David Burt, September 7, 2023
Creating tech marketing content comes with a set of challenges – technologies can be arcane, terminology can be conflicting and vague, and translating concepts into relatable terms can be hard. It’s tempting to rely solely on briefings from product managers and engineers to gain enough of an understanding to write effective marketing copy, but I have found I need to go further in order to create effective marketing copy.Good marketing copy requires not just a deeper understanding of the underlying technology, but a broader understanding of the business, media, and competitive environments. The only way I get this is by doing research. While my research needs vary depending on the format, there are three basic things I need to understand whether I’m writing a deeply technical white paper, a one-page data sheet, or a thought leadership blog post:
I) Understand the underlying technology well enough to explain it in lay terms. If I’m going to explain it, I need to understand it. I don’t always need to understand how it works, but I always need to understand what it does. Product marketing language doesn’t always explain either concept because it tends to focus on value proposition statements that sell the benefits of a product.To get that deeper understanding, I usually start with two resources: the product documentation, and a Wikipedia article. If I were writing something about Azure Web Application Firewall, for example, I would start by reviewing the Microsoft Learn documentation page for the product. Next, I would read the Wikipedia page about the product category, web application firewalls, to make sure I understand the history of the product and how it fits into IT more broadly. The great thing about both these resources is that they feature rich sets of links to related content, so if I don’t fully understand a concept, I can keep clicking and reading until I do.
II) Understand the business and competitive environment well enough to have the right context. Whether I’m writing about a product, an idea, or a trend, I need to understand the broader context, such as how a product fits into the IT ecosystem, or how a trend is viewed by the IT industry. Reports from analysts like Gartner, Forrester, and IDC are helpful if you are fortunate enough to have access to a subscription. If you don’t, you can often find either summaries of analyst reports in blog posts, or free versions of full reports from vendors that have purchased them for lead generation. Next, I want to understand how competitors talk about similar concepts. If I’m writing about a product, I’ll simply read content from competitor websites. If I’m writing about a trend or issue, such as ransomware or digital twins, I will search for what competitors might have written about it. Then I will conduct a broader search to see what perspectives government bodies or NGOs might have. After understanding this context, I can write copy that aligns with broader perceptions, which builds credibility with readers. Knowledgeable IT people understand that vendors like to position their products with trending marketing concepts, so it’s important to understand which concepts and buzz words are industry standard, which are vague and undefined, and which are vendor specific. Otherwise, my writing may be dismissed as marketing hype.
III) Understand the media environment well enough to be aware of perceptions and controversies. Even if I have little expectation that a blog post or white paper will receive amplification from traditional or social media, I still want to understand the media environment before I write. I want to know what level of coverage or interest there is in a topic, how the media covers it, and if there are any associated controversies. I usually start a review of media coverage by going to Google News and limiting results to the last year, which gives me an idea of the interest the topic is generating. If the topic I’m researching is narrow and technical, then my search is usually straightforward, as coverage will be limited to a small number of trade publications. However, if my topic is something that is trending across mainstream media, getting good search results is going to take more work. For example, a Google News search for the past year for “ransomware” brings up thousands of results, making it difficult to draw generalizations about coverage. In cases like this, I will search a few selective publications to get a better feel, so I might search The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today to understand the mainstream media view, then search a few IT trade publications for more in depth coverage.
Doing research takes time, but I find it improves my writing in multiple ways, including being attuned to current industry trends, avoiding errors and controversial areas, and accurately judging the level of interest in the content.