This past week, I was down with a cold. And while it was tough to work, and even harder to come up with new blog ideas, my radar for customer stories kept on working.
There are a lot of cold remedies out there, and who knows what really works? But in our house, we turn to Cold-EEZE. Not sure if the zinc lozenges actually help reduce cold symptoms, or we just think they do.
But while popping a Cold-EEZE, I discovered a little coaster-size card in the box.
It’s a customer testimonial, and a good one. What makes it good? The testimonial itself – while short – still tells a story.
The customer, a teen girl, describes her problem with good detail, what the remedy was and then the positive outcome. Cold-EEZE saved her prom.
With a storytelling testimonial, we get a visual of the girl, her challenge and the happy result. Most importantly, we feel the emotion of her situation.
It just goes to show that, no matter how short or long your customer success stories, the classic story format and customer emotion drive home the message.
"I could sell this for you."
That line, coming straight from the mouth of a happy customer, is music to a company's ears. Not only is the customer satisfied with the solution, but the customer has become a true evangelist.
I heard this just a couple of weeks ago while interviewing an IT manager at a hospital about their new help desk system. He was genuinely a fan, and in the heat of talking about what he loves about the software, added the line above. He went on to give me powerful quote after powerful quote.
If only all customer interviewees could be so pumped. That's the kind of customer you want for your stories. The interviewee's enthusiasm should reach out and grab the audience from the customer case study or success story.
So how do you find these ideal evangelists for your stories?
Here are a few tips:
1. The customer shares his excitement with your sales and/or account reps. As the front line contacts with customers, sales and account reps often hear the customer's expressions of satisfaction first hand.
Remind reps that, for customer stories, you're on the lookout for customers that are genuinely enthusiastic - beyond just satisfied.
2. Truly committed customers refer your company to peers. If customers are already telling their peers at other companies about your cool new solution, then you know you have an evangelist on your hands.
Do what you can to maximize that relationship by keeping the customer happy and engaging him/her in marketing activities.
3. Evangelists are relatively talkative on pre-qualification interviews. Spend maybe 15 minutes talking to a potential case study candidate to scope out the customer's story - and the contact's personality - before deciding whether to feature the customer in a full story.
Is the contact relatively talkative, if not effusive, about the solution? Or, does the contact answer reluctantly in as few words as possible? The former option will result in the best quotes and information for your customer stories.
Look for personalities, not just strong stories.
4. The customer says yes to more than just a case study. When discussing featuring a customer in a story, don't just ask for the story.
If the customer agrees to a story, find out what else the customer is willing and able to do: a press release, speaking at an industry event, or taking one-on-one calls from a prospective customer.
Just make sure you note the customer's preferences and don't go beyond that. Otherwise your evangelist could start to sour from overuse.
If given various customers to choose from, always go with the one that "could sell this for you" and then let that customer do the talking for you in a story. It's much more credible coming from a customer than from your own sales reps.
Walking through the Denver airport last week, I couldn't help but notice the cute dog on this wall ad. After admiring the dog, I realized the Xerox ad features a customer, Target.
Xerox showcases its relationship with Target, indicating the company provides customized direct mail programs for the retailer.
While Xerox uses what I would call customer marketing - featuring customers - the ad doesn't quite achieve Success-Story Marketing.
1 - Tying the major Target name with Xerox adds credibility for the vendor, and educates us just a bit on how Target entrusts Xerox with its direct marketing.
For this reason, it works on some levels, but doesn't go as far as it could.
2- The ad actually lacks results.
I believe, to be truly effective, the ad has to show a successful resolution or outcome for the customer - or validation.
I've seen customer-focused ads that tell stories. It's possible to do it in the small space of an ad - or even encourage people to see the full story online.
Here's how SAS featured the results of 1-800-Flowers (not sure where this appeared):
Granted, the graphics aren't as engaging as the Xerox ad.
What do you think? Maybe in the brisk, walk-by airport setting, an ad can't convey much, and the Xerox ad accomplishes at least credibility. Or, do you think Xerox should have gone a step further and mentioned a specific result?
