King of Content: The Customer Story
Our Best Tips Revealed…
One of the most effective marketing tools happens to be one of the most fun and rewarding to create—that being customer stories. Don’t frown; it’s true. Having developed several hundred of these over the course of two decades, I believe I can modestly state that I have the knack for them. That’s why I’d like to share some tips and guidelines for developing effective and interesting stories about your customers, partners, and even employees—whether as material for a sales presentation, newsletter, blog, or for internal consumption.
- Selection. Choose a subject that has one or more interesting aspects about it—whether brand-related, a technical innovation, or human-interest story. Then, if you are fortunate enough to find or select the expert yourself, choose someone who is otherwise considered to be an unsung hero. You’ll get more detail and cooperation if that person has not been tapped before. While somewhat counterintuitive, I have built my reputation on finding interesting people with a good story to tell—people who have not necessarily told it before. This way, what you write is fresh, and sounds fresh.
- Journalism. Pretend you are Anderson Cooper, Jane Pauley, or even Columbo (if you’re old enough). Put on your interviewer hat; be curious and pursue a line of questioning until you are satisfied that you could explain even a difficult technical, medical, or engineering concept to a peer. If in person, ask your expert to draw a diagram of what they are talking about on a white board—you often get even more information when you engage someone in that way. I truly believe that interviewing is a skill—one that can be learned by most people, but takes a lot of practice to accomplish well. It’s important to be both rehearsed and relaxed. Don’t be afraid to go off script either, if your interviewee takes you in a good direction. On the other hand, if the interviewee can’t stay on topic, keep drawing them back.
- Questions. Do your homework! Have your questions, or at least an outline, prepared in advance. If possible do not share it with your interviewee. The idea is to have a conversation, not give them a survey. I know this is difficult because your boss, the interviewee, or client will insist on having questions ahead of time. If you must, share it, but it’s better if you give them an overall description of the interview and how the materials will be used—keep the outline to yourself.
- Composition. Start with the title and subtitle. This will force you to integrate your newfound knowledge into a short statement. Be as playful or clever as possible to gain the interest of your reader from the onset. I often rewrite a customer story 5-6 times before I’m satisfied. The point being, this is not a one-draft exercise. It often helps to imagine you are a typical reader.
- Some Essentials: Get permission to use the materials, in writing. If a blog or collateral piece, take some time to find or create a clever graphic, photo, or image to help emphasize some point of the story. And keep practicing.