Channel Marketing Manager, Security Organization
Date of Interview: February 23rd, 2017
Q: Okay. Would you please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated from college?
A: Okay. My job title is channel marketing manager, and I work at Alarm.com, and I graduated from college in 2003, so that would be, shit, 14 years? Sorry [laughter].
Q: That’s great.
A: Fourteen years.
Q: Can you please provide a very brief description of your primary job functions?
A: Sure. My primary job functions include creating and writing all the content for our marketing material, so this includes flyers, brochures, product summary briefs – because we’re a technology company, and we sell our products through a dealer channel – so I create all the sales materials and things that our dealers use to sell our product to their end users. So it’s B to B to C, in a way.
Q: B to B to C – business to business–
A: Business, to business, to consumer.
Q: To consumer. Okay, great.
A: So I write consumer-facing pieces that you give to a consumer if you go to their home and you leave a flyer behind about the products, and I write dealer-facing pieces that are more educational, so talking about product features, and what it can do for your business, and that sort of thing. So it runs a gamut from 12-page to 16-page brochures, to one to two page flyers, to trifold booklets, bifold booklets. I kind of determine what that piece will look like in size, and work with the product teams to create that content. Ultimately, a lot of times taking really technical pieces of writing that a engineer might have written or a product manager might written, and in a lack of a better term, dumbing it down, for consumers and for people to understand who are not technical in nature. That’s one part of my job. The other big part of my job is communications aspects, so I do all of our outbound email marketing to our dealer channel. So any emails, which can include a monthly newsletter, and any product announcements, and program announcements that we have that go out throughout the month or year. So probably anywhere from two to three emails a week to our channel. They range from, like I said, different products and features as things come out, to programs and services that we offer our dealers to help them sell – so whether that’s training materials, or marketing programs that help generate leads and help them market to their customers, and just news and updates on the company.
Q: Excellent, thanks. How frequently are you required to write in your job? If possible, could you estimate in an average week maybe what percentage of your job requires writing?
A: One hundred percent [laughter]. Maybe if I’m being honest, it’s like 95 percent, and then five percent of that is maybe like data analysis and kind of number crunching, but it’s very minimal [laughter].
Q: Okay. And we sort of answered this – what forms or types of writing do you most often complete? I feel like, unless there’s anything– great. Could you describe the primary to which you write, and the primary purposes that you’re writing?
A: Sure. So I hit on this in my previous answer, but there are two distinct audiences. It’s our consumers – so this is anyone that may or may not be interested in buying a smart home security automation system in their home. I think as a company, there are three different target audiences that we push our messages to, and it’s new homeowners, new younger families, wealthy, older individuals who many have second properties, and then highly tech-savvy kind of middle aged area. That incorporates a lot of people, but that’s our consumer base. So the writing to consumers is more I would say copywriting, where it’s very short, succinct, to-the-point, high-level, “What can our solution do to make your life easier and better?” – and putting it all in those contexts. Then we have our dealer-facing pieces, which are for our dealer channel, so this is security dealers in my profession. The security industry ranges anywhere from small mom-and-pop shops all across the country, to really large national companies, so the audiences range. We gear most of our stuff that we write kind of in the middle, because a lot of our bigger clients are familiar with everything and have one-on-one access to training and resources within the company. They don’t necessarily rely upon having the product summary or the brief there that they have to learn from, whereas our small dealers, that is their only source of getting information. I don’t know if you need like demographic-wise, but it’s US and Canada, we have a whole other international team that translates for our international dealers which range all over the world. It can range in education level, I would say that probably that most older security dealers are not college-educated, so you’ve got to keep it very simple and easy to understand. I don’t know, is there anything else? Is that good?
Q: No, it’s perfect. That’s great. Were you familiar with those types of writing when you were a student in college? And if so, how did this affect your approach to them once you got into the workplace?
A: Sure. I think in college, I was more– I was a marketing major, so I was familiar with copywriting and advertising, but doing the kind of writing that I do now is very different from actually advertising copy, which is even more niche and smaller and to-the-point. But I would say in college, probably was not super familiar with writing a brochure [laughter]. If I had to think about it, I don’t think that was something that we ever did in a class. I think we talked about things that we would provide or do, we did mock advertisements, but I can’t remember specifically ever being like, “As part of the marketing plan, we’re going to create this collateral, and these are the things that are– and here’s a mock of it. Here, I’ve written something that promotes this,” or something. So that was very much on the job training [laughter].
