By Ofir Nachmani, CEO, IOD
Today, more than ever, we see a constant tension between tech and marketing departments–a love/hate relationship, so to speak. Tech people always think they know better about the technology of a product. And marketing managers are under pressure to quickly generate great content and run quality distribution to drive business.
Tech experts and marketers are two very different, yet co-dependent creatures. Sure, it’s the role of a content manager or writer to generate content that brings in traffic and leads. But it’s the tech expert who knows the service/solution and the technology behind it! And the more technical the brand, the more the tech marketing professional needs to make sure to get the technical side right, so that the piece is accurate, on-point, and based on real technical experience.
This is a team effort, but since the tech marketer owns the business performance requirement (e.g., getting the leads), they have the clear need and incentive to establish the relationship with the tech professional who is considered a contributor to this effort.
I am not saying that this reality is a pleasant or fair one, and I certainly am able to argue the flip side: that as much as the marketing pro needs the tech pro, the other way around is equally required. Here in this article, I will share my experience from 15 years of supporting tech brands, as well as a few tips on how to establish a good relationship to overcome this gap.
The Gap (By Which I Mean Major Divide)
The coder Mo Bitmar articulated the view of lots of techies I’ve met over the years. He said in a blog post aptly titled “I hate marketing!” that he just wanted to code:
“That’s all I ever think about doing.”
“Marketing for me is something I haven’t been able to learn like other things. If you want to learn to program, well, that’s easy: just follow the tutorials. If you want to learn to write, well, that’s easy-ish: read a lot and be observant. But there are no tutorials for marketing. You might say it’s an art form, but if it were, it would be some cursed, wicked form of art.”
Are you surprised by his perspective? I’m not. But as a disclaimer, I don’t claim this applies to all tech people out there, but it definitely shows how extreme the gap between the two parties can be.
As an example, say one of an organization’s R&D members is describing to you a specific feature of a specific tool in the world of “continuous integration” for an upcoming blog post. You already learned about CI covering it for a blog post in the past and confidently ask the tech pro to move along so you can wrap up the interview and get the information you need about the specific feature in order to get a new post out there quickly. However, on the review cycle, the tech pro sees a draft, and he’s not satisfied because in his opinion you got the basics of CI all wrong. And yet, he has no time or incentive to work on the piece. The marketer, who is under pressure to release a new article, can’t wait any longer, so then takes the lead and pushes the publish button.
What happens? Well, the marketer might have misrepresented the product, thus harming the brand, decreasing potential leads (and revenues!) and pissing off the member/s of R&D (who inevitably sees the post live).
Are you familiar with such a case? Has this happened to you? Then, keep on reading.
How to Build a Bridge
So, if marketers don’t know tech as tech experts, but the tech experts are too busy and don’t have a real incentive to support their marketing team’s efforts, what can be done to fill this gap?
Separation of (and Respect for) Duties
I come back to this #1 principal (which also happens to be a core value at IOD) so many times. And here it is again:
Clearly define roles and duties and
ensure a team focus across the board.
Mutual team effort and responsibility reigns, and here at IOD we work hard to promote a culture wherein our writers and tech experts work together to research and create reliable and high-quality content. There are clearly defined processes of research and collaboration that are set in place for them to follow freely in order to succeed. They each know their role and limitations and understand they must work together.
IOD’s processes are supported by a means of collaboration and complete transparency between all parties involved because at the end of the day the content writer may not have the word count alloted in order to delve deeper into a certain tech topic, and the tech expert may not understand that a paragraph is simply too long or unclear.
Each of the parties should stick to their areas of focus, communicate, and deliver on-point messaging from which your brand can truly benefit. Know what you know best. And know what you don’t know. As simple as it sounds, I still see marketers and content writers who take ownership on covering topics that they really have never dealt with, and this leads to “fluff” writing which is harmful to business.
Achieving That Golden Collaboration
The whole point of making sure people have clearly defined roles is precisely so that they can more successfully collaborate. This teamwork starts well before the first draft or outline. Effective collaboration between R&D and marketing must be embraced from the get-go, and it must be recognized and encouraged by the organization’s leaders.
