Your Untapped Viral Marketing Power Tool

Many companies think of marketing communications as mere advertising, mass, direct, or otherwise. Public relations seems to also be a well-tapped channel among larger companies. Marketing communication, however, reaches way beyond the confines of advertising and public relations. Companies need to look at and engage all the communications avenues open to them, even ones currently buried in the back corner of engineering.

Don't fail to engage the power of great documentation in garning loyalty and feeding viral marketing.

One powerful communications tool that seems to be overlooked by marketing and owned solely by the left-brain communicators in engineering or product development is the vast library of instructional materials. Most companies have some sort of instructional material to go along with products, especially high-tech companies. Think of those lightweight software manuals being pumped out by every company that has put together a couple lines of code. They often explain how to use the product, but is that enough?

How much power goes untapped to build excitement around the product by using the manual to explain why and when to use the product? What if a manual actually built customer loyalty? What if a manual became a trusted professional resource, a mentor in print?

I know what some of you are saying, "If they're reading the manual, they already have the product." So what? Aren't we always touting that the most valuable customer is the current, loyal customer. That customer, the one with the amazing manual, is the the one who will talk about your product to his friends. The manual is a catalyst to viral marketing. It's a word-of-mouth revenue generator.

How does a company go about turning a manual into a marketing tool?

First, you need to stop asking the technical writer question, "What does the user need to know to use this product?" and start asking the marketer question, "What does the user need to know to succeed so they will love this product?" This is a tougher question because it means understanding the customer - what they do, what they aspire to do, and how some are doing it better than others. The manual writer needs to understand best practices and be able to integrate best-practice story lines into the manual. It's not enough to tell a user the step by step for a feature. The writer needs to also tell them when and where the feature can be used to save them time and money (or just make them look cool).

Instruction and motivation need to go hand in hand. As writers move beyond instruction toward motivating users to integrate the product into their workflow, users turn into loyal advocates. They won't want to jeapardize their workflow by switching products. And they'll look forward to upgrades if they know that another motivational, trusted user manual will be included to help them along the way.

Put the power of your user manual to work by handing it to the marketing department or a marketing consultant for a user-centric re-write.