Breaking down the marketing and techcomm content silos – not as simple as it seems

Over recent years, we have seen many presentation on how marketing and technical communications content shouldn’t sit in separate “silos”, never to be shared between each department. Unfortunately, it’s not simply a case of getting both to agree to share content.

In the book Selling the wheel, Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens tell the story of a fictional technology start-up company inventing and marketing the wheel. Through this parable, they look at the lifecycle of a business, and how selling changes over that lifecycle.

The early stage

In the early years of a organisation’s life, it needs to have a sales person who is able to close one-off deals with as many “early adopters” as possible. At this stage, marketing and selling teams focus on selling the opportunity associated with the product, and selling the power and practicality of the product itself. At this stage, the organisation typically does not focus on customer support or service. Early adopters are often left to solve problems themselves.

The growth stage

In the growth stage, the organisation begins growing and taking on larger clients. These new customers want expert assistance both before, and after, the sale is made. Marketing and selling needs to be technically expert enough to deliver a solution tailored (and possibly customised) to a buyer’s need. This often involves instructing the users on how to use the product. This means providing demonstrations and training, as well as an installation service.

The organisation also needs to offer support. It also needs to test the products fully prior to release.

The mature stage

When the majority of the market is using the technology in the product, the organisation focuses on existing customers. They want customers to buy more, and pick up new business from competitors messing up.

The focus is now on maintaining relationships with customers and prospects. The organisation needs to manage complexity, pay attention to the details, and make sure the customers’ needs are understood within the organisation.

The commodity stage

As the market matures, and the market becomes saturated, the product moves towards becoming a commodity. The goal is to become the market leader with the most efficient supply chain.

The focus is on differentiating the product, where possible. This is typically done by offering superior service and by creating a positive customer experience. There is less need for requirement for customisation, but perhaps more opportunities for offering value-added products and services.

Because of the high competition, there are often mergers and acquisitions between competitors. Their products may need to be incorporated into the product portfolio.

The changing role of technical communications content over the business lifecycle

These different lifecycle stages mean the importance and role of technical and marketing communications content will change over time:

  • 1st stage – The organisation needs content that demonstrates the power and practicality of the product/technology. It needs to be credible, and it needs to be consist with the marketing message.
  • 2nd stage – The organisation needs content that enables installation, customisation and customer training. It also needs content that enables it to fix mistakes.
  • 3rd stage – The organisation needs content that enables it to manage complexity – make things easy for existing customers. The technical content must help in avoiding the company from screwing up.
  • 4th stage – The organisation needs content that enables it to provide great service. This might be enabling customers to solve problems easily themselves, or enabling the Support team to provide great service.

This means it’s not a simple case of co-creating or sharing content between the Marketing and Techcomm departments. Different approaches will be needed, depending on where the organisation currently sits in the lifecycle we’ve described above.

Can a Technical Author be a master of more than one trade?

Technical Authors are normally seen as masters of writing user documentation, but their skills are not often applied to other areas of the business. For example, it’s usually the case our clients for software documentation are different from our procedures writing clients.

However, we’re currently working for a client where we began by editing a white paper, and this has led us on to other projects across departments. Work has included developing customer journey maps, a terminology database, as well as the online Help. The role is morphing into that of a content editor role: checking for consistency, spotting errors in marketing copy, rewriting copy, and so on.

So what is different? What has led to this wider scope? It may be due to us being recommended to them by word of mouth, and they had greater confidence in our abilities. It may be because they are a start up. It could be because many of the staff are not native English speakers.

We suspect it’s because the first project was the white paper. They had something that was very useful to them, for promoting the company. They also included us in their in-house chat system, which meant we could see other areas where they had issues with content. This led to us intervening more than usual, making suggestions in a proactive way. The growth of chat systems, such as Slack and Socialcast, within companies could open up other opportunities for other Technical Authors, as long as they take the initiative.

