Just like Taylor Swift knowing which tracks will make Swifties swoon, the value in clear content seems obvious to B2B marketers. But it’s less obvious to your stakeholders (and clients), especially when marketing to a sophisticated audience.
You get accustomed to skepticism about plain language:
- “Shouldn’t we use the technical language our readers are used to?”
- “This feels too simple for an audience of professionals.”
- “Our readers are used to peer-reviewed journals … They aren’t the ‘skimming’ type.”
For years, I’ve advocated for the power of plain language – clear, concise communication that first-time readers can understand without breaking a mental sweat.
Clear health care content can make the difference between life and death for patients. But patients aren’t the only readers who prefer plain language. We set out to prove that hypothesis and see how plain language content impacts the B2B sales process.
Read what the study found, including data-driven takeaways to help you create plain-language content.
Proving the value of plain language
We surveyed B2B health care professionals to understand their feelings about B2B health care sales and marketing materials. We didn’t use the term “plain language” so as not to sway respondents.
The research consisted of three tests. Each included an example of B2B content found “in the wild” and a revised, plain-language version. The options were unlabeled and randomized. Respondents didn’t know which version was the original.
After seeing each version, the B2B marketer responded to a series of questions, including:
- How easy or difficult is this description to understand?
- Do you consider the description to be wordy or concise?
- Do you consider the description to be formal or conversational?
- If you were looking for this type of product, how likely would you be to take a specific action?
Lastly, respondents shared which version they preferred and why.
Eighty percent of the surveyed B2B health care decision-makers preferred the content written in plain language. But that’s not all.
Plain language incites action
Respondents also were more likely to respond to the call to action after reading text written in plain language.
In this example, both versions direct readers to request a demo of telehealth software:
The original version starts with the headline, Virtual Care Management, followed by this text: “Our technology is a white-label, HIPAA-compliant software platform integrated with all of the features and functions needed to practice any form of physical or behavioral medicine suitable for virtual or hybrid care. The platform’s single, intuitive interface enables an efficient, effective, easy-to-use virtual visit for your patients and your providers.”
The plain language version starts with the headline, Telehealth Made Easy, followed by this text: “Our telehealth software offers all the features you need to provide patient care. Designed for physical or behavioral health, the platform offers flexibility for care in person, virtual, or hybrid. The interface is easy for both patients and providers to use and is HIPAA compliant.
After reading the original version, 44% said they would schedule a demo. After reading the plain language version, 73% said they would schedule a demo.
The findings from another example – teasers for a white paper – were even more promising. After reading the plain language version, 68% said they would download the document, while only 22% said they would after reading the original teaser.
Plain language isn’t only preferred by B2B audiences; its use can increase the likelihood they’ll convert.
Data-driven tips about using plain language
To apply the findings, it helps to understand what the respondents preferred about the plain language text:
- “The information was provided through the use of bullet points that make reading easier and more concise.”
- “Direct, clear, easy to understand – less wasted time for busy practitioners.”
- “Gets to the point in the headline so I know if I should read further.”
- “More accessible language, warmer tone hints at a paper that will be easier to understand, written for a broader audience.”
- “It’s much clearer what this product actually does and it’s simpler to read.”
In analyzing the open-ended responses to find the themes, we found B2B readers want marketing materials that are:
- Easy to understand and accessible
- Simple and straightforward
- Easy to scan
- Conversational and relatable
How can you use this preference for plain language in your content to attract readers and make them more likely to act? Consider these ways, according to this research:
- Make it about your reader: Craft content that allows the audience to easily see how it relates to them. It attracts more readers and boosts your chances of conversion.
- Write benefit-focused headlines: Say at the beginning what the reader will gain by consuming the content.
- Use bulleted lists: Readers can take in the information faster and more easily remember the points made.
- Remove jargon: In health care, for example, the intended audience may be physicians, but they often share marketing materials with non-clinical staff. Removing jargon makes your content more accessible.
- Use active voice: Make your content clear and concise.
- Emphasize important points: Frontload and bold the must-read information.
- Write for mobile readers: Use short paragraphs and helpful visuals.
- Use words that motivate humans to act: Craft clear, compelling calls to action.
How to convince stakeholders of the value of clear content
Knowing how to create clear content is only half the battle. The other half requires persuading stakeholders to adopt this approach.
Misinformation is rampant. Plain language is often mistakenly equated with “dumbing down” content. People also think educated audiences prefer technical content that matches their reading level, although research has dispelled this.
How can you get stakeholders on board with a plain language approach? Here are three tips:
- Rethink the terminology: The term “plain language” carries stigma. Use alternatives like “clear communication” or “customer-centric writing.”
- Run an experiment: Suggest split-testing technical writing against plain language alternatives. Let stakeholders see the difference clear language can make.
- Approach the conversation with data: Share studies highlighting the value of plain language in B2B marketing.
Clarity trumps complexity in every avenue of communication. Using plain language is about more than catering to your readers — it sets the standard for clear communication in general. As marketers, it’s your job to keep raising the bar.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute