As with siblings in real life where squabbling and rivalries sometimes mark the relationship, it's only a matter of a few years since the relationship between marketing and technical writing was characterized more by boundary disputes than brotherly love. However, the relationship has undoubtedly taken a turn for the better in recent years. What's brought about this change and how can working more closely with marketing help your technical writing team?
To understand where conflict between technical writing and marketing may arise, we need to look more closely at their common task. In doing so, some clear differences will become apparent. First and foremost is the timing of communication. Marketing is directed at customers before they make a purchase; technical documentation following the purchase. For a long time, the widely held position among marketing professionals was that, once the product had been sold, they no longer needed to concern themselves with the customer. Communication following a purchase was not considered to be necessary, since the job of marketing had been done. It was only with the advent of post-sales marketing and customer relationship management that the focus turned to building more enduring relationships with customers. This meant that marketing came to have an interest in precisely that stage of the customer relationship in which technical writing is involved.
Differences in the intent behind communication
A second difference can be seen in the intent behind communication for both marketing and technical writing. Marketing sets out to persuade and to highlight the benefits of a product. By contrast, technical writing instructs users in the proper use of the product and how to avoid damaging the product. From the marketing point of view, this can easily be seen as doing the product down. While, to technical writers, marketing texts sometimes appear superficial and imprecise.
One final difference relates to how embedded the two disciplines are in the organization. Technical writing only emerged as an independent entity within companies at the end of the 20th century. Until then, the different areas of the business would be responsible for the job of producing technical documentation. Its relatively late establishment as a separate discipline within organizations often meant that there was less strategic focus on the technical writing team than on the well-positioned and well-funded area of marketing. However, these days this distinction has largely disappeared and the two departments each have their own role and position within organizations.
Benefit for both sides
Once the differences between the unequal siblings of marketing and technical writing are exposed, it quickly becomes apparent how the two departments can complement one another. Technical documentation is strong on post-sales communication; in fact, it is often the only channel by which the business will continue to have regular contact with its customers. For this reason if no other, marketing should include technical documentation in its post-sales strategy. Not just because it represents an established (albeit sometimes overlooked) channel of communication, but also because content produced by the technical writing team is highly search engine-relevant. The content has a high keyword density (even without any effort at SEO optimization), and many other characteristics that push it up Google rankings. Documentation content often outperforms marketing content by a mile, including in quantitative terms. It can be seen that many businesses significantly increase traffic to their website simply because they systematically make all their product information available online.
The technical writing team in its turn benefits from marketing know how when it comes to using digital channels. Many marketing departments have a big advantage in terms of expert knowledge in this area that could also benefit technical documentation. A further benefit is that marketing experts understand how to present products attractively and communicate to the widest possible public. This understanding can even assist in the production of instructions – whether in terms of design or in the use of new communication platforms.
Last but not least, the common task of the two siblings – marketing and technical writing – is made easier if they approach it jointly. For example by sharing resources – such as software systems that would be overdesigned for one of the departments on its own – in order to make budgets go further. Jobs like terminology management that already fall to technical writing also serve to promote the corporate wording used by marketing. Similarly, a wealth of translated documentation originating from technical writing can be leveraged to boost the company's presence in regional markets.
Just as it often does for siblings, the relationship between technical writing and marketing has changed over time and, with growing maturity, the two have been able to put their differences behind them so that each can use the strengths of the other to good effect.