5 Elements of Great Marketing Content That Technical Writers Can Adopt
Let’s start off with some long overdue myth-busting: the stereotypes that some technical writers have about marketing content – and the people who create it -- are flat out wrong.
That is, all marketing content is not adjective-laden superficial fluff; any more than all technical writing is as riveting as watching paint dry. Just as good technical writing is informative and interesting, good content marketing is stylish and substantial.
The reason we bring this up is not to inspire technical writers to try their hand at marketing content (although they may actually like it more than they realize!). Rather, it’s to remind technical writers that they can improve the quality, impact and value of their work by – believe it or not -- adopting 5 elements of great marketing content:
Great marketing targets personas, which are fictionalized profiles of an ideal customer type. The idea here is that readers don’t like “one-size-fits-all” material, and want something that fits their mindset and needs.
Technical writers can adopt this element by creating versions or variations of their content so that it targets different audiences. This is less work than it sounds, and often involves relatively minor changes to elements like headings, or the order in which information is presented. As with marketing content, this helps make technical writing more relevant, meaningful and applicable.
Good marketing content isn’t relevant by accident. It’s the result of some heavy duty back-end number crunching, which takes into consideration all kinds of valuable data (e.g. what target audiences are interested in, searching for, worried about, aspiring to achieve, etc.).Technical writers can leverage analytics to identify what they need to write about, to whom, why, and even how (i.e. what channel to use, how to structure content, etc.). In this way, they can proactively dive into their data and see what they should or need to be writing about vs. wait for content gap to be identified by a manager.
Good marketing content writers recognize that it’s not possible to buy reader attention: it can only be rented one section (or one “chunk”) at a time. As such, without going overboard, they make ample use of sub-headings, bullet points, lists, callout quotes, and other visual and structural tactics that help the content appear more modular – and therefore easier and “safer” to read, because it’ll take less time. Whether it does or doesn’t is actually beside the point; it’s what readers perceive that matters. Good marketing writers grasp this, and it serves them well.
Good technical writers already do a solid job of breaking their content down into sections and sub-sections, and typically have well-balanced and designed chapters (for larger documents) and heading (for smaller documents). However, constant improvement being what it is, there’s no harm in technical writers taking a cue from their marketing friends and asking: “is there a way I could make this LOOK even more reader friendly?” If the answer is yes, then they should seriously consider adding some elements. Anything that makes a document easier for readers to digest is a move in the right direction.
Good marketing content writers use (aptly named) good content management systems that feature version control, commenting and reviewing tools. All of these help make it easier and more efficient for SMEs – such as those on technical teams, product development teams, QA teams, sales teams, financial teams, and so on – to provide feedback on different pieces of collateral.
Technical writers also seek the input of various experts, but this is often done in a formal manner through interviews – which can be time consuming and frustrating (some folks aren’t as eager to be interviewed as others). Just as their marketing content writer counterparts, it can be highly beneficial for technical writers to have systems in place that make it easier to capture SME input; and not just when a document needs to be written, but on an ongoing basis.
And last but not least: perhaps the greatest innovation on the marketing landscape in the last decade has been the emergence of automation. Everything from delivery, to personalization, to analytics to customer journey mapping and moving can be handled via streamlined, automated workflows.
Technical writers can join the automation party in a somewhat different way, but with nevertheless equally triumphant results. For example, customer feedback regarding a specific content piece (e.g. product documentation) can be automatically routed to technical writers and other SMEs, who can then discuss it internally to determine if something should be updated. Social media-inspired tools, like upvotes and “likes”, can also be put in place to automatically let technical writers know when a particular piece of content is a big hit with the community, or if it might need to go back to the proverbial drawing board.
The Bottom Line
Technical writing and marketing content serve distinct purposes, and need to maintain their separate frameworks, concepts, paradigms and principles. However, technical writers can certainly learn a few things from their marketing content writing counterparts (and vice versa), and all of the above element are certainly worth stealing – because they’re smart, they make sense, and most of all: they work!