Every day, we encounter new stories - on TV, in books, movies and magazines, and in discussions with others.
Nearly all of them build toward an end result, which isn't clear until you arrive there.
But in marketing, leading with the outcome gets the attention of distracted audiences.
Just this past week, Richard Fouts of Gartner presented the webinar, "How to Tell Better Marketing Stories."
In it, he offered three tips for telling stories well, with "start with the end of the story" as #1.
Here's an example:
If you saw the movie "Memento," you know that it famously starts with the end (a gory scene) before taking you on a wild ride to see how that end came about.
This technique works beautifully in customer case studies and success stories, but applied slightly differently (and with no gory outcome).
Here are two ways to lead with the end result in your customer stories:
Use your top headline to reinforce the most significant and important result that the customer achieved.
Let's look at a few sample headlines that showcase the end result...
"Sprint Nextel Grows E-mail Volume 30% in 2009 - and Maintains High Performance"
"Time Warner Cable Fills Revenue-Generating Jobs in Half the Time"
"Consumer-Driven Plan Saves Employer up to $75,000 Annually"
All three headlines spill the story's end to the audience right at the start. Then, just like Memento, the case study goes into how that came about.
An Intro Summary
In longer magazine features or even the evening news, the story often kicks off with a brief summary of what's to come - usually only a few sentences.
For each of its case studies, Microsoft includes a summary just under the headline, before the body copy starts.
Keep it short and to the point. Ideally, mirror the rest of the story in that single paragraph by briefly mentioning the main challenge, how it was solved and the
biggest benefit the customer experienced.
An example of the intro summary on a case study, from Microsoft...
Jelly Belly Candy Company has experienced rapid growth over the last decade, as the company expands into new geographies and product areas. The company installed an ERP system in 2007 and began work on a project for an accompanying customer relationship management system. However, after 18 months of work, Jelly Belly decided to abandon the project and look for a more stable system that would meet its core requirements more effectively. Working with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Webfortis, Jelly Belly implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM in two-and-a-half months, meeting core requirements, such as integration with the ERP system and creating a single view of customer information across the company. Jelly Belly uses the solution to strengthen relationships with customers and has reduced customer churn by at least 34 percent and added U.S.$60,000 each month in sales.
Do you "start with the end" in your case studies and success stories? Any other ways besides these two examples?
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Today's the first day back to school where I live. Neighborhood kids are donning their new backpacks, books and shoes.
Homework isn't just for school kids. Now's the perfect time to talk about the studying you have to do as a case study copywriter.
Say you’ve just signed a new client for case studies. How do you get started?
By being studious. Don't just jump into the actual case study, no matter how much of an urgency there is for that story.
If you don't fully understand your new client's products and services, you'll be hard-pressed to interview, understand and write well. The risk? Your story may not deliver maximum sales potential.
Simply said, if you know your client’s solutions well, you’ll be a more valuable asset.
Here’s the step-by-step on how to study a new client’s products and services:
1. Ask your client which products and services will be featured in the case study(ies).
2. Does the client have current, available marketing materials on these solutions?
3. Ask about product datasheets, brochures, press releases, white papers, existing case studies, demos, videos and any other materials.
4. Find out where these materials reside.
5. Spend 1-2 hours reviewing available information.
6. Lifesaver! Look up terms and acronyms you don’t know in search engines or www.Wikipedia.org.
7. Create a “Cheat Sheet” for yourself of terms and key messages. (If your client ever goes a while without doing case studies, and picks back up, consider this Cheat Sheet your way to refresh your memory on solutions.)
8. As you study, look for answers to questions such as…
How does the company refer to its products and services? What product names and industry terms does it use?
What do the featured solutions do?
Who uses them?
What problems do they solve?
What are the main business benefits that users can expect?
9. Write down the product/service questions you have for your client, and don’t be afraid to ask them!
10. Also as you study, start a draft of your customer interview questions for these solutions.
Never forget to stop and do your homework. You'll make the grade much faster with your new client.
What else is in your ramp-up process with new clients?