Nobody Wants to Read Your Marketing. Nobody.

They may want to skim it. They may even give it the once over to look for something of benefit. But read it? Not so much. We live in a world of increasingly shorter and shorter attention spans—140 characters, six-second videos. When I get a stack of mail, I spend about 15 seconds shuffling through what will immediately go into the recycle. When I open my email inbox in the morning, I spend the first 10 seconds clicking all the emails I will immediately delete.
We’re all starved for time, and especially B-to-B marketers need to do things differently to grab attention. How do you create an interesting B-to-B message, be heard, remembered and, most importantly, purchased by your customers?

First, a short quiz: Your B-to-B prospects/customers are _____________?
A. BDMs—Business Decisions Makers (all about the business benefits)
B. TDMs—Technical Decision Makers (all about cost, integration, platforms and maintenance)
C. Just People

Trick question. The answer is all three, but C is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind. Last night at home, somebody you’re trying to engage probably watched American Idol, CSI, Game of Thrones, or maybe even OMG Insider. Yep they just sat there in their sweats watching TV. Now that it’s the next day, and they are proudly strutting about in their BDM or TDM attire, remember they are still just people. B-to-B marketers need to grab their attention as people, not just BDMs/TDMs.

4 Practical Ways to Avoid the Trash

  1. Pay Tribute to Curly
    Curly, of City Slickers fame, said “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, and the rest don’t mean shit.” In that case, it was about the secret of life. In this case, it is the secret of B-to-B messaging. Stop using all the same buzzwords as your competitors—”fully leverage,” “fully optimize,” “most comprehensive,” “drives maximum efficiency,” “seamlessly integrated,” “mission-critical,” “innovative,” blah, blah, blah. Think about explaining your product/service to your 80 year old grandma, then use those same words in your marketing. Does she know what “fully leverage big data” means? Probably not. Reduce the noise around your core value proposition and make it simple and clear what your one thing is.
  2. Remember Jerry Maguire
    Cuba Gooding Jr. didn’t order Tom Cruise to “Talk about the money,” or, “Drone on about the features of the money,” or, “Describe the benefits of the money.” He screamed, “Show me the money!”

    Show how your products/services solves a real problem that your specific audience is likely to have. Start there. Make it real for them. Your customer’s business interests them, not your product. Show your product in such a way that they can actually emotionally feel how it would be used on a daily basis in their business to improve revenue, make happier customers or employees, or decrease costs. Tell a real and relevant story or two to bring it to life.

  3. Stand-out
    Take chances. Don’t be me-too. If everyone in your competitive set have communications detailing every possible feature of their product, streamline your communications with a focus on customer stories instead. Pick something and do it differently—do it better. Volvo recently thought to hook up with a martial artist movie star to sell their large trucks (focusing on their precision steering).

    That’s different. That stands out. That makes for some amazing content that people want to learn more about. Contrast that to reading the steering’s engineering specifications which certainly would have been a reasonable, albeit zzzzzzzz approach.

  4. Be Upworthy
    There is a lot of talk about the subject line strategy for Upworthy but, whatever your thoughts, it is working. Their traffic is off the charts. Why not use their same approach in your email subject lines and your direct mail headlines” Drive people to your website with curiosity and that’s where you can tell your more complete story.
    As an example, what if you sold copy machines? A traditional subject line might be:
    25% off the new XD5000 – prints 10x faster.
    An Upworthy type approach might be:
    How 1 person Used a Printer to Save a Community.
    If you try the second, you better have a landing page that tells the story of how a printer was used to help support a charity or something along those lines. I know I would click on the second headline as I find it intriguing. Try it out. Do an A/B test and experiment with new angles on headlines.

Brian Ladyman is Seattle practice area director for customer engagement at Seattle-based marketing services provider Slalom Consulting. Reach him at

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  • Heather Sloan

    Nice article! I love Curly’s advice about focusing on just ONE THING. Very true!

  • Robert Bly

    This is a terrific article — thoughtful, useful, and original. Very rare in an age of content pollution.

  • Angela Slupe

    Great article, Brian. Marketers need to keep in mind how they respond to the marketing that they receive. Our customers just don’t have time to read a bunch of clutter they want us to just "get to the point".

  • Mark

    One client at our agency loves convoluted copy. I submit short and compelling messaging….they return it with all the tired buzzwords back in. The darn thing ends up so bloated and boring, they should bottle it as sleeping meds. I’ve tried persuading them to speak more plainly, given short attention spans. They won’t listen to reason and are convinced they know best. Sadly they market to consumers…and I know people are tuning out most of their stuff.

  • David James

    I wish I had a nickle for every time I have seen an example of all of the deadly sins discussed in the article. Folks think they are "special." Only their Mom’s care…. and even they skim.

  • Kathi Ramsdell

    Love this article. I have clients that tell me "their people" are different. They need to see "fill in the tired buzzwords here" or they won’t read. The reality is they’re afraid to test something different enough to really impact response.

  • Robyn Smith

    So much good advice bundled into one article; this is a keeper! Feel free to elaborate each point more in separate articles, if you’d like. I know I’ll read them!

  • Brian Ladyman

    Thanks for the feedback. It is great to hear that it resonates.