Posts Tagged ‘Planning’
Around 1980, some companies and organizations, notably the aerospace industry and the branches of the U.S. military, began to re-think how they presented technical information. Their products were complex, and their maintenance, troubleshooting and product-support requirements were stringent and time-consuming.
They knew they needed to improve performance, reduce errors, and shorten learning timelines. But how?
As it happened, they looked at emerging computer technologies and wondered if moving from paper to an electronic format would improve results. Among their questions:
- Would users find it easier to learn and use the material?
- Would they reduce errors and improve performance?
- Could they integrate documentation with other systems?
- Could they save money?
Tests with interactive electronic formats showed positive results and so, encouraged, the companies and the military forged ahead into the world of Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM).
Since that time, we have seen IETM systems develop a variety of features, with most using one or more of the following:
Linear Structure. This sort of electronic document is based on the structure and layout of a printed book and uses navigational aids, such as a table of contents and a list of figures, that hyperlink into the content. A PDF file is a good example.
Nonlinear Structure. These online documents are organized around the logic of the product or task, for example, instead of following a linear book-type structure. However, the concept of a static page remains. As you would expect, there are lots of hyperlinks and other navigational aids. This type of document is often authored in a markup language.
Dynamic Data. These online documents are very nonlinear in structure. Content and pages are dynamic, drawing much of their data from relational databases and data dictionaries. Background programming automatically updates the dynamic data when the databases and dictionaries are updated. Hyperlinking in these documents is typically very complex and is, therefore, usually handled by programming. Content may also be context-specific and user-specific.
Integrated with Expert Systems. As companies build databases of heuristics and expert feedback, these can be integrated with the IETM system to improve the user experience and results. This information can be dynamically mapped into documents in all sorts of ways. For example, feedback by expert troubleshooters about errors and how to resolve them is sought after by companies across the product and process spectrum.
New Frontier—Multiple Devices. Many companies are now changing the way they and their customers think about IETM. From design concept to reality, they are experimenting with unleashing product support through all sorts of channels, for example: Mobile devices such as tablets and phones, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, websites, CDs, PDF, print, wikis, and blogs.
The new frontier of IETM seems to call for a “basket” of delivery platforms, each carefully selected for a certain type of content.
And no matter the platform, content rules. As ever.
Content must be organized in a way that suits the product, the audience, and its intended use. Content must be consistent across multiple platforms, well structured, properly modularized, cross-referenced and completely accessible by a full range of search and navigational features.
IETMs and their spin-offs present design, writing and production challenges, but produce a better user experience and greater performance improvements over stand-alone paper documents.
For more on creating an interactive user experience, see my recent post Let Your Customers Tweet in Your Documents.
Now it’s your turn: Does your company use IETMs? On which delivery platforms? How would you describe your experience implementing IETMs? Do you think the results are worth it? Please share your thoughts and questions about IETMs in comments. Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
If you started to think about your company’s publications as behaviors instead of things, would such a shift in perspective change the resulting documents? Would your customers respond to your message in a different way?
Consider the publications that you and others in your company create—they probably run the gamut, from sales and marketing literature to online pages to proposals to technical documentation and maybe even to interactive multimedia presentations and video scripts.
Like most writers, you work with others to establish the requirements for each publication and to generate and refine its specifications. You create an outline that captures the topics, features and procedures to be included in each document and organize that content in a way that satisfies the project specifications.
Such an approach is based on seeing the document as a thing. And, while it may be necessary, at least in part, is it sufficient? Does it really satisfy your customers’ needs? Does it let you wring every last drop of value out of what you spend on trying to connect with your customers?
What if you viewed a publication as a set of behaviors, instead of just a thing?
For starters, this might mean that your project requirements stated how your company’s customers would interact with the publication—and any associated product. After all, why do your customers read your stuff? What do they expect to get out of it?
If you thought about customer behaviors—for example, how they use the publication, the ways in which they need to access the document, how they find topics, how they use the information, what other resources they might need, how they might use the document as a focal point for customer-to-customer and customer-to-company interaction—would those considerations change your document specifications? Would the specs begin to reflect a mindset that took user experience into account?
If you viewed each publication as describing, prescribing and integrating a dynamic set of behaviors among your customers, your products and your company, how would that change the types of documents you create?
Would you enhance your publication model to include various scenarios and anticipated interactions that played to customer needs and experiences?
Begin to think about your company’s publications as behaviors instead of things, and I’ll bet your documents become more interactive, more dynamic, more user-friendly and more attuned to your customers.
Now let’s talk: What is your opinion? If you create publications, what is your approach? As a customer, how do you respond to companies’ offline and online publications: What do you like about them? What don’t you like? You can leave your comment at the top of this post. Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
Happy New Year! As you make your business resolutions for the coming year, communicating better is likely on your list. Whether you are an entrepreneur charging forward at the head of a fast-track startup or are growing an established small, midsize or large company, you know that telling your story and getting your message out to your customers and prospects is absolutely vital to your continued success.
