In April, CDMM students had the pleasure to interview Noz Urbina for their research projects. Noz Urbina (Urbina Consulting) is a globally recognized leader in content strategy, customer journey mapping, and adaptive content modelling. He is co-author of the book “Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits” and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences, Graz, Masters Programme in content strategy.
This year, several of CDMM students’ research projects focus on enjoyable customer experience and the relationships between marketing and technical communication. The students tapped into Noz’s expertise in that field to move their projects forward.
1- How can we make technical communication more enjoyable to users?
Make it invisible! Those who are old enough to remember Microsoft Clippy know that if you make technical help too pro-active, it can become really annoying. Today, however, we have smarter devices that can better detect context to deliver information – but this information needs to be relevant: Don’t shove an encyclopedia under people’s noses, even if it has a search box! People want answers they can action – not better tech docs. Be open to any medium, paradigm or method that can better convey those answers into people’s minds.
Make sure you distinguish doing time from learning time. For doing-time content, you can use 3D diagrams and explodes to make your content more engaging, but don’t pull users away into a game. For learning-time content, where there are things to memorize, you can use gamification, narratives and visual metaphors. If you can engage pleasure or pain, then people will memorize better. For that reason, games are a good, enjoyable choice to support learning. There’s more to docs than just looking up quick facts or tasks. Technical communication should help users self-educate when appropriate.
In both cases, consider tone and voice: while tone may vary depending on context, the voice you use for the brand should be consistent across the experience.
2- How can we make technical communication more enjoyable to us as professionals?
Technical communicators generally don’t enjoy putting specs into words, and sadly that’s often what they’re doing. Technical communication is a multidisciplinary activity that requires communicators to get into the mindset of users. Creating technical content becomes more enjoyable when you know that you are solving real people’s real problems. Customer journey mapping is a way to make the experience more enjoyable for users and technical communicators alike. Ideally, bring together support, sales, marketing and other people outside your silo around a customer journey map to review how customers accomplish their objectives out in the field. Identify emotional hot spots and ask “is it content or is it bad design?” to identify where content can help in the journey. When content is not the problem, capture that feedback and give it back to the people who can make a difference. A customer journey map enables you to go have more useful conversations about content because you’re talking about the customer view, not your own. Take the opportunity to get into the users’ shoes for a while.
3- Can semantic structure make technical content more enjoyable?
Semantic structure makes content easier to personalize. Semantics is the study of meaning. When we use semantic metadata, that makes content more flexible and adaptive, so that it can be handled by a computer. Personalisation makes content more enjoyable because it focuses the delivery on what’s most relevant. Semantic metadata can also help more relevant content get found by search engines, which helps it solve more people’s problems. This makes the whole endeavor more satisfying.
4- What advice could we give a technical communication department to be more efficient?
You could tell that technical communication department to focus their efforts on 3 points:
- Customer journey mapping lets you plan what you want to kill, that is, stop making stuff just because you’ve always done it. Maintaining unnecessary or bloated content wastes time and makes consumption faster and easier.
- Semantic analysis, that is, information typing and content analysis, helps you do better reuse. For example, you can decide to split up a piece of information that is trying to do too much and reuse a part of it. You don’t have to be stick to DITA types for information typing: for example, having a type of information for narrative enables reuse of content that creates a human connection, while keeping consistency in voice. This is often helpful for training or other cross-silo reuse scenarios. Check out Rob Hanna from Precision Content’s work for more details about information typing.
- Metadata alignment. For example, you can use tools like PoolParty (an ontology management system) to align metadata inside and outside of the technical communication department and drive personalisation or contextual-content.
5- What is the most important thing technical communicators can learn from marketers?
Technical communicators can learn several things from marketers:
- Relationship building – as opposed to focusing only on speed in delivery and cost efficiency
- Web design – as opposed to document design
- Search engine optimization (SEO) – as opposed to focusing only on navigation optimization
- Analytics and measurement – check the ROI, use, and engagement that your content is achieving
6- What do marketing and technical communication have in common?
Marketing and Tech Pubs are the two parts of the organization that understand words, and that manage customer-facing communication.
They have similar requirements:
- Call centers rely on technical communication a lot. Marketing are starting to look into call centers because it’s one of the only places when the brand gets to actually speak to users post-sale.
- Field services and support read the documentation, but they don’t talk. Marketing and Tech Pubs both need them to be carriers of messages to market, and also channels of valuable incoming feedback.
Marketing and Tech Pubs need to align their terminology and context to define who delivers which message, to whom, when and how. Marketing will need to industrialize their content management and scale their processes for the unknown, using skills that tech pubs developed years ago out of their famous necessity for reuse and efficiency. Digital transformation, communication and content are the fastest development areas in the world right now. This is the type of alchemy that happens at the Intelligent Content Conference. People like Jeff Eaton, Rachel Lovinger, Joe Pairman, Ann Rockley, Andrea Ames, or Cruce Saunders are good resources to explore the common points between marketing and technical communication.
Thank you Noz for taking the time to answer our questions and moving our research projects forward!