Content producers are popping up across organizations like weeds across my backyard. While marketing departments still own traditional marketing materials, everyone churns out content these days. What isn't as widespread however, is the content marketing perspective, strategy, and consistency.
Many organizations still lack a documented content strategy, and without setting and communicating a consistent vision for the content they create, these companies risk confusing or even alienating their customers with a less-than-unified experience.
So how can marketing leaders address these potential gaps?
First, take a thorough inventory of all the content marketing related to your company and its products-the blogs and thought leadership posts from your CEO, as well as the contributions to your digital content hub by your trusty team of freelancers and internal creators.
Now, take look at all other areas where your brand's content exists. Revisit everything that your customers experience, and-perhaps for the first time-consider all of it to be content marketing. Don't forget the press releases, websites, FAQs, online help systems, user manuals, white papers, videos, software API documentation, regulatory inserts, assembly instructions, product packaging, product labeling, company apparel, and branded swag.
How can you make sure there's a unified message, style, and branding across all of this content and throughout a brand life cycle? How do you reach the point where your entire organization embraces your content strategy? How might you work toward incorporating all of these materials into a seamless presentation?
It's likely that a large volume of the content you find comes out of a tiny department at the margins of your company's org chart: the technical communications group. And that's exactly where you start!
Islands in the Same Ocean
One of the roadblocks to a seamless customer experience is that, traditionally, the efforts of the marketing department were confined to a silo. Or if marketing reps did reach out, other departments resisted warily. Between marcom and techcom groups, in particular, there is a long-standing mistrust based on differing style, purpose, and opinion.
- As a tech writer, I'm convinced that all marketing content is exaggerated fluff.
- My marketing colleagues know with certainty that my technical documentation is solely a remedy for insomnia.
My technical documentation tells existing customers how to use our products, while my marketing colleagues tell potential customers why they need our products. Yet we all share the common goal of producing high-quality content with a focus on customer needs.
Image attribution: NeONBRAND
At the end of the day, I believe both groups can benefit from collaboration. If our groups sync up, techcom content could gain increased exposure and a refined focus, while marcom could tap into new and plentiful sources of content.
Aligning for Wins in TechCom
Ask any technical writer about the best part of her job, and you won't hear much about positive feedback and wide readership. In fact, if you don't have a thick skin, the job isn't for you. Once, when I was verifying hardware specs and device functionality for my user documentation, the product manager said, "Just list the facts, Lauren. We only need the manual to cover our butts with lawyers and customs enforcement."
Okay, I admit that is partially true. Most users trying to solve a problem skip over manuals and jump right to emailing customer support or opening live chat sessions to get instant gratification. And yet I would argue that there is a way to reach audiences through technical documentation. It begins by embracing marketing techniques.
When techcom crosses the org chart to meet with and learn from marcom, we have much to gain.
- Added context (the "why") in our product documentation
- Increased exposure of public-facing content using SEO techniques
- Improved content voice and tone with the use of personas and consumer stages
- More effective expansion into social and video channels
- Analytics and design resources to better address audience needs
- Recognition as a viable business asset (read: bigger budget)
The Upside for MarCom
Years ago, I was on a delivery team that released a new product feature and rolled it out with my documentation accurately describing the feature and its functionality. We were shocked to discover that the marketing materials our customers received bore no resemblance to what we had produced. Our feature had been supersized with a sexy, new, not-entirely-accurate name and creative promises about its performance.
The marketing team had not read the technical documentation, relying instead on PowerPoint slides created months earlier for a business case. I have no doubt the customers found the communications attractive, but were they then disappointed by the limitations of the actual product? Were they confused when they read the instructions that referred to a different product name?
When marcom reaches across the aisle to techcom, marketers can realize a number of benefits.
- A better understanding of the product or service
- A new and continuous source of clear, in-depth, accurate product knowledge that can be repurposed
- Instant supporting documentation, demos, solutions, and research tools for customers
- Fact-based content that can help establish credibility and trust in your product or service
- Translation and liaison services between marketing and engineering departments-techcom typically has one foot in the tech side and one foot in the business side of an organization, and tech writers are fluent in both languages
Image attribution: Studio Republic
A 2017 blog post by Yamagata Europe calls techcom resources a "secret marketing weapon" for their ability to provide prospects with valuable research, to improve customer retention, and to lend higher authority to marketing efforts.
Telling a Consistent Product Story
This collaboration doesn't come easy. A lot of old dogs, like me, may have to learn new tricks as we open our turf and expose all the weeds to foreigners. But in today's landscape, where content marketing has grown in scale across all departments, we can improve our own content by sharing and learning from the expertise and perspectives of our colleagues. Of course, the greatest ROI to these partnerships within an organization are the benefits to the customer.
A collaboration between marcom and techcom-and among other content producers in your organization-can help you tailor your customer experience around the same messaging. The customer better understands that message when the product itself, the sales team, the marketing launch materials, and the technical documentation all tell the same story about the product's use, the problems it solves, and its ancillary features.
By working together we can align the purpose, message, voice, tone, and style of our brand story. It begins by taking a broader view of content to include output from all departments. From there, we can begin an effort to review all existing content for messaging and make updates in concert with other groups. And, as new offerings near their launch dates, we can ensure that all content producers understand and contribute to the positioning statements. Your customers' positive reactions are the payoff.
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Featured image attribution: NESA by Makers