Re: [Re:] Writing vs. Marketing

Subject: Re: [Re:] Writing vs. Marketing
From: John Gear <catalyst -at- PACIFIER -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 1995 22:41:00 PDT

On writing vs. marketing, I wrote
>> I think I'm coming around to saying "It's technical communication if you see
>> your job as informing the audience so that they can make the best possible
>> decision for their needs. It's marketing communication when you consciously
>> let your needs and desires influence how you inform the audience."

Dan Azlin wrote:

>This begs the issue that all written communications have an editorial
>slant. If I am doing an article for a trade magazine that presents a
>technical topic, albeit from the point of view of one vendor's product, I
>am still engaging in "technical communication," despite the
>editorial/marketing slant.

>It also begs the issue of using "technical communications" for marketing
>purposes beyond the original intent of the project. Does the alternative
>use change the intrinsic nature of the project after the fact.

I guess I base my definition on the idea that not all communication about
things technical is automatically technical communication; that is, even
though a thing may be a product of technique or the use of technology, that
doesn't imbue all communication about that thing with some special aura that
makes it "technical communication."

For example, I think most people would not classify "Use the Speedex Whizzo
Wonder Whattsit, it's waaaay cool" as technical communication--but not
because the subject is not technical! I think it's not technical
communication because it doesn't equip the reader to make any intelligent
decisions or even comparisons between alternatives. The message is centered
on the desire of the communication sender (sell more stuff), not the
communication receiver (solve a problem or acquire information).

Now you might say "Well, add some specifications and then it'll be technical
communication" and more people would agree with you. I would not because I
see a distinction between technical communication and advertising which you
don't appear to share.

I then wrote:

>> (I'm attempting to recognize that we're all influenced by our own opinions
>> but that's a far different thing from conscious trimming your work because
>> you want the audience to make a certain decision.)

To which Dan responded:

>Isn't that what editors do every day?

Perhaps some do. Many editors feel that their job is just the opposite:
delivering the information with as little bias as humanly possible so that
the audience can make the best decision *using their own criteria* (rather
than the editor's--or the editor's boss'). Of course, these editors are
rarely themselves selling a product or editing for someone who is.

My last question was:

>> Another great question is what are the ethical implications of marketing
>> communication. It's quite possible to make a marketing piece appear to be
>> completely "technical" and unbiased--and yet be grossly slanted. Should we
>> even think of marketing communication as a subset of technical communication
>> ... or just a subset of advertising?

To which Dan wrote:

>Everything that a company makes and places in front of a customer -- even
>technical documentation -- serves a marketing/advertising purpose by
>contributing to the image of the company and it's products. There is a
>saying in sales: "It's easy to make the first sale, but it's harder to
>make the second and third if the customer isn't happy with the first."
>...or something like that. The point it, everything we produce
>contributes to the customer's perception of the quality of the product
>he/she has purchased. This is the justification for improving Quality,
>spending a little more effort to get the layout just right, editing a
>passage to improve its readability, ad infinitum. It's all advertising,
>and it's all a part of marketing.

Perhaps this is a cultural bias factor at work. This paragraph and many of
the posts on this thread suggest that many people only know of one
environment for technical communications: documenting manufactured goods for
that will be sold in some sort of market. But there are many, many
technical communicators who don't specialize in that constricting arena but
who instead (for just a sample):

-prepare reports for presentations for public policy makers
-prepare reports and presentations for the public
-write operating procedures (technical, emergency, or administrative)
-design and document quality assurance programs
-write textbooks, instructional materials and programs, tutorials etc.
-help researchers communicate their findings
-prepare research summaries
-document program and project plans and results
-prepare grant applications
-prepare research and funding proposals

Some of us even make money by performing and documenting comparisons of
products--many of which have voluminous "documentation" and product
literature already. I suggest that the need for such independent technical
communication (comparisons) about heavily documented goods shows that the
attitude of "It's all marketing and it's all advertising" only leads to a
world where most people place zero trust in most literature that accompanies
a product (or even a report in some instances).

This is a problem since the increasingly technologically complicated world
is more and more difficult for more and more people to understand. I'm
afraid that when we debase the currency in one application it doesn't snap
back in another--it stays debased.

One of the most effective (and consequently, most threatened) offices in
government is the Office of Technology Assessment, an arm of Congress that
is supposed to help the elected shysters understand the bewildering arrary
of technology that Congressional mandates affect. OTA reports are noted for
their clarity and utility by even supremely non-technical folks. Problem
is, people who will themselves say anything to get elected can't *stand* an
office like OTA that obtusely refuses to say what the paymasters want said
(they keep clinging to this apparently outmoded idea that it's *not* all

[The OTA is under particular budget cutting assault by the 104th Congress
because they refuse to write reports that say, for example, that Star Wars
will work. Perhaps if they just understood that "It's all marketing" they'd
know how to tailor their output to satisfy the customer and they'd be all set.]

If we, as technical communicators, subscribe only to the logic of the
marketplace and give up any distinction between technical communication and
marketing communication then our audience can only conclude that our product
is no more trustworthy than any other information you get at the bazaar . .
. which is to say, not at all.

John Gear (catalyst -at- pacifier -dot- com)

The Bill of Rights--The Original Contract with America
Accept no substitutes. Beware of imitations. Insist on the genuine articles.

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