Changing times in technical communication

Deepak Chopra quotation Flickr image  Celestine ChuaWe’ve been on the road in recent days and weeks, visiting different documentation teams, and we’ve found there are distinct signs of change.

In previous years, most documentation managers have effectively been saying to us their organisations weren’t really clear about the value of documentation. As the Technical Publications team usually amounts to less than 5% of the IT budget, the successful companies have, in the past, not worried about this and left the documentation team to work out for themselves what they should be doing. However, for organisations that have been watching every percent in the budget, they’ve reduced the spend on technical documentation to the bare minimum. Of course, in a recession that’s been quite a few companies.

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Proving your technical content is the most important content on your website

In yesterday’s post, How technical content on the Web is turning traditional marketing strategy on its head, we discussed the importance of technical content to today’s marketing funnel. You might be thinking, show me more evidence.

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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

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Does relationship marketing mean you also need relationship content?

relationship poster Flickr image by TRF_Mr_HydeLast night I saw presentations at the Content Strategy London Meetup from Rob Hinchcliffe (a community strategist), and Sara Treewater (Content project lead for Citi Private Bank’s Web and Mobile team) in which they both mentioned relationship marketing and how it was influencing content strategy.

If your marketing and sales strategy focuses on developing a relationship with your customers and prospects, it makes sense your pre- and post- sales content (such as user documentation) sustains and builds relationships as well. Joe Gollner has called this “relationship content”. This may mean giving people an opportunity to comment, and supplement, your user documentation. In other words, moving from a monologue to a dialogue.

This can be challenging for organisations, particularly for those where there are compliance and regulatory considerations. However, there may be little choice but to do this. Rob Hinchcliffe said in his presentation that, today, content is everywhere. There are unofficial information sources where Google will direct users, if you do not provide content that’s relevant and useful.

If this relationship goes further, you can gain a significant insight into how each individual customer and prospect behaves, and start to disrupt your industry sector. We discuss this in our latest post on the STC’s Notebook blog (we’ll post a link once the post has been published).

Updated copywriting training course coming soon

We’ve temporarily withdrawn our online copywriting skills training course, but don’t worry: an updated version of the course will be coming out soon.

The new course, developed by Dr Alan Rae, includes new content on telling your story in writing, as well as digital copywriting. Dr Rae is a Fellow, and former Regional Chair, of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Written communication is the foundation of Internet-based marketing – however it’s quite different from conventional copywriting. That’s because you have to allow for people having different reading styles online. You also have to address the issues of Google search and spam filtering when you are writing web pages or email content.

The new course is all about how to write digital copy. It comes in three short 20 minute modules. It updates the original single module with material on digital copywriting, and includes information from various research projects into what makes digital media attractive to a prospective customer.

It is ideal for Technical Authors and other technical writers who are also tasked with writing marketing copy, as well as those who simply need to improve their copywriting skills.

The new course will release December 2012/January 2013.

The course is also available as an on-site, classroom course. Contact us for details of this option.

Cherryleaf featured in this month’s PC Pro magazine

In this month’s edition (confusingly dated January 2013) of PC Pro magazine, Stuart Andrews explores the role of technical writer, the person behind technical documentation. In the short article, he interviews Ginny Critcher, Director at Cherryleaf, who explains the highs and lows of working as a Technical Author.

Ginny Critcher in PC Pro magazine

PC Pro magazine Jan 2013

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?

Content doesn’t matter? Don’t tell Coca Cola!

If you’re not sure the value of content and writing, take a look at this video from Coca Cola. Jonathan Mildenhall, Vice-President, Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence at The Coca-Cola Company describes the challenge of content creation to Coca Cola and why it is so important to them.

The terminology Jonathan uses in the video is different to the words of the Technical Author, but the concepts are remarkably similar:

  • He talks about “liquid content” where a Technical Author might say “single sourcing” or ” content-re-use”.
  • “Collaborative, adaptive, content” is similar to “multi-channel publishing”.
  • “Co-creation” is what we might call “user generated content” or “collaborative authoring”.

Coca Cola sees content as conversational – something we’ve talked about being a trend emerging in some forms of online Help.

Pepsi is doing similar things as well

In a competitive market such as fizzy drinks, where price and products are almost identical, content – in its many forms – becomes critically important.