Steven Owens writes:
> Well, some people have this attitude; I'd hazard a guess that
>They feel this way because there's so much slimy marketing product out
>there. I certainly don't feel this way, but I do recognize that the
>marketing industry places certain demands on writers, and that the
>type of writing they will require will have an overwhelming tendency
>to be of a certain style and content (see below).
As I look this thread over, I'm beginning to think our disagreements
lie in the differentiation of ethics, principles, and practice.
I still insist on my original statement about ethics--the standards
a marketing writer adheres to should be no lower than that of the
technical writer. That is, all statements (claims) made should be
be specific and truthful. In addition, they should be useful to the
reader/user. For marketing writing, this means the information should
help the reader decide whether Product A is the best choice for a given
application or not. For a technical piece, this means that the user
can accomplish the desired task. Although the purposes for the two
documents are different, the ethical considerations are *the same.*
That was my original point. As a sub-point, I might add that when the
distinctions between technically-oriented and marketing-oriented
materials get blurry (as in a user's manual that also boosts
complementary products), the writer's ethical concerns do not change--
the documentation should contain any and all information the user/
Principles, to me, are different: they're the guidelines for writing
effectively for a given purpose. They *will* differ in areas like
organization, voice, and necessary information. But the basic principles
(specifics are better than generalities, stay focused on the customer,
give the customers all the information they need) are the same.
And practice? Well, what I'm representing is the *ideal*--what well-
informed, skilled tech/marketing writers will consider and do.
Unfortunately there are a lot of writers (or writer wannabees) who
think taking shortcuts is the best way to do business. They don't
do the research to find out about their audience and how best to
reach that audience. (And this, again, is the main reason I keep
ranting on and on--I'm hoping that tech writers suddenly confronted
with the task of producing marketing materials or looking to make
their manuals serve both technical and marketing interests won't
consider it a necessary evil for which they must compromise their
standards or the customers' interests.)
>> If the marketing literature fails to fully inform the customer about
>> the product, then that literature is doing a disservice to both the
>> customer and the product, especially since the misled customer will
>> probably return the purchase.
> Bets? For commercial scale software, much of which is aimed
>at businesses, this won't happen. Unless the customer has been
>outright lied to, and the product doesn't at all do what was promised,
>the people responsible for ordering the software now have a vested
>interest in NOT returning it, which would be admitting a mistake.
>Stupid? Yes. Unfortunately it happens all to often.
You may be right in the software market. But I'm looking at the bigger
picture. Talk to any hardware manufacturer or catalog company and
they can show you just how much returns classified as "incorrect
information before purchase" costs them.
Also, there's another marketing principle involved: every dissatisfied
customer tells 21 other people about that dissatisfaction. That bad
marketing writer just cost the product one repeat sale and 21 repeat
customers. So the well-informed writer knows that bad writing is bad
> However, I definitely don't agree that marketing principles
>apply while writing user manuals. The two kinds of documents have very
>different goals. And while I agree that marketing writing that is
>specific and informative is what works best for me, for some reason
>the marketing field doesn't seem to see it that way.
Again, the *misinformed* marketing field. The research is out there--
it's collected every day by marketing companies. They have the
numbers to back up what I'm "preaching."
>> And I'd argue that writing informatively *is* the best way to write
>> persuasively. The difference is in the style of writing, not the
>> actual content.
> I'd argue that "style" and "content" are not nearly detailed
>enough to describe the differences between the two. The content most
>definitely does change, as well as the writing style. You introduce
>different elements at different points, underplay some elements, focus
>on other elements, and flat out leave some of them out.
You're right--the content *does* change, because what a customer needs
to know to make a purchasing decision is usually not as detailed as what
the user needs to know to actually use the product. In some cases,
however, the customer *may* need very detailed information to make
the correct decision. In that case, the distinction between technical
and marketing writing is very blurred. It would certainly be a mistake
to leave key information out in order to make a sale.
>>> Yes, technical writing and marketing have some things in common, but
>>> they have a lot that's not in common.
>>> Technical writing -> Understand how to use the Product.
>>> Marketing writing -> Understand how you can benefit from the Product.
>> Hmmm. I'd amend this to say that technical writing's end is not only
>> to tell you *how* to use the product, but in some cases (depending on
>> the audience) *why* you want to use the product.
> Very audience dependent. How many computer users need to know
>why you use a word processor? They need to know how to use THIS word
>processor, and if you want to make a case for why this one instead of
>that one, your best bet is simply to show them what this word
>processor can do and how to do it, and let its features and
>ease-of-use speak for themselves.
> This where the "understand the product" stage, common to both
technical and marketing writing, comes in. Frankly, I'm not going to waste
your time trying to sell you a product you've already bought. I'm going to
use every precious moment to make you happy about buying the product - by
showing you how to get the most out of it. Yes, if I write a manual about
backup software (which I did, recently), I'll include a section explaining
different techniques you can implement with the software (which I did), and
the merits and deficits in each technique. But I'm going to do it in clear,
>simple language, with an eye towards informing, rather than selling.
