The Great Debate: It’s All Marketing Communication

Technical Communication and Marketing Communication professionals often seem to be at odds with each other in providing content about the products and services offered by organizations. At TechWhirl we want to explore how technical communication and marketing communication intersect, overlap, merge, or compete. So we asked our resident expert,  Alissa Martine, to answer five simple (well, maybe not simple) questions on the role and essential value of marketing communications to a business.

How and why is the customer key to what practitioners do in marketing communication?

Without customers you have no business.  It is that simple. A business needs customers and marketers need customers. Marketers are the life blood of the business and the success or failure.We can create marketing communication material across all the various communication channels imagined – talk about what the product is who should purchase your product, why they should purchase/use it, when it will be beneficial in their life and how they can obtain it and use it. However, if there is no customer to talk to and benefit from the product, it is a waste.Customers are always changing, and as marketers, we need to be able to adapt how the business communicates across all touch points.  There are so many different influences within a single purchasing decision including but not limited to:

  • past purchasing behavior
  • location in their life stage
  • demographics and psychographics
  • economic conditions
  • and the list goes on and on.

Should the world suddenly have no electricity, the way we produce, sell and market our product drastically changes. And the way the customer lives their life including what and how they make purchasing decisions radically alters.

Marketers must be able to understand and respond to our customer’s changing needs and environment in an instance. We are the only ones who can truly influence every touch point across the business.

How do marketing communication practitioners play a role in product development?

Product development is the set of activities beginning with the perception of a market opportunity and ending in the production, sale, and delivery of a product.[1]

Marketing is essential in product development.  Marketers are heavily involved and in many cases manage the Market Research. An in-depth or quick and dirty (it depends upon time and budget) piece of market research easily determines the current and future customer needs.

Product development is designing and developing a product that responds to and satisfies current and future customer needs. While it is best to separate Product Development and Marketing departments either department cannot be ignored.  Product Development takes the idea for a product and Marketing helps them craft it along the process.

Marketers understand customers and can imagine (and test) products to ensure they deliver upon the current/future need. That includes the information necessary to help the customer use the product such as instruction manuals or labeling.  Marketers can take what the Product Development team and engineers build and  ranslate it into a language the customer understands and responds to.  We are responsible for both the message and the tone of voice that flows through every piece of communication. Consistency in communication is king.

How and why is product knowledge (features, benefits, usage, etc.) critical to marketing communication?

Understanding the product and how the customer is going to use it underlies how Marketers market the product.  If you don’t understand the customer nor the product and all its aspects then you are not successfully able to do your job.Remember, Marketers are critical to the product development phase.  They analyze and determine the correct price points, what features are likely to be used, how to frame the product’s benefits to the customers, and how the product integrate to the customers’ lifestyles.During product development, Marketing typically creates a customer profile including a “A day in the life of” document.  This piece outlines in how the product would integrate into a typical customer’s day, and Marketing creates one for each key customer group.  Thus allowing Marketers (and everyone else) to truly understand what needs to be communicated to through customer through their purchasing lifecycle.When launching a new product and determining the various communication pieces that will help drive the customer through AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action), a Marketer must have significant product knowledge. Know what to say and when to say it.

What are the requirements in creating effective marketing communication content?

An effective and efficient piece marketing communication content delivers the right message to the right people at the right time.Many questions need to be answered before producing marketing content.  As the Marketer, you need to understand if the contact with the consumer will take place pre or post sale.  What channels will be used to communicate the content? Website, TV, print, direct mail, social media, or through an online conversation with your support staff? Do you want to provide information or elicit an action?Every answer changes how the content is developed.Content in the most frequently used channel, online, should be easy to understand, short and to the point, such as well-written FAQs. Online content must be visible or easily navigated. Otherwise, you frustrate the customer, and they won’t like or use your product as much.  Marketers creating printed material can afford to be a little bit lengthier as long as the reader understands the information.  Again, aids to navigating the content, like a table of contents or an index are key. Oh and the help desk number must be visible in many different places, in both online and printed material.Effective Marketers focus on the company’s ” voice” and use it to support building the type of relationship that achieves the company’s goals. If you want long-term customer relationships rather than transactional ones, then you adjust the voice, tone, and manner in which you communicate. However, a one-time or infrequent purchase does not mean you don’t want a long term relationship.  For example, if a consumer purchases a washing machine, they don’t do so on a regular basis. But if your company makes the washing machines, you want to ensure the customer is satisfied and happy with your purchase.

If customers don’t have easy and navigable ways to reach the company when they need assistance, they can turn against both your product and the company, and are quite willing and able to pass the negative message along. In other words, an unhappy customer will tell seven plus people and no business can afford that. Your washing machine company wants to ensure consumers have instructions that are easy to understand, and a help line that they can find easily, manned by someone who is pleasant and can actually answer their questions.  Social media, community forums, and other forms of online communication result in large numbers of online reviews, and no organization can afford to expose their customers to a bad experience.

Why does marketing communication play a more central role than technical communication in the organization?

Peter Drucker said it best: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”Why divert valuable resources to areas that don’t impact upon the overall success of the business? Marketing is the overarching heartbeat of any organization, and it drives every decision.

[1] Ulrich, K. a. S. E. (1995). Product Design and Development. New York, NY, McGraw-Hill, Inc., p. 15

 Get into the debate from Tech Comm Spy’s point-of-view.

Mark Baker

12 years ago

This whole debate, I think, arises from a simple misunderstanding. When you say “marketing communications” to a technical writer, what they hear is “advertising”. But advertising is only one part of marketing. As Alissa points out, marketing communications happens both pre and post sale.

Marketing (if done right) is as much concerned with customer retention as it is with customer acquisition, and so communication designed to retain the customer is just as much part of marking communications as communication designed to get new customers or to sell new products to existing customers.

Technical communication (if done right) aims to retain the customer by making them successful. It is therefore marketing communications. By this measure, all technical communication is marketing communication, but not all marketing communication is technical communication.

However, if we take into account all of the technical communication that takes place internally and is not meant for public consumption, then the two fields intersect, but neither contains the other.

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