Aparently, if user manuals were treated more like marketing materials, companies would get a lot fewer complaints and tech support calls, as users would RTFM (Read The Firkin Manual, in case you didn’t know . . . ) The logic is a bit like the thinking around how potential customers get treated in comparison with existing customers. Its a bit like the example we’re all familiar with – banks offering introductory rates that aren’t available to existing customers.
Why do so many companies treat potential users so much better than existing users? Think about it. The brochure is a thing of beauty, while the user manual is a thing of boredom. The brochure gets the big budget while the manual gets the big index. What if we stopped making the docs we give away for free SO much nicer than the ones the user paid for? What if instead of seducing potential users to buy, we seduced existing users to learn?
Now my initial thought on this came from that part of my brain labelled ‘Engineer’. “Why would anyone want a manual written by the marketing people. A manual should tell the truth . . . be full of facts, not emotions . . . and I want a damned index so that I can find the facts I want in amongst all the other Very Important Stuff that manuals are full of”
But then I read on, and realised that Kathy’s thinking was actually running contrary to ‘normal’ marketing (y’know – where the sales&marketing managers go and make all kinds of daft promises to customers that just can’t be fulfilled . . . or if they can, then not at a profit). You see ‘normal’ thinking sees the customers you have as being in a leaky bucket, and the job of Sales is to pour more into the top. What Kathy’s trying to get people to do is to block the holes in the bucket. So spend the marketing budget for promo paterials on the manual design & production, and use these as the promo material too.
Nice – this is all about finding the problem’s root cause, rather than just looking at its symptoms.
Of course, to really get to the root cause, we’d design products so well that they really didn’t need much in the way of manuals, and everything you need to know about how to use them could be summed up in the marketing copy-writer’s allocated 200 words.