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Using customer cases in content marketing & sales 2.0

Since most customer cases were primarily intended for the sales team and as commercial referrals for prospects visiting the website, the intention of our client was to approach the content in a promotional and rather company- and product-centric way. This is still the case for most businesses. However, we disagreed.

Obviously, customer cases still have their traditional role to play but you need to build stories instead of simply cases. Who is the vilain? Who is the hero? What did the customer struggle with, how does it connect emotionally of the targeted audience and how does it make them want to read until the very end and applaud the hero?

Customer cases and inbound marketing

When looking at customer cases from an integrated inbound and even outbound marketing viewpoint there are so much more things you can do with customer cases. They can be used to improve search engine optimization (SEO), for word-of-mouth marketing purposes and obviously in lead nurturing processes. But let’s not forget content marketing and storytelling, whatever the goals is: branding, you name it. Boring customer cases are simply deadly.

Customer cases can even thrive on social media. On one condition: they have to be stories that are share-worthy and relevant for other people that have the same challenges or needs.

So the focus has to be more on the “customer” in the “customer case”: his challenges, needs and thoughts. But most of all his story. Then they become relevant. And combining this approach with a more commercial one is a balancing act whereby the goals of sales and marketing must both be served while keeping the “reader” in mind. Because, whatever content marketing gurus might say: you will more often than not have to resist pressure of some managers and departments to simply let the customer talk about how great the product was, trust me. In fact, that balancing role is the same one I had as a publisher.

I have bundled some of the things you can do with customer cases below as I posted them on my blog last week. I hope they can help you in finding new ways to use customer cases, on top of the above mentioned.

While planning to purchase a certain product or service, people have always sought the advice from other people they trust or know. This is one of the reasons why companies make use of customer cases and client references. They hope these will give the prospect a little push in the right direction to get into touch or go into business with them.

Customer case studies and referrals work. As a company, you can use them in different ways: as “sales collateral”, as testimonials on your website/blog, by sending them to prospects when they ask for it etc.

Prospects often do ask for references. They have always been advised to do so, especially in B2B, for instance when purchasing “services” or software solutions. You can read it in every “How to choose this or that” post you come across the Web: ask for references.

After all, a buyer takes a look at different criteria before deciding if he or she should work with a certain vendor: the price, the advice of others, word-of-mouth, the distance and accessibility of the vendor, and thus definitely also the references.

Credibility, trust, integrity and customer cases: the recognition and social media factor

Customer cases provide your company with greater credibility, if they are created and used correctly. Trust and credibility are more important than ever: they are the cornerstones of social media marketing, word-of-mouth, etc. People have less trust in companies than before, while putting more trust in the advice given by their “peers”, as has been proved by gazillions of studies.

Keep that in mind when having customer case studies written down. Don’t talk too much about your company or product. Instead, invite the customer to talk about his needs and the way you fulfilled them. Do not ask him to say things that aren’t true: it will hurt your businesses since word-of-mouth travels fast and customers speak with other people as well.

If your customer cases are true, valuable and reliable, they will impact your brand reputation and will make you a credible and trustworthy partner. But more importantly: if they are really good and relevant, they will get read and even shared on social media.

Customer cases that tackle the challenges your customers had and have and are more an interview instead of a self-promotional, commercial and boring “look how good we are” statement, offer value to readers and thus your business. They are also much more recognizable to the reader, since they are about real-life stories from peers they can identify themselves with.

Detecting needs and identifying sales opportunities: hire a specialist

It is a good idea to hire a writer that knows and understands your business and that of your customers and, on top of that, has good interviewing skills. Experience in your industry of course is not a bad thing either.

If he is really good, he will have a better overall picture of both your business and the customer’s sorry. This will make the customer case less promotional and more relevant.

On top of that, by having your customers interviewed for a case by someone who knows his job, you can look out for possible undetected needs of that customer and identify cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. In addition, by letting the interviewed customer share his story, you’re able to put him in the spotlight and don’t forget that a good story always get shared as you’ll read further.

So, don’t solely ask for the customers’ experiences with your products when interviewing them for testimonials. Let them speak freely about their needs, the sector in which they work, etc.

A cross-channel content marketing approach is a must

People seek information via all possible channels and tools: via search engines, by reading blog posts, in videos, white papers, slideshare presentations, you name it.

