How Advertising in User Guides Could Work

Putting advertising in user guides may seem rather flaky at first, but it could work. Here’s why. One of my ‘pet projects’ is to connect the lines between Sales and Technical Documentation. To me, they both serve the same purpose. Serve the customer. While they both start at different points, the end goal is the same. Unfortunately, these two departments rarely work together. Let’s take a look at how we can fix this.

Japanese made English Bread sold in China
Japanese made English Bread sold in China

For this to work, I need to justify Why and explain How. Otherwise, well, it’s just nuts. Ok, here’s the run-down on how to get your ads into tech docs.

  • Captive Audience – IT professionals read technical docs (user guides, reference guides, system admin guides etc) every day. They have to. You don’t have to go hunting them down; they’re already there. You have your audience and you know what they want to read – relevant, technical information.
  • Longevity – unlike other types of documents, such as business plans, tech docs live long on the network, hard-drive or sit on the shelf. But they don’t get thrown out. People keep them as reference and flick through when needed. Compare this with those useless flyers that clog up your mailbox – you bin them without a thought. But you keep your Canon Powershot User Guide, right? And you keep the Car Manual, I bet.
  • Use Cobranding – if you’re a small IT company, you can get a larger (richer) partner to sponsor an ad in your guides. Let’s say you develop a software security application, you can get Symantec to sponsor an ad in the Sys Admin guide. If they sell/develop complimentary products, then it’s a no-brainer.
  • Location – ads on the cover sheet may seem tacky (and detract from the subject matter) but placing them before/after the Table of Contents could work. Also, you could place them at the end of the document. The place no-one reads but traditionally where most companies take out full page ads.
  • Promotions – as these are time sensitive, you can schedule them with things like Release Notes which get replaced quite often. You can use these to give a quick plug to an upcoming event, show.
  • Special Offers – You can also use it to encourage people to download new product releases, subscribe to newsletters, podcasts – whatever, as long as there is a benefit to the reader.
  • Social Media – we couldn’t leave this one out. Most user guides have chapters, each of which discusses a specific subject. Before each chapter starts, insert a squeeze page with links to your Facebook, LinkedIn or other Social Media channels. You can go one step better and direct them to video downloads so they can ‘see’ how the product works.

The challenge is to see where advertising fits into your documentation – and how you can leverage it. Many will try to run down this idea.

Remember: we already do this online, why not do it offline?

User Guides are not works of art. We’re all in the business on being in business. If advertising keeps us all in jobs, then let’s explore the idea.

What do you think?

If you were asked to include advertising in your documentation, where would you start? What’s the main obstacle to doing this? Do you know someone who is already doing this?

3 thoughts on “How Advertising in User Guides Could Work

  1. Ivan Walsh says:

    Thanks Bill,

    We need to find ways to break the mould and see where/how we can add value.

    Technical documents are not sacred texts. They’re just words on a page. It’s what we do with these works that matters.

    Who’d have thought the space rockets would carry advertising for Hollywood movies?

    But now this is the norm.


    Some great posts on this site. Signed up for the newsletter. Looks good.

    Here is the link

    Bill talks about “leveraging your technical documents as marketing materials. Everything your company does or creates should pass through a marketing grid, and that includes user manuals and other “boring” documents. In this post, I want to talk about pursuing three essentials to turn your documents into high-performing marketing materials: truth, goodness, and beauty.”

    Worth checking out!

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