Self-promotion is dead. Content pollution has rendered our audiences hyper-allergic to anything that smells remotely of sales or advertising. For PR to continue being productive, we need to start telling stories which aren’t our own. Our focus needs to shift to the customers of our brands.
This is nothing new. Case studies, testimonials, and customer stories of all kinds have been part of the PR toolkit for years. However, while the effectiveness of other tactics like press releases and editorial features might’ve waned, customer stories still pack a punch: nearly three in four business decision-makers use case studies to inform their choices.
From my own experience, people tend to share and comment on customer stories far more than any other form of content out there. A customer story can’t be easily written off as biased or self-promotional, and it typically strikes a chord with others who might be going through the same situation. Simply put, customer stories are much more real than a lot of the content we end up producing.
The best customer stories choose their words wisely, focusing on the customer and not the brand that’s behind the story. Here are three tips which I always call upon to maintain the correct focus in any case study.
1) Keep it short
This goes for any form of branded content, but especially so for case studies. Focus on succinctly stating the customer’s initial problem, how your brand’s product or service solved it, and the lasting results for the customer. A lot of case studies tend to go on about the solution’s features, even those that the customer didn’t use! Don’t hijack your customer’s story with your brand proposition, tempting as it may be. The best way to build your brand’s credibility is to find the right customer – one who’s sold on your brand and believes in what you offer – and tell their story as objectively as possible.
2) Be creative with channels.
Customer stories can, and should, go well beyond the written word. Micrographics or GIFs can illustrate complex relationships and solutions far more clearly than text. Videos not only make the story more digestible, but add a human element that enhances its credibility and impact on business results. Short posts for LinkedIn or Facebook are much more likely to be shared and commented on than lengthier write-ups in the media. When developing case studies, we need to think about how the customer’s story can translate across different channels and even audiences to get the greatest reach possible. The essence is the same, though the words (or images) we use will have to vary.
3) Give it a permanent home.
Traditional PR will send a case study as an exclusive to one media publication, celebrate when coverage appears, then forget about it entirely. This doesn’t do true justice to the effort put into generating such stories, nor the long-term value that they can have for the business. Apart from spreading the story across multiple channels, publish your brand’s case studies in their entirety on your own platform, whether it’s an online newsroom or social media page.
That way, you can direct future customers or prospects to the story whenever it becomes relevant to their situation, without having to worry about media outlets taking it down or changing its link. Doing so also helps with SEO for the industries that you tend to focus on, thanks to the industry-specific language and pain points that emerge more in case studies than anywhere else.
Customer stories work best when they’re honest, succinct, and don’t try to sell anything. Rather than polishing them too much, brands and content producers should simply let them reflect the good experience of their customers, in as many channels and for as long as possible. If we want to create strong brand narratives amidst content pollution, we need to stick to the adage: show, don’t tell. Customer stories do that naturally.
Marc Ha is senior vice president and managing director of Text100 Singapore