In journalism, a person’s direct quote is sacred. What’s said is said, and any journalist with integrity doesn’t change a word.
While customer case studies have many similarities to journalism, they’re not. It’s marketing.
And customers have the chance to review and approve their stories and direct quotes. That single fact alone is why it’s OK to change quotes, but not TOO much.
There’s what the customer said…
And there’s what the vendor company wants to say…
If they don’t exactly match, then there’s a bit of doctoring and negotiation that goes on.
So, How Much Can We Change?
In short, a little.
At this point, I’ve written more than 600 case studies, and interviewed even more customers. Through trial and error, I’ve found what seems to be the generally accepted amount of editing that customers will accept. However, some customers are pickier than others.
First off, most customers appreciate a little help. Usually they’re dumping a lot of information on you and don’t expect their direct quotes to be perfect.
In fact, many customers say, "You’ll make me sound smart, right?"
Of course you’ll ensure they sound good, but they get a little put off if you veer too far off course from what they said. They are pleased to indicate that the featured solution works well for them, and they’re happy, but don’t change their words to make it sound like it’s the best thing that ever happened to them.
What You Can Change
You can change a few words here and there to clarify or shorten quotes. Remove the "ums" and "ahs." You might add a detail or two to be more specific, or a product or company name if the customer just said "they" or "it."
I also merge non-consecutive sentences, something said earlier in the interview and something said later. Usually customers don’t even notice or care that these statements weren’t said right together.
What You Can’t Change
But what does stay sacred in customer quotes is the meaning. Don’t change what the customer meant. That means don’t rewrite the whole thing.
Of course there are exceptions, but most customers I’ve encountered – even those that offer glowing praise – push back on too much quote doctoring.
Ultimately, customer success stories aren’t fiction. They’re true accounts of a customer’s experience, and as producers of case studies, we need to maintain integrity by presenting true stories. Just keep that in mind when tempted to change any customer’s quote too much.
What’s your experience with editing customer quotes?
In a customer story, quotes are the very voice of the customer, your sound bites. Without them, a story can feel flat.
Studies have even shown that people who skim tend to read text that's called out in quotes more than the rest of a story.
How do you use quotes for maximum impact? Here are a few tips:
Get in Three 'Marquee' Quotes
In every case study, if there’s space, try to include at least three key quotes that cover these topical areas:
- Challenge/Pain - Show the pain or challenge the customer faced before the solution came along. Here's your chance to get in some emotion related to the customer's challenge.
- Decision – Feature a quote that speaks to why the customer chose the solution - a great opportunity to call out your competitive differentiators.
- Benefit – Choose a comment that speaks to the main benefit or benefits the customer experienced. This could then be the quote that you pull out to highlight in other marketing collateral.
Add More for Emphasis
Of course you can include more quotes, but first try to hit those three key areas to add power to your story. Other quotes can reinforce more benefits and customer experiences. Additional ones might touch on other benefits the customer experienced.
Don't Over- or Under-Quote
Direct quotes add interest to stories and enhance their credibility. But it’s important to use them in the right way, as points of emphasis or insight within the rest of the text.
I’ve seen customer stories that are almost entirely customer quotes, with just a little bit of surrounding text for context. There, quotes lose their impact because they don’t really stand out.
Other stories go too light on quotes.
What's most effective?
- A one-page story includes 1-3 quotes
- A two-page story, 5-6
Just make sure that your quotes are strong and add to the story, versus just repeating what was already said.
Who to Quote
Ideally, quote someone that is similar to your target decision-maker. Ideally, match title to title. If your target buyer is a VP, quote a VP.
If there are multiple decision-makers, you can quote more than one person from the customer organization. For example, quote several people that were involved in the decision and usage of the product. Maybe a manager chose it and then someone else installs it and then others use it day to day
Keep it Concise
Keep quotes manageably long, from 1 to 3 sentences. Try not to go too long on a single quote because a big block of text, even if it’s the customer’s voice, can look daunting to a reader.
In short, quotes are one of the most powerful parts of your stories. Choose and use them wisely.
Next up: What license do you have to alter customer quotes?