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I Know Someone Who Can Help with That

By Alan J. Porter | STC Senior Member

As pre-sales content and post-sales content begin to overlap, Alan Porter provides the latest insights about our role in that evolution in Convergence Conversations. Learn through this column to build bridges and form synergies with your counterparts in marketing. Contact Alan at ajp@4jsgroup.com to ask a question or propose a topic for him to cover in this column.

It’s happening, whether we want it to or not, technical communication and marketing communication are overlapping. Add in the rapidly evolving field of customer experience, and we are fast approaching a convergence of content. Content is the foundation on which customer experience is built, be it text, imagery, video, or audio. From “snackable content” to chatbot conversations, it will all need to be structured, tagged, and written for reuse across multiple deliverables. And who better to provide that sort of skill and knowledge than the professionals in the technical communication industry?

Traditionally technical and marketing communication teams are managed in separate parts of an organization and have little visibility into, or influence on, what the other is doing. But the drive to deliver seamless, frictionless customer experiences is changing that situation. More and more companies are taking a holistic view of who their customers are, and why, when, and where they are interacting with the company, as well as taking note of what they do during those interactions.

I’ve spent the past five years in both product and content marketing roles, and it quickly became clear to me in those positions that marketing could learn a lot from the technical communicators. I also realized that the converse is true, that technical communicators can learn a lot from marketing practices. And both will benefit from taking an outside-in, customer-centric approach to the content they deliver.

After all, marketing is content, and all content is marketing.

I’m now in a new role that has me with a foot firmly in both camps, and it’s an exciting position to be in. That’s what this column is going to be about: the convergence of technical communication, marketing communication, and customer experience—for I believe that this is where our future lies, and where we can provide the most value. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

The theme of this issue of Intercom is around having a healthy content organization, but that is often more than one organization within an enterprise. Content is pervasive across any enterprise, and every organization within it is its own content organization—by that I mean that every part of an enterprise produces content.

If you think about it, no matter the size of a company, from a one-person consulting shop to a global mega-corporation employing hundreds of thousands of people, they all do the same five things.

  1. They create something to fulfill a need—a product or a service.
  2. They tell people about it.
  3. They get people to buy it (hopefully).
  4. They collect money for it.
  5. They create content along the way.

That content can be to let people know the company and product exists (marketing), to persuade them to buy it (sales), to direct the exchange of money (finance, invoicing, etc.), to help people use it (technical communication), and to build ongoing relationships with customers (customer experience). Allied with all of that external content is all of the internal policies and procedures that make a business run. It’s all content.

As a result, there are experts on different sorts of content spread all across an organization, and to get the best value out of your content, you need to build relationships that allow that expertise to be shared.

I believe that technical communicators are in the best position to drive those relationships.

Here are a few examples of outreach I’ve used over the years that have built great collaborative relationships:

  • Struggling with how to express or format a technical calculation? Reach out to the woman in finance or pricing who is a whiz at Excel spreadsheets and manipulating numbers.
  • Can’t come up with a help topic title that will be quickly findable? Reach out to the search engine optimization guy in marketing who knows what keywords your organization is paying for. He’s already done the research on what your customers look for.
  • Can’t figure out how some pieces of equipment fit together? Reach out to your colleague in manufacturing who actually builds them.

Then reverse the process by offering your services and expertise.

  • Become the person who offers to do a little bit of wordsmithing assistance for your new friend in finance.
  • Offer to supply some subject matter expertise to the marketing manager struggling with a blog post.
  • Help out the woman in finance with the best way to develop a graphic for her next presentation.

Build you own personal healthy content organization, and you will start to get visibility and input into what is happening elsewhere. You might even be invited to participate in other teams’ projects where they need content expertise and practical insights.

I’ve often said that I believe that the technical publications team (or whatever other title it may go by) is the place in an organization where all the intellectual property comes together. No other group has the visibility into design, engineering, manufacturing, as well as customer usage and support.

I also believe that it should become the central network hub for those who need assistance with content. We should be the people who come to mind when someone else in the organization with a content problem says, “I know someone who can help with that.”

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