Customers as advocates

I attended the Customers as Advocates conference yesterday, at the invitation of the hosts Strand Writing and Design. Strand is a copywriting company, and their conference focused on the challenges of creating relationships with customers that will lead onto them providing customer references and case studies.

Although the conference was focused on case studies and advocacy, I was struck by the implications for the user assistance and technical content that organisations produce.

Below are my summaries of two of the presentations.

Ian Williams – Customer Experience and the disappearing sales process

Ian Williams, of Jericho Consulting, looked at what he called “the disappearing sales process”. He quoted research from Google, IDG and Forrester showing how important content and customer recommendations are in the buying process today:

  • 57-70% of the buying journey is complete before a potential customer looks at marketing content or engages with anyone in the sales team (source: CEB/Google).
  • 21% of buying cycle is spent by business buyers in conversations with peers and colleagues (source: IDG).
  • 56% of the buying cycles is spent by business buyers searching for and engaging with content (source: IDG).

He also stated that Customer Experience, and an organisation’s brand, is about “keeping your promise” – that the customer’s expectations must be matched by what they actually get.

Implications for technical communication

This is more evidence that the content Technical Authors create (user guides, FAQs, Help, getting started guides, troubleshooting information etc.) can be an important factor in the buying process. Prospects will do their research, and they seek out trustworthy content about a product.

It also highlights the importance of a consistent message and experience throughout the customer journey. The “promise” must be consistent in the marketing and the user assistance. You also need to deliver on that promise; poor quality post-sales content just won’t do any more.

Mark Gallagher – How Formula 1 will affect your business

Mark Gallagher has been a senior F1 executive of over 20 years. He talked about how the business of Formula 1 is changing, and how those developments are likely to affect the wider business world.

He explained that the Formula 1 constructors were now the world’s experts in capturing data, analysing data, and providing information on performance improvement to the end user. Constructors, such as McLaren, were now applying this expertise to a wide range of industry sectors.

Mark predicted that this expertise could be applied to the “Internet of Things”, where devices capture data and provide advice and information to the end user.


If these capabilities were applied to mainstream software, perhaps we could see applications such as Word and Excel capturing data on how you use the software, and then providing advice on how you could have completed that task in a better way.

In fact, some applications are providing this type of feedback already. Here’s a screenshot from an Android app called Steno Keyboard. It analyses your keystrokes and tells you if there was a better way:

Screen from Steno Keyboard app

The type of development would change user documentation into performance support, and move more of the user content into the application itself.


This post represents just a few notes from the conference. It’s clear that content, in all its forms, is becoming a key factor in the buying cycle. User Assistance is not just for customers, it’s for prospective customers as well.

“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.

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Our process for creating elearning videos

I will be talking at the Technical Communications UK 2014 conference (TCUK14) next month about creating videos for technical communication and elearning videos.

elearning video screen captureIt covers how to embed video in a course. The delegates see, in each recorded module, a video of the trainer on the right of the screen, with the slides, application walkthroughs or images on the left of the screen.

This format is more engaging for delegates than a disembodied voice talking over a slide or image.

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MadWorld 14 – See you in San Diego

presenter_banner_150x150We’re very pleased to say Cherryleaf’s Ellis Pratt has been asked to speak at the MadWorld 2014 conference. Presenting at MadWorld 2013 was great fun, and it looks like MadCap Software is putting together another great event.

Ellis will be doing three presentations:

DITA for Dummies

Do presentations on DITA send you to sleep? Do you keep putting off learning about DITA, and wonder whether you need to worry about it at all? In this presentation, we’ll look at DITA using simple terms, “warts and all”, in a way that won’t be boring and won’t send you to sleep.

Madworld registration desk

Bust a Move: From Technical Communication to Content Strategy (MadWorld presentation)

We’ll look at how technical communicators can get more involved in corporate content strategy. We’ll look at why they might want to do that, the differences between technical communication and content strategy, as well as looking at how they might re-position themselves. We’ll also look at what tools and skills technical communicators can bring across from the technical communications field.


What Do You Measure? Metrics for Technical Communicators (MadWorld conference)

Often, technical communicators focus on the estimating, reporting and costing of documentation projects. How can they accurately measure these, and what should they actually be measuring? We’ll look at how we can measure the value of technical communication as well as the efficiency of the process. We’ll also look at what we can do using MadCap Flare to measure our work.

The conference is being held on the 14th and 15th April, in San Diego.


For details on other upcoming presentations and events, see the Events page on the Cherryleaf website.

Fancy attending the STC Summit 2013 for free?

We have a ticket to the STC Summit 2013 that needs to go to a good home.

The STC Summit conference has over 80 education sessions on technical communication, organised in seven tracks. It will be held between the 6th-8th May. There is also an exposition, with more than 50 companies represented. Ticket prices normally cost between $900-$1,400, depending on when you book (although students willing to help out can get in for a couple of hundred dollars).

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See you at Technical Communications UK Conference 2-4 October

We’ll be at Technical Communications UK conference next week. Ellis will be speaking on the 4th October (at 11.00) on “What does the iPad 3 mean for Technical Authors?”. The Technical Communications UK conference includes speakers from outside the technical communication profession, with the aim of bringing a new perspective on communicating information.

A successful conference is as much about the people you meet as the presentations, so it will be fun mixing with all the other delegates.