Challenges of Technical Content Development
Because we work primarily with high tech companies whose differentiation is their technology, sometimes at the hair-splitting level, we wade in the sea of technical content every day. For the non-engineer, -mathematician, or -scientist, a content marketing strategy seems like a fool's game. A variety of literature suggests approaches to engage employees and to get the most from your high tech company’s technical staff to help develop the excellent content that marketers use to generate qualified leads. There are some very good suggestions, but here’s the rub:
- The base assumption to these approaches is that technical staff can write content such as white papers, technical briefs, and trade articles. And once the technical meat is in hand, content marketers can polish the materials and fill in gaps by interviewing the author(s). This isn’t always the case.
- In actuality, most high tech companies (especially small to mid-sized like those we serve), don’t set expectations of its technical staff to develop such content.
- Most companies don’t set the content priority and allow engineers to carve out the time necessary throughout the year to focus on technical content writing.
It happened just the other day. One of our clients made it a priority and took the time to develop content, but when abstracts for white papers were submitted for internal review, they found that clarity was a big gap. These are very smart engineers and scientists, but they needed a bit of structure and coaching to get them moving in a constructive direction when authoring the white papers and other technical articles.
We assembled a cheat sheet of tips, questions to answer, and other organizing principles.
Download these tips for your own technical content writing.
5 Questions for Creating a Winning White Paper
1. What problem does it solve?
White papers can be presented in a few different ways; the can be used to describe the technical features and benefits of a product or service in detail or to provide a roundup of highlights about a current industry issue. The most common, and arguably most effective, type of white paper presents a pressing business or technical problem and proposes a solution. A good white paper will outline:
- what the problem is
- why it is a problem (how it affects your audience or why they should care)
- various actual or potential ways to solve the problem
- an argument for why a particular technique or approach is the best solution
Without pushing your particular product or company too heavily, your white paper should be able to convince people that a) this is a problem that does or will affect them, b) the problem requires a solution, and c) they should seriously consider your solution. Your reasoning should be focused on the type of solution or approach you are advocating, with your specific product or service mentioned secondarily.
2. Does it attract and speak to the right audience?
The language and details you include in your white paper will depend on the type of people you want to read it. Think about your intended audience. Are they engineers? Buyers? Program managers? CEOs? What are their main motivations for investigating your company or product? An engineer or technician might want to learn about the technical or practical considerations of a problem-solution, while a program manager might be more interested in how a particular approach saves costs or reduces program risk.
The way you present the information will also vary based on who’s reading it; for example, graphs and technical diagrams would appeal to engineers, while other audiences might prefer anecdotes or case studies that illustrate how a solution has worked in application. Whomever you choose to write for, narrowing your audience will help you create content that people want to read and share.
3. Is it objectively informative?
A good white paper stands on its educational merits alone. Your white paper suggests a solution to a problem that your audience or industry might be facing, and while it is acceptable and expected to mention your product or service, pushing your brand too hard can overwhelm or invalidate the quality advice you are giving. Therefore, it is generally a good idea to either:
- reserve details about your company and solutions for the last paragraph, or
- mention your company’s successes sparingly as examples to support specific points (or include a case study in a sidebar).
4. Is it visually appealing and easy to read?
All readers appreciate a well-composed and easy to navigate layout. Going overboard with charts and graphs or cramming too much info into your white paper will work against the intended goal. We suggest:
- Breaking up content – sidebars, bullets, headings for different sections (such as the bullet points mentioned in step #1). Leave enough white space that the reader’s eye can easily travel from one paragraph or image to the next, but not so much that the white paper seems sparse on content.
- Using good visuals including pictures, charts and graphs, when and if they add to the understanding of the content. Remember to include a clear, concise description for each image. Visuals can help tell the story, but don’t assume the reader can interpret the results or intended meaning; help direct their attention to the facts that matter.
- Avoiding busy backgrounds and reverse type (white words on a dark background); a cleaner look is typically easier to read.
5. Will the reader DO something after reading it?
Finally, will your white paper ultimately drive a specific goal? Will it generate website visits, inquiries for your products and services, or the desire to learn more? The white paper isn’t a brochure, but it is acceptable to have a clear call to action encouraging readers to take the next step.
Make your content marketing strategy a priority.
Launch Team helps small and mid-sized companies focused on high tech, engineering services, advanced materials, instrumentation and other science-based disciplines attract and convert leads to sales through inbound and outbound marketing strategies. We approach content marketing by following many of the common best practices, yet we also get into the technical weeds most marketers shun.
We employ engineers who have a knack for writing. They can role their sleeves up with your technical staff, which accelerates the content development process, requires less time from your staff, and ensures best practices are followed. Request a free consultation to learn how we’re different.