According to statistics I found a few days ago, there are more than 93,300 writer’s blogs on WordPress, so you can imagine my astonishment on getting a comment within an hour of posting my first blog called “How to Interview Engineers.” Engineers certainly must be organized! So in honor of this momentous event, I’ve decided to discuss the supposed antagonism between engineering and marketing, which engineers have been known to refer to as “The Dark Side.” To me, marketing is “The Bright Side.”
Marketing Is Really The Bright Side
Although I was a technical writer for many years, I started doing technical marketing writing almost immediately. I was working for a small high tech company founded by engineers that was doing very well, and our only marketing back then was a series of clever ads in Computerworld. These were created by a guy who sat in an office with his feet up on the desk all day, and considering how hard everyone else seemed to be working, this looked like a great life to me. Later, when the company hired a series of Directors of Marketing, I quickly learned about what I prefer to call “The Bright Side,” perhaps because of Eric Idle’s sunny delivery of his song on the subject in The Life of Brian. Looks like a Marketing Department to me!
For any writer who is the least bit clever, marketing writing in high tech can be fun. The rules are pretty simple:
- Never say anything negative (ironically, my “Writing for Profit” class teacher just gave me the same advice for my first query letter where an honest negative had crept in)
- Always play up the product’s strengths
- Never discuss what the product doesn’t do or have, especially if the competition does it or has it
Is this lying? Or is it seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty – The Bright Side!
Marketing and High Tech Reality
Perhaps I was lucky because I found out the truth early. The Computerworld ads the company used so effectively were often built on its benchmarked claims of “highest performance.” Being young and naïve, I thought this meant that the product was built to perform as fast as technically possible. I said this to one of the engineers, and he sniggered “the product only performs as fast as it has to.” This was my Damascus Experience, and I soon learned these were some of the real engineering rules:
- Making a product perform faster (or better) costs money and budgets are always limited (I suspect even at Apple and Facebook)
- Even if we wanted to make the product run as fast as theoretically possible, we probably couldn’t do it very quickly and we probably didn’t have the talent to do it, even though we had some very smart engineers
- The software product was running on hardware, and could only run as fast as the hardware would allow
- Our customers were very likely running the software on older, non-optimal hardware, so they couldn’t run the theoretical maximum even if we offered it
So, in a crazy way, we were doing the right thing by putting out a new release every few months that ran a little faster – and was still far ahead of our competition.
Marketing is not The Dark Side; reality is The Dark Side.