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Building a case: structure before style

If you’re marketing fabric softener, beer or perfume, you’re in the business of manipulation. You win if you make someone feel a certain way. If you’re marketing security software or network infrastructure equipment, you’re in the business of persuasion. You win if you manage to convince someone to try a better way…

Convincing is about building an air-tight case for doing something humans hate doing: changing their behaviour.

And while emotion (especially trust) plays a hugely important part in any sale, B2B marketing always comes down to building an argument; telling a story that leads to an inescapable conclusion: ‘You need to buy this, now.’

Marketing agencies love to stress the power of brand – the magic dust of marketing. They’re not wrong: brand is a powerful asset that can’t be ignored. But unlike perfume and beer marketing, B2B also has a left brain side., where logic and analysis matter.

This is where argument comes in. Where the hard work of building a rock-solid case begins.

If your argument isn’t solid, the creativity of Björk and the budget of Nike will not move your business. If you have a great argument, you can whisper it in a crowded room. You have what the Earth has over the Moon. You have an irresistible gravitational pull.

Good arguments are always well structured. Bad ones, even if they include some killer points, tend to be poorly assembled.

Structure isn’t especially difficult. The main thing is to decide on one and to follow it. Here are a few tried and tested structures:

Problem/Solution
For me, this simple, five-step structure works for a lot of different things:

  • The problem
  • The obstacles to solving it
  • Other ways of solving it and why they fall short
  • What a good solution should look ike
  • What ours looks like

The List
If your argument is based on an accumulation of smaller points rather than one or two big punches, a list structure can work well:

  • Ten reasons to switch to X
  • Reason 1
  • Reason 2
  • Etc
  • So switch to X

Reductio ad absurdam
Take a sensible sounding (but wrong) premise and show how the logical inferences lead to an absurd conclusion.

  • Let’s assume X is true
  • Then Y must be ture
  • Then Z must be true
  • But Z is patently false
  • So X must be false

Anyway, my point is not to suggest a particular structure to you, only to urge you to have one (the shapeless brain-dump is amazingly common in B2B marketing).

If style is in the realm of creativity, structure is more about engineering. You assemble pieces of logic; you test each piece for integrity; you bolt them together and test the joins; then evaluate the whole structure for soundness. Only then, when the work is 90% done, do you call in the stylists to dress things up.

Whether presented in a brochure, on a website, in a short video or a powerpoint deck, the best arguments are always well-structured. Just as you can’t make a good movie from a bad script, you can’t build a compelling argument on a bad structure.

Any decent copywriter can craft a pretty sentence. The ones who can build a strong case, then make you want to read it, are worth their weight in gold.

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