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Why Being A Technical Writer Has Made Me A Better Marketer

This week we are featuring a post by Kathy Palokoff, a colleague who has extensive experience in business management, communications, and marketing. Kathy has founded several of her own companies and has actively helped other organizations reestablish their branding and marketing. With a background in technical communications, Kathy is able to bring a unique view to her marketing career. We asked Kathy to share her insight on how technical writing shaped her into an expert marketer.

I have always liked making complex simple with worbroken_link_kathy_palokoff_technical_communications.jpgds and visuals. That's why technical communications had such appeal to me, and why I did my doctoral work in that discipline at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  

After working as a technical writer (or information developer, which was what IBM called us), I had an interview at Saatchi & Saatchi that resulted in an instant hire because they needed someone who could translate engineering and science.  

While my true love affair is marketing and branding, training as a technical communicator has definitely been a big influence.  Here's two ways that it has made me a better marketer. 

Fixing a Broken Link.  Technical writers fix the broken link between creators and the end users.  Usually, it's a matter of explaining things better.  Sometimes, it's using principles of instructional design to train differently. Occassionally, the broken link is because the product or service itself is broken. Then the technical writer becomes a usability specialist, often providing important recommendations that make what a company is trying to sell, actually sellable.

Unfortunately, too often technical writers are the flea on the tail of the dog.  This makes it extremely difficult to fix broken links. I admire leaders in technical communications like Marilyn Woelk and Amy Castronova and her company, Novatek Communications, who understand that clarity and creativity thrive when technical communicators are included early on in the process.

The same is true about marketing.  When marketers are invited to the table as early as possible, they often can help shape a product and service in compelling ways so that the communications does not need to work so hard.  Additionally,  even if they come in later,  great marketers who start with strategy -- the "why" before the "how" -- fix the broken link between buyer and seller.  They can turn a "want" into a "need."

Behavior Change.  Technical writers change behavior by clearly explaining processes, products and services so people can take action. Content strategist Mark Baker says: 

Marketing communication is intended to change buying behavior. Political communication is intended to change voting behavior. Technical communication is intended to change use behavior when using a product. 

Recently,  Carrie Riby,  the very insightful strategic planning director at Butler/Till  led a lively discussion with account planners brought together by another very insightful strategic planner, John Roberts from Truth Collective. 

We talked about the work of consumer psychologist, Adam Ferrier,  who wrote The Advertising Effect: How to Change Behavior.  Carrie's copy was seriously dog-eared. 

We can influence others, and change their behaviour, if: a) they are motivated to do what we are asking them to do; and b) what we are asking them to do is relatively easy.

One of the best examples we dissected is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  Take a look at the amazing results that were recently released. Motivation and Easy = Breakthrough.

Another point – Good technical writers, like good marketers, do not dumb it down.  They have too much respect for their audiences. What they do both do is make it easy for them to take action. Simplicity is not stupidity.

At the end of the day, our shared motivation is about giving our clients or organizations a competitive advantage.  And the way we do it best is by creating clear and engaging communications that make the end user feel good about the product or service they will or have purchased.   

Remarkably simple.  Remarkably hard.

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Topics: technical writing, Business productivity