Q: And how did you approach it, those new genres, when you got into the workplace? How did you sort of teach yourself or– ?
A: I think just by kind of being a consumer already, you see that stuff. For me anyway, it was just kind of copying what I had seen throughout my life, and being like, “Okay, well this is what a brochure looks like, or this is what a trifold looks like.” I’ve actually never gone into a company or job situation where a previous piece hadn’t already been created, so you could kind of look at what someone else did, or what the industry standard was, or what that company was typically doing, kind of go from there. Then over time it’s evolved, like I think if we were to look at something– security dealers like to use trifolds, which are a 8.5 x 11 sheet that’s folded three ways. So those are kind of like industry standard, that’s what they like to use; if you have a security dealer come to your house, that’s what they’re going to leave you. So I think if you looked at a trifold that was created in 2011 before I got there and one that I’ve done recently, you would probably notice that there’s a lot less copy and they just get shorter and shorter, and more high-level. Whereas before I think there wasn’t necessarily a marketing team in place, it was a lot of product people doing marketing functions, so they were writing as someone who is very passionate about the product. So they put every single detail and thing that they had been working on that they thought was important, without really thinking about the end user, and what is truly important to the consumer, and also that people don’t really sit there and necessarily read everything that’s in a brochure. When you flip through a brochure, you’re probably looking at the pictures, looking at the highlighted text, looking at the big headlines, and that’s about it. So that’s where you have to focus the message. And that was all just kind of learning through time. I think throughout my professional career I’ve also taken training classes that focused on copy writing, which, not in the advertising sense, but in just the general writing for work sense. So that’s helped too, to really ingrain that, like, got to focus on the short message sort of thing.
Q: Could you describe your writing process, including how writing assignments or tasks are given to you, how you prepare, and the steps you take from the start of the project to the end? And if it’s useful, you could pick just a typical project that you do.
A: Yeah. Well I think for me, the first part is getting the information from the product team, because nine times out of ten, whatever I’m writing about is usually feature or product specific to something that we do. So a lot of times if it’s a new product or feature, I’ll need to work with the product team, they put together what they call a product brief, which will kind of outline the features, advantages, and benefits of what it is, what they perceive the dealer pitch to be, and what they perceive the consumer pitch to be. So, of course, what they think it is versus what they marketing team might think it is could be different, but nine times out of ten it’s probably right. So looking at that, and then, I don’t know, I don’t have like a real process. I just sit there, I read the product brief, and then I just kind of hit go, and just start typing. I’ve been at Alarm.com for probably a little over four years now, and I think I’ve kind of standardized on the format that we use for everything. So it’s like, if I’m sending an email about a new feature, you lead with what it’s going to do for the dealer and their business, what it does for the customer, where they can get it, when it’s available, pricing if that’s something we want to include, and call us for more details or whatever, move on. So it’s kind of like this outline in my head that I go by every time. Same with product summaries, it’s starting with, “This is the product, this is what it can do for you, this is what it can do for your customers.” And then from the consumer standpoint, you think about what it does for the customer, and what is the main purpose that this is bringing. “Ease and comfort to your life, save on energy,” – and just kind of focusing on those key headlines with quick sentences that tell what you can do. Not getting into the minutia of how you need to do it, how you need to set it up in the system, what the devices are that you need to use, it’s just this is what it is, and why you want it. So yeah, I wish I had a better process, but that’s really it [laughter].
Q: No, that’s great, that’s great. If your documents go through revisions or multiple drafts, how do you approach making those changes or improving the piece from one draft to the next?