With my best wishes to you for a kickin’ and profitable New Year, here are four hot-off-the-press tips that will work wonders for you in 2011.
1. Set Your Objective
Establish an objective to serve as the framework for your communication project. In other words, what is your purpose in reaching out to your customers, a colleague, prospects, your staff, or the general public? What do you want your audience to know, do, think, or feel? What results are you looking to get? From a single letter to an entire advertising campaign in a variety of media, you must know why you are communicating.
Taking aim and knowing what your target is before you take action gives you a real edge over your competition. So don’t bypass the tried-and-true advantage of figuring out where you want to go before you hit the trail: set an objective.
2. Develop Your Strategy
Now that you have an objective, you need a way to get there. The path to your objective is your strategy.
A useful way of thinking about strategy is to ask this question: what achievable steps can I take to reach my objective? In other words …
What is your product, process, idea, and so on? Who are your audiences? How can you engage and hold their interest? What sort of material (white papers, letters, brochures, books, manuals, videos, websites, blogs and other social media, and so on) do you need to create to reach your audiences? What must you say to your audiences to accomplish your objective? What is your point of view? How do you begin to tell your story, make your pitch, start your message to get through to your audiences?
Basically, you can think of strategy as defining the who, what, where, when, and how as specifically as you can. Strategy is your gameplan, and every step must lead to the why, which is your objective.
3. Establish Your Theme
In music, a theme is a pattern of notes that makes the dominant statement at the opening of a composition. After establishing a theme in a piece, the composer develops it and plays with it until the end, when the musical exploration is resolved into a re-statement of the theme.
Communicating by words and images is similar. A good theme lets you own one or several words in the marketplace which are identifiably yours. In this sense, a theme positions or brands your message, that is, it creates “shelf space” in the minds of your audiences.
A theme is the glue that holds your strategy together. If you are spangling messages across market segments and platforms, what is the tie that binds, the unifying element, the cohesive force? Your theme.
You want coherence and organic unity? Grab yourself a dominant theme and stick with it for the project.
4. Create Your Message
Build your message around your theme. The message also must fit within some part of your strategy, so that it helps achieve your objective.
The persuasiveness and effectiveness of a message stem from four factors: what you say, how you say it, where you say it, and how often you say it.
The most important aspect of a message, however, is that you have to write for the audience. Do you know your audience well enough to send them a message they will find meaningful? Will your audience understand your message? Are you using words and images that are relevant and familiar to your audience? Will your message achieve the desired results with your target audience? Is the message appropriate for the medium you have selected, for example, the digital market space, a print magazine, a video or a white paper?
What are your thoughts on how to communicate well? Please share them by leaving a comment. Thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
What does it take to improve the visibility of your web page or website in a search engine’s results list? Can you actually improve your search-engine ranking? And, most important, is that what really drives more visitors to your page or site?
A lot has been written about search engine optimization (SEO) and its value as an Internet marketing strategy.
Over the years, of course, search engines have caught on to so-called black-hat techniques, often referred to as spamdexing, which can get a page or site removed from a search engine’s index. So ethical website designers have learned to avoid bad practices like link farming, keyword stuffing and article spinning. And beyond the ethics question, to my knowledge there has never been any clear-cut evidence that such tricks ever really worked without any massaging of the results data.
Legitimate practices for optimizing a web page or site, the so-called white-hat techniques, include backlinking, removing barriers to the search engines’ indexing activities, cross-linking between a website’s pages and URL normalization.
Perhaps the most important technique of all, however, is to create worthwhile content that is truly relevant to your audience and also contains the keywords that your audience is most likely to use in their search queries. Place those keywords on pages, in title tags and in meta descriptions.
In my opinion, content wins, hands down, over other website-based methods of optimizing for search engines. Here’s why:
- In order to create content that is relevant and useful for your audience, you have to know your audience. This requires research, analysis and thoughtful consideration, not black-hat tricks.
- To develop keywords that make it easy for your target audience to find your web page or site, you must know how your audience thinks. You’ll probably have to dig a little to figure out which search terms your audience tends to use, run some tests and get feedback.
- To make your web page or site compelling enough to draw visitors, your content has to be useful, interesting and well written. Great page design and graphics certainly help, but those alone won’t save your site if your visitors decide the content is not worth the trip.
- Finally, to keep ‘em coming back for more, you must keep your site’s content fresh. So update and tweak as often as needed, which will depend on your company’s overall marketing objectives, the site’s purpose and your audience’s needs.
Gee, it’s beginning to sound as though you might need a marketing plan, isn’t it? Which is exactly where I think SEO belongs: as one part (and only one part) of your marketing plan.
What do you think? Do you use SEO? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment. Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas