Or are you adding value by giving away free advice to help other businesses?
When your customers refer new business, it works really well – because they only do it when they’re confident the other person will benefit from your services. This has fuelled the trend for businesses to share lots of testimonials on their website and share them on social media to spread the word.
Great to see the positive approach to marketing. However, with the rise in focus on feedback from users to tell a story, are people really reading them?
How effective are customer testimonials?
Customer testimonials are great when a recognised brand or person has given the feedback. For me, in a local network, that’s as simple as a business I know from Bristol; for you, it may be more credible coming from a FTSE 500 company or so-called blue-chip brand.
Happy testimonials are a common goal for small businesses everywhere, because Google reviews help to improve their rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). And LinkedIn recommendations appear to have a positive effect too – more people see your posts, from the other person’s network as well as your own.
If you add one simple question, when you gather your testimonials, to ask “How likely are you to recommend us out of ten?” you can begin to build a net promoter score from the results. Which is useful to monitor over time. But if you share too many, without considering how they help others, it can get boring for your audience!
My top tip: spread your customer testimonials across several pages of your website, rather than expecting a web visitor to click that one page!
What’s the difference when you write a case study up in full?
The difference when you write up a full case study is the opportunity to interview the customers in more depth, asking them not only their testimonial and a score but also the reasons for giving that score. By hearing more from their perspective, you can write blogs, eBooks and more helpful content with their needs at the centre of your efforts.
Using a set of pre-planned questions, it’s possible to gain more information about your service delivery – and pass the feedback over to the operations team. Customer comments are gold-dust for improving your services and offering useful information, either via your blogs, news or Frequently Asked Questions. The testimonial comments and happy feedback often surfaces early, but it’s great to get the insight and constructive information from the conversation too. The story itself can offer valuable tips on changes which other businesses can make to address a similar challenge.
The result: instead of boasting about your amazing results with customers, you can tell the story – warts and all – of how you solved their struggle. And who doesn’t want to work with a business who gets results – but also cares enough to take time and listen to their customers’ frank feedback?
Search engines prefer long copy web pages which offer value and answer questions. Your blogs have to pack enough information in them to be useful. A case study is more powerful than snippets from your customer testimonials, because you can frame the challenge and articulate the solution your business offers. Most important of all, you must include the results – whether it involved saving time or making money or removing the problem.
My top tip: include a search-engine friendly keyword phrase in each of the sub-headings in your case studies.
How to structure your case study for greatest impact
Start with the challenge; help the readers instantly recognise whether it’s similar to their own situation.
Describe the solution; your process is important to you, not them – only share the nuggets which will attract them to try it for themselves.
Report results! Make sure the reader knows what’s in it for them after they’ve read to the end of your story – which should be an absolute minimum of 500 words. What outcome did your customer have – has it saved them money, made them money or removed a problem? Anecdotal feedback works well here, if the results are less tangible than time saving or money-making. Often people aren’t looking for a pure monetary difference – the results you’re offering have to appeal to their emotions.
My top tip: spend time listening to your customers about their feelings towards your services before you write down their testimonials – better still, cover the full story in a case study.
Contact me for a Case Study clinic if you want to explore how this would work for your business.
Creating content takes planning, routine, and plenty of ideas. But for a small business with a solo marketing manager or owner-director writing about the business, it’s hard to find time because you’ve got many other responsibilities. And it takes time to shape raw ideas into compelling content. So, how do you plan your marketing and allocate enough time to serve up consistent content? And why is consistency so important to attract new customers?
For me there are three reasons why consistency is important:
1. Extend your brand identity
2. Build trust in your expertise
3. Prove your reliability
Your brand identity shines when creating content consistent with your values
Having a strong, consistent brand identity helps to build trust with potential customers and people are more likely to buy from businesses they trust. It’s so important to reflect your business values in your marketing messages, because people are instinctive – they know when the two don’t match. Sharing the same message consistently helps to build confidence. Your style of language, brand colours and logo on your marketing materials all help people recognise and believe in your service – as long as you can demonstrate the return, of course. With consistent words and actions, you reinforce that you will meet their expectations.
Your expertise stands out when sharing it to help others
Building trust is about serving customers’ needs with your expertise, but also continuing to develop it. Sometimes businesses are afraid to admit their people are still learning; some shy away from promoting themselves as experts. The truth is, every area of knowledge is growing exponentially – it’s impossible for anyone to know everything. But your loyal customers need reassurance that you’re keeping your knowledge up to date. If you’re solving a problem for them, they don’t want to find out later (or worse, from your competitor) that your methods are outdated. They’ll only see you are learning when you share fresh information from your field. To help my clients boost their website traffic by sharing case studies, I’m researching more on key words, search engine optimisation and creating cornerstone content. My theory is, with so much content already out there, yours has to become a well-structured jigsaw puzzle – all linking back to one big picture of how you help customers!
