Technical Marketing: Who, What, Where And Why
As marketing technology and tactics become increasingly sophisticated, brands require the assistance of qualified personnel capable of navigating a complex communications landscape—helping them to take advantage of today’s myriad outreach opportunities by cutting through the chaff in order to deliver a clear and compelling message.
Today, those folks are called technical marketers, and it is their consultative advice and know-how where marketing is concerned that can make all of the difference between massive success and tepid failure for companies with complex products.
The role of today’s technical marketer
It would be easy to assume, based on an initial description, that technical marketers and marketing generalists perform the same function.
In some sense, this may be true; both are meant to positively impact a brand’s market share and contribute to the expansion of an organization’s bottom line through a number of research and outreach activities. But while the goals of the generalist and the technical marketer are similar, there is a point at which their roles diverge—and that point is defined largely by the audience and the kind of information needed to compel them.
Whereas the marketing generalist might focus on broad outreach activities meant to entice prospects, the technical marketer’s audience is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the product or service field they’re interested in.
A technical marketer’s knowledge—unlike that of the generalist—must therefore be not only equal to, but greater than the knowledge of the customer, with a keen understanding of the product or service the company represents, its competitors and its unique value proposition on the market.
The technical marketer must possess highly specialized knowledge about the product offering that goes well beyond articulating its individual value to a prospect. He or she must be able to discuss the offering at length in relation to the market’s broader landscape, history and future, and must further be able to base knowledge of the product’s usefulness to a prospect on that prospect’s unique use-cases across a variety of channels that are most relevant to a niche audience.
While the marketing generalist’s expertise might resemble the breadth of knowledge required to achieve a bachelor’s degree, the technical marketer’s includes that plus the specialized subject knowledge needed to confidently achieve their PhD in the niche they’re marketing to.
Marketing generalists and technical marketers in practice
A marketing generalist might be best suited for projects where the audience wants some information about a product, service or brand but does not require a great deal of granular detail to make a purchasing decision. These generalists tend to occupy and thrive in roles at tourism business improvement districts, food and beverage organizations, general-consumer retail operations and entertainment businesses.
Like technical marketers, generalists should have the ability to engage consumers across a variety of channels. However, they may not necessarily need to provide their clientele with extremely specialized information on a regular basis.
A technical marketer is best suited for projects and brands where consumers tend to be very savvy about their niche. These consumers need lots of information to be sure that they are making a highly informed choice to engage your product or service.
Let’s look at an example: a pharmaceutical technology firm or SaaS organization specializing in artificially intelligent loyalty marketing solutions. This firm might retain the services of a technical marketer in order to produce a wider range of marketing assets. In a tight market packed with large, storied players, such an approach may be necessary to convince decision-makers of their solution’s distinct value.
Skills a technical marketer needs
Like any marketer, technical marketers require a variety of skills to be successful. These include a number of hard skills (specialized knowledge about how to do their job) and soft skills (general qualities that enable them to do the job and work well with others).
Hard Skills Required for Technical Marketing Success
The following skills are must-have occupational competencies technical marketers need to achieve success.
Content marketing: Theoretical and executive know-how to mastermind (often through editorial calendars aligned with clear business goals) outreach campaigns that use a variety of content-based marketing assets like white papers, SEO-friendly articles, web copy, email newsletters and other items to create a marketing ecosystem that educates and persuades readers.
Writing: In order to execute a content marketing plan as well as communicate across a variety of channels to a variety of audiences, a technical marketer should be an excellent writer with an adaptable voice and absolute mastery over elements of style, diction, syntax, voice and idiomatic expression.
Research and analysis: As mentioned previously, technical marketers require a great deal of granular knowledge about their niche in order to communicate with their target audiences effectively. They’ll need a strong research ability based on finding and vetting information as well as developing and deploying research initiatives toward a variety of business ends. They must also be able to examine data and draw analytical conclusions from it.
Business knowledge: Technical marketing should be as much about business practice as it is about theory. To that end, technical marketers should not only be able to understand how their efforts relate to their business goals and impact their organizations’ financial fortunes; they should also be able to describe in detail the use cases and return on investment that their product offering or service can provide to their target audiences.
Public speaking: Often in chief marketing roles, technical marketers serve as the predominant public voice of their organization. For that reason, it should be expected that a technical marketer can speak competently in public settings and share thought leadership effectively when called to do so or as part of a broader marketing outreach plan.
Soft Skills Required for Technical Marketing Success
The following are broader theoretical and executive competencies a marketer should have to achieve success in a technical marketing role.
Adaptability: Best practices in marketing as well as rapidly evolving fields, growing businesses and changing customer needs all add up to a dynamic environment that requires some flexibility from those who choose to navigate it. A successful technical marketer recognizes this and is ready to adapt to new needs, challenges and opportunities each day.
Problem-solving: In a dynamic world, problems can occur at any moment, and many require intervention. A technical marketer seeks to solve problems in their own environment and to use specialized knowledge to help their audiences better solve their own—often using the product or service that the technical marketer represents.
Creativity: It takes a great deal of creative energy and insight to develop compelling marketing assets and campaigns over time. A successful technical marketer continually seeks inspiration and translates that into their work, developing unique, novel, helpful assets across channels for their clientele time and time again.
