Communications play a huge role in developing a relationship with customers and you need to make sure that they’re done right. Yet, in our client work, I’ve found that many retailers leave product documentation to vendors or manufacturers. With others, it’s often the project managers, engineers, or other subject matter experts (SMEs) who create communications themselves. Unfortunately, this takes valuable time away from the SME’s normal work and isn’t the best use of their skills.
This is often a personnel issue. For example, small companies may not have a dedicated graphic designer on staff, so a team member takes on the responsibility. However, a professionally-trained communicator will be able to create higher quality content more efficiently. That isn’t to say that SMEs aren’t going to be involved. Engineers and other SMEs know their products inside and out – their knowledge is vital to create quality communications. Trained writers, graphic designers, and other professionals can craft the product’s message into something useful and memorable.
Documentation specialists at D2, for example, will work with SMEs to learn how a product operates and then organize that information in a way that’s easy for customers to understand. What’s more, we’re trained to anticipate what customers may struggle with to reduce support calls, poor reviews, and returns. If a product is already on the market, documentation specialists can also use data to improve existing communications.
We’ll also ensure that that communications are in-line with brand guidelines to create a consistent image for the brand. Across all communications, branding helps differentiate your product from its competition and, ultimately, encourages customers to buy your product. That’s an important task that can’t be left to chance. If your company doesn’t have communications employees, outsourcing can be a cost-effective way to hire quality help. Even if you do have internal resources, outsourcing can provide a fresh perspective. This is extremely valuable if you’re trying to build credibility or turn around a negative brand perception. Outsourcing during peak times also allows internal communications resources to focus on the things they need to without jeopardizing your schedule.
Outsourcing can help your company focus on what it does best. For example, instead of asking your engineer to write marketing copy, a copywriter can free him up to work on other projects. And, when you hire a company, you’re gaining not just the help of a single person, but also the collective expertise of everyone in the entire company. That can give you better results than you’d be able to create on your own. Having that extra help can also be useful during your busiest times if you need overflow help.
By hiring people who live near your target audience, you can “localize” your communications – modifying them for a specific location or group of people. This can make your communications more relevant to the audiences you want to reach.
There’s an inherent risk to outsourcing – you’re asking someone else to represent your company or brand. That’s a big deal. To reduce that risk, start by carefully selecting your vendor – find someone who understands and embraces your company’s vision and goals. Open communication is vital to making the relationship work. While internal employees are in the midst of everything and likely have greater access to information, your vendor will know only what you tell them (and vice versa). On-site contractors are one possible way to help keep the lines of communications open. Embedding people within your company also helps everyone be proactive to changes.
Making your choice
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, there are a number of considerations when selecting an organization to partner with. Make sure that your vendor:
- Understands your brand & mission
- Fits within your budget
- Can meet your deadlines
- Has appropriate resources (e.g. trained personnel, software)
- Experience with your product or industry and with consumers
- Has a project manager or other contact to oversee the entire project
- Can recommend processes & procedures to reduce costs and streamline development
- Provides translation support, if needed
You should also work out a plan with your vendor. Set expectations for how long you and your vendor will need to complete a project, how you’ll provide feedback for changes, and when product samples will be available. Be flexible with the overall process, deliverables, and rush projects – you’ll likely need to adjust your plan as the relationship develops.
Deciding to outsource your communications is an important decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But with a thoughtful plan and partner, you’ll be better equipped to understand your customers and give them the experience they deserve.
Mikara Bonham is writer at Documents & Design (D2) – a company that specializes in understanding customers to improve communications. If you’re looking for a partner to help create meaningful communications, visit our website to learn more.