What’s new with customer stories and where are we headed?
That’s the question I recently asked Erica Hansen, director of customer engagement at Projectline. The fast-growing marketing services firm has built a solid reputation by assisting companies like Microsoft with customer references and evidence.
I’ve followed the firm and gotten to know a few folks via social media the past few years. With five offices in the U.S. and London, they see a lot, and I wanted to hear their view on what’s happening with customer stories.
Hansen shared five trends she’s seeing in customer storytelling:
1. Audiences want "snackable" content
Increasingly, companies and their customers want customer evidence (stories) in a variety of formats. Where once it was just the typical written story or video, now companies and their audiences also want shorter, summarized versions for an at-a-glance understanding of the solution and results.
2. But longer stories are still valuable too
I asked about story length in light of Eccolo Media’s survey indiciating IT buyers want longer stories. Hansen answered that buyers want both – the short overview AND the ability to drill down deeper into a longer story when desired.
"People working more in the IT department of an organization want to know how it’s working, the ins and outs. That type of audience prefers the longer format. Then the business decision-makers want to know the benefits they’ll get out of it," Hansen said.
3. Stories are getting more visual
How do you quickly convey business results with impact? Infographics are a hot new way to get your point across quickly.
"Even the customers that participate in the case studies use the infographics as well," Hansen said.
Here’s a sample graphic that Projectline created for Microsoft:
4. Video – Keep it short and to the point!
"In the past we found that clients asked for five to seven-minute videos but we find that viewership drops off dramatically after 30 seconds," Hansen said.
In response, Projectline creates short animated videos that take viewers through the need, solution and results. Hansen describes them as similar to "infographics in video form."
5. Links within case studies
Projectline encourages clients to include helpful links in written customer case studies, helping readers click to more information about the solutions and companies featured. Then, the firm can track those links to know whether a case study encouraged a customer to research further.
The biggest challenge today?
Hansen notes that the channels where buyers get information are continuously changing and expanding, and they vary from company to company and industry to industry. A company may want to share customer evidence on social media sites, but their customers may not be there, or might be on one platform and not another.
As always, it’s about knowing where customers are and meeting them there.
How about you? What trends are you seeing the market?
What if buyers had just one place where they could find customer success stories across multiple vendors? No more visiting 5-10 different vendor sites, some of which might require they fill out a form first.
For ICT (information and communications technology) buyers, it's now possible. I recently discovered Chasebuzz.com, a new business venture by software developer Serengeti.
Launched last September, Chasebuzz aggregates case studies from multiple vendors, giving buyers a single place to compare current customers' experiences for the solutions they're considering.
"Working in sales for IT solutions for more than 10 years, companies asked, 'What kind of references do you have?'" said Goran Kalanj, managing director at Serengeti. "Looking on the web, I couldn't find a service that put references in one place."
Though relatively new, Chasebuzz has already built an impressive base of more than 2,000 ICT customer stories, including stories from IBM, NetApp, Unisys and Nokia Siemens Networks.
Decision-makers can search by keyword, vendor company, ICT solution, industry, customer size and deployment country, allowing them to truly drill down to find organizations like theirs.
While the site itself is in English, it supports stories in any language - in written, audio and video formats.
Currently, the site is free for vendors to submit their success stories, as well as free for decision-makers. Vendors just need to create an account to upload their stories.
However, Chasebuzz does charge for related services such as case study development and "customer project reviews." For the latter, Chasebuzz accepts detailed (positive or negative) reviews written and submitted by customers, not vendors, and charges site users fees to access them (based on project size) - with the customer and Chasebuzz splitting the fee 70/30.
Or, vendors can pay to submit positive project reviews that customers complete, with customers and Chasebuzz getting the same cut when users pay to view them.
So far, the site has focused on building content to be as attractive as possible to users. As Chasebuzz gets the word out, site traffic has been growing steadily.
Looking ahead, Kalanj says he will add new features such as the ability for users to comment on success stories and for vendors to respond. He also sees the site as a social networking opportunity for ICT professionals to connect and compare notes about solutions.
"We'll continue developing the site based on how people are using it and the ideas we get," Kalanj said.
By Martha Maroney, Principal, Trimar Communications
Of the various projects I’ve tackled in my 25-year career as a marketing-communications writer for technology clients, case studies are among my very favorite.
It’s fun talking with customers – hearing about how they struggled with a solution that didn’t work and delighted in finding one that did, how they put the new solution together, persuaded users to adopt it, and wound up boosting sales or market share or employee morale or all of the above.
The stories are rarely told in that order, of course. I sometimes must ask a question two or three times before it’s fully answered, and on the other extreme I’m often treated to long anecdotes that may or may not pertain.
It’s not because the customer is evasive or would rather tell a different story than the one we need. It's because the customer and I are having a conversation, and that’s how conversations go.
The challenge for me is to maintain the rapport of a conversation while gathering a lot of information in very little time. Some case studies are commissioned by a team of people, and everyone wants the story to include details on his or her part of a product.
Some years back I saw a questionnaire that ran to 11 pages. Eleven pages! (Is this an interview or an interrogation?) Filled with questions for an executive who was purported to be “very busy” (and what executive isn't?), who wouldn’t be able to spare a moment longer than the allotted hour, and so forth and so on.
So I set the questionnaire aside. I touched on the very few questions that seemed most important, while explaining that I might be asking for more details during the call.
And this “very busy” executive was gracious and generous with his time and information. He shared some compelling anecdotes. Went on at length about how much he liked the solution. Wouldn’t let me close the call when an hour was up because there was plenty more he wanted to say. And so forth and so on.
That customer was busy, but he was also excited about the story, and by treating our interview as a conversation, I was able to nurture that excitement.
It doesn’t always work out that way, but in my experience of having written nearly 400 customer case studies, it does often enough. And for me, that’s what makes case studies so much fun.
Martha Maroney has been enjoying conversations with case-study customers for 20 years now, most recently on calls in which the conversation is in Spanish. It’s a bit more work, but it’s still fun.