Marketing and Tech-writing: The Twain Shall Meet [Feb. 2018 Meeting Recap]

Are tech-writing and marketing doomed to forever mix about as fluidly as, well, oil and water? If you were at the East Bay STC’s Feb. 1 dinner get-together, you heard a technical-marketing guru provide a more harmonious perspective.

Our presenter, Floyd Earl Smith, works at NGINX (pronounced “engine-x”) and bears the title Director of Content Marketing, which he comes to after gigs as a senior tech-writer at Apple, Google, Visa and AltaVista.

Floyd’s company sells highly technical software tools for running Internet services, so when sysadmins and web architects come looking for information about the NGINX product line, they need to see more than light patter and simplistic claims.

What they’re looking for is a deep understanding of how NGINX performs as a web server, load balancer, content cache, firewall, and performance monitor and analysis tool, among other critical pieces of Internet operations. That means NGINX can’t afford to silo the marketing information and technical information about its products. And Floyd suggests that tech-writers would do well to recognize that part of what we do supports marketing–whether we like it or not.

Floyd drilled down on this a bit by distinguishing the B2B (business-to-business) sales process from the more familiar B2C (business-to-consumer) marketing. In a B2B situation, as with marketing NGINX’s tools, a vendor generally has fewer potential buyers coming through the door but with higher potential dollar amounts, so it becomes more practical–and more important–to communicate with individual customers. And at NGINX, an important part of the communication is putting accurate, complete technical information on customer-facing pages, which potential customers use to vet marketing claims. But Floyd emphasized that making technical information available in the marketing or pre-sales stage of the process does not mean including marketing information in technical documents. In fact–tech-writers will like this–Floyd resists efforts at his company to modify technical documents for search-engine optimization purposes, because it interferes with the writers’ ability to write clearly and distorts the final product.

But he also points out that as tech-writers we have an obligation to understand how our companies’ marketing departments look at the technical sales process. To educate East Bay STC members on the sales process, Floyd’s presentation featured several versions of the “sales funnel,” a marketing view of the stages every deal passes through. Here’s one version of the funnel:

Floyd Earl Smith’s presentation, 2/1/18

You can flip through the whole presentation at this link.

Floyd summarized his philosophy as a tech-docs/marketing crossover for us in several concise guidelines:

  • Consistency in tech docs has better SEO results than modifying your docs to chase some mythical SEO keyword or phrase.
  • Putting technical documents on customer-facing pages is a simple, honest way to bump your page views and raise your visibility in search engines.
  • Companies need to operate with enlightened self-interest wherein marketing departments support tech-docs departments, because what we tech-writers produce is what clinches a technical sale and brings repeat customers.
  • Marketing departments in a technical environment should start with their tech-writers’ documents as the basis for marketing information–not the other way around.
  • Tech-writers should understand the usefulness of some marketing practices, such as telling readers why they need to know a particular bit of information.

What Floyd is promoting, in sum, is for marketing and tech-docs to incorporate the best of each others’ worldviews and practices. The result of doing so will be to make it easier for potential customers to buy in to your company’s product line.