RE: Shazam! You're a marketing writer!

Subject: RE: Shazam! You're a marketing writer!
From: "Jerry Kindall" <j -dot- kindall -at- tecplot -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 7 May 2009 09:57:53 -0700

If you think of the word "marketing" as short for "engaging the market,"
as seems to be the modern conception, you'll find that virtually
everything a company does is actually marketing-related. From assesing
your company's distinctive competence, to determining your customer's
needs, to developing products, to selling them, to advertising them in
all its many forms, everything is focused on delivering value to the
market. The company I work for recently adopted the Pragmatic Marketing
Framework, which encompasses much more than you might expect.

As a "marketing writer" you will likely be focused on writing
advertising, PR, and sales collateral (white papers, case studies, and
the like) but you should also be able to make valuable contributions
earlier in the process, e.g. at the business case or product plan level,
where you can help clarify the message that the executive team is trying
to convey. Even if you're working at the end of the process, you have
an important advantage over most of the people who write such things:
you actually understand the technology you're selling. When I
contracted at a large software company nearby, my group used an outside
agency to write all its press releases, and without exception they were
not only full of buzzword-laden run-on sentences, but they were also
technically inaccurate, sometimes in major ways. This wasn't unique to
my group, either. I had idle visions of forming a "tiger team" of
technical writers who would swoop in just before a product launch to
review the press releases.

Writing press releases can be fun because they always contain quotes
from the company bigwigs. Well, you know that nobody ever actually said
those things, right? They are always written by the author of the press
release (and, usually, approved by the bigwigs, although sometimes not
even that). How often will you have a chance to put words in the CEO's
mouth? :-) If you do it well, you may even get a compliment for making
the "speaker" look good.

You may find that doing a stint writing this kind of material will
improve your product documentation, as well. For example, most
documentation has an overview section summarizing the product's
functions and features. If you approach this from a marketing
perspective, you will realize it is an opportunity to re-sell the
customer -- to reassure them it will meet their needs, that it is
flexible enough to grow with them, and so on.

One important thing you do need to be aware of when writing marketing
material is that certain statements in advertising can create liability
for the company. (You occasionally run into it with product
documentation, too, but it is MUCH more common in advertising.)
"FooBazzler 2000 will increase your revenue by 50%" is a promise, and if
the product doesn't deliver, the company can be liable. "FooBazzler
2000 helped XYZ Corp. increase its revenues by 50%" is good (you have
evidence and are not making a direct claim about the prospect's results,
and the word "help" means you are not claiming to be solely responsible
for them anyway). "FooBazzler 2000 can help you increase your revenue"
is good too -- "can help" are two words you will probably be using a lot
together. This kind of wording is often derisively referred to as
"weaseling," but it's simply a matter of being as persuasive as possible
without making claims you can't support. You just have to learn where
that line is, and to be comfortable with it.

Overall, I like doing the occasional bit of business writing or
advertising. It is a change of pace. It lets you let your hair down a
little, writing in a little more informal and lively voice and even
(depending on the company) injecting a bit of fun. And in many cases
you can make a substantial difference to the quality and accuracy of
your company's marketing.

Jerry Kindall, SDK Technical Writer
Tecplot, Inc. | Enjoy the View
Bellevue, Washington, USA

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