Fast 5 Replay: Content Convergence & Unifying Documentation, Support, Marketing, Sales & KM

“Content Convergence” continues as a hot topic across many sectors, with business communicators challenged to understand, navigate and thrive across often choppy waters. TechWhirl’s Al Martine and I recently sat down for a Fast 5 chat with Erika Konrad, Senior Lecturer at Northern Arizona University, and Karen Field Carroll of ClearPoint Technical Communications about content convergence and its impacts on technical content creators. Here’s summary of the conversation.

The concept of the convergence of content has been around for a few years now. How would you define it?

Erika thinks of content convergence as a merger or integration of different types of content, such as marketing, training, end user support. She doesn’t believe the exact same content can necessarily be used across different sectors, but they do have commonalities.

I like to think of content convergence in terms of both content types and processes. Many writers these days are writing for multiple audiences and purposes but the processes can vary widely within the same organization. Al looks at convergence in buyer’s journey terms, which has evolved tremendously in the last few years. Lauren Hintz offers a concise definition on Hubspot. “The buyer’s journey is the process buyers go through to become aware of, consider and evaluate, and decide to purchase a new product or service.” To Al, it’s about providing a lot more information earlier in their buying journey to confirm that the product will solve a problem.

What impacts does content convergence have on content creators in various disciplines, like technical writers and marketers? Why convergence accelerating now? Why has it taken so long to get to this stage?

Karen’s perspective is that of the skeptic regarding convergence, because she believes in particular that marketing content and technical content have quite different purposes. Marketing writers are “company advocates” while technical writers are more “user advocates.”

Karen and Connie strongly agree that the healthiest corporate cultures make collaboration key and focus all their efforts on the customer. Convergence is happening all along the buyer journey, and this process may increase the value of technical content to marketing, Erika points out.

Are there specific business or cultural factors driving convergence now that didn’t exist five or ten years ago?

Technology has driven much of the change and its recent acceleration, according to Erika. But she also sees economic factors as important. Companies’ resources are being spent on content, and customers are less concerned about before/after sale, than making sure the product fits the need, before they make a purchase.

Al points out that other organizational factors are also evolving. More managers are now comfortable with internet and other digital technologies. But at the same time new technology (think Artificial Intelligence or chat bots) is impacting downstream activities, such as a poor support experience, when the technician and the customer are not accessing the same content.

What should authors today do to cope with the changes and prepare for the future? What tools are out there to help?

Identifying personality traits can be important to preparing to tackle content convergence according to Karen. She finds that many marketing-focused content writers have “outsized” personalities, while technical writers are more subdued. Thus, the technical writers can learn a lot from marketing content, while remaining firm on boundaries such as “Don’t allow marketing language in user support content.”

I find that all writers, no matter what their specialty, need to take a more holistic view of content around the products and services. Understanding that not all content is appropriate to all purposes and audiences, but why certain types of content are produced, and understand that some efficiencies can be gained that benefit all areas.

After Erika shared her enjoyable experience coming up with a marketing slogan, I returned to an argument that I’ve made for years on the discussion list. In the end it’s all marketing, because if the marketing folks can’t sell the product, the technical writing folks have nothing to support. And Al’s advice is to be realistic about where each team stands in the organization, and be prepared to focus more on the bottom line. Tech Comm teams are not likely to take over all the communications functions, and marketing might push tech comm around, but rest assured, sales is pushing marketing around, and the CFO is pushing sales around.

Tools that support standards such as DITA are helpful in producing content across devices and contexts. Erika reminded us that not all tools are suitable for all situations, including DITA. I think the tools questions are more than just battles between the major vendors. When you’re a small company or team, without the ability to spend many dollars on those flashy tools, you should look at  the tools you already have and what they’re really capable of doing.

What does nirvana look like for content convergence and what’s needed to happen? (People, Processes and Technology)

For Erika, nirvana would be the opportunity to have content reusable in an easy, seamless way, that doesn’t require hours and hours of training, and can read her mind. More importantly, Erika’s nirvana includes sharing between other teams, such as support teams.

A healthy, mutual respect for what each team does and the ability to play to her own strengths represents nirvana for Karen.

For Al, organizational design that addresses all the communication needs, from brand and marketing and sales to technical docs and support would be nirvana. He also believes that software vendors would be able to continue to innovate and recognize the proper roles for actual human beings and technology.

I have two nirvana perspectives… as an expert covering the field, all the confusion, debate and evolution of technology keeps me busy. In the content / knowledge creation role, nirvana is a combination of all these other perspectives: mutual respect, smart design of communications functions, and a focus on the customer. Combining these three perspectives can create a nirvana where we all can excel.

Sharing various perspectives on topics like content convergence improves our understanding and gives us opportunities to advance the profession. We’re fortunate to be able to chat with academics and professionals such as Erika and Karen through the partnership of organizations such as Northern Arizona University. Learn more about NAU’s graduate program in business technical writing.

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