A dripping faucet fills a sink one drop at a time.
Such is the process of marketing and PR in the new world with thousands of distributed, targeted media opportunities. A little exposure here, a little there, and you slowly build awareness about your product, service or business in front of just the right audience.
But some drips ripple more than others.
Take a feature story in a very targeted industry publication, for example. Steven Rainwater of Treeside Communications shared his story about how a customer-story article, written for a client, turned into sales.
As a writer and PR consultant, Steve crafts customer success stories for clients and assists in landing media coverage. This summer, he wrote a feature-length article for his client, UNIST Inc., that ran in the July 2008 issue of Modern Applications News.
"It happened to fit a slot the publication editor was trying to fill, so I wrote it up for him a couple of months prior," Steve said.
The story features the success of Bear Metal Works, which purchased a 200-3S Saw Coolubing System from UNIST, a Grand Rapids, MI manufacturer of lubrication systems for metal shops.
The story made a surprisingly fast, impressive impact.
"Before July was over, I happened to be talking with one of the inside sales people at my client and she mentioned they had already had at least a half dozen calls in response to the above article, and about 3-5 orders for systems like the ones mentioned in the article," Steve said. "Those initial sales amount to about 10-15 times what they paid me for the article. What I thought was interesting is the quickness of the response, still being July."
Following that, UNIST received permission to use excerpts from the article in upcoming trade show materials.
On the back end, the publication ran the article Steve submitted with few changes. The article was one of many PR activities the company has done, but really hit the right audience in this case. What an amazing impact when that happens.
The take-aways here:
Look out for opportunities to provide relevant content to key media in your area of focus
Customer stories are compelling to editors and their readers
There's a lot of talk about trash-talk at this year's Olympics. The French swimming relay team trash-talked before the big race against the U.S., and an American pole vaulter did the same regarding her Russian competitor. In both cases, the big-talkers fired up their competitors and ended up in second place.
In sports, politics and in business, where does it get you?
We talked last week about naming competitors in case studies. The consensus: Doing so publicly, highlighting how you're better than another, can make you look bad and fire up your competitors. It's tempting, but ultimately doesn't give you a competitive advantage.
It's much more powerful to reinforce your own strengths with real anecdotes and metrics, building a case FOR your products or services, rather than AGAINST your competition.
Most businesses have a few favorite customers they like to use again and again as live references. When they have a hot prospect, they get the happy customer on the phone to talk about the experience.
But you want to keep happy customers happy by not wearing out your welcome. Sure, they love you and your product or service, but there's only so much time in the day.
A number of the end customers I've interviewed for my clients for case studies have expressed relief that, by putting their story on paper, they might not have to take as many calls!
Are you reminding your reference customers that this is one of the top benefits for them - minimizing live reference activity? Add that to the list of reasons you give them for why a case study benefits them too.
Give customers a break!
In the customer case study process, at least 3 people are involved in writing/editing - me, my client and my client's featured customer. Often, it's more than that.
Sometimes, we all prefer a different editorial style. I use Associated Press journalism style to help me decide what's capitalized and how to write out the number one versus the number 10. But my client may prefer its own corporate style, while their customers can find style rules odd altogether.
For example, today I received edits back from the featured customer on a case study I created for a client. While the draft originally said "Smith" when referring to her, she preferred "Ms. Smith." Since all the other case studies this client has done use just the person's last name, we needed to change it back to Smith and explain why.
It doesn't particularly matter which style you choose, as long as you have one. Otherwise, your stories won't be consistent from one to the next.
As a former journalist, I still use AP Style. Which editorial style do you usually use?
I'm working on a success story right now where the featured customer switched from a competing product to my client's software. This began a discussion within the company whether to name the competitor or not in the success story.
It's a tough call. You want to use that information to show prospects why customers moved to or chose your solution over a SPECIFIC other solution - actually making a stronger case for your product or service. However, your competitors will likely notice. And once you throw the first punch, they'll probably punch back.
I usually recommend that clients refrain from using competitor names in the written story. Of course, sales reps are free to tell prospects in conversationÔø?which competitors the story refers to, if they choose. But publishing that information is very different.
What did my client decide?Ôø?The sales reps discussed it and decided against naming the competitor.
I'm curious, what's your opinion on this? To name or not to name?