Now you're looking at a bigger picture than I was. Your "marketing"
task with a word processor someone's already purchased isn't to convince
them that word processing is great or that your word processor is
better than any other. My understanding is that the average word
processor uses maybe 1/3 of the features available from the software.
Why? They glanced at the manual and decided there wasn't any incentive
to learn the new features, even though the new indexing function can
save them time, or the new shortcut macros can address envelopes with
the touch of a single button. The "marketing" task in a user's manual
is to show the reader/user that these wonderful features are there
to make their tasks easier, not just make the program more "robust."
I think writers way too often overestimate the average person's ability
to visualize how a specific feature will benefit them. Features don't
"speak for themselves." They just lay there until somebody uses them,
and then they're benefits.
And don't forget--someone's likely to pick up that user's manual and
browse through it, wondering if this is the word processor they'd
like to use.
>>Well, if I were marketing a product, I'd lead with a benefit and then go
>>on to the explanation. Is that what you mean? I'd never list an
>>unexplained benefit--why should anyone believe me?
> Oddly enough, a lot of marketing literature does just that.
>Don't ask me to explain why. It's hard to know why in hell I should
I'll tell you why--it's BAD writing. And you, the skilled technical
writer, recognized that, and would probably do a much better job.
>> And again, I say that's a sign of BAD marketing writing that fails to
>> reach its audience. [...] That's why a good tech writer familiar with
>> both the product and the intended audience can do a better job.
> I have no doubt that a good tech writer can do a better job of
>selling a product, but that's not what marketing writing in the
>current market is - and I suspect the average tech writer asked to do
>marketing writing probably won't get a chance to change that.
But the writer can successfully defend the approach--at least then
there's a *chance* a poorly-conceived marketing approach can be
changed for the better.
>> I agree with your analysis of the technical writer's goal. But the
>> goal of the *marketing* writer is not to shape the reader's goal, but
>> to convince the reader that the best way for the reader to reach the
>> goals he/she already has is to use that product.
> The problem is, there are some very general goals that will
>always be targeted by marketing - how can I make my business run
>stronger/faster/ smarter/cheaper/better? And the marketing writing is
>always going to try to shape the reader's goal, to tell him that THIS
>is the question that you need to answer, and WE have that answer.
>Create a perception of need and provide the product to fill that need.
>Very seldom (although it does happen, and its usually very successful)
>does marketing simply try to convey something about the product and/or
>the company, like "reliable" or "trustworthy" or "inexpensive."
Hmmm. Idon't know whether I'd argue this one or not. You're talking
about hard sell tactics, where I'm also talking about gentle nudging
that can make a customer more eager to try out a feature on the
software, or cross-sell a product that the user will find useful. But I
guess I have to include the hard-sell, and agree with you, but with
>>> Despite any fluff about "You can feel good about what you're doing
>>> because your product really is high quality and it's in the reader's
>>> best interest to purchase it", it boils down to the marketing writer
>>> trying to influence the reader's decision, and the technical writer
>>> trying to facilitate the reader's decision.
>> If I told you to buy gloves for the winter instead of mittens because
>> gloves let you use all of your fingers to tie your shoes, have I
>> influenced your decision or facilitated it?
> I don't think your example applies. I'd say (with no
>statistical data other than my own observation) that the majority of
>marketing writing is not "Buy gloves instead of mittens" but "buy OUR
>gloves instead of those gloves" or "You need to buy a new pair of OUR
>gloves to replace your old pair of gloves".
Once again, it's a matter of focus. Were you seeking a device to warm
your hands, or did you want to know which gloves to buy? If the former,
I probably gave you enough information. If the latter, than I haven't
given you enough information to facilitate or influence your decision.
On the issue of creating a need where there is none, I think that's
hard to do without exaggerated hyperbole. Still, we do see enough
of it every day to warrant an examination of the products we're
explaining/selling. Do they really fulfill a need, or are we hoping
they'll create a need? A sticky question. Hopefully, though, an
informed customer knows the difference between true needs and hyperbole.
>> There's a clothing store in Pittsburgh called Sym's, whose motto is
>> "the informed consumer is our best customer." I can't say it any
>> better than that.
> Actually, I think it's "At Sim's, an educated consumer is our
>best customer." You used to go to the Univ. of Pittsburgh, didn't
>you? How is your first name pronounced? Is the e silent?
Now I can *really* say you're right. That's Sym's motto, all right. I
did think my operatives had disposed of everyone who could identify me
as a Pitt grad, though. Do we know each other? And yes, the "e" is
silent. Other than that, it's pronounced like it's spelled.
Anatole Wilson If anyone objects to any
Sr. Assoc. Information Developer statement I make, I am
IBM, Santa Teresa Labs quite prepared not only
awilson -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com to retract it, but to
deny under oath that I
all company disclaimers apply ever made it.
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