Technical Marketing

As I’ve noted before, I’m not a technical writer in the purest sense. I do marketing (or, if I’m doing stuff for NASA, it’s “education and outreach”). Given the high cost of much of the work I do, advocating for some technologies requires a combination of marketing, politics, and technical communication. While there are books on technical marketing communication, most of what I learned about marketing came from working at Disney.

Major caveat here: the thoughts here are my own, and do not represent the views or actual strategies of the Walt Disney Company.

Marketing involves getting people interested in your product or service (as opposed to sales, which is specifically about closing the deal and getting people to pay money. You’ve got to have a product or service (obviously), you need to identify who yoiur most likely target market(s) will be, and then you’ve got to get appealing messages out to your target markets in formats/locations/media that will draw their interest. And in this internet age, you also need to consider ways for your potential customers to interact with your company, customize your information to meet their needs, and/or share information with their friends.

What has impressed me about Disney’s marketing efforts is the sheer breadth of their presence: television, radio, internet, email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, billboards, signage, and others. Not only that, but you can find most of these methods not just in Central Florida, home of the Walt Disney World Resort, but everywhere. You can’t avoid the “Disney Magic,” it finds you.

The short version of my thesis–using targeted marketing to improve the appeal of space advocacy messages–can be found here. The short-short version is simply that non-profit space advocacy organizations need to match their messages and media to the right audiences to expand their efforts.

The bad news about a targeted marketing campaign is that it requires a broad set of skills and research. The good news is that the internet has made collecting information much easier. Services such as SurveyMonkey.com are much cheaper and faster than mail-out interest surveys. Databases and mail merge make customized appeals easier as well.

Internet-based marketing has increased the demand for localization, customization, mash-ups, and file sharing. The desire of any marketing campaign is to “go viral,” meaning that individual users start forwarding the message, movie, or other clever gimmick to their friends spontaneously. While “astroturfing” (creating fake grass-roots sites that support your product) isn’t impossible or uncommon, savvy net users can usually spot such sites early. As always, content is king, and content that is clever, genuine, and entertaining is more likely to go viral than a mass-mailed appeal sent via the U.S. Postal Service (“snail mail”).

Marketing is part art, part science. Your surveys will tell you a lot about the demographics and interests of your target audience(s), but in the end you’ve got to be able to develop content that matches your audience’s needs and interests. And understanding audiences is not, regardless of the topic you’re trying to popularize, rocket science.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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