Ever heard this popular expression regarding presentations?
"Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. And then tell them what you told them." Or something along those lines.
Why should we repeat ourselves? Because people have short attention spans. By repeating, audiences hopefully go away having heard your most important points at least once, if not more.
In a written story, repeating ensures that skimmers catch your main ideas.
So how do you apply the "tell ’em, tell ’em, tell ’em" advice to case studies and success stories?
Try applying these three ideas to your next case study project:
The 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 about a paragraph.
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.
The Body Copy
Before you ever start writing, ask one question: What is the most important thing I want the audience to know? Then, structure your story around that message.
For example, maybe the #1 take-away is that the featured product enables faster customer support.
Early on, talk about the challenges of delivering customer support and how slowness has affected the business.
Follow that with solution delivery that indicates HOW the solution expedites support.
Finally, let the reader know that customer support is indeed faster, and back that up (hopefully!) with metrics.
Include customer quotes that touch on the speed of delivery through your story, and headlines as well.
With multiple mentions of your main idea, you not only "tell ’em," but a case study lets you SHOW the audience.
The Wrap-Up Quote
Personally, I love ending a case study with a quote that’s the equivalent of a big bow around the whole story – something that truly encapsulates the customer’s experience.
Who should have the last word in a customer story? The customer. A quote feels more authentic than ending with a summary paragraph.
The perfect wrap-up quote doesn’t introduce anything new, but rather reflects the relationship in a nutshell.
To get a spot-on final quote, I usually ask this simple question, "Is there anything else you would like to add that we haven’t talked about yet?"
Often, the customer provides his or her own summary of the relationship.
If not, try, "What would you tell others about your experience of working with ABC Company?"
With your story written, go back and count where your key points pop up to make sure you’ve told them, told them and told them again.
Seen any great examples of companies that do this with their case studies? Send them my way and I’ll feature them on the blog.
Every night, I watch the national evening news for a quick summary of what's going on in the world.
Whether the story's about war or the weather, the reporters almost always bring in the human element - and lead with that human connection to engage the audience.
How? By featuring people affected by the story's topic.
The same goes for selling complex technology solutions or consulting services, or anything for that matter. People like to hear about other people, not just about inanimate products or intangible services.
When you read a customer case study or success story without much of a human element, it's flat and truly less interesting.
Here are 4 ways to bring the human element into your customer stories:
OK, this seems obvious. But surprisingly, there are case studies out there without quotes!
Quotes are the sound bites, the actual voices of the characters in your story.
Ideally, you should feature customer quotes in several places throughout your story. If for whatever reason you cannot quote someone from the customer's organization, then quote someone in your company or the reseller/partner.
People read quotes when they don't read paraphrasing, so use the quotes to emphasize the most important points of your story.
Have a Hero
Most customer contacts want to be the hero of your story. They made the solid decision to bring in this winning product or service.
Give the audience a bit more insight into who this person is. Is she a seasoned industry veteran? Is she managing a large global team? What issues keep her up at night?
Spend a little time (not a lot) helping readers or viewers get to know your protagonist in the story.
Here's where case studies differ from a brochure, datasheet or white paper.
Emotion is a natural part of a good story. There's frustration before a customer implements your new solution. There's relief once things are better. And there's excitement over the impact of a product or service.
Show that range of emotions. Just be careful not to overdramatize too much. It's a case study, not a soap opera.
Believable stories are not all rosy. On the path to something better, there are obstacles.
It's sensitive to talk about weaknesses in your product or service. That's understandable.
But don't just talk about the customer's "before" challenges in your story. Show the ups and downs as you go along.
You might mention how the customer and vendor worked through a data migration issue that arose, faced a tight turnaround time, or how employees were initially skeptical about the new solution.
Then when you follow with successful outcomes, they're sweeter when the audience knows what was behind it all.
What else? How do you humanize your stories?
"Don't judge a book by its cover."
While that might be good advice, it's easier said than done. The way something looks and is presented - especially your marketing materials - really matters.
That's why "right presentation" is Right #6 of case studies that compel and sell.
Here are some tips on producing case studies and success stories that compel and sell in various formats.
Written, Audio or Video
Tell a story - This is what differentiates a customer success story or case study from other marketing materials and stand-alone testimonials. It's a real customer's experience in an engaging format, so don't miss the opportunity to actually tell a story here.
Use descriptive subheads - Go beyond the traditional, formulaic look of grouping case studies and success stories into staid "Company, Challenge, Solution, Results" blocks. Instead, use descriptive headlines and subheads that tell the reader something - without forcing him to read every word.
Feature quotes - Choose your best customer quote or two and highlight those on the layout. Again, if the reader only skims, those quotes should sum up the customer's experience.
Call-out highlights - On page 1 of your story, summarize it for readers in a sidebar. Who is the customer? What solutions are they using? And what were the results?
Match your marketing - People sometimes ask me whether a case study should look independent, or not as polished as the rest of your marketing and sales materials. Prospects know that case studies are produced by vendors. If they are evaluating stacks of information from various vendors, your information should match the look and branding of all your other materials.
Go beyond talking heads - I recently watched a documentary that had way too many people sitting there talking at the camera. If at all possible, mix up a customer's story with something interesting such as footage from the customer's business environment.
Don't be linear - New video technology allows viewers to self-direct their experience, instead of watching something end-to-end. They can search by keywords and drop into any point in the story or transcript, click links for more information, or email a friend to start viewing a specific segment.
Always remember: Your packaging and presentation make the difference in whether someone even looks at your story, and what they take away from it.
Following my last post introducing the 6 "Rights" of Case Studies that Compel & Sell, let's dive deeper into right #1.
In a nutshell, the customers that you choose to feature in case studies should mirror the types of customers you want more of. Ideally, your prospects should see themselves - and their challenges solved - in the customer success stories that you share with them.
This falls in line with the concept coined by Dr. Robert Cialdini of "social proof," which says people perceive less risk by following the behavior someone like them successfully follows ( i.e. someone else has already blazed the trail).
Here's how you to go about matching customer to prospect:
Define targets - Who are your current targets by size, and across your different products and services, industries, and geographies? What customer stories do you still need?
Match the organization type - First, match the organization featured with the prospective customer's organization in some way. It doesn't have to be an exact fit, but the prospect should recognize something of themselves in the story.
If it's not the same industry, then maybe it's the same type of business challenge solved.
Match the individual - What type of person(s) will be reading or viewing your customer story? What are their business titles?
People trust their peers. Try to interview and quote someone in a similar position in your customer story. If different types will be your audience, such as a business person and an IT person, then quote two different people in the story.
By featuring the right customers in your case studies, you ensure that you have a perfect story to pull out for any sales opportunity.