By Alan J. Porter
This article has been reprinted from Intercom by the Society for Technical Communication. Originally published as I Know Someone Who Can Help With That, the article first appeared in Vol. 65, Issue 2, dated March/April 2018.
We are the Content Convergence. We are Customer Experience. We are the ones we seek.
It’s happening, whether we want it to or not, technical communications and marketing communications 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 chatbots, it's all going to need content designed 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 communications groups are managed in separate parts of an organization and have little visibility into, or influence on, what each other is doing. But the drive to deliver seamless, frictionless customer experiences is changing that as 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 last 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; but 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.
Now I’m 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 Communications, Marketing Communications, 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 as I alluded to in my introduction to this column, that is often more than one organization within an enterprise. Actually, 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-man consulting shop to a global mega-corporation employing hundreds of thousands of people, they all do the same five things.
They create something to fulfill a need, be it a product or a service.
They tell people about it.
They get people to buy it (hopefully).
They collect money for it; and,
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 communications), and to build ongoing relationships with the customers (customer experience); and allied with that are all the internal policies and procedures that make a business run. It’s all content.
That means that there are experts on different sorts of content spread all across an organization, and that in order 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 that I’ve used over the years that have ended up building great collaborative relationships:
Struggling with how to express or format a technical calculation? - Reach out to the guy in finance or pricing who's a whiz at Excel spreadsheets and manipulating numbers.
Can’t figure out 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 the guy 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 to your new friend in finance.
Become the person who can supply some subject matter expertise to the marketing manager struggling with a blog post.
Become the person who can help out the finance guy with the best way to develop a graphic for his next presentation.
Build your own personal healthy content organization, and you will start to get visibility and input into what is happening elsewhere; you may even get 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 group (or whatever other title it may go by) is the one place in an organization where all of its intellectual property comes together. No other group has the visibility into design, engineering, manufacturing, or 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 in mind when someone else in the organization with a content problem says, “I know someone who can help with that.”