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Broadcasting your message through outbound marketing has been effectively killed by Google. Search technology arms customers with the ability to find information on their terms when and where they want it. Today’s marketing is about attracting eyeballs and to do that you need great content: interesting blogs, engaging social media, informative white papers, and insightful e-books. More than anything, content must be of value: educational, entertaining, and relevant to your audience.
How do you create this high-value content to power your marketing efforts? It would seem that your own internal subject matter experts (SMEs) – engineers, software developers, and researchers – would be perfect content creators but it never works out that way. There are three fundamental things that prevent your SMEs from being effective at creating marketing content.
Engineering-driven organizations have different priorities
One main roadblock is that in the tech space, a marketing-driven company is a rarity. Many technology companies (especially smaller ones) are engineering driven by a CTO with heavy involvement from the CEO (who likely has a technology background and bias as well). Marketing heads at the C-level are rare and any discipline that doesn’t have a seat at the executive table has little influence over the engineering side of the organization. That means that any deadline will always follow technical priorities. Helping marketing is never part of an engineer’s performance plan or objectives. That whitepaper you need for Q3 can get pushed back indefinitely by new features, bug fixes, or customer support issues that are an SME’s priority.
The fix for engineering’s inability to help is to build marketing responsibility into the organization. That said, getting marketing support from the C-suite of a technology company can be a tall order. A better route might be to get support from the top level of the engineering unit – an R&D or engineering VP who is willing to work hand-in-hand with the head of marketing. If this head of engineering is able to understand the bigger picture when it comes to trade-offs between product engineering and marketing initiatives, he can champion marketing causes. It doesn’t remove real product deadlines taking priority, but it can help give marketing more support within the engineering organization.
Marketing has a bad rap with engineers
Another problem in getting content from your SMEs is finding the right people. You need engineers who are eager to work with marketing, who are collaborative, and who reliably come up with ideas that other engineers find interesting. Recruiting star engineers as marketing cheerleaders is challenging for two reasons. One: marketing often doesn’t have a great reputation with many engineers – more on that in an upcoming blog post. Two: marketing-friendly engineers are the equivalent of product evangelists, which unfortunately are hard to find even when amply paid.
While it’s not impossible to find engineers who are keen to contribute to marketing initiatives, when you do, make sure the role is rewarding. This may require a bit of organizational flexibility and creativity since your engineer may have different ideas of what’s important to them. Maybe they love travel – give them opportunities to represent your company at events. Do they like recognition by their peers? Make sure they’re bylined on all of the collateral they help create so they can build their name. Are they financially motivated? Perhaps creating a bonus program to help incentivize collateral coming out at certain marketing-sensitive dates. Whatever you do, work with those hard-to-find champions to keep them happy and not frustrated or burned-out through their efforts helping you.
Marketing-savvy engineers are hard to find
Another big issue with SMEs generating content is their lack of marketing awareness. They may not think of ideas that help your company emphasize its differentiation. They may not be able to write a decent English sentence. They may not create content that addresses the right audience. They may concentrate on interesting topics that subtly point out corporate shortcomings. You can edit some of these issues away. But because rewriting technical content can introduce subtle errors that flag your piece to the reader as uninformed or alien-sounding, you should expect significant back-and-forth dialog between your marketing staff and your SME contributors on every piece.
You need to build a relationship with an engineer so they aren’t insulted when you rewrite their drafts and understand the effort required to create polished pieces.
Admittedly, some of these marketing-related issues from SME content can be worked around with technically astute editors and by educating willing engineers on what to focus or avoid. Regardless, education and editing adds a big burden to marketing staff, and those resources don’t come for free.
Creating content is hard, finding an SME contributor is
Where does that leave the SME as marketing content contributor? For the best results, you need to find an engineer that’s incented, willing, talented, market-savvy, and marketing-minded – a combination that’s pretty rare. You need to build a relationship with that engineer, so they aren’t insulted when you rewrite their drafts, and they understand marketing goals and rationale as well as the effort required to create polished pieces. You have to cultivate them as marketing champions and reward them for their contributions, so they stay on your team.
Creating valuable content really is hard, even when you’ve got the right resources in-house. When Third Law is brought in to help fill out a client’s content program, we usually find they’re facing not just one but several of these challenges. All is not lost though – you can bring your engineers to your side with an effective strategy. We’ve helped companies create blogging programs that are lauded within the engineering organization as an expressive outlet, a way to get peer recognition, and a driver of corporate business goals. And while outsourced marketing companies can rarely give you the depth or technical chops needed to create really stand-out pieces, they do exist. (Ahem.)