Most of my clients are, at heart, engineers. They make things: electronics, bridges, heavy industrial components, nanoceramic polymers, telecommunications equipment. To a one, these people are highly intelligent and educated people who know their businesses and fields very, very, very well..
.. so well, in fact, that they've virtually lost the ability to communicate their expertise in a way appreciable to someone completely new to the subject.
Consider this: we all know that guy down the street who lives and dies in binary. The one who knows the subtly nuanced distinctions between Windows XP Service Pack 2 and 3. Who, when you ask him why your computer is broken, is more than happy to spend the next hour explaining - in exquisite detail - every random blip and chirp and twist and hum, whether you understand it or not.
He's the guy who only speaks Engineer.
That happens a lot in a specialized world full of highly educated experts. And it creates a boatload of problems for the people in charge of marketing the things that engineers make. Effectively selling these sophisticated products to the average businessperson requires more than a comprehensive grasp of technical detail: it demands the ability to translate Engineer into everyday English.
Start with risk. Nearly every technological innovation ever made was created for a single reason: because, in some way, it narrowed the potential impact of risk. A better bridge design reduces the risk of structural collapse. A new data backup architecture cuts the risk of accidental data loss. In the vast, vast majority of cases, the products of engineers are technological insurance contracts.
What risk is your product mitigating for your customer? Start there as a place to build your message.
Demonstrate, then explain. The natural instinct of most engineers is to explain. And explain. And then explain some more. And then to explain the explanation. Remember the adage: a picture is worth a thousand words. Don't explain at length when a simple demonstration will do at least as well.
Tell the story instead of explaining the plot. Is your marketing currently focusing on the amazing features of your product, and why those features are just the best thing since sliced bread? Instead, show your readers how your product will make a direct impact on their everyday lives. How it will make their world an easier and better place to live in. Tell the story. You can explain the plot later.
Avoid detail deluge. A fundamental characteristic of bad technical marketing is an overabundance of detail. Look over your fact sheets, your whitepapers, your website copy and ask yourself: how many of these technical points does the reader really need right now to be intrigued into asking for more? Keep those points and cut everything else. Focus on reader's basic problem, the issue that keeps the reader from getting a better night's sleep. Save the detail deluge for when the prospect asks for it.
Simplify your language. In the world of the highly educated, technical literature is full of language artifacts that send the average, everyday business reader scrambling for aspirin. Overly long and complex sentences. Unnecessary use of long and complex technical terms. Passive verb constructions. Convoluted transitions. A seeming inability to just cut to the point, already.
Once you have determined what exactly you need to say, say it in the simplest and most direct way you can. Short sentences built on active verbs. Careful but simple transitions. Don't squander your readers' time and good will: just get to the point.
Effective technical marketing often requires treading a very thin line between saying too much and not saying enough. Translating Engineer to everyday English requires a bit of experience, a smattering of insight, willingness to listen and a whole lot of sympathy for the reader. But once you've gained a mastery of the skill, your marketing will be immeasurably better off for it.