“Bad information is Marketing’s fault problem. Good information is Tech Comms’ specialty. Let’s do the maths.”

inbound marketing and technical communicationsThe quotation in the title is from Roger Hart’s presentation at last week’s TCUK14 conference. Roger is a product marketing manager who spent a few years as a Technical Author. In his presentation, Collateral damage: do marketing and tech comms have to fight when users get informed?, he explained some of the most powerful marketing content today is high quality user information – especially the content that Technical Authors produce.

Continue reading ““Bad information is Marketing’s fault problem. Good information is Tech Comms’ specialty. Let’s do the maths.””

How technical content on the Web is turning traditional marketing strategy on its head

Kathy Sierra famously summed up most marketing departments’ approach to content in this slide:
kathy sierra - How we treat customers

To paraphrase her, the website and brochure are a thing of beauty, while the user manual is a thing of boredom.

Today, the way people use the Internet means this approach to marketing needs to change

Continue reading “How technical content on the Web is turning traditional marketing strategy on its head”

Write and own your content, or someone will write and own it for you

Don't ignore your customers. flickr image by Ron PloofAdrian Baniak has written an article (3 Ways to Engage with Today’s Empowered Consumer) about how brands can “cut through the clutter” and communicate with their customers and prospect. He states one of the key ways to do this is “Write Your Own Tale, Or Someone Else Will Do It First”.

This mantra was originally made by Lisa Shalett, a partner at Goldman Sachs, and the global head of brand marketing and digital strategy. Continue reading “Write and own your content, or someone will write and own it for you”

German Manager discovers the secret to writing product information in English

Sometimes, we are asked by German clients to improve the English text in their product information sheets. Although their staff speak and write excellent English, they recognise their marketing copy can appear a little stilted, “wordy” and unclear. The sentences may be grammatically correct, but no native-English speaker would ever write them in that way.

So, here are a few tips for German native speakers who need to write marketing copy in English:

  1. Take care when translating Möglichkeit(en)/möglich.  Often, this is translated as “possible”, when a native English speaker might say “options”, “available”, “capabilities”, “optional”, “the ability to” or “able to”.
  2. “Information” is always singular. There is no such word as “informations”.
  3. Don’t use “thus” or “hence” in marketing documents. They are fine for scientific papers, but not in marketing documents or Web sites. You could use “this means” instead.
  4. Keep your sentences short, so they are clearer to the reader. Subordinate and relative clauses are used enthusiastically in German, but in English they can make a sentence appear unnaturally long.  In each sentence, it’s best to be clear what is the subject, direct object, indirect object and verb. Think Cluedo – ask yourself, who is “the murderer”? Who is “the victim”? What was “the weapon”?
  5. Watch out for pseudo-anglicisms (Denglisch) and “false friends”. For example, “Labor” in German is not the same thing as “labor” in English.
  6. Using “a” or “an” depends on whether the next word sounds like it begins with a vowel. For example, “an F.E.B.” and “a unique”.
  7. Remember even native English speakers use specialists to write their marketing copy.

Here is Henning Wehn, German comedy ambassador to the United Kingdom, providing some examples:

Any more suggestions?

Does making user manuals freely available increase product sales?

The debate as to whether to make user manuals available to everyone (regardless of them being a customer or not) is one that continues in the software sector. Some companies advocate it as part of a “try before you buy” product marketing strategy; others have concerns as to whether it will adversely affect their sales or their competitive advantage.

Authors in academic and non-academic fields are also releasing their books for people to download freely. According to John Hilton III and David Wiley of Brigham Young University, in their report Free: Why Authors are Giving Books Away on the Internet:

Anecdotal evidence suggests that exposure to both authors and books increases when books are available as free downloads, and that print sales are not negatively affected.

Hilton’s earlier dissertation studied the sales of religious books before and after their ebook release. In his study, he found the books sold 26% more copies in the period they were available online for free. During that same period, sales of comparable books decreased by 38%.

Putting user documentation online can increase the amount of (information-rich) content for the Search Engines to find. It may also reduce the users’ reliance of the technical support lines.

If users have to provide an email address in exchange for downloading the documentation, then this can also provide the organisation with a source of qualified prospect and customer leads.