This means getting tech experts involved when planning an editorial calendar and holding brainstorming sessions so that they can, for example, bring up critical insights from the product perspective, recognize and agree on the target audience, and take responsibility by voting on potential topics. Timing, format, schedule, and tone may well best be decided by marketing. But key areas of interest, relevant communities for distribution, and new tech trends are definitely something you want your tech experts to contribute to.
Keep R&D close and in the loop! Technology changes rapidly, and marketing may not have a clue. But your expert will know. So make sure they feel that they are a valuable part of the process, invite them to continuously collaborate with you simply by using their own communication and task management tools (Slack, Gira), and present them with a simple and efficient process to submit their thoughts and ideas. (On the contrary, please stop with endless meetings and calls. Believe me these will not do the job.)
Marketing Has to Market the “Love”
It doesn’t matter that your tech experts should care about product marketing. It doesn’t matter that they should want to interact with co-workers. Bitmar for sure just doesn’t care. Is it mentality? Is it culture? Is it both?
Regardless, it benefits the marketer to get the tech professionals involved as stakeholders in this content creation process. So how do you “sell” the process to your average tech professional?
Well, at the end of the day, tech experts know that a marketing piece reflects their product–and therefore their skills and worth. (Even Bitmar’s act of publishing his article is, at the end of the day, a pure marketing play.)
Give a tech expert a byline every now and again, and you will see his editorial attention and care skyrocket. He may struggle to follow through on editorial work (even if he wants to) due to his continuous heavy workload. This is why a content marketer has to learn how to approach, discuss, and engage the tech side–ideally with patience, understanding, and listening.
Stepping Up to the Plate
Especially when tech experts don’t have the incentive to make content a priority and considering the fact that building a product is their first aim, it’s understandable that their “push backs” can be perceived by you as unfriendly or even rude.
They are immensely focused on their work, so walking in on them and demanding that they look at something immediately is only going to irritate them. (As it does anyone in the middle of a flow state!) You need to respect them and their time. Your side of the process will never be tech’s first priority. But if you coordinate schedules properly and show you are aware of the demands of their work, you can achieve that magical teamwork needed for success.
I empathize with the stress of your job. I know it can be a frustrating role to always have to be the coordinator and communicator. But the payoff will be the knowledge you can only get from your tech department, which of course leads to the amazing business results you will achieve. This in turn will lead to the recognition of the organization which will only accelerate the collaboration with the tech team, supported by the your leaders both from the business and the product sides.
Sharing the Love
Another great incentive is sharing content marketing success stories with tech. One of our customer’s marketing leaders once sent around an email to the R&D managers stating,
“This one article brought in a half million dollars!”
They publicly thanked the tech expert and us (the writers) who contributed to that piece. When your tech department sees real numbers and respect, they will be willing to give you more of their time on future projects. Success stories like this build the trust and appreciation that marketing needs for successful content.
On the other hand, some gestures just won’t work. There was a manager who offered $500 per article to his tech experts to get them involved. This failed miserably–zero response! Why? Because most tech experts, e.g., cloud architects, are in high demand and are able to earn what they want while doing what they love: code! So such offers aren’t going to grab their attention. A promotion or chance to boost their name as an influencer or blogger may be of interest. But flat out cash might not do the trick.
Marketers often tell us the challenges they face in bringing their tech pros into the content production process as valued stakeholders. They are, after all, immersed in their code and can seem a mystery. They are disciplined, focused, and no-nonsense. But there is no need to “fear” them.
Remember, they need you as much as you need them. They need the company to succeed so they can work on their next great idea. It’s a full-circle collaboration. And it is your job to make that collaboration work.
Loving your techies will pay off handsomely if you invest the time, effort, and respect needed to engage your average tech pro. Be creative, listen to your tech colleagues, and find the right ways to make them care and communicate. You can see this as a burden, or you can see this as a skill you’re taking the time to hone.
Tech experts are not just smart; they’re expected to be creative, adaptive, efficient, and productive, especially in the fast-paced demanding world of application delivery today. Being able to leverage this creativity and edge properly–earning the “love”–will be your ticket to successful tech marketing over the long term.