What’s the point of user documentation, from a marketing perspective?

I was talking to a Documentation Manager earlier in the week, who was telling me she had a new boss – a VP of Marketing. She was having to work for someone who didn’t see the value in user documentation, and she was finding it difficult fighting her corner.

The challenge she faces is understanding the way marketing people see the world, and then explaining the role of documentation within this world view.

So does this organisation actually need to spend so much on documentation? Maybe this Marketing VP could be right. If the bulk of its users “muddle through”, then maybe they never look at the documentation?

Muddling through means users work out the main things they want to do, but never discover the extra features and capabilities of a product. It’s the path to millions of video recorders in homes flashing 00:00 on the front, because few people knew how to set the timer.  They could still play video tapes, they just couldn’t record programmes whilst they were away from the machine.

The downside of this, is that users then place little value on these extra features – they never use them – and the product becomes seen as a commodity. If they all do the same thing, then why not buy the cheapest?

Marketing people describe this as market differentiation and market positioning. If you are positioning your product away from the cheapest end of the market, then you need users to value the capabilities that make your product different. You need users to use them. So perhaps you should explain how documentation can help the organisation achieve this goal.

Marketing people often talk about market segmentation and target markets. They use different messages for different groups. So it’s worth talking about the different types of users – different key markets – and they ways they prefer to receive information.

Marketing people also talk about the average Customer Lifetime Value. Wikipedia describes this as:

“Use of customer lifetime value as a marketing metric tends to place greater emphasis on customer service and long-term customer satisfaction, rather than on maximizing short-term sales.”

This value should extend to not only the revenues generated by a customer, but also the costs incurred in supporting a customer. So it’s worth talking about how user documentation helps retain customers and reduce the cost of supporting them over time.

However, the Marketing department might be only looking at new ways to promote the business – using Twitter, user forums, wikis and suchlike. These types of Marketing people are usually focused on Relationship Marketing – building trusted relationships between the customer (or prospect) and the organisation. They may also be focused on Search Engine Optimisation – appearing high up the list in Google. So it’s worth looking back at some of the posts we’ve written in this blog on how user documentation helps builds trust with clients or prospects and can provide information rich content that Google loves.

They may also be thinking about brand image and the perceived quality of the product. These are reasons often cited by customers when we ask them why they’ve engaged us to write their user documentation.

In order to understand the way marketing people see the world, it’s worth reading Blogs on marketing (by people such as Seth Godin), the Cluetrain Manifesto, and reading a few books on marketing.

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