May 2018
Text by Arjen van den Akker

Image: © shironosov/

Arjen van den Akker works as product marketing director at SDL in the Content Management and Digital Experience space. He combines a passion for technology and communications with a background in computer engineering and marketing. Arjen has worked at a series of international B2B software vendors and has over 25 years of expertise in turning technology jargon into messaging and clear propositions that relate to business outcomes.

Twitter: @arjenvdakker

Technical product information impacts brand perception

Technical product documentation has always been an important component of a company’s sales offerings, but in recent years it has started to play a much larger role in the overall customer purchase experience. A survey conducted by SDL highlights where in the customer journey technical documentation offers valuable touchpoints.

Although it was clear that quality documentation continued to play a part even after a purchase was made, one surprising result of the recent SDL survey was the value that customers now place on technical documentation before completing their purchase. The full report, which summarizes the results of this survey, is available on the SDL website.

Global market preferences

What stood out in the responses globally is that there is an increased demand for high quality product content from companies, and in particular manufacturers, to drive not only purchase decisions but to build brand loyalty. Technical content is not just used to set up a newly purchased product, it is also often the first place people go to troubleshoot a problem. This is online technical content, instead of a printed manual that might have come with the product.  

For a significant number of consumers, both business-to-business and business-to-consumer, online technical documentation is also an integral component to the review process, and companies are judged in the reviews on the ease of use and availability of that content.

The following statistic illustrates this for the U.S. market alone, where almost three quarters (73 percent) say quality product information makes it more likely that they will recommend a brand to others. This puts technical documentation on par with any marketing effort a company might make and illustrates how valuable this type of content is across the enterprise.

Top three observations

From all the data gathered from the survey, these are the top three findings that show how and where consumers want to interact with a company’s technical documentation:

  1. 81 percent want content available in their language. Localizing content shows a company’s understanding of and commitment to other cultures, which in turn enhances a brand’s overall image.
  2. 65 percent want content available in multiple formats. No longer is the printout in the box or an online PDF sufficient to meet a customer’s needs. Video in particular is gaining ground as a preferred way to consume technical information.
  3. 61 percent want content available on multiple devices. Product searches no longer happen just on a desktop computer. They are done on tablets and phones as well, so having online information optimized to these other, mobile, formats is meeting a critical customer need.

The evolution of product information

The biggest change in the search for and consumption of product information is that search engines and company websites now surpass the printed manual or downloadable PDF. And again, the quality of the information available online becomes a predictor of how a company is perceived. At all stages, the online technical information impacts the brand perception.

How is technical information used?

While 53 percent of global respondents use technical product information to learn more about a product before purchasing it, the information is used for more than just purchase decisions. It is starting to replace traditional customer service. In fact, the survey showed a dramatic drop in the use of customer service, with only 8 percent of respondents even considering an actual customer service department of value in their purchase decision.

Consumers prefer to consult different sources for help with a product before even considering contacting customer service.

The findings indicate that more often than not, a manufacturer’s website is trusted more than the product manual for accurate and up-to-date information. This makes sense considering how often there are version updates to certain types of products and that those updates might not always make it into the manual in time.

What really matters

The majority of respondents – 94 percent in fact – agree that having all information available on a single platform, in a single place or source, is important to them. A single platform gives a company the option to interact with customers along different touchpoints, from product pages, to FAQs, to general company information and technical documentation.

As a side note to this, a company that also hosts user groups, where people are actively engaging and sharing information, gives that company’s brand just that little bit of an extra boost.

How do millennials fit in?

Compared to other age groups, the millennial age group (18- to 34-year olds) consumes technical data differently. They are digital natives who are used to searching online not only to find product information but also to engage with user communities. User communities form an important part of their daily online activities and are a part of their regular social interactions. They are more likely to judge a brand based on reviews and don’t share the same brand loyalty their parents might. In some ways, this means a company needs to work harder to capture this market and build loyalty.

Millennials also expressed a growing preference for video as a way to learn about products. They will often share videos with their peers or on social media platforms, which again, reflects on a brand.

Customized information

To recap, what stood out in the survey results is that people want technical documentation easily available in one place, in their language, accessible in multiple formats and on different devices.

It sounds simple, but this does require considerable planning and effort on the part of a company to seamlessly provide all of this to both existing and new customers. Underpinning an effort to meet those goals has to be robust and reliable technology that can update content across sites and languages with ease. Technical content should be componentized to facilitate and streamline this process as well. The consumer of today expects a seamless digital experience.

Following the trend indicated in the survey, high-quality technical product content has a significant impact on customer satisfaction and influences brand loyalty and sales. It should play a leading role in any content operating plan a company puts in place. It cannot be stressed enough that the customer experience is made up of different elements, but at each point there is content – or technical documentation – that fuels the interaction and determines the impression a customer develops of a company and the brands it offers.