Tag Archives: marketing

The linchpin of inspiration

Author and storyteller Carla Johnson, in her keynote speech at this week’s STC Summit, described how inspiration comes, not as a bolt from the blue, but from observing other people’s creative work. She warned against brand detachment disorder, in which we see another brand — maybe Disney or Apple — doing something cool but immediately dismiss it because it couldn’t possibly bear on our own company’s brand.

photo of Carla Johnson

Carla Johnson

Instead, Carla charged us to observe what other brands are doing, distill the parts we can use, and relate those parts to our own brand and customers. Then we can generate ideas and pitch them to our bosses. Call it the inspiration process.

That’s what Rachel Sparks, Technical Director at Xenex, did. Xenex makes robot-like machines that hospitals use to disinfect areas where patients are treated. This is a very big deal, because it drastically reduces the threat posed by sepsis and other infections. When Sparks noticed that some hospitals were giving their machines whimsical names and putting Santa Claus hats on them, she saw a way to market her company’s product not as a machine but as something that touches people’s hearts.

That’s great creativity, great marketing. But is it technical communication? Did Carla get mixed up and think that she was speaking to the Society for Technical Marketing?

No. Carla knew exactly where she was. Continue reading

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A new vantage point

Around 1610, Galileo Galilei, pointing his newly invented telescope at the sky, became the first person to see bulges on both sides of the planet Saturn. He didn’t know what they were. It took 45 years before another astronomer, Christiaan Huygens, figured out that they were rings surrounding the planet.

For 350-plus years since then, every view we had of the rings came from the same vantage point: from outside.

Until last month. For the first time, the Cassini spacecraft slipped between Saturn and the rings, turned its camera away from the planet, and started taking pictures from inside the rings.

Cassini flying inside Saturn's rings
This illustration is part of a NASA animation that shows Cassini’s trip inside the rings. The inset captures an actual image that Cassini sent back.

Following Cassini’s example, I’ve begun considering how I can look at things from new vantage points. If I’ve always looked at something in the same way, have I really seen it in its entirety? Maybe not.

Here are a few things I’m trying to see from new vantage points.

Mergers and acquisitions

My company, Extreme Networks, has acquired parts of 3 different companies over the past year. As a result, our technical writing team is growing rapidly. New people, with all sorts of different backgrounds, are learning our tools, our workflows, and our corporate culture. A lot of anxiety comes with the experience of being part of an acquisition.

I actually have experience with this. I’ve seen things from the other side of an acquisition. Now is a great time for me to remember how it felt — and thereby to help make it easier for the newcomers to our team.

Starting out

My recent participation in the STC Carolina chapter’s mentoring program has given me a new appreciation for how hard it is to break into the technical communication field — from finding a specialty (software writer, e-learning developer, scientific editor) to creating a personal brand to simply landing that first job.

Colliding worldviews

Look at the current world scene and you’ll see people with fundamentally different worldviews. More and more, those worldviews seem to be colliding — and the more they collide, like particles in an accelerator, the more sparks seems to fly. The greater the differences seem to become.

I’m still trying to grasp that. More important, I’m trying to understand the people whose worldviews are different from mine. If I can understand the people on the other side, maybe we can find something in common that we can use as a basis for moving forward together. Maybe that’s too much to ask. I don’t know. But I do know that talking beats shouting, so that’s what I try to do.

(If you’d like to try, too, Jesse Lyn Stoner recently shared some practical tips for taking a stand without polarizing others.)

Epilog

Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. On Friday its mission will reach its grand finale when it dives into the planet’s atmosphere. When it transmits its last data from inside Saturn’s clouds — a vantage point no one has ever seen — humankind will gain more knowledge about Saturn’s atmosphere than ever before.

How have new vantage points helped you in your professional life? Can you think of other vantage points you’d like to gain?

A beFUDdled way to sell your brand

It's_A_Wonderful_Life

Duke Medicine wants us to think they’re like this guy….

I’ve heard the ad on Pandora about a dozen times. A major local healthcare provider, Duke Medicine, is threatening to withhold service from people who pick the wrong health insurance.

They don’t say it precisely like that. But the clear message is we care more about our bottom line than about serving people.

Is that any way to build a brand?

Here’s a transcript of Duke’s ad, slightly abridged.

Open enrollment on the healthcare exchange is coming to an end. Pick the wrong one and you could lose access to every benefit of Duke Medicine. Every doctor. Every hospital and clinic. Every therapist, nurse, and aide. Every piece of research, breakthrough, and life-saving innovation. Every part of the Duke System that matters most for your health.

Lionel_Barrymore_as_Mr._Potter

….But they come off sounding more like this guy.

Duke probably conceived the ad as a quasi public-service announcement, with a chance to remind everyone what a top-notch hospital they have.

What I heard, again, was that for Duke the bottom line is more important than providing care.

Perhaps Duke misjudged their audience: people who buy their own health insurance, who aren’t looking for anything fancy and who want it to be as uncomplicated as possible. People who listen to Pandora with the ads.

What that audience hears, is almost certainly not the message Duke intended to convey.

In the software industry we had a word for that kind of marketing: FUD — for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Continue reading

Technical communication or marketing? Yes.

“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.

technical-communicationYes, 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.

The chasm

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.
Continue reading

Email marketing: I was a dreamer

This week in his Power of Connection chat (#PoCchat), on the topic of email marketing, Bobby Umar asked this question: How did you feel when you sent your first e-mail newsletter or announcement?

Old letters and postcards

My first email newsletter didn’t exactly look like this – but it was a long time ago.

How did I feel? Wow! My mind flashed back to the late 1990s and the moment I hit Send on my first email newsletter. I remember feeling this insane hope that my newsletter would be different. That I’d succeed where all those around me were failing. That my recipients would read my newsletter because somehow, magically, they’d recognize that it was a cut above all the others.

You might say I was a dreamer. And undoubtedly I was. But I wasn’t the only one.

Bobby’s question also brought me up short as I recollected how little I knew about content marketing at that time. I didn’t fully understand that my content needed to focus on the reader and not on my products and services. I didn’t understand the importance of developing relationships with my readers before I started lobbing content at them.

It all seems second nature to me now. But, looking back, I can see that I had the keys to this marvelous marketing machine — with barely a clue as to how to run it.

It occurs to me that there are people like that today. In fact, judging from the contents of my inbox, there are a lot of people like that.

So, for their benefit, here are four basics for email marketing: Continue reading

Tell me why I should buy

Today’s post is about content marketing — specifically, the lowest form of content marketing: political advertising.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee, from the original edition of Through the Looking GlassOn three different days in the past two weeks the snail mail box has brought flyers from both candidates who are vying for a seat in our state legislature. Tweedledum’s ads all say that Tweedledee is unfit for election because he’s wrong about everything. Tweedledee’s ads say that Tweedledum is unfit because he once worked as (gasp) a lobbyist.

Here’s the thing: each candidate is so busy tearing down the other that he never says a word about why he himself might be the better choice. Continue reading