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How To Turn Complex Topics Into Content Your Audience Will Understand

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How To Turn Complex Topics Into Content Your Audience Will Understand

Recently, a client in the technology industry wanted to develop clear, easy-to-understand content that their audience could relate to. But it didn’t seem possible.

Without skilled writers to translate technical concepts into business outcomes, this company could not build its content program, which affected its ability to differentiate in a crowded market. The constraints of a difficult reality seemed impossible to overcome.

Yet, their goal really was possible. Let’s explore five ways that you can turn complex ideas into interesting, engaging, and original content.

Define your audience’s technical knowledge

Successfully writing about complex topics depends on the audience’s knowledge level.

Matthew Rayback, senior manager of UX content strategy at Adobe, has spent the last decade building content programs for technology companies. “Do the work of understanding who your audience is and what their tolerance – or even expectation – of complexity is,” he says.

Do the work of understanding who your audience is and what their expectation of complexity is, says @matthewrayback via @SarahLParkerUK @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The challenge is to avoid being too technical or too simplistic, both of which can prevent readers from connecting with your message. “If you’re writing about a highly technical subject to a lay audience, you likely need to find ways to simplify (think metaphors or examples, etc.),” Matthew says. “But if you’re writing about the same topic to a specialist audience, they will likely be insulted by a simplistic approach and will be evaluating you on your ability to reflect the complexity they’re looking for.”

To match your language with the terms, concepts, and examples with which your audience is familiar, map their technical knowledge before you write.

Example: A List Apart, a site for people interested in web standards and best practices, published an article – Breaking Out of the Box – for a developer audience. The piece uses technical language, such as “device postures” and “Window Controls Overlay for Progressive Web Apps,” shown in the text below, that this audience would understand. However, a layperson likely would find those terms disruptive to their reading experience.

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Understand the topic

Masooma Memom, a writer for SaaS brands, is experienced at mastering complex information to help educate audiences. She says the best way to write about complex topics is to learn about them first.

“After all, if you aren’t clear about the topic, you won’t be able to explain it to your readers,” she says.

The way to write about complex topics is to learn about them first, says @inkandcopy via @SarahLParkerUK @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Build your understanding using one of these two approaches:

  • Explain your topic to a rubber duck. This is an old programming trick. Because the duck knows nothing about coding, the expert breaks down the problem by talking aloud to it. “This helps you identify flaws in your understanding of the topic and also gives you ideas for how to explain it simply and clearly to your readers,” Masooma says.
  • Visualize your topic with a concept map. If you don’t like talking to yourself, use a concept map to define the most important ideas. “Create one using arrows to explain how steps or concepts are linked. It’ll give you lots of clarity on the topic, prepping you well for writing about it in a clear manner,” Masooma explains.

These methods also help you frame your language to support your audience’s understanding.

Example: Moz’s internal links pillar page explains the topic in a way that demonstrates deep understanding of the topic. The image below shows how headings and subheadings – what are internal links, code sample, optimal format, SEO best practice – guide readers to the answers they need.

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Learn the lingo, then unlearn it

Knowing the topic is an important step. Yet, questioning how the word choices relate to the audience is what underpins success. Kim Grob, co-founder at Write On, leads a team of creative directors, content strategists, and writers who specialize in transforming complex information into compelling human stories.

“The really tricky part comes after you’ve got a good working knowledge of the subject. That’s when you’ve got to become something of a translator. You’ve got to take all that complex information and turn it into a story that people actually want to read,” Kim explains.

She says while understanding technical terminology and industry jargon helps create precise and clear writing, high-quality content comes from finding simple word choices to replace those complex terms.

“While some technical terminology will likely be needed to make your story precise and resonant for your readers, use it sparingly,” Kim says. “Focus instead on language that reflects the way people actually speak. This will help you find the human pulse in even the most technical content.”

Use technical terminology sparingly. Focus on language that reflects the way people actually speak, says Kim Grob of @WriteOnNetwork via @SarahLParkerUK @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Amy Higgins, senior director, content strategy, at Twilio, has spent her career targeting content for specific audiences. Both Amy and Kim say simple word choices are crucial, but Amy suggests a novel approach to driving empathy.

“Use the ‘Will my mom understand this?’ testing method before you publish it,” she says. “Every mom is different, but let’s just say my mom is not the most technologically advanced. She once asked me, ‘How do I get on the Google? I can get on the Facebook, but not the Google’. If you simplified the topic and told a great, informative story, anyone should be able to understand the topic, no matter how complex.”

