Content strategy for technical communication
Content strategy is planning to use information to advance an organization’s goals. Your organization should have an enterprise content strategy that covers all customer-facing information, both persuasive content and informational content. Marketing content is generally persuasive, and technical content is generally informational.
First published: October 19, 2010
Updated: February 22, 2016
For marketing content, an enterprise content strategy means creating information that supports the organization’s communication strategy and aligns the voice and tone of content with the corporate branding across all channels.
For technical content, an enterprise content strategy means identifying business goals and then setting up a content development and delivery system that supports those goals.
Common business drivers for content strategy in technical communication include:
- Compliance with legal and regulatory requirements
- Controlling costs
- Improving marketing and product visibility
- Speeding up delivery (reducing time to market)
- Integration with other content and data sources in the organization
In many industries, compliance with legal and regulatory requirements is the first priority. Failure to produce content as required in a given market leads to expensive problems and, in extreme cases, the inability to do business at all. To support compliance requirements in technical content, consider the following steps:
- Clearly document compliance requirements in each market. Requirements will vary by geographical location, product type, and other factors.
- Pay particular attention to localization requirements. Failure to plan for localization in the product and content planning phase is expensive.
- Identify critical regulatory differences among markets and develop a strategy to create and manage related content.
- Ensure that content developers can easily identify approved content.
- Provide an efficient workflow for compliance review.
- Provide traceability—the ability to trace back data to its point of origin
Nobody wants to waste time or money, but many organizations have huge inefficiencies in content production and localization due to outdated technologies, convoluted workflows, and general neglect. If you localize content, efficiency gains in the source language(s) are multiplied across each language–two hours fixing page breaks in English might be acceptable, but repeating that process in 20 languages would take a week.
To manage costs, consider the following:
- Ensure that content development is efficient. You can apply lean principles to reduce wasted time and effort in content production.
- Invest in content quality to reduce churn. For example, consistent terminology in content development results in more efficient localization.
- Reuse content to reduce the total amount of content that you must manage.
- Automated formatting, especially in multichannel workflows, lets you ensure consistency and timely delivery of the final output formats.
- Capture metrics related to content costs. For example, a technical support organization might improve technical content to reduce the number of expensive technical support calls.
- Invest in the right toolchain for your requirements.
Technical content is traditionally considered post-sales information, but potential buyers often seek out technical information to help them make a buying decision. Perhaps they want to understand how a specific feature works, or find out the exact production dimensions. Therefore, low-quality technical content can result in lost sales. Like marketing content, technical content is available to the customer throughout the customer journey, not just as an ugly piece of paper in the product box. A company that sells a luxury product needs all aspects of the product to support the premium branding. Technical content can either reinforce the marketing message or contradict it.
To provide marketing support, consider the following:
- Ensure that the corporate branding guidelines are followed in all content. Marketing and technical content do not have to use the same exact design, but they should look as though they were created by the same organization.
- Recognize that any customer-facing information has a de facto role in the sales process.
- Ensure that localization strategy is aligned across the enterprise and not established department by department.
Reducing time to market
Reducing time to market can also drive a content strategy effort. By improving how content is created, managed, and delivered, you can deliver content faster. This tactic is especially important for localization. Many products cannot ship until their documentation is available in the local language. When you speed up the delivery of localized information, the organization gets revenue sooner in localized markets.
To reduce time to market, consider the following:
- Look for opportunities to create content in parallel with product development.
- Look for opportunities to localize in parallel with content creation.
- Identify process improvement areas, especially those that eliminate delays.
- Focus on smoothing out the critical path for content.
Integration with other content and data
Content and data need to flow across an organization. For example, CAD files produced by engineering are used in technical and marketing documents. Procedures created in technical communications are used by the training group. Knowledge base information moves into technical communications. Inventory information is connected to repair procedures. A focus on integration means understanding where information originates and how to share it efficiently and accurately with the people who need it.
To integrate with other content and data, consider the following:
- For each information type, understand its lifecycle in the organization: how is it developed and by whom? Where does it go? How often does it change?
- Assess storage and exchange mechanisms to ensure you can transfer information as needed (hint: if it’s copy and paste, you’re doing it wrong)
Content strategy in technical communication requires you to align content development with business priorities. Instead of focusing on technical content as an expense, understand that it can be an asset. Like any major asset, content requires strategic planning to ensure that you extract maximum value from it.