Ten golden rules for writing effective content for a technical audience

Written content for prospects and customers with technical backgrounds involved in the purchase, procurement and specification of plant, equipment and services should be engaging, empowering, clear, concise, focused and evidence-based.

There are many things to consider when developing this type of content for this type of audience, but in general there are 10 golden rules that I advise my clients to follow.

  1. Be clear about what you want to communicate and why

This is the most important rule. Without a clear message in a content marketing campaign, without a clear goal and clear measures of success you’ll be wasting your time and potentially worse – damaging your brand.

Companies with a documented content marketing strategy are much more likely to:

  • effectively communicate to their prospects and customers;
  • achieve their content marketing goals; and
  • have a better understanding of what content works and what doesn’t work.

What do you want your content marketing campaign to achieve? – Increase brand awareness? Qualify leads? Target qualified leads that are ready to purchase?

This process requires careful consideration and should involve consultation with relevant stakeholders such as your sales team, technical support team and other frontline personnel that regularly interface with customers. Surveying prospects and customers is also particularly beneficial to this process.

Being clear about what you want to communicate should also tie into your company’s mission statement i.e. your company’s reason for its existence. It’s why your company does what it does.

  1. Focus on a specific topic – don’t try and be all things to all people.

Okay. A big trap for new players to content marketing is developing content that is too general in nature. BE SPECIFIC about each topic and BE SPECIFIC about the audience that it is directed towards.

Wishy-washy content that tries to appeal to all people appeals to no one.

A good example might be how to maximize conveyor belt life, or how to improve the Human Machine Interface setup in a processing plant control room, or how to monitor haul truck performance in real time.

  1. Define your readers’ persona.

This is a big one in content marketing. Let’s say you want to increase brand awareness about an innovative heavy-duty conveyor belt material that extends belt life. Who will benefit most from this product on, say, a mine site? – The bulk conveyor system operator? – The conveyor system supervisor? – The conveyor system superintendent? – The mine manager? – The company’s chief operations officer?

The conveyor system operator maybe couldn’t care less about what conveyor belt is used. This person has no stake in its level of efficiency and productivity only its operability; their job is to operate and maintain the system and besides: they have little or no purchasing authority. However, if they read your content and see a benefit from this type of conveyor belt they may recommend it to their supervisor who may recommend it to the site superintendent. If the capital expenditure exceeds the site superintendent’s level of authority then they may have to recommend or convince the mine manager. And if the mine manager is convinced they may have to justify the expenditure to the company’s chief operations officer.

The complexity here is that each of these job types has different wants and needs, different stresses and challenges to manage and different levels of purchasing and decision-making authority. This is where clearly defining your buyer personas becomes important. Persona is not the demographic of your prospects and customers, which is more easily defined. Personas are about the goals, desires, and limits of your prospects and customers.

  1. Use high-quality and professional photos, images and graphics and write captions for every image.

Never send content without images.

I cannot stress enough the importance of this rule. Research clearly shows that photos, images, graphics and captions are the most read and reviewed aspects of content. The better the quality of photos, images and graphics the greater the chance of reader engagement. When a person reviews a piece of content their eyes are drawn to imagery and graphics that reflects their persona.

Photos, in particular, are visceral and connect with our emotive sides rather than our intellect. Different photos also have different impacts on different job types.

A photo of damage to conveyor belt pulleys from worn conveyor belts will appeal to the conveyor system operator and their supervisor. However, graphs and charts showing the savings from a particular heavy-duty conveyor belt over conventional belt types will appeal to those higher up the food chain – especially at mine manager and COO level.

Images and graphics should include captions. After the content headline, captions are the most read piece of content, so give careful consideration here. As a general rule, captions should be no more than a sentence and have detailed information not otherwise depicted. For example: A conveyor belt showing wear and tear after 12 months of use.

Photos of servicing on site, product installation and photos including people are particularly powerful with industrial-related content. They add weight and credibility.

Professional photography is a great investment and you’ll be surprised at the variety of uses you can get out your professional image library across all marketing collateral. However, if you don’t have the budget smart phones today come with very good camera functions, so with some basic photography skills you can get by.

  1. Cut to the chase. Start with your key message.

Don’t muck around with introductions that waffle. Start with the key message. This is critical. Without a good ‘hook’ you’ll lose your audience’s interest.

For example, which of these opening statements is more engaging?

(a) ‘Conveyor belts play an important role in the mining, processing, storage and transportation of bulk materials. They need to operate efficiently with maximum availability and with a minimum of downtime; or

(b) A new conveyor belt material and technology is doubling the life of belts and reducing wear and tear on ancillary conveyor equipment.

The answer, of course, is ‘b’. Why? – Because the thrust of the message is clear and concise. I know as a reader that this article is going to talk about a technology that could potentially save me time and money.

