When Content Strategies Collide Pt 4: Enabling vs. Persuasive Content

Part 4 of my post comparing Marketing Content Strategy vs. Technical Communication Content Strategy.  A love letter to the community and a petition that yes, we can all just get along… even if we have several valid and deeply rooted differences.

We’ve started with the World of Content: the virtual geographic landscape where content flows like water through various channels and lines, digital and otherwise.  Then the customer – the one who suffers our divide, and then looked at the nature of what separates us.

Now going into the cultural differences and ‘geographic’ differences between marketing and technical content strategy.

Cultural Divide

Supporting vs. Leading, Proven and Familiar vs. New and Sexy…

As far as I’m concerned, the most powerful thing that divides the content world is simple: “persuasive” vs. “enabling” content. Everything from the most technical – technical data specifications – to the most persuasive – ad copy, is all content that touches the customer. So you have:

  • Persuasive – Content that leads the customer to your goals – the usual goal is that they buy stuff, or, promote your brand so that their peers buy stuff. When planning and creating this content there’s lots of talk of brand messages, engaging with the brand, calls to action, conversion rates, and so on. It’s front-line web pages, mailer content, ad copy, brochure copy, and the like.
  • Enabling – Content that supports the customer in their goals. Here we’ve got manuals, tech specs, help, forums, self-serve support materials.

I also discuss this on a podcast on Idwratherbewriting.com

Again, when these two content areas aren’t in synch, you get negatively impacted customer experience. No one in the World of Content wants the content consumers to have a bad experience.

cherry-layer-cakeRahel put it very well on her blog:

I would argue that, despite the perception that websites consist of marketing content, for many sites, the marketing content is only the top layer – the icing on the cake, and what supports that top layer is a substantial amount of technical content – the cake itself.

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Note: Nerd that I am, I took 45 minutes to choose this cake.  I like it because the icing layer also shares content with the cake layers below, just more pretty and glossy-like.  : D

That technical content is often far more valuable to the corporate or product brand than the persuasive content. In doing user research for one client in particular, a manufacturer of power generators and inverters, I saw how guys used their site. Consistently, they would bypass all of the marketing material and go right for the specs. (Of course, before the site revamp, a lot of the specs were missing or buried in a PDF in some obscure area of the site…)”

Andrew Bredenkamp, CEO of acrolinx – a product that has been very successful in major TechComms organisations helping people control their language, keep to a corporate terminology base and monitor style and writing, was recently blogging about how all these things apply to web marketing’s baby: SEO.

…what was most interesting talking to people in the Marketing space, and especially SEO, was how familiar the issues were to me. I kept hearing words like “shared vocabulary”, “establishing brand voice and style”, and *everyone* was talking about keywords and keyword research.

So, same tools, same drivers, different application and different content professionals benefiting. Web marketing folks: think about it. You might have already bought something in your organisation that helps you automatically police style and word usage on your website, or many other things you’re looking to do but don’t know how.

Generally, there’s divisive attitudes about new technologies and content channels. For example, XML and DITA are often considered scary, “techie” and complex by the web marketing world, whereas Social Media is often, unfortunately, considered frivolous and irrelevant by the TechComms world.

Related article on social media and TechComms available here.


MarComms and TechComms generally exist on different branches of the org chart and generally, in the product life cycle. Marketing kicks into gear mostly late, when there’s something they can start to make noise about. TechComms wants to be integrated as early as possible into the product development cycle. To have the content ready for launch, they need lots of warning and lead time.

I’m going to stretch my analogy a bit here and include some real geography and another continental crash: the one of east meets west. The western world is hotly debating what will happen when Asia “hits”, and global competition ratchets up several notches.

For MarComms, we all keep getting reminded that the west will need to compete on service and brand, as price and even product quality can be duplicated more easily. TechComms is an asset here. By integrating processes with the other organisations, you have:

  • Keyword rich information (it’s all about the product and related ideas)
  • Content that many customers really, really want
  • Content that helps do things like seed forums and that can sit side-by-side with user generated content
  • A differentiator that supports your after sales experience, and therefore customer experience and brand

If TechComms provides you content that solves users’ problems, and other users can see that, share it, and help their friends solve their problems, then you’re cultivating happier customers.

