“I like writing about technical subjects,” a friend told me. “But I hope I never have to write another 800-page user guide.” He went on to say that his current technical writing job had given him the chance to write customer success stories and profiles of subject-matter experts, and he said he’d enjoyed doing that.
“So,” he asked, “what should I do next? Technical writing or marketing writing?”
Yes, I said.
Yes, you can be both a technical writer and a marketing writer. Yes, at the same time.
It’s sad that that comes as a surprise to so many in our field — and that it seems totally foreign to most of the companies that employ us.
A quick search of job postings turned up 10 openings for marketing writers, and more than 50 openings for technical writers, for every opening for a technical marketing writer.
Worse yet are the stereotypes.
Ask some technical communicators about marketing, and they’re apt to say:
Marketing is just pizzazz. Marketers are artistic and don’t know anything about technology. Marketers will say anything, true or not, to make a sale.
Ask a marketer about technical communication and they might say:
Technical communicators are nerds, without a creative bone in their bodies. They grind out 800-page user guides that are useful only as doorstops.
Yikes. Can’t we all just get along?
Granted, the viewpoints I encounter don’t usually run to such extremes. Most people realize that marketing is more than banner ads, and that technical communication is more than 800-page user guides. Yet there remains a gap, a chasm really, between marketers and technical communicators.
That’s wrong. Marketers and technical communicators have a lot to offer each other, and the lines between their domains are blurring.
Whether or not we want to admit it, technical documentation itself has become a marketing platform. Especially in the technology industry, companies are posting their documentation on the Internet where everyone — including prospective customers — can see it. The documentation tells them whether they’ll be able to use the product effectively and whether the company is one they’ll feel comfortable doing business with.
Demand is increasing for technical marketing content, like the profiles and case studies my friend likes to write, along with things like white papers, blog posts, and specification sheets. No less an authority than Scott Abel asserts that the future of technical communication is marketing.
That’s the reality of today’s marketplace. If we ignore it we do harm to both of our professions, to the companies we work for, and to our customers.
My story: Blending the two fields
I’m fortunate to have spent time both in traditional technical communication and in marketing. Technical communication has taught me to know my audience, to communicate effectively with them, and to understand and appreciate technology. Marketing has taught me to contribute value, to understand a customer’s needs, and to tell a good story. Blending the two disciplines has made me better at each one.
Maybe your optimal career is a blend of technical communication and marketing. If the opportunity is there, try different roles until you find the blend that suits you. Spend time with colleagues in both technical communication and marketing. (Ideally, find that rare bird who’s a technical marketing writer and let them inspire you.)
What say you? Do you see the same chasm between technical communication and marketing? If so, do you think the chasm is narrowing? Widening? Does it matter?
Finally, if you’ve staked out a career that blends technical communication and marketing, I’d love to hear your story.