A: So oftentimes, and I’ve worked in two different companies that I’ve done a lot of writing for, and most companies have a very different process when it comes to review and revision. The first company that I worked for previous to Alarm.com, you had your draft, you had a list of people that it needed to review, and it routed around to everyone that needed to review, and everyone marked up the same piece. Then you got them back, all the edits, and you had to go line by line and decide whose edits you’re going to take and whose edits you’re not going to take. Some made more sense, some don’t, it’s very subjective, I guess is the right word. Then ultimately you– I just remember picking sometimes or being like, “Ah, that doesn’t make sense but I’m going to go with this.” And then clean up the draft, and then it’s usually a final review for the key decision-maker, usually my boss. Alarm.com is a little different because the revision process is, I write it, and then I send it to the product team, they review it, give me their edits. Then I send it to someone else on my team to just proofread, and then I’ll make their edits. And then I’ll go back and then give the final to my boss, who will then review and sign off. But then she’ll have edits, and then make those edits, and then it’ll be final. So it’s very long and it’s a very difficult process, and sometimes you feel like what you end up is a bastardization of what you started with, but you just have to not be married to your words [laughter].
Q: How long do you typically have to complete a writing project?
A: Well, it varies. In our particular company, in a technology company, we’re constantly evolving and innovating and we have new builds every week. So a lot of times–
Q: Sorry, could you clarify what “new builds” means?
A: So a build is, when you have a engineer-based company, a build is typically what will go into your computer back end servers to push everything live. It’s fairly common jargon amongst the engineer set, I just learned what it was when I started at Alarm. So every week there’s new stuff coming out, and it’s every Monday. I meet weekly with the product team to discuss their roadmap, and where things are, and dates are constantly changing. One thing you thought was coming out next week actually isn’t coming out for another month, or something you thought wasn’t coming out for six months is suddenly coming out in two weeks. So then you’re kind of scrambling, and that literally can change within the week. It’s really quick turnaround usually, especially for the email communications. I try and do things as far out in advance as I can because the review process, like I mentioned, is cumbersome, and I don’t like to rush people for review. But sometimes you find out about something and two days later, you need to send something out. Or it could be you have a whole month to work on something. So it really just varies on what it is and what needs to happen with it [laughter].
Q: What is at stake in your writing?
A: What is at stake in my writing – I guess the perception of the products to our dealer community. Ultimately, the email communication is how our dealer channel learns about what our company is doing, and learning about the products and the solutions that help them sell and serve their customers. It really is the first line of contact with dealers on a week to week basis. Some of our bigger accounts obviously have more touch points with their sales team and their technical representatives. Because they’re more putting on more accounts, they get more attention. But there are smaller dealers that those email communications are the only thing that they see from Alarm.com, and if they don’t log in to our dealer portal, they’re not going to necessarily even know what’s happening unless they’re reading the email. Same with the consumer-facing stuff, I mean, that is really provided to our dealer channel as an added bonus. We present our marketing team to our dealer channel as a full-service marketing agency.
Q: Can I ask a clarifying question? So it’s not that you are sending emails direct to consumers, it’s that you’re providing the emails for the dealers to send?
Q: I missed that. Okay, great.
A: So there is those emails, but I also send directly to dealers, but then we provide things for dealers. We provide email content, we also provide all the marketing collateral that they could possibly use. We have what we call our “marketing portal” for our dealers, they can go on, select a trifold, throw their logo on it and their information, print it out, and they have a trifold brochure that they didn’t even need to do. You basically don’t need a marketing or sales person to start a security company with Alarm.com, because you can just use us. We’ll give you a website, we’ll give you email, we’ll give you collateral, we’ll give you a mobile app to go sell, and you go do it. We’re giving you all the things that you need to do to sell what we’re producing. So yeah, I don’t know if that answered the question.
Q: It does, it does, yeah. The next question you’ve half answered. The first part of it is who oversees your writing – so you mentioned your boss and the product engineers. Could you give a brief title and description of your boss’s role?
A: Yeah, so my boss is the senior director of partner marketing. She oversees our whole partner marketing team, which is solely focused on providing tools and resources for our dealer channel to go sell Alarm.com products and services.
Q: Perfect. How would you say your boss judges the success or quality of your writing?
A: [laughter] Million dollar question. I don’t know, necessarily. I don’t get reviewed on that. Her writing style and my writing style are very different. She often has a lot to say on anything that is written. So I don’t know how to answer that.
Q: That’s fine, that’s fine. Not knowing is an answer [laughter]. You mentioned earlier that you’d taken a couple of copywriting or copywriting adjacent training classes. Could you just tell me a little bit about any writing training you’ve had since graduating from college?
