t worry about how selling a flashlight to a camper is different from selling a extrusion machine to a molding company. You write what you write, and one assignment is very similar to all the others. The details change, but the basic structure and techniques are much the same.
If you’re a generalist, as most tech writers are, you write about many things in a variety of media with a number of objectives. Each new job involves determining who your audience is, what their needs are, and how your product or service can satisfy those needs. Then you need to recognize, understand, and adjust your writing so one time it appeals to the camper and the next time to the business owner. The short hand for these two situations is B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer).
B2B and B2C
B2B began as a way to describe electronic commerce transactions between businesses. Similar transactions between businesses and consumers was labeled B2C. Now, though, B2B is widely used to mean the marketing practices of companies whose principle customers are other businesses. A company that makes components for automobiles, then sells them only to other business that install them in their own products, for example Visteon and BASF, are B2B operations. B2C now refers to the marketing practices of companies whose principle customers are private individuals. For example, KFC and CVS are B2C businesses.
Good question. Here are three more. Is this a distinction without a difference? Is writing for B2B different from writing for B2C? Why does it matter to the tech writer? The answers to those three questions are No, Yes, and Listen up.
First off, yes, there is a difference in how we write to consumers and how we write to businesses. And it matters to the tech writer because there are similarities between the two audience because recognizing the differences is often what makes the difference between success and failure
Generally, a ‘private consumer’ is a person buying a product for personal reasons, and the buyer is the person who will be most affected by the purchase. A ‘business consumer’ is buying for a company, and the decision will probably affect not only more people but the business itself. We like to say that individuals make buying decisions based on emotion and businesses buy based on reason. We like to say that, but it isn’t always true. Not that individuals don’t make emotional buying decision. They do, and marketers depend on it. But business purchases are made by people too, and there can be just as much emotion involved. The difference is how the writer approaches those emotions.
Writing for the Consumer
Writing for a B2C market involves turning shoppers into buyers. The time from contact to consummation is relatively short. There are fewer media used. Ad copy can be online, in print, or in mass communications. In most cases, only one contact is made, whether it’s a brochure, a catalog, a Website, or a billboard. That means capturing the customer’s interest quickly. Then, follow up with an appeal to the customer’s ‘basic instincts’ to be better, happier, smarter, or whatever -er will move the conversation along and end in a sale.
The consumer is usually looking for the best price or the best product to satisfy a need or relieve a pain. The person may or may not know anything about the product you’re offering, but he or she does know there’s an itch that needs to be scratched. You’re job is to show how you’ve got the best thing to do the job. Through experience and study, the writer learns what approaches and what language gets the most positive responses.
Writing for a Business
Just as in B2C, the goal of writing to business is to make a sale. An important difference, though, is the length of time and number of people involved. B2B marketing usually takes longer. In some cases, months or even years. The kinds of information and the types of media involved can change depending on where you are in the campaign. Also, there may be shifts in who the ultimate decision makers are at various points. Simply put, B2B marketing is usually much more complicated than B2C.
The smart business consumer is also interested in price and getting a product or service that fits the company’s needs. That’s the same as B2C. A big difference, though, is that B2B marketing can involve writing ad copy, audio/visual presentations, white papers, newsletters, and proposals, to name just a few, all directed at one customer. It may be necessary to educate various individuals within the company about some specific aspect of the product or service. If there are three, five, or more people who have to come to consensus on the sale, it may be necessary to market slightly differently to each. That means understanding the target audience, recognizing what approach to use, and being able to adjust your writing to fit the particular person and medium.
For B2B, the emphasis shifts from being happier, etc., as it was in B2C, to such considerations as profitability, competitiveness, market share, and image. That brings up the matter of language and knowledge. It might well be that the B2B buyer knows more about what you’re writing about than you do. Most all of us have driven a car or worn clothes or used tooth paste. We understand the kinds of things that make these products appealing. Far fewer of us have personally experienced installing a complete IT network or developing a cost-effective pick-and-pack system. That means the copy is going to be more complex. As writers, we must learn to use the language of the industry accurately so the customer is comfortable with what we write and with our product’s ability to solve the problem. It’s our job to know such things as in which industries data is singular and in which it or they is/are plural.
The difference between B2B and B2C isn’t whether there’s an emotional element involved. There is. The difference is what that emotional POV about the purchase is. What sells to consumers? Price, yes, but often more important is comfort, perceived quality, and benefit. Businesses, on the other hand, are more often concerned about their relationships with their vendors. They may need support from someone they can trust. Cost is important, but so is the value provided by education and customer service. And, remember, in B2B, everyone involved in the buying decision must recognize and understand the benefit of buying what you’re selling.
As a generalist tech writer, you must begin every assignment by asking, “How is this writing different from all other writings?”
If you can write a simple sentence and organize your thoughts then technical writing may be a rewarding field. You can easily make it an extra income stream.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average salary for technical writers is $60,380. Freelance technical writers can make from $30 to $70 per hour.
But to succeed you must learn how to market yourself to clients. That’s where ProTech – Your Fast Track to Becoming a Successful Technical Writer can help. It’s a technical writing course that does two equally important things:
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In fact, you’ll get a complete marketing toolkit which has templates and technical writing job sites to get started immediately!
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