One of my clients recently published an article about social cognition–our ability to learn from other humans rather than through direct experience. For example, if we see everyone outside bundled up in scarfs and coats, we make the intellectual leap that it is cold out while never leaving the comforts of a warm house ourselves.
We learn a lot of information through social cognition, which is why testimonials and case studies (success stories) are such an important tool for marketing. Whether they are presented in writing, video or photographs, information about how current customers experience your business is an important incentive for new customers.
The best testimonials and case studies deliver specific facts about what you do and how you do it in plain, every day language. Let your customers speak for themselves; marketing jargon or vague comments like “he’s great to work with” will not convince anyone. If possible, ask a third party to interview your customers because customers are likely to be more open and because you are likely to prejudge what they have to say, losing a great opportunity to find out how your business really affects customers. Social cognition works both ways: if your customers feel an expectation from you for certain words, they are likely to provide them whether or not they truly believe them.
When I interview your customers, I begin by interviewing you, the business owner. I want to be an informed interviewer, and I want to know why this particular project or customer relationship stood out in your mind. Then I ask your customers about their experience and often find that they are grateful for benefits of your work that you didn’t even consider. But those benefits are the same ones that will make you appealing to future customers and set you aside from the competition.
Social cognition is a powerful tool. Let me help you make use of it with testimonials and case studies.
Case studies are one of the world’s perfect combinations, like peanut butter and jelly or chocolate and…more chocolate. Case studies combine testimonials from your customers with your own narrative about what you do and how you do it. Or to use another metaphor, you customer paints a picture and you get to choose the frame, so that the case study appeals to the potential customers you most want to reach.
For a case study to achieve that goal, you need to take three important steps:
1. Allow someone objective–not you–to conduct the interviews. You have preconceived notions about what your customer wanted, what pleased your customer the most, why your customer worked with you, and what (if anything) the customer would have changed. Your preconceived notions get in the way. Your customer also may feel inhibited when you are conducting the interview about your own company’s work.
2. Choose your interviewees from those who were closest to your project at the customer location, even if they were lower on the hierarchy. You might interview the owner/manager for an overview and then interview one of staff you worked with directly for details. If possible, avoid anyone on the customer’s staff who wants to help you sell your services with words that contain smooth praise but very little original content or personality. Their well-meant help just doesn’t sound natural.
3. Do not edit words into the mouths of interviewees. It’s okay to combine statements for a smoother flow (people do tend to circle back to topics), and it’s certainly okay to fix grammar. But do not add words to make the interviewee say something exactly the way you want. Remember the perfection of case studies: if something doesn’t get said by the interviewee or isn’t explained correctly, you can always say it yourself.
Recently I conducted interviews and wrote case studies for business owners in the organizational development and executive coaching fields. Their customers ranged from government agencies to healthcare, technical and service companies. In all cases, the business owners were delighted with the comments by interviewees, around which we wove a narrative that included statements by the business owners themselves. The interviewee comments were spontaneous, unique and in some cases unexpected; the business owners’ comments were well thought out to further explain mission, services and values. Together, interviewees and business owners created rich and interesting case studies–peanut butter and jelly supreme!
In a previous blog, I wrote about the importance of appealing to the senses and using visuals (photographs, videos) in marketing stories. In this blog, I’d like to focus on another aspect of great story telling: characters.
All stories have characters, even if the only character is the narrator. But as a business owner you have access to a slew of characters:
- Your staff
- Your former customers
- The audience you are writing for (past, future and/or current customers).
As I’ve often mentioned before, the most powerful phrase in marketing is “we can solve your problem.” That one phrase includes two strong characters, the “we” (the business owner and staff) and the “you” (the customer). Give that “we” more personality by writing blog posts or articles or online biographies that introduce you and your staff. Let your character shine forth in Q&A (FAQ) pages. Even if they aren’t customer-facing, let your staff make their presence known in photos and Meet the Team pages.
As for your former customers, they are truly “well rounded characters” and a great source of marketing stories, especially case studies and success stories. Please interview them! When I interview customers for my clients, I am always amazed at the generosity of the interviewees in sharing their time and their experiences to help another business. They recount experiences that make more positive, more detailed and more compelling stories than the business owner could have imagined.
Every story benefits from characters that seem to step right off the page; and your customers, staff and you are just such characters. Let your marketing story benefit from characters that lift your dry recital of facts to another level, where people are communicating directly with each other. I’ll be happy to help.
TWP Marketing & Technical Communications provides freelance writing services for companies in New Hampshire and throughout the US.
If you are waiting in vain for your customers to provide a testimonial or thank you letter, you might want to try interviewing them instead.
Unlike a customer-written testimonial or letter, an interview offers several advantages. You can clarify what the customer means by a comment and ask for the details that set their experience and your company apart from the competition. While it is nice to hear “great job!”, details make a more compelling testimonial, one that inspires potential customers to call you.
With an interview, you gain enough insight to write a success story that captures the attention of customers who recognize themselves in the story. Few marketing tools are as powerful as a good story. If you listen closely to what the customer is saying (instead of focusing on what you want the customer to say), you may gain a new perspective on the value of your products and services.
As a professional writer, research and interviewer, I enjoy interviewing my client’s customers. A freelance interviewer has the freedom to ask questions that a company owner or employee can’t ask or hasn’t considered. Customers feel more relaxed about offering feedback. In one case, a customer’s comments led to an entire new marketing area for a company, which hadn’t realized all the benefits their product brought to that customer. In another case, a customer’s comments enabled a company to address the customer’s concerns before the customer wrote a poor review.
In 20 minutes with a professional interviewer, a customer will provide strong testimonials that can be used online and in print in websites, blogs, brochures, articles, success stories and press releases. I have been interviewing customers for large and small companies for more than 15 years. Contact me today to add the power of the story to your marketing plan.
Recently, a client asked me to list questions that could be asked during interviews of the client’s customers as a basis for success stories. I am a great advocate of success stories. They combine customer quotes with the company’s marketing message to create a targeted, interesting, before-and-after success story: here’s what we did for someone like you; here’s what we can do for you.
Before any interview, you should gather information about the interviewee and his or her company. Make sure you know as much as possible about the project from the company’s point of view, never forgetting that the customer’s point of view may be quite different. During the interview, these five questions are among the most important:
- What drove you (the customer) to seek out this product or service?
- What did you hope to gain? OR What problem did you hope to solve?
- What results did you actually get?
- What benefit surprised you–a result you weren’t expecting?
- If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? OR What advice would give someone else with a similar problem?
The question about results should introduce a discussion about actual metrics. Results may be measured by, for example, numbers (a percentage increase in profits) or actions (a change in services or products) or attitudes (customers better understand the company’s mission). Sometimes the result is a negative: for example, a company trying to motivate employees realizes why their past efforts did not work or a company debating whether to expand to a new market decides against it. Negative results can also be successes.
If you have been waiting for your customers to sing your praises, wait no longer! Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications for success stories that excite your marketplace. We ask the right questions for the best stories.