It's pretty easy to distinguish the marketing content from the technical content on most websites. On the one hand, you’ve got the attractive, personalized home page with clear calls to action (marketing content). On the other, you've got PDF downloads with pages of fine print instructions (technical content).
“You go the marketing website and see this beautiful, nicely-designed responsive website and it conforms to everything that you would expect from a strong customer experience,” said Dustin Vaughn, solutions consulting manager for Adobe. “But then over at the very end on the right-hand side, there’s a button that says ‘support,’ and if you click on that oftentimes you’re launching this website that looks like it was created by a college student in 1997.”
You Need Content Alignment
Vaughn and others said organizations can no longer get away with such misaligned content strategy and delivery on their websites. After all, an aligned content strategy (supported by both marketers and technical writers) only helps deliver seamless customer experiences.
According to a LinkedIn and Content Marketing Institute report (registration required), 75 percent of highly-aligned organizations have a documented content strategy, while just 41 percent of the low-aligned have such a strategy. Aligned content strategy means a consistent user experience navigating between content models. Technical content developers working with marketing content creators can also gain access to content analytics, something traditionally only marketers have accessed.
So how can organizations align marketing content with technical content, and why is this alignment so important to delivering strong customer experiences? Let's start by defining the different content assets.
What Is Marketing Content?
Marketing content in this context does not mean content marketing, although the two go hand-in-hand. Gartner research director Kirsten Newbold-Knipp defines marketing content as content assets created by marketing teams. Examples can include advertising, PR, product specifications, pricing, company information, sales enablement material and content marketing assets. They are managed, naturally, by marketers.
Content marketing is more about the execution of those content assets, or, as Newbold-Knipp describes it, creating the content and “distributing it through media platforms to tell stories that engage and nurture customers, prospects and other audiences.”
What Is Technical Content?
Technical content includes things like product how-tos, installation manuals, and step-by-step implementation guides. Marketing content are assets that tell you “why” you should buy a product. Technical content tells you "how" to use that product and is usually created by engineers and technical-product experts.
So how can you align the two?
Consider Technology Integrations
On the technological side, it’s hard to align marketing and technical content if the two are created in different systems, which is often the case. Marketers typically use a content management system while technical teams may be relying on Excel, Word, their own homegrown CMS or something like SharePoint.
“You’ve got different folks that are tasked with different things,” Adobe's Vaughn said. “So they have to create content in the tools that make sense for them. And so the marketers are using typically one set of tools and on the other side, you've got the technology folks using what is typically a very different set of tools.” Organizations should drive toward a common content data model1 and common understanding where you can easily exchange content, Vaughn said.
Break Down Content Silos
Technical writer Doug Moran said engineering, sales and marketing are often siloed and live in their own reporting structure in the company. “As a result, engineering designs the product they think customers want, sales folks sell the customer what they think the customer is asking for, and marketing markets the product they think engineering is designing. A mess.” And you can tell when this “mess” carries over onto websites: it's obvious when engineers probably never talked to the marketing people, Moran said. Your organization should keep engineers appraised of what marketing is doing, and marketing appraised of what engineering is doing. It will lead to closer alignment between design and marketing. These close interactions ensure the information marketing shares is technically correct and the information engineers produce aligns with marketing's customer experience goals.
Conform Technical Content to Marketing Style
Vaughn suggested technical content should more closely resemble marketing content: bite-sized chunks that are easily searchable and seamless to navigate. The bite-sized chunks of information should be easy to find. You don’t want to have your visitors looking for a specific product part and have your search tool yield 4,000 results, Vaughn said.
Aligning the technical content to marketing style serves another purpose: it smooths the transition from the one side to the other, adding to the seamless experience customers have come to expect from brand websites.
Bring Analytics to Technical Content
Marketers analyze content performance all the time. Why can't technical writers? Vaughn cited a visit he made to an organization that was grappling with disparate marketing and technical content. He learned the marketing department was deep in its content analytics program while its technical content teams did no such thing. “We would love to have that,” the team told Vaughn.
“It can certainly tell you things like the number of people who accessed your content,” Vaughn said. When technical teams can show analytics on their content efforts that can open the door to more executive support. “It’s those pieces of analytics and data showing that you're providing business value that all of a sudden moves the needle,” Vaughn said.
Get the Right People Leading Charge
Who should lead the effort between aligning marketing content and technical content? Is it the marketers or the technicians? It very much depends on the organization, according to Moran. He called some companies “development-driven,” and others “marketing driven.”
He called for organizations to designate a senior person, preferably one who has some success with producing both technical and marketing information. “This person also needs to have the active backing of whichever faction is driving development,” he said. In an engineering-driven environment, that means an engineering director or even VP. In a marketing-driven environment, a marketing director or VP. “Having backing from both would be best," Moran added, "but I’ve personally never seen it."