Prove your reliability
For attracting new audiences and retaining loyal customers, consistency is key across all areas of your business. A good reputation depends on delivering excellent service and business systems like paying invoices on time, and regularly listening to employee or supplier feedback. Consistency in your marketing reminds people you are reliable. When you use consistent messages, your ideal tribe are more likely to hear or see them through the busy ‘noise’ of life. Repetition is positive, when you link the messages to the pain points which are most relevant for your audience. However, even as a copywriter, I’ve found it really tough to write about my own business to keep my marketing flowing. The solution to help me run a monthly blog was to brainstorm it with Kimba Digital and plan the first set of blogs in one session. And for my clients I do the same – we plan 3 months ahead for creating content, which links into the themes covered in their customer case studies. It still takes time to get content produced and agreed…
Planning to achieve consistency – how do you prioritise your time?
For most businesses, client work comes first, and marketing comes second. Until you hit a quiet patch. Then your focus switches back to sales and marketing with fresh energy to reach new audiences. Of course, this doesn’t allow for the time-delay in getting your message out there and the lag before people begin to respond. By planning in a weekly slot for your marketing, it becomes possible to run a consistent set of core activities. These must focus on growing your database of enquiries and following up with them. As a default, you’ll need to allocate at least three hours per week – two hours for creating or approving content and one for monitoring the results. For your social media, you’ll need daily routines, to reply and engage with your connections. If you outsource copywriting and marketing, you’ll still need a minimum of one day a month (in weekly chunks or as a single focus day) to set the direction, approve the content, and evaluate the results.
And if you’d like to include customer success stories in your content marketing plans, but you haven’t had time, this is exactly where I can help. I always create a case study blueprint before calling your clients for their honest feedback – to ensure the story will reflect your brand and meet your marketing goals. Case studies are a fantastic way to share your good news and results. And your customers’ insights provide a foundation for creating content which will help you engage new audiences and grow. To find out more, contact me or book in a free consultation.
Last year 63% of marketers said generating traffic and leads was their top challenge (Hubspot 2017) – which can be tackled with a strategic approach to content marketing. “Storify” isn’t a proper English word, but it’s out there, and I’m willing to bet we will identify 2018 as the year of stories. When written well, they support human-to-human content messaging – geared towards customers’ emotions – replacing traditional approaches in the business to business market.
Creating consistent content is still a big ask for SME marketing managers. Many businesses struggle to keep up a continuous flow of digital marketing and social media posts to reach their ideal audience. Email marketing has to be tested and tweaked, and social media algorithms are reducing organic (non-paid-for) reach. Then there’s the explosion of new platforms and automation tools. Regardless of where or how you share your story, it can only provide value for your audience when you keep your customer needs at the heart of it. But it can seem like an endless task, making it easy to lose sight of your goal to help and inspire customers.
Look again at your business data and your strengths – who you serve, where they find you and how your processes are working to support existing customers. When you focus on things that are going well, you can build trust and establish yourself as an expert because you are solving genuine problems for your customers.
Once you’ve built loyal relationships, your customers offer a rich source of stories to support your content marketing in so many ways. Writing up the case studies gives you a foundation to develop multiple versions of the content to share in different ways. Let’s take a look at the benefits of case studies and how to re-purpose the stories in your content marketing strategy:
What are the benefits of spending time on customer case studies?
When planned carefully, you’ll cement stronger relationships with your existing customers when you take the time to help promote them – delivering mutual marketing results. Your customer case studies highlight the foundations of your business success and theirs too. Depending on your marketing strategy, and how you create the content, customer case studies drive three key outcomes:
Increased website traffic.
Improved engagement within your networks and email marketing database.
Greater reach to wider audiences via online press and social media.
Search engines are content hungry; generating traffic for businesses who refresh their page content and signposting regularly. Google My Business posts and LinkedIn articles summarising new case studies or blogs are a simple tool to attract the major player’s attention. A long copy case study article on your website is a great opportunity to include select keywords and create a landing page for targeted pay per click advertising.
