Ad and marketing creatives

Does Your Business Audience Have a Split Personality?

A few weeks ago I received a call from a marketing manager of an event planning company. She was obviously frustrated. Her email promotion of a leadership seminar had failed miserably. Time was running out before the event date. She needed answers fast. So she asked if I would review the piece and get back to her with recommendations.

Once I had read the promotion, I immediately recognized the problem. Although it was a well-crafted piece of copywriting, it appealed to only one side of her target audience's "split personality."

Fortunately, it was a simple fix. I advised her on what changes needed to be made. She rewrote the copy and, as a result, her follow-up email brought in the registrations she needed.

Split personality? Let me explain...

You see, most marketing writers know there are key differences when communicating persuasively to a business (B2B), rather than a consumer (B2C), audience. But the one thing that they sometimes miss is the often conflicting interests of the individual business buyer.

Or, how I like to put it, the "split personality syndrome".

You see, there's a tug-of-war that goes on in the business buyer's mind when making a purchasing decision. On one hand, she must consider the needs of the business. On the other hand, she has personal needs, wants and concerns, too.

Usually, the result is a compromise.

That's why you'll see an expensive marble table in a boardroom, even though the company doesn't really need something so extravagant. The VP just likes it.

So, when writing any type of marketing piece - an email, letter, press release, web page, advertisement - you need to take the business buyer's split personality into account.

How do you do that?

  • First, you must stress the business benefits. Business buyers act on behalf of a company. You need to highlight how your product or service will reduce costs, increase sales, avoid liabilities, gain a competitive advantage, improve quality, boost productivity, or accelerate cash flow.
  • Then, you need to stress the personal benefits. Business buyers are individuals. So you must explain how your product or service will save them time, make their jobs easier, help them look good to their superiors, get them promoted, advance their careers, or get them home in time for dinner!

Say you're writing a sales brochure for a new brand of industrial forklift. From a business standpoint, it has everything a company needs: safety features that reduce the risk of injuries, long service life for a low annual cost of ownership, and it runs on propane to comply with clean air regulations.

But it's the plant engineer you need to convince. And she's not so sure about these NEW forklifts. What if the learning curve is steep and creates havoc on her production schedule? What if these trucks don't perform well and she gets blamed? How quickly can she get technical support should she need it?

Can you see what a mistake it would be not to address these issues in the copy? No matter how compelling your business case is, if you don't tout the personal benefits, your marketing piece is doomed.

So when writing B2B copy, remember: it's not all business. It's personal, too.

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Steve Slaunwhite is a marketing consultant, award-winning copywriter, and author of The Everything Guide to Writing Copy. He works with professionals who need better results from their websites, e-mails, sales letters, ads, and other marketing communications. He is also the editor of His professional home on the Web is Click here to read more articles by Steve Slaunwhite.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday March 26th 2008, 10:16 AM
Comment by: Mary L.
I was hoping to see the 'before' and 'after' text - but I suppose this was just a fictitious example for the bigger point being made.

I look forward to more advice.
Wednesday March 26th 2008, 10:40 AM
Comment by: Rick E.
I get the point though over simplified. I guess you run the same strategy as your article suggests. How do you appeal to the reader split personality - the business person who has little time to dive into meatier morsels of dinner sized portions of strategic writing and the one who will nibble enough to discover, alas, she's hungrier than she thought and figures now's as good a time to eat as any. They have writing classes for this I suppose.
Wednesday March 26th 2008, 4:56 PM
Comment by: Sue B.
I was really hoping to see a couple of concrete examples. The description is fine, but there is nothing like a specific example or two to really clarify how to spot and fix this problem.
Wednesday March 26th 2008, 9:08 PM
Comment by: Naiya C.


"First, you must stress the business benefits."

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"Then, you need to stress the personal benefits."

New TitaniaWare [TM] is not only the best practical investment you'll ever make, but the sexiest, sleekest, shiniest eating space-utensils on the market. Vacationers from all across our tiny blue globe will flock to your space shuttles just to try the dinnerware, and to experience our newly patented ADET (Age-Defying Eating Technology). The gleam from our patented titanium alloy makes one's skin look twenty to thirty centuries firmer and smoother. We're so sure that you and your passengers will love our dinnerware, we're willing to let you try the first order FREE! No risk: Satisfaction guaranteed. Look younger, sexier, and smarter NOW. Get your TitaniaWare [TM] today!

(With a little imagination, I was able to create my own examples.)

Great article. Thank you for posting.
Friday April 4th 2008, 1:02 AM
Comment by: Antonia S.
I, too, was looking for some concrete examples. And, I am curious about how the reptilian brains plays into all of this with regards to writing a piece (or does it just have a picture that gets the forklift plant manager salivating?). In our firm, we provide estate planning. Really, we can push our services on all who pass, but the real clincher for new clients is a recent death that shook them to the core. How do you speak to that without freaking people out?
Friday April 4th 2008, 8:50 AM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
Harris, the VT editor here: Thank you all for your comments on this post! A lot of you asked for real-life examples to illustrate Steve's points. You got it! Steve's next column will follow up on this one and include "split personality" examples. Coming soon... Thanks, Harris

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