Technical Communicator: The New Branding Person

Last month, I got a chance to read from some of my old books. I am a marketing graduate. So, while I read some random pages from the marketing domain, I could see that the learning matched to technical communication as well. But, how could the lessons on branding teach anything about technical communication? In this post, I try to explore this question to help improve my understanding.

Branding lies in creating differentiators and motivators. I see that those of my ex-colleagues who have continued in the marketing and branding domain live by this rule. That’s because their projects and communications have always revolved around these two all-important elements.

Whereas, technical communication is about the product features and their respective application. Currently, I write product documentation for a product-based software company. On a broad level, I prepare documents that list, and detail, the product features. I create and test scenarios to see whether a product works the way it should. And, I collect and verify the information from the product experts (SMEs) by asking questions about the product’s current and expected functionalities.

But, interestingly so do the brand communication agents, who talk about products, their features, and potential benefits, and help customers find a “connect” with their loved brands. And, because the basics sound similar to me, I’ve designed the NEAT and TIDY models, where NEAT applies to branding, and TIDY, to technical communication.

What are the NEAT and TIDY models?

In one of my previous posts, I talked about the TIDY model. I saw how I could use the model to design effective technical communication. In this post, I will compare the TIDY model with its marketing counterpart: the NEAT model. I’ve designed the NEAT and TIDY models to help map my understanding of the concepts of marketing with that of technical communication.

A quick recap: TIDY is about the Technicality, which talks about the underlying logic; Information, which focuses on processing data or facts to help indicate the possible flow of information; Design, which uses the UI elements to establish the link between cause and its effect; and Yield, which interconnects the need and the solution.

NEAT, on the other hand, stands for Navigable, Explainable, Approachable, and Thoughtful. These four aspects, I believe, are elements that constitute every branding activity. Here’s my interpretation:

By Navigable, I mean both, the way you locate what you need, and the way you locate where to get it. Almost all of the brand-related communication, I have learned, talks only about how a brand can provide you what you need.

By Explainable, I mean the ease with which you or the customer can associate the core offering with the product. For example, these days you can buy a shaver that has an additional blade on the other side of the spade. That’s there for shaping the beard. Now, that’s pretty intuitive and hence is explainable. Also, I’ve gleaned that Navigability is the first half part. So, if one helps locate the need, the other helps equate it.

By Approachable, I mean brand personification, which is the sense of oneness – the ease of your association with your brand. For example, consider the guy that you see in an advertisement for life insurance. If he resembles you, you can “feel” the brand. You might feel that you are the one (or just like the one) in the advertisement. And, his taking a particular decision influences your choices and preferences.

By Thoughtful, I mean the intuitiveness of the product design. Do you have a kettle that has both the hand and the spout on the same side? Or, how often do you see that you cannot open the cap of the bottle just because either your hands are wet or the bottle cap is slippery? The holder on the cap; the spout, which is (obviously) placed opposite to the handle, are examples of simple, intuitive, and need-based designs. I am sure that by now, you too see the underlying similarities of the NEAT and the TIDY models. But, now the big question…

How do I map the NEAT and TIDY models?

These models are just for the namesake because, deep down – as either technical communicators or as branding professionals – the idea is to sell a benefit and not a feature. We’ve talked about this before. In case you recall, I did not purchase my cell phone because it had lots of features; I purchased the cell phone because it had all the features that I could benefit from.

On similar lines: I did not buy a particular brand of four-wheeler because the service intervals were at every 15,000 kilometers. I bought that brand because of the assurance that I would not have to worry about the vehicle for as long as 14,999 kilometers, at least, until subsequent services. Basically, the feature – of having the service intervals at every 15,000 kilometers – maps directly to the benefit – in the form of lesser worries.

That’s exactly where the threads of the NEAT and the TIDY models merge. Technical communicators, who are the catalysts in communication, should be at the center of the communications strategy. They know about the features; can get authentic feedback; design product-based communication; or ascertain which features cater to which business-user group.

Perhaps, for these reasons, I assume that the content prepared by technical communicators should be highly product-centric, feature-specific, and customer-driven.  Also, I have recently read a few posts and articles about the similarities between technical and marketing communication activities (or how a technical communicator can become a better brand communication agent).

I feel that technical communicators can make excellent brand-communications agents. But, even though I occasionally write blogs for my company, I would not choose to continue to do it in the long run. And hence, whether technical communicators SHOULD play the brand-communications agents is still open for a discussion.

I am of an opinion that those technical communicators who consider themselves to be “extrovert,” should also contribute to their company’s social presence. This can create mutual opportunities for learning across teams and might bring standardization across the entire spectrum of communication. But, we will talk about it some other day.

Regardless of how I look at it, I see that the real impact lies not just in framing the right words, but in formulating the underlying message with respect to the intended action. I also see that it mostly is not about a product, but about what the customers can do with it. Do you second?

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