Your social media networks and contact database don’t necessarily know all your capabilities. (I recently had a client who didn’t realise I could organise video testimonials as part of their case study program.) By producing case studies from a range of relevant industries, readers are more likely to trust your abilities based on where you specialise and who you have helped previously. Sharing your customer case studies showcases everything about your business. Your audience can learn how it feels to work with you, what your customers love about your service and relate it back to their own pain points. We all love a story, and the best ones inspire people and invoke an emotional response.
Generating traffic by turning case studies into other content types
Providing your customers are willing, you can start by writing up the situation and describing the case study scenario in detail. Once you have the story, you can re-purpose case studies into different formats for generating traffic back to your site:
Develop the pain point into a helpful blog topic.
Include credentials in an online event brochure.
Capture visual photos or voice clips for podcasting.
The tough challenge when creating your case studies is time – getting hold of your customer after you’ve moved onto another project and completing the story. It’s also hard to listen objectively to your clients, when you’re close to the situation. That’s why 27 Marketing specialises in planning, writing and sharing case studies for businesses. Learn more here.
For small business owners who would like more publicity, there are several options which don’t cost too much – yet will require time and effort to build a process. Your case studies, featuring your clients, can be a great way to share new and interesting stories. So when your clients are happy and willing, you can work together to get more publicity.
Janet Murray, who runs the Soulful PR Studio, held a webinar last week looking at how to create a PR strategy in 30 minutes, which reminded me how to keep the process simple and consistent for producing case studies with clients. Here are my top tips for smaller businesses to create and share their stories:
Be clear about the objectives: why do you want more publicity?
Is it to become recognised as an individual expert in your field?
Do you want to raise awareness of the company name and brand values?
Are you looking to integrate PR with a wider marketing campaign to grow the number of enquiries?
Do you have loyal clients to recommend your products and services, to demonstrate what you can do?
Ultimately, if you’re spending time and money on publicity, you’ll need to track how it contributes to more sales. This will take time and consistent effort, so choosing your strategy will help you plan how to keep going and get your team to help you.
Set up a PR process which works for a small business
To get more publicity, you’ll need a PR process to involve the people who contact your clients every day, either in sales or customer service roles.
A regular PR meeting
Help your team to put on a temporary ‘marketing’ hat, with a short meeting to discuss publicity opportunities every month. You can tell the team what you’re aiming for – and talk about the best ways to encourage happy clients to get involved. You need two or three people thinking proactively, to spot which clients may have similar goals to grow their brand and get more publicity. While speaking to clients on the phone or in person, they can check how happy these clients are with the service your business provides. If they are willing to talk about the results achieved, it’s a win-win situation to write up a case study.
Frequently asked questions
In any business providing services and expertise, clients will often ask questions. It’s worth keeping a log of these queries – they are useful in so many ways and once you’ve given the answer, you or the team may need to find it for the next person. Over time, you can build up a series of case studies and articles which answer the most common questions – providing plenty of material to plan publicity and drive inbound website traffic via blogs, helpful downloads, and email marketing.
Content schedule or editorial calendar
A calendar is most often used for keeping track of key events and a schedule for social media, however, it’s also important for your publicity plans. It takes 2-3 weeks to develop a client case study (sometimes much longer, if people are busy!) and if you want to share it with the press for a particular date, journalists will need the story 4-6 weeks in advance.
People to help
As a business leader, there isn’t time for you to do everything. To keep your publicity efforts consistent, you need several different skill sets involved. These will include:
Someone to manage the plan and talk to the customer facing team regularly.
Someone who is a good writer and understands search engine optimisation to produce the content.
Someone to develop good contacts with the press and share your stories.
Someone to organise your news stories and case studies online and archive them when out of date.
If you can allocate a reasonable budget to it, a PR agency will, of course, cover all of those. If you hire a freelancer or copy writer, check which parts they are happy to do for you – and which you will need to manage internally. Ad-hoc PR efforts might go to waste if you don’t stick to a plan, however, with the right support, you can get a positive flow of publicity over time.
Sign off by all the people involved
People are busy and signing off your case study is usually a low priority. Giving people dates and setting expectations in advance can help – and let them know who else will need to read it and agree the words.
Once written up, a case study can be presented in many different formats – video, email attachment and printable format – to hand out at meetings, or events after you’ve shared it with press contacts. To extend the reach of your published articles, it helps to support your PR efforts with regular social media posts on similar topics. Overall, case studies are great way to prove how you can help your ideal clients to achieve their goals and the publicity will benefit both of you.
Contact me if you’d like to review the opportunities for more client case studies. Or visit Case Study Ninja for more information on creating, storing and sharing your case studies.