For TechComms, globalisation REALLY matters

I live in Spain. I buy far more products than I used to that are made in countries where English isn’t the native language. As globalisation increases, I’m going to get even more clunky and/or badly translated manuals under my nose than before (the current crop are often hilarious). As a result, my inclination to bother even opening them to check if that particular company delivers good content is going to get smaller and smaller.

We’ve been begrudgingly discussing the comment “No one wants to read the manual” for years. Add the content of a new, non-native English, non-EU economy’s to the landscape. Now they REALLY don’t want to! At least not in its traditional manual/help format.

Is it safe to assume all content created abroad will be poor? Absolutely not, but with the number of companies scrambling to get involved, the chances of content being left behind are high.

Do any of you have any experience with trying to bridge the timezones and language barriers with content?  I’d be interested in hearing anecdotes and approaches.  Happy to compare notes.

Next post we’ll go into the question: Is TechComms mired in the past?  Is MarComms? And we’ll look at what the future could look like.


  1. Bill Swallow

    I’ve led a global team of writers spanning across multiple time zones in multiple countries, including the US, Canada, England, India and Australia. The primary focus had been to produce technical documentation in a global English form. The documentation was localized using conditional text and other single-source conventions to minimize the amount of information duplication across our product lines (we would even share information across products as necessary). We would then translate the content (and product) as needed into anywhere from one to 21 target languages.

    It is not safe to assume that all content created abroad (what does ‘abroad’ really mean, anyway, in terms of a global team) will be poor. Effective coordination and leadership is required to ensure that content will not be left behind. I spent many years and a mountain of energy ensuring that all writers felt involved in one solid team. Time zones made for some creative meeting times and structures, but for the most part everyone became very comfortable engaging others as if they sat one cube over.

    On the persuasive vs. enabling topic, we also collaborated heavily with our global Marketing team to ensure that the voice and approach to technical content matched the direction the company was taking. Marketing also ensured that the technical information they supplied with their messaging either came from the writing team or was reviewed by the writing team or a technical lead who was in tune with us (I should have mentioned that we spent considerable effort ensuring all technical staff functioned as solid diverse teams as well, writers included).

    The short of it is that any relationship of these types can be nurtured given attention to company goals and solid leadership, and good (unified, efficient and effective) things will result. It’s only a vs. situation if you allow it to be one. Are there differences in the content types? You bet. But need they be siloed efforts? Not at all. Ultimately we’re all on the same team with the same goals, but our game plans and execution vary based on the field conditions.

  2. B. Noz Urbina

    Hi Bill – thank you for the excellent comment! The vs. situation is sad and frankly, unsustainable. I was hoping a few individuals in your situation would come forward on this issue to provide personal testimonial that the seperations can be removed and we can work together.

    I’m very enthusiastic that your situation can become the norm.

    You made several references to the extensive effort that this kind of thing requires, and the fact that you coordinated all this from an English source language. I’m sure there’s lots of questions readers might like to ask you, like, how was the feedback on the non-English output? And have you at any point experienced working from a non-English source? Did you just use file system and discipline or were you using some sort of technological support for the reuse and sharing (CCMS? XML?).

  3. Mark Baker

    The dichotomy between persuasion and enablement may perhaps reflect the two solitudes that are marketing and tech comms, but it does not represent a valid dichotomy of content. There is no persuasion without engagement, and there is no engagement without then promise of enablement. Marcom fails when it tries to persuade without enabling. Tech comm fails when it tries to enable without engaging.

  4. Bill Swallow

    I myself have not worked in a non-English source (I’m an ignorant American) but I do work for a localization firm and have seen non-English source. Of course usually the job meant translating it into English for further updates.
    For re-use and sharing we started with file system and discipline for unstructured content and slowly migrated to XML, first with a file system approach, then to a version control system, and then to CMS.


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