I was reading a draft case study the other day about a printer who had purchased a lot of technologies from a specific print software vendor. The case study was predominately about the vendor’s technology (boring), with only a little about the customer. When the customer was asked to comment, they were clearly asked questions specifically about the print software vendor’s technology. This is marketing in the voice of the company, not the voice of the customer. I don’t want to read a customer case study to hear about the vendor’s technology; I can get that from the vendor’s generic brochures and data sheets. I want to read a case study to learn about the customer’s business, the business results they were able to attain, and their real life struggles in the implementation; without any mention of the challenges – you know you’re not hearing the full story!
A case study that delivers in a true “voice of the customer” would allow me to both understand the customer’s success and build trust that the vendor is truly invested in the success of their customers. When a company writes a case study and the starring character is the company, we know exactly what success they are focused on – theirs. If you want to create compelling marketing content, the most important move you can make is to relinquish the starring role of your marketing to your customers. Once you make your customer’s the star of your marketing – it forces you to dive deeper into their businesses, understand the results they are looking for, and that opens up access to more and more places where you can be of service.
Most companies can’t help themselves – they constantly talk about their products and services, even though they can now easily track that nobody’s engaging with that material, sharing it, or paying attention. I recently wrote a review on a business intelligence platform on a popular IT review site. This was the first review I had written for this site, my review immediately shot up to the top review on the site because I included specific details of how we overcame challenges with the software. I gave the software and the company a glowing report but I also included how it could get better (it can always get better) and the process we went through to select it. The review was real, no software product is perfect, the sooner everyone in the sales process accepts that the better off we will all be. Potential buyers are begging for this kind of information. Nobody likes the sales process that overpromises and under delivers, there is no better way to destroy trusts that to continue with this “perfectly positive” mode of operation with your marketing materials. The truth sells better.
In working with a printer over a long period of time, I realized what we did for them day after day in helping them implement their Print MIS, integrate their web-to-print, and then layer a business intelligence dashboard over the top was not important at all. In fact if you asked about the details of all that work, what the print owner was reminded of is how much all that vital help cost him. Activities aren’t important, software purchases aren’t important; it’s the business results that matter to the customer – that’s all that matters. Our success is intimately tied to the printer’s business success – when they can state that they reduced overtime by 70%, dropped their overall head count by 12 people, and have developed a pure technology revenue stream as their highest margin product – that’s what’s important to them and that’s what the case study should focus on. Nobody gets these kinds of results without overcoming challenges and making mistakes. If you want to develop trust in your marketing materials, then get your customers to talk about what they learned, how they overcame challenges, this is what makes marketing materials helpful to your future customers even if everything isn’t perfectly positive.
Our current marketing focus is overly fixated on the tools to distribute our marketing content (e-mail solutions, social media solutions, and marketing automation systems, etc.) and not focused enough on the content itself. This is the number one thing I hear printers say, we have social channels setup, we have a blog but what do we write about? I understand the challenge. Printers often say, we don’t have a professional writer, we don’t know what to talk about, or we don’t have much to say. Then I start asking them questions and they start talking. I ask them about their top customers, I ask them about the latest project they pulled off under extreme conditions. I ask them about what business results their customers are having by partnering with them. They can’t stop talking.
Guess what? You have stories, you communicate with customers every day, and you understand what customers are trying to accomplish (their challenges). The verbal stories you’ve been telling need to be told online, primarily on your website and then amplified through the social channels. Telling your customer’s stories is easier than trying to talk about yourself all the time!
Good story telling is so important to modern marketing. Nobody cares about facts and figures. Customers want to know what you can do for them and the best way to convey that message is to present the prospect with a current customer they can relate to who tells the story of how working with you made them successful. I’ll say that one more time – the customer tells the story of their business success. Your job is to make your customer’s successful. I think this is very different than making customers “happy”. A happy unsuccessful customer will replace you if they think someone else can help them be successful. When you make your customer the star of you marketing, you are forced to find out what their business objectives are and pretty soon your whole business is in better alignment with your customer’s success.