If you’re not sure how to write your key message ask yourself this question or ask colleagues to answer this question: What key message or message(s) would you like to convey to your prospects and customers about …your latest product …your latest service?

  1. Avoid sales spiel, hyperbole, jargon and waffle and remember: it’s an editorial – not a commercial.

In an industrial business-to-business context most prospects and customers – particularly the key decision-makers will be skilled and educated – usually with an engineering background. If there’s one thing I know about engineers it is that they have finely honed ‘bullshit-detectors’ and will switch off if the content is commercial in nature.

Remove all references to product brand names and company names. Focus on the SOLUTION that the content is offering the reader. Sell the sizzle and you’ll sell the sausage.

Another important content rule here with this type of audience is to be detailed and specific. Only use terminology that the layperson can understand. You may be talking about technical subject matter, but if a layperson can’t understand what’s being said and its benefits then revise. A good test is to ask a colleague or friend from a non-technical background to read and verbally summarise it. If they can’t accurately summarise or communicate the ‘gist’ of it then revise.

  1. Support claims and provide evidence.

This rule is an extension of the previous rule, but I separate it as a standalone rule as it applies to any piece of marketing content or collateral.

Avoid words and phrases like ‘cutting-edge’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘world-class’.

If your conveyor belt material is genuinely ‘cutting-edge’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘world-class’ just highlight exactly what makes it a superior product.

Engineers are only interested in exactly how your product or service will improve efficiency, productivity and safety under their remit. They think analytically and numerically, so you’ll need compelling and quantitative reasons to earn their trust. Use hard data to support any claims. Graphs, charts and research are all particularly helpful here.

Failure to support claims just cheapens brand credibility.

I’m a huge advocate of testimonials when marketing to a technical audience, so if you’ve got customers that can sing your praises it will be ten times more powerful than any claim you make.

A big mistake that many industrial suppliers and service providers also make is attributing verbose comments in their content to staff in sales and marketing roles or people in lofty job positions like CEO. Engineers relate to engineers – or at the very least: someone with a technical background.

Case studies and research are very powerful in communicating credibility, so if you’ve recently completed a job for a client and they were extremely satisfied with what was delivered it never hurts to ask them if you can write a case study on the job. Importantly, reassure your client that the content will not be released without their approval. The last thing you want to do is upset your happiest customers!

  1. What will the audience get out of it? What’s in it for them? What’s in it for you?

Before starting any content marketing campaign establish what you want the reader to do.

Obviously the end game here is to purchase. That’s a given. But there are essential preconditions for this to occur. Firstly, you need to have built sufficient brand awareness. Secondly, you need to qualify leads. By this I mean creating enough awareness in the market that qualified prospects perceive you to be a brand leader. They may not be ready to buy, but providing you’ve done a good job on building brand awareness you’re closer to them purchasing from you. And, if you’ve done a good job building brand awareness, prospects and customers perceive you to be the brand leader, and they’re ready to buy that bodes very well for you.

The important thing to bear in mind here is that you cannot expect people to buy from you if they’ve never heard of you. You may have a superior product at a more competitive price, but without building sufficient brand awareness you’re invisible. It would be like going on a first date with the man or woman of your dreams and then proposing. What sort of response do you think you’ll get?

Anyway, back to content. What do you want the reader to do after reading your content?

– Visit your website?

– Visit your booth at a trade show?

– Take a survey?

– Test drive your product/service?

– Trial your product/service?

– Request a no-obligation free quote?

– Speak to one of your representatives?

– Visit your premises?

– Contact a specific person?

– Send an email?

– Download a whitepaper?

– View a video?

– Share your content?

  1. Measuring content performance

As they say, if you don’t measure it you can’t manage it. This is certainly true for measuring content performance. But what will determine whether or not your content marketing campaign is a success? – Will it be determined by page views to your website over a defined period? – Newsletter open rates? – Newsletter click through rates? – Number of enquiries? – Number of leads? – Number of qualified leads? – Brand awareness survey results before and after the campaign? Sales?

Measuring content will tell you what interests your prospects and customers – and perhaps more importantly what doesn’t. It can also tell where the interest lies by location and job type. Newsletter marketing, my favourite, will even tell you who is most interested in your content and that information is gold!

  1. Keep generating content

Content marketing is a process – not an event. It takes time to take effect. There are no short cuts and the journey never ends. Developing and releasing content regularly and consistently also takes time and discipline, so if you’re struggling to fulfill content appoint a dedicated resource or outsource. Regularly review the results of your content marketing strategy in line with the campaign goals and change your message accordingly. Sometimes, trial and error is the only way, but the more you try the closer you will get to attracting new customers, enhancing customer loyalty and growing your business.

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