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Technical Marketing, Storytelling, and Thought Leadership

By March 10, 2020 No Comments

Some people think technical marketing is the opposite of thought leadership: Where thought leadership goes high, technical marketing sits in the weeds.

Let’s bust that myth.

While we need thought leadership content that communicates our value to business leaders, it’s not enough to get to a sale. Thought leadership — like any messaging, collateral, or marketing material — should be tailored to different personas and incorporate technical marketing, an integral part.

Technical Marketing Requires Good Targeting

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a marketer. How many times have you coughed up your contact information, downloaded an ebook, and felt ripped off because the book lacks the substantive content you’d hoped for? I know I have. Sometimes vendors talk in platitudes instead of offering real insights into marketing metrics, processes, or best practices. Sometimes they refer to great results some nebulous customer achieved, but neglected to elaborate on the method of achievement — or obstacles overcome.

That disappointment we’ve felt comes from mistargeting. The content creators didn’t think about us as people – the personas that represent us – and our need for detail.

Now, as marketers, maybe we don’t need a lot of technology detail. But we do need enough detail about related people, processes, and technology to understand how a solution will help us with, say, marketing automation or ABM. We need to know how that technology integrates into our lives.

Non-marketers don’t want to think about those details. But they’re the  marketing equivalent of “technical detail” — our bread and butter — and our persona needs them.

Vendors that provide those details become our thought leaders.

Thought Leadership, Storytelling, and “Telling Details”

If your company sells technology solutions, your thought leadership must tell stories about technology’s impact on businesses.

Note: I’m not telling you to pitch your specific solution in thought leadership. Thought leadership typically describes solution classes, not products. You should use case studies to showcase your solutions.

You should tailor your stories and the details they provide to the personas you’re trying to reach.

To give us a little direction, I’d like to divert for a moment to introduce the storytelling concept of the “telling detail.”

The best storytellers describe their characters, milieux, and situations with very few details. They don’t bother to give the eye and hair color of each individual character or a detailed dossier about their personalities. Instead, we learn that the hero wears a Marine Corps lapel pin and has a five-inch scar from ear to chin or that the six-foot tall heroine shaved her hair in solidarity with her young daughter who is undergoing chemotherapy. Storytellers create vivid pictures by omitting banal details, focusing instead on those details that matter the most – details that create a visceral, emotional reaction, ideally – and inviting your mind fill in the rest.

Good thought leadership relies on these “telling details,” too. Your status as a thought leader depends on providing unique, compelling details — technical marketing, not documentation materials — that guide your prospective clients see your company as a source of expertise and vision, regardless of their place in the corporate structure.

Different Personas, Different Stories, Different Details

Because thought leadership isn’t one-size-fits all, let’s quickly examine a few personas to see how it changes for each.

C-Level, non-technical. These personas respond to stories that show how solutions increase economic value, streamline business processes, improve consistency, or satisfy other business needs.

Think about an example that shows precisely how your solution addresses one of these requirements. Unless you offer entirely technical products or your target C-level executive — like a CDO or CAO — has some technical savvy, your story will likely need little (if any) technical detail.

Non-technical influencer. These personas respond to stories that highlight how their level of business affects the business overall and how your solutions roll into that bigger picture the C-level audience needs to hear.

This storytelling may include some technical marketing, since business influencers often use data each day. Showcasing a detail about collecting better data, streamlining data acquisition processes, or improving other business processes may be appropriate here.

High-level technologist. Whether a CIO, a CTO, a VP, or a Director, this person likely has a bit more technology savvy in a fairly broad scope. These personas need stories that describe how everything fits together – they’ve seen far too many unintegrated, difficult-to-manage “solutions” that devolve into immense headaches. These audiences want to understand how they can become the business’s hero – perhaps even saving the business from itself.

While technical marketing plays a role, the focus of its details should include integration points, ease of managing talent and skill sets, and risk reduction – while still delivering solutions that the business needs.

Tech influencer. Of all the possible personas, tech influencers need technical marketing the most. They’ll want to see how they can implement the solutions you offer and expect to see lines of responsibility in the projects they’re considering. Heroes and heroines of their own stories, they might be “lower level” but they get things done — and they require a solid attention to detail.

Those details include productivity enhancements, ease of use, and “cool factors” related to your technology and solutions. More than most, this persona expects to know that they’re learning something that’s still going to be relevant in a few years.

Choosing Your Media

A final note: Each of these personas responds differently to different media. C-level business personas often use short video bursts for news, whereas tech influencers expect longer, instructional videos on more technical topics.

You have the ability to choose from a variety of formats for thought leadership. They’re all valid options for any persona, but consider carefully how each persona consumes ebooks, podcasts, interviews, video, and other media, before choosing a vehicle to embody your thought leadership and technical marketing.