In content marketing, and in fact in all forms of marketing, a cross-channel, or at least multi-channel, approach is key. Why? Because the people you would like to discover your content, services and obviously customer cases, use several channels, media and content formats as well. Make sure you can offer them the cases the way they like!

So, if you ask a customer for permission to make, for example, a white paper around a certain theme and address his vision in it, or to do an interview for a customer case, use audio, video, text and everything you need to get the case where it belongs.

Also offer people several options to read your customer cases (or watch them etc.): never put your customer cases only as PDF files but put them on your site or blog with an option to download them as PDF files for instance. And put that same PDF in an embeddable form, using for instance slideshare.

A testimonial from a customer is a potential source of different forms of content in a variety of formats: video, white papers, blog posts, etc.

In short, entrust your customer case studies to a professional and avoid the typical ‘corporate speak’ customer cases which are seldom read.

Tips to have your customer cases create more trust, get shared on social media and improve SEO:

Make sure, your online customer cases are put in the right place

Most companies put their customer cases on their website or blog, so that their visitors can find them online. This is common in inbound and content marketing. You do have to make sure that you put the testimonials in the right place though. Assuming that your customer cases are written like they’re supposed to (with the interviewees’ and prospect’s needs kept in mind), it speaks for itself that you place the right customer case in the particular section where the needs and the products or solutions for it can be found. The content is important, but so is the context in which you put it.

Think SEO and keywords

Customer cases are content. On top of that, you want them to be found and read. So, it’s obvious that when writing them and putting them online, you need to include keywords in the title, in bold, in quotes, image descriptions, tags and so on that are relevant for both your business and search engine users. Do not exaggerate: what matters most is the value of the content so don’t let the quality of the customer case suffer because you are focussing too much on SEO and keywords. But it is important and yet another reason to outsource this kind of work to someone who, besides an interviewer, marketer, customer-centric thinker and good writer also has to know and understand search engine optimization. Finally, don’t forget to put the proper links in the copy of the customer case when you put it online to pages that are related but more commercial. Conversion, remember. From the SEO viewpoint it’s important as well (don’t forget to describe those links).

Tell stories, understand word-of-mouth and think social media

Here is another set of skills the customer case writer needs to have: he has to be a story-teller and understand how word-of-mouth works and when content gets shared! When you put your customer cases online, provide the necessary social media sharing tools so people can tweet, bookmark or add them to their favourite social network. Why would anyone do that? You would be surprised if you knew what share-worthy and relevant content can do, even if it’s a customer case or even press release! So, don’t solely look at the testimonial as a reference. Turn it into a story that contains interesting and relevant information for other people and companies having similar needs, or are active in the same sector as the interviewed customer. If the story is good, it will spread. Integrate the story into, for example, press releases as well, to make those more interesting as well.

Make your customer cases useful for face-to-face interactions

Even though inbound marketing is getting more and more important and there is a shift from buying to selling, we ARE still selling. Testimonials are required for sales people and marketers in their face-to-face interactions with prospects. Show and teach your sales people how to use customer cases, offer them in different formats, integrate them into PowerPoint presentations, etc. Interpret face-to-face in the broadest sense possible. Tools exist to send PowerPoint presentations through email and monitor the prospect’s interaction. Face-to-face can also be one-to-many, for instance, when giving a presentation at an event or trade show or uploading a slideshare.

Talk solutions instead of products and services

Probably you will be tempted to talk about your company, services and products in your customer cases. And it seems quite obvious to do so, right? At least a bit. Of course you can mention what you do for your customers by explaining it in a customer case. Just find the right balance. However, instead of mentioning your business, products and services (too much), try focussing on the solutions your business has offered to the particular customer. People don’t want to read about features in a customer case. They want solutions.

Use different channels and formats

As said, in this cross-channel and multimedia world, it’s important to provide the testimonials through channels and formats which your prospects use. I want to repeat it because it’s important! So don’t only think of your website, but also make use of email newsletters, triggered emails that are being sent to the individual prospect by using a marketing automation platform, video sharing channels, blogs, printed formats, events, slideshare presentations, etc. Focus especially on the content’s relevance and keep the needs and channels of your prospect in mind when placing and spreading customer cases. Note that with spreading I don’t mean broadcasting…

Just remember: relevance, solutions, the customer and prospect, sharing, SEO, stories and people. Forget your business as much as you can.

First published on Focus.com.