Where I live, in Boulder, CO, there’s a classic bumper sticker, "Keep Boulder Weird." Austin, TX has it’s version as well.
It’s a simple but powerful statement about preserving what makes these places unique and special.
If I had to boil the essence of customer stories down into a bumper-sticker statement, I might pick "Keep It Real."
The very survival of customer case studies and success stories as effective, credible business assets depends on preserving their authenticity.
That’s why I am disheartened by the current Lipitor commercials. The cholesterol drug engaged real customers to tell their stories about their experiences before, and now with, Lipitor.
The problem is, they don’t feel very authentic. I doubted the people on TV were actual customers. They were so smooth and spoke at times like they were reading the Lipitor brochure.
I went to the site and it assured me that the ads featured real customers. Now I know they do, but the ads just don’t feel authentic. I can’t help but wonder how much coaching and training the customers received.
So much advertising features people talking about how solutions helped them. Most often they are actors.
When you have the golden opportunity to feature actual customers in a case study or success story of any type, let the customers speak in their own words – without excessive polish and puffery. When real customers sound like actors, it defeats the whole purpose.
Watch for yourself and let me know your thoughts.
I just saw an article on the Home Accents Today site about a unique marketing and customer loyalty strategy by a home furnishings manufacturer.
The CEO of Guildmaster will spend three months traveling 15,000 miles to meet retailers and interior designers - primarily to collect stories.
"This journey is intended to unearth some great customer stories across America," said Steve Crowder, CEO. "We are going to gather some valuable information and then we will take the information learned on the road and we will execute."
Then, Crowder will share insights learned on social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It's interactive in that contacts in those groups can tell Crowder what they want to know from his meetings.
I find this a very cool move by a more traditional type of business. He'll be using social media to share stories and insight.
Plus, it also points to one of the biggest benefits of collecting your customer stories - insight to shape your company's strategy and marketing efforts.
How often do you see an email, piece of snail mail or ad that has nothing to do with you whatsoever? Every day, or maybe all day, every day, right?
You ignore what doesn't speak directly to you.
It's the cardinal rule of writing - write for your audience. But it's shocking how often marketing communications fail to do so.
A customer case study or success story is a very targeted story written for a specific audience. Fail to speak to that audience, and the reader simply won't read it.
That's the third - and final - lesson from a particularly poor case study I came across last week.
The case study aims to pitch database services to heads of IT departments. Yet it doesn't give CIOs and IT directors what they likely want/need from the story.
- The story doesn't offer any specifics about the featured customer's database setup - types, number, and the challenges therein. It's too vague. Those details provide more credibility for this type of reader.
- It doesn't show why the customer chose this service provider over others. Surveys of buyers indicate that most readers want to know why someone chose a solution over others.
- It's not to the point. Back to Lesson #1, rambling narrative loses most readers, but perhaps IT people even more.
- The story names benefits without showing how those benefits were made possible by the vendor.
- Metrics - It's tough to get customers to share metrics, I know. But this case is full of broad, sweeping generalizations about benefits such as "relieved management headaches" or "improved batch operations." What does that mean exactly and how did it come about? Morever, what is the business impact of that?
If you simply do not give readers what they expect or want from the story, you're missing an opportunity, and wasting your investment in creating that case study.
Last week, we talked about how too much narrative derails a case study.
That same bad case study also commits another serious offense - making the customer look bad.
Sure, as part of a customer story, you talk about pains and problems before the solution was brought in. The reader needs to know what motivated the customer to make a change.
But just as you need balance in the amount of detail you provide, you have to balance negative details. Part of the "sell" of getting customers to be featured is positive PR. They're not in this to air all their dirty laundry for all to see.
In this case, the customer faced high turnover in a position that requires a lot of training. Each time an employee left the position, they spent a lot of time and money ramping up a new person.
The case study goes on and on about how people were leaving left and right. Not good.
For the purpose of this case study, however, it isn't necessary to talk about high turnover. Proper setup for the story requires that we discuss the high costs of "finding and training" the right people for the job.
See the difference? We're not calling out the customer's turnover problem. We're talking about the impact of that - the costs of finding and training. That's what the customer needs to - and does - solve with the vendor's solution.
It's about reframing and softening the "pain" or problem. The case still shows there's a problem but the customer doesn't appear like a bad employer.
Writing the story in this way also makes the review and approval process much easier with the featured customer.
Ugh. I just came across a bad case study.
On this day before Valentine's Day, I would rather be sharing the love, but this case study provides too many learning opportunities.
What makes the case study so bad? It breaks many of the rules of creating compelling customer stories. The next few blog posts, I'll address the sins of this case.
Sin #1 - Too much narrative
I often talk about the importance of telling a story in customer success stories and case studies. But there's a line you cross where it's too much storytelling.
As with anything that you write, every word and every statement should contribute to the overall message. This particular case study provides a lot of extra narrative that doesn't reinforce the overall story or have any value for the reader.
The audience is incredibly busy. In this case, the target is CIOs and VPs of IT. A case study is not the time to construct a really verbose and flowery narrative. Readers will simply stop reading and be frustrated that the case study wastes their time.
Keep the writing tight and always relevant to the overall message.
In this case, the writer spent four paragraphs making a point that could have been expressed much better in two paragraphs.
Stay tuned for Sin #2 - Don't Make Customers Look Bad
For more tips on creating compelling customer stories, check out Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset.