Storytelling in business is powerful – but only if it resonates with your audience.
That was one of the messages on a free story telecall put on by Michael Margolis of Get Storied last week.
Michael recently released his insightful book, Believe Me, on the power of using story in reinforcing your vision, brand and leadership.
"It’s your responsibility to tell a story that people can locate themselves into," he said. "How do you get people to identify with your story, to locate themsles in that story and feel like they’re a part of it?"
In customer case studies and success stories, it’s about reflecting some of the traits of your prospective customer in the story you’re telling.
As we’ve discussed before, you have to mirror the audience and the customer you’re featuring in some way. In other words, the customer needs some sort of apples-to-apples association from your case study.
But that doesn’t have to mean the exact same kind of company/organization.
Here are six different ways to help your audience better identify or place themselves into a customer story:
Same industry – Many prospects want to know that you are familiar with their type of business.
Same size – Small biz prospects may feel better seeing other small businesses with your solution, while large businesses identify with large businesses.
Same title – Quote someone with a title similar to the person who might read/view your customer story.
Same "pain" – We all feel a connection with those going through something we’re going through. Share a customer case study that touches on the same problem the prospect has.
Same goal – We can understand and rally around others that have the same goals we do. Match your prospect’s goal with the goal set out (and achieved) by a current customer. One customer might use a piece of software to achieve regulatory compliance while another might want it mainly for productivity gains.
Same geographical area – What your audience respond better to a customer in the same city, region or country?
You can use one or more than one way to line up with your audience. Just make sure you do it somehow.
Any other ways you would add?
In the discussion about customer case studies, one question comes up over and over:
How long does it take to get a case study done?
How many days or weeks are needed to get a completed, approved customer story in hand and ready to use?
Unfortunately, the answer isn't that easy.
On average, I would say about one month. BUT, it really depends on the part of the process that makes customer stories different from other marketing projects - the review and approval phase.
From the time you interview the customer to completing the draft, video or audio might be a couple of weeks. Then, how long is it in the customer's court?
I've seen customers approve stories the same day they receive them. But I've also seen them make the rounds of customer review for months.
Often, it depends on the size of the featured customer's organization. Generally, the larger the company, the longer approval takes.
Small companies have fewer reviewers and not as much legal and communications review required. Larger companies have multiple levels of approval, and your story can get stuck in any of those levels.
You can do a few things to help speed the process, such as setting the expectation with the customer before starting that you will need the story by a specific date. However, you are still limited by your customer's internal processes.
But in general, start early! Capture the case study as soon as there's a strong story and the customer is ready.
For example, if you have early January trade shows, it's not too soon to start now. Once, I got a call from a company in mid-December wanting to get a case study done for a trade show the first week of January.
If it was a brochure, maybe that's doable. But not with a case study. Three weeks just isn't enough time, even if the end-of-year holidays did not get in the way.
Last week, I got all excited about survey results indicating that customer case studies are increasingly valuable in B2B technology buys.
There's yet more to talk about when it comes to how case studies are consumed.
The second annual Eccolo Media B2B Technology Collateral Survey also segmented buyer behavior by type of company. Here' what they said:
"Once again, decision makers from larger firms were dramatically more likely to have consumed case studies (82 percent) than decision makers from smaller companies (59 percent)."
Why is this?
Here's my theory...
Case studies are NOT necessarily more valuable to larger companies. Rather, they probably are presented with case studies more often than smaller companies are.
Think about it. Most vendors go after big companies, and if you're going after a big company, you probably are prepared with customer case studies to show as examples.
Perhaps smaller vendors, going after smaller companies, have not built their databanks of case studies and success stories.
It's just my experience from working with all types of companies. Small companies often don't have the resources to create cases. But those that do may stand out.
- Larger firms likely expect to see case studies, so be prepared.
- Your competition may not be presenting customer case studies to potential customers, so vendors that do may have an edge.
What are your thoughts on these Eccolo stats?
Nothing's better than a customer who absolutely adores you.
This customer is constantly singing your praises, talking about how he couldn't live without your product or service.
Naturally, you ask if he might share his experience in a customer case study or success story.
He replies, "Of course! Why not now?"
Seems like a dream scenario, but if you're not careful, it could turn into a nightmare project.
Your valuable and well-meaning customer contact may have the authority to agree to share a story about his company, or he may not. And it can be a bit delicate to question your contact on the matter - especially if that contact is at a high level in the company.
But I've seen even VPs don't always have final say on a case study.
It's absolutely critical to make sure you've taken the right steps before moving forward.
Before beginning a case study project, you need to know exactly who will need to review and approve the story later on.
Here are few tips for handling - and helping - your best customers as you seek approval:
Broach the subject - You may say something like, "It's been our experience that sometimes legal or corporate communications departments need to review and approve customer case studies. Before moving forward, we just want to double-check with everyone who will need to approve the story later on."
Do the homework for them - Your contact is busy. Offer to reach out to corporate communications about the request. Communications groups usually know the company's case study protocol and can be your ally in capturing positive PR for both sides.
Keep your contact informed - Update your contact as you seek permission. You might even need that contact to help sway internal powers in his organization. Perhaps he can see the benefit to the company while the legal department cannot.
Have a plan B - If the company does not agree to participate for whatever reason, you still need a way to harness your happy customer's enthusiasm. Maybe the customer can serve as a reference on live calls from prospects.
It can be tough to move beyond your customer to get all the proper permissions, but if you don't, you risk getting shot down well into the process.
I recently realized that I use Google on just about every case study or success story I write. The search engine becomes my "man behind the curtain," providing an answer to whatever my question may be.
No matter what you're writing, details make it stronger. Vague generalities are simply less credible or memorable.
Sure, I have a LOT of other information for the story: from my client and its web site, from the interviewed customer and its web site, industry white papers or analyst reports, etc. But sometimes I don't have the little details that make my angle more interesting.
Here's an example. I just wrote a case study featuring a ski resort's use of RFID technology. The angle was that this is one of the top resorts in the world, and they continue to invest in making the guest experience better.
The resort's web site had some stats of its own, but not exactly what I was looking for to support the story.
I Googled my question and found the stats I needed from third-party publications.
For another case on how an engineering firm uses modeling software, I wanted info such as elevation, river locations, and the flood risks and volumes for South Carolina. Enter some keywords, and Google gave me exactly the right information.
On other case studies, I needed...the recent growth rate of a Phoenix suburb...who was president in 1795...and a better description of a manufacturing process.
I've come to rely on search engines so much that, I believe, my customer stories would simply not be as strong without them.
How about you? Any tools or sites your writing can't live without?