Use the ‘will my mom understand this?’ test before you publish content on complex topics, says @amywhiggins via @SarahLParkerUK @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Example: This University of Utah article, What Causes Miscarriage, covers medical terminology – “congenital anomalies” – pairs it with clear and simple explanatory language – “anomalies you’re born with.”

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Go straight to the source

Your specialists – internal subject matter experts and external influencers – are the best way to access deep industry knowledge.

Ashley Zeckman, vice president of strategy and customer success at Onalytica, has spent the last seven years leading B2B influencer marketing strategy for enterprise brands. She recommends going straight to the experts to turn complex information into interesting content.

Go straight to the experts to turn complex information into interesting #content, says @zeckman via @SarahLParkerUK @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

“Often, we find that the more complex topics are, the less interesting the final product tends to be. My best advice for writing about complex topics is to go straight to the source,” Ashley says.

Develop both internal and external expert outreach:

  • Leverage your internal experts for specialist knowledge. “SMEs give you the opportunity to access a wealth of knowledge, but they aren’t trained in content creation,” says Ashley. “Create a brief that includes questions you’d like their insights on at least five business days ahead of the interview. Then bundle together questions that will help you create multiple content assets.”
  • Scale your content creation with external experts and influencers. By boosting the depth of your expertise working with outside experts, you build credibility with your audience. Ashley suggests these ideas for external outreach:
  • Highlight the benefit to the influencer (monetary or otherwise).
  • Make participation easy in a medium that works best for them.
  • Engage them to promote the content they created by providing social images and suggested social messages.
  • Provide an individual tracking link to each expert so you can determine who resonates the most with your target audience.

“Then it’s your job to bring all these pieces together – by enlisting the help of others to provide deep expertise, you can focus your efforts on developing the red thread that ties the stories together and creates a memorable experience for your target audience,” Ashley says.

Example: The 2021 B2B Influencer Compensation Report from Onalytica and Convince & Convert combines influencer quotes, data, and customer challenges to create a single thread. This image reflects that package for the topic of authoring e-books and white papers.

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Be a storyteller

Speaking to subject matter experts is one piece of the puzzle. Translating their knowledge into a compelling story that closes the gap between your business and audience is another. Becky Lawlor, founder of Sparkifico, has developed content for leading technology companies.

“Get rid of the jargon and use stories,” she explains. “Whether that’s customer stories you already have that you can pull from or hypothetical ones you create. Stories will help your audience better visualize and understand how the concepts you’re talking about can be put to action in the real world.”

To simplify complex topics, get rid of the #jargon and use #storytelling, says @lawlor_becky via @SarahLParkerUK @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Develop your story around your customer, i.e., the reader:

  • Wrap solutions in customer stories. Use testimonials and case studies to make your customer the hero, navigating a series of conflicts to a successful outcome. “Don’t turn your case studies into long paragraphs or lists of information. Instead, build your customer’s context to make your content engaging and relatable,” Becky says.
  • Hook your customers with original stories. The best narratives come from people who have the same problems as your customers. “Use surveys and interviews to find out what is and isn’t working for your audience. Your stories need to come directly from your customers – whether that’s through case studies and testimonials or original research,” Becky says.

“Content created or co-created by customers gives businesses a direct line into the problems their audience are trying to solve and adds an air of credibility that can’t be achieved in other ways,” she explains.

Example: Salesforce’s case study on Cytiva, a biopharmaceutical company, uses first-hand narratives to connect with the readers and build a shared experience, including this quote about advancing human health: “Our sense of purpose has never been greater. It normally takes around 10 years to bring a new pharmaceutical product to market; the industry had to pivot to deliver in a matter of months.”

This type of frontline story can then inspire readers to solve their own challenges.

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Turn technical jargon into powerful stories

I have learned the best way to write about complex topics is to tell stories developed from connections with audiences, experts, and industry knowledge. To get better at this, you need to identify your readers’ knowledge level, gain a basic understanding of the topic, write using the same language as the audience, and work with experts.

Only then can you connect these elements with powerful storytelling.

Translating technical jargon into stories is about following a process that enables the right balance for your readers. Marketers with this thinking can systematize high-quality content that delivers a clear message.

Need more guidance to hone your content marketing skills? Enroll in CMI University and get 12-month on-demand access to an extensive curriculum designed to help you do your job better and more effectively.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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