Re: (long) Marketing and document design

Subject: Re: (long) Marketing and document design
From: Thom Randolph <thom -at- HALCYON -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 2 May 1999 11:26:54 -0700

At 12:06 PM 5/2/99 +0100, you wrote:
>In message , Thom Randolph <thom -at- HALCYON -dot- COM> writes
>>At 11:41 AM 5/1/99 +0100, you wrote:
>>>"In this way, document design is different from advertising in that
>>>advertising focusses on writing and visualising in order to promote the
>>>goals and values of organisations rather than to promote the goals and
>>>values of readers."
>>>K A Shriver; Dynamics in Document Design, p11
>>I disagree here. Having been one of those dreaded Marketing Types,
>>and now a Technical Writer, I believe the design of the document
>>is definitely just as much part of the corporate "image" and product
>>positioning as any advertisement.
>This is not necessarily a contradiction with Shriver's statement. If you
>produce documents that help the customer will that not reflect well on

I take it the second "you" above is really "the company". You are
correct. My assertion was the use of the word "rather" implied
that when customer needs are not in alignment with company needs,
he was suggesting that as technical writers we should instead focus
on customer needs.

>What happens if the image you wish the customer to perceive contradicts
>the image the customer holds? You will end up alienating the customer
>which is surely poor marketing. If you reinforce the customers values
>this would not be so (we are talking about people who have already
>parted with their hard earned Euros so they must have succumbed to the
>outright marketing to begin with).

That is what good Marketing is all about. Educating the customer
about your product in order to demonstrate it's benefits, and thus
create increased demand for the product. Documentation serves
exactly that purpose. If the image the customer perceives is so
at odds with the purpose/perception of the product, then either
the customer is not really in the target market, or your company
needs to so some SERIOUS public relations missionary work.

Clearly it is important that all the material a company publishes
not offend the intended audience. However, "reinforcing the customers'
values" is confusing to me. Surely hate-mongers buy lawn mowers as
much as the rest of the population, but I wouldn't exclude a picture
of a minority from the advertising or documentation simply because
that segment of the market wants their misguided "values" reinforced.
Indeed, if the market for the product had a large component of
minority, I might even go out of my way to ensure they WERE shown
as happy, healthy, empowered users of my product.

The job of increasing demand for a product has two sides. First,
Marketing wants to bring customers that can be satisfied by the
product. But, many times it is equally important to make sure that
customers who are not going to be satisfied by the product know
that before they purchase a product they will become unhappy with.

Ensuring that customer expectations of a product match reality is
part of Marketing's job. If the customer expectation is slightly
lower than what they get for their money, you will have delighted
customers. If expectations are above what the product delivers, then
the customer is disappointed. For example, it would be unwise to try
to attract professional architects to purchase a $10 home floor
planning "toy". The return rate and support costs would eat up
any possibility of return on the investment. So, you target your
advertising and the documentation to that home user, not the
architect. If your company offers a range of products, and you got
better profit margins on the higher-priced products, I would certainly
consider using better documentation as one of the "features" of the
more profitable products. While the low-end users might have very
much the same information needs, I would be inclined to only briefly
cover the topics that might receive much more attention in the "pro"
version. So, in this case the company goals might win out over the
needs of the low-end customer.

>Exactly. You are, I feel, arguing for not against Shriver here.

Yes and no. My contention was not that writers should ignore the
needs of the reader. Instead, I feel that both the needs of the
reader AND the needs of the company should be considered. And
indeed, if a company is trying to shift a product from one market
segment to another, it may actually be trying to open up the
market to different types of customers. If the documentation
only deals with the original set of users, then you will have a
much harder time attracting that new class of user. So, Marketing
has a big role in directing the documentation to serve that new

Again, I'm not saying to ignore the customer. I never would. But,
the intended image, the feel of the company, the styling of their
communications and their intended audience should seamlessly project
a unified portrait of the company.

>A question. Do you advocate including overt advertising material within
>manuals? I would guess that you do not; so how far do you go with your
>'marketing hat' on when documenting products? Is it the feel of the
>paper, inclusion of particular types of illustrations...?

It depends. Introductory material very often should envelope the
product positioning statement, so that readers will understand
who the product was designed for, and for whom the documentation
is intended. I've seen people get in a lot of hot water when they
didn't talk to Marketing to get a clear picture of to whom and how
the product was being sold.

Blatant advertisements for related products are very often placed
at the end of books, and that is likely a very productive and cost-
effective advertising medium. It's called cross-selling. Even
Web sites are doing it now, with those "people who bought book X
have also purchased titles by Y" messages. In the text of a book,
if there were a "pro" version available and an upgrade path, I
might even mention it to the user. You know those manuals that
include the features of more than one product? They don't just
save printing costs. They also drive the adoption of the upgrades,
since customers can see exactly what they're missing. You and I,
however, might find such manuals cluttered and confusing.

When I'm writing, I watch out for those places in my documentation
that are perception-based versus fact-based. Certainly procedures
are much more fact-based. But, in descriptions of what some feature
is intended for, or the kinds of applications the product is
designed for, or the audience type, I definitely look to Marketing
to help me decide who I'm talking to.

If a company has a defined "image", and the feel of the paper is
important to that image, then yes I would try to stay in line
with it. If a company is recognized for a particular style of
illustration or cover art, then by all means I would try to make
the documentation a seamless part of that image.

Average magazine ad face-time is about two seconds. If you can't
grab them by then, they've gone. If you do grab them, almost no one
will spend more than a minute reading an advertisement. But, we
all know that users refer to manuals over and over and over, often
spending HOURS reading them during the product lifetime. So, if
you're trying to cultivate an image in the mind of the customer,
manuals offer a much more effective way of ingraining that image
into their minds.

Also, if a company is trying to change it's image, say from and
old-money uptight Corporation, to a new, hip, free-wheeling Group,
then overhauling the documentation and products to the new look
is often a worthwhile effort. It gives the customer the feeling
that this company make over goes further than just the advertising

>I pose this question as I am (can you tell?) ignorant about marketing in
>general and particular and would like to know where people draw the line
>between the customers and the organisations goals.

I don't draw such a line. Successful companies are careful to VERY
closely plan, test, build and monitor their products' market focus
and their level of success in those markets.

Marketing strategy is built on gaining and keeping market share
and mind share. Tailoring the WHOLE product, including the
documentation, to the intended market and to the image of the
company as a player in that market is very important to the success
of the product and the company.

There are of course, areas where I am adamant about defending the
interests of the customer. Obvious flaws in the product, and anything
that could get the company sued is of paramount importance to me.
But again, if I protect my readers from a dangerous product, doesn't
that also protect the company? Well, here in the US it usually does.

And don't worry about being in the dark about Marketing: it takes
very little time to learn, but a lifetime to master. And no, I am
no master.


Thom Randolph
thom -at- halcyon -dot- com

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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