Customer empathy: To understand customer needs, a successful technical marketer has to understand the pain points, excitement, needs and desires of their customer audience. This is one of the most important qualities for this individual to have, in part because it is the fulcrum on which much of their thinking about outreach is likely to be balanced.
Making It All Come Together
Once you have a technical marketer on the team, it’s about blending their wide array of hard and soft skills with your customer audience’s needs and wants to develop the technical content they crave.
Want to know more about competencies needed for technical marketing success? Check out our article about the skills a technical marketer needs and the role they play within an organization.
Setting up technical marketing success
Once you have technical marketing personnel on hand, it’s important to set them up for success by putting together a technical marketing strategy.
Developing your technical marketing strategy will depend heavily on how many team members you already have, how many products they’re overseeing and a batch of other questions only you can answer.
One of the most important aspects of your strategy is what facets of outreach your technical marketing personnel will own versus the responsibilities of other marketing personnel. Some teams have one general marketer and one technical marketer, while other teams have marketing specialists for email, advertising, social media, etc.—and technical marketing as another niche title.
Regardless, it’s vital that a technical marketer’s responsibilities are clearly outlined early on and that their key performance indicators are clearly defined. Doing so will increase the likelihood of your technical marketer’s success and diminish the possibility of confusion due to vagueness.
In Practice: KPIs Worth Considering
The following are some key performance indicators for technical marketers that you may want to lay out as success benchmarks:
- New leads via technical marketing collateral: Are the materials your technical marketer is producing bringing in new prospects?
- Content return on investment: Beyond gathering leads, are your technical marketing assets contributing to customer journeys that lead to profit? Are time and expenses showing positive returns?
- Number of in-person meetings and events: While quality is better than quantity, it’s also crucial that your technical marketing team is securing opportunities to engage with prospects in person. Beyond just the number, how many real conversations have these in-person events generated?
- Key-phrase mentions: Is your brand coming up in conversation across the web and social media in relation to industry or other pertinent key phrases? Is your technical marketer strategically implementing key phrase mentions in their content development?
- Educating current customers: Do your current customers feel more confident using your product? Are they becoming evangelists? Can you point prospects to technical content to answer their questions throughout the funnel?
Developing your technical marketing strategy
Once your business has determined what responsibilities your technical marketer will own and set key performance indicators, it’s time to begin developing your technical marketing strategy. This strategy can include a wide variety of assets and outcomes, but the following examples are the most common.
Short-Term Deliverables for a Technical Marketer
- White papers
- Blogs and articles
- Video content
- Infographics and visual aids
Long-Term Deliverables for a Technical Marketer
- Market research
- Catalogs and user manuals
- Courses and e-books
- In-person speaking
- Updated product demos
Generally speaking, your technical marketing strategy should begin with identifying challenges, shortfalls and opportunities you hired your technical marketer to address. This often begins with developing or updating FAQ pages and technical documentation or engaging with a more technically savvy community in need of expert communications. To start, it may be best to address the low-hanging fruit and maintenance activities found in short-term deliverables daily while planning for longer-term content investments.
Keep This in Mind When Working with a Technical Marketer
Developing technical content such as white papers, technical documentation, and even presentations to give at developer’s conferences can take a long time. For that reason, it is crucial that both short-term and long-term projects are considered from the inception of any technical marketing strategy. The earlier and more thoroughly you plan, the better your technical marketer will be able to execute successfully.
Technical marketers must plan 12 to 18 months ahead and have the flexibility to work with the product and larger marketing organization to accomplish goals and tasks (like writing technical documentation). Without these considerations, they are less likely to achieve your brand’s desired KPIs and may in fact prove a costly investment with unclear returns.
Another thing to note is this: technical marketing and broader product marketing have a unique relationship, especially in larger organizations. As you hire for or are occupying these roles, make sure to spend that extra bit of time understanding how each component of your business will work together.
What every technical marketing strategy should contain
Ultimately, there are a few key items that every technical marketer should contribute toward the betterment of your brand’s outreach strategy. These consist of the following:
User and market research: Technical marketers need to know the audience and broader market in order to best serve their needs. This market research can be original—developed by the technical marketer themselves, based on their research competency—or can be produced by another team within the sales/marketing organization.
Technical documentation for users: As mentioned, the assets developed by technical marketers tend to be aimed at savvy users in search of specialized information. The technical marketer should be producing these in short and long form.
Technical content in sync with the sales cycle: Throughout the customer journey, audiences should encounter technical content that helps them to feel informed and properly guided through the process of interacting with a brand’s product or service offering.
User communication: A technical marketer’s knowledge should be used to further enrich the relationship between brand and customer. This can be accomplished through in-app communications, product announcements, in-person events, in-person trainings and more.
In-house training plans: While this may not always seem obvious, the fact is that everyone at your organization should be able to describe its product or service offerings with a sense of confidence and competence. Technical marketers can assist in making this so by developing internal documentation, training and other company engagements that bring the organization’s various departments up to speed.
Start developing your technical marketing strategy today
Whether you’re the first or twenty-third technical marketing hire at your organization, the famous Sun Tzu quote, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat,” continues to ring true.
For that reason, we recommend thoughtfully considering your engagement with technical marketing every step of the way. From establishing the position and setting its performance criteria to determining the pathway of the function’s execution, plotting the footfalls of your technical marketing journey as much as possible will give you the road map you need to succeed—as well as the latitude you need to experiment and explore cutting-edge practices.