A: Yeah, so specifically one course that I took while I was at CEA (? 20:57), and it was called Content Writing for Marketing Managers, or something like that, I forget. It was like a two-day professional writing thing in DC. The guy was kind of cheesy but it had some good points about talking about being concise and using different words and kind of– it had been the first time I had had any education in that realm since college, so it was kind of nice to get some good tips and tricks for how to approach writing.
Q: Excellent. So what challenges did you face when you entered the workplace as a writer, and what steps did you take to overcome those early writing challenges? We talked a little bit earlier about, you said as a consumer you paid attention, and you looked at previous documents. Are there other strategies that you took to sort of orient yourself as a workplace writer?
A: Yeah. Well, I didn’t enter the workplace as a writer [laughter], I actually never considered myself a writer at all until I happened to fall into that position and became suddenly in charge of email marketing content at one of my previous companies that I worked for. It was very unsure of my abilities. So I looked a lot as a mentor to a older colleague that I had who also did– she was the contractor that did just writing and did a bunch of stuff with the website and stuff, so she would always– I would write things and she would review them, and give feedback, like constructive feedback, that I could actually learn from. It just kind of progressed from there. And I think with that, I just kind of gained more confidence over time. And then now, suddenly that’s most of my job [laughter]. Without really, I mean I do have a marketing background and I was a marketing major, but I will say that my training and schooling in marketing was not content creation heavy. At that time, this idea of content being king wasn’t truly felt and this idea of always needing to generating things on the web and for social and having all of this stuff wasn’t an idea at that point, so there wasn’t a ton of focus on it. Like I said, I was mainly in advertising and that was it.
Q: Excellent. Are you able to identify a change in your writing between college and now, and do you attribute that shift to anything beyond the feedback that you talked about and the class that you talked about?
A: Yeah, I don’t know, because obviously writing in college is so much different than writing in life [laughter]. I think maybe I’ve learned to be less wordy and I think I would probably be a little bit more long-winded probably in college, just because it seemed like that’s what you should be. Whereas now, it’s like, get to the point, I don’t need to flourish it. I even do that I noticed that in my emails to colleagues. I’ll write something and it’s like, “Well, I just wanted to say this about blah blah blah blah blah, and blah blah blah, can you do this?” And then I look at it and I’m like, “I need to cut like half of– Can you do this please?” [laughter] and you just send it, which is a skill into itself.
Q: Excellent. In what ways would you say you were unprepared as a writer entering the workforce?
A: Sure. Well I think in college I really can’t remember having a grammar intensive study in college. I went right into freshman year of school having passed through English 101 in highschool and just going straight to Literary Studies, which I don’t think had the same emphasis on grammar. I think there was like, you know, you got marked up on your papers, but you weren’t sitting there learning about different things. I don’t think I really ever took advantage of writing centers and stuff in college either, I just kind of wung it. I just said, “Okay, see what happens,” and just, I think, lucky me, by natural default, I was just able to make it work because I read a lot of books as a kid, and I honestly believe that’s the only reason why I can get through and it’s sort of grammatically correct. I’m sure I probably don’t have commas in the right places all the time, but halfway there. So I didn’t have any of that study in college, so going into the workplace, again, I kind of just write the way I speak. So for better or worse, that’s what you get [laughter].
Q: Okay, excellent. The last two questions: would you say you’re a successful workplace writer? Why or why not?
A: I would say I was successful just because I haven’t gotten fired yet [laughter].
Q: That’s one way to mark success [laughter].
A: And people come to me for writing advice and say, “You know, what do you think of this?” I feel like I must be some sort of subject matter expert at this point [laughter]. That’s probably not a great answer.
Q: That’s a perfectly fine answer. Absolutely, okay. And the last question: what skills do you think are most central to writing in your very specific role?
A: What skills – well I think having a decent sized vocabulary, and knowing how to read something that’s very technical and taking it and understanding it. And if you don’t understand it, knowing how to talk to people that do understand it and making them explain it to you in a way that you understand it, and then translating that. I think that’s a difficult skill and especially not something that is taught, because you need to have the personal communication with someone to be able to talk to them and get out of them what it is. Because sometimes engineers and marketers are two different types of people, and they think very different ways. So yeah, I think that probably helps the most.
Q: Alright, thank you so much.