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A Happy customer Can Sell It for You

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

When a satisfied customer tells friends and business acquaintances how great your products and/or services are, you have an immediate "in" with those few prospects.

The same is true when a publication prints a story about how your customers solved a problem using your products or found your services beneficial ... with one major difference -- the readership is in the thousands or hundreds of thousands.

Capitalizing on this kind of endorsement is not only good business but necessary in order to compete in today's market.  Best of all, it works at every level of marketing--whether you're a manufacturer, solutions provider, distributor or dealer--is in business to solve problems for customers (individuals, groups, businesses).

With the growing list of promotional options available, it makes good sense to examine your alternatives carefully and complement or stretch your promotional dollars with as many cost-effective methods as possible. After all, no one has an unlimited budget.

Advertising rates are high and going higher. Web site promotional costs are being challenged as management searches for ROI questions. On top of that, the effectiveness of all of these expenditure is being seriously challenged.

In addition, there's the problem of selecting the publications and/or media you want to carry your message. Despite the Web, the list of publications available to you is growing, making your selection even more difficult. For example, the computer industry alone now has more than 150 horizontal and vertical market publications. The communications industry has about the same number and the Internet’s list is constantly expanding. In many markets, that's nearly one for every manufacturer.

Your own community newspaper has also probably started a computer section, adding to your selection/budget problems.

Personal sales calls aren't always the answer either -- not when a call is now exceeding $500. And the availability of top sales people is definitely not improving.

In short, the marketing "buy-in" cost for your industry is becoming almost prohibitive.

Rather than trying to "out advertise" the competition, you need to cover as many of your target areas as possible, and as cost-effectively as possible.


Several Marketing Messages

No organization -- manufacturer, integrator of dealer -- has just one message it wants to communicate; it has a multitude. There's a corporate message of quality, service and response.

Then there are market segment messages ... messages aimed at doctors, architects, accountant, home owners, lawyers, IT managers, advertising agencies, and every other industry you serve.

Advertising to all of them is beyond the scope of nearly everyone's corporate budget. To ignore them leaves potential sales on the table for your competition.

The key is to develop a balance in the markets and determine how you can allocate your resources -- money and time -- to reach these various markets.

One of the most effective and most cost-efficient methods of reaching these vertical markets is through the use of case history stories or third party endorsement articles.

Look at all of your trade magazines, business publications and even the daily newspaper. They're literally filled with case history stories. Ninety percent of the time these were initiated by someone just like you who had a vested interest in getting a message out to a particular audience.


Case In Point

Several years ago, we were carrying on a total campaign for a firm that produced printer/plotters. We had a corporate advertising campaign aimed at general IT and network managers, system integrators and resellers.  We had a secondary PR campaign that included approach-to-problem, technology and application articles for the trade press.

We also had a third campaign. Marketing would track where units were sold and give us information about the organization. We would contact that customer, develop an article on how and why the products were being used, and place the article in specific industry as well as general trade publications.

The result?

They sold one printer to a newspaper to be used for proofing computer-generated copy. We wrote and placed the article.  It resulted in ten sales. Sales in six months doubled and then tripled in the newspaper and publishing industry.

We did the same in the petroleum industry where a system as sold to be used for plotting seismic data; similar results occurred.

In those tightly knit communities the company became known as The Newspaper Proofer Company or the Seismic Plotting Company.

Once you've solved a problem for a customer, or a customer has taken the initiative and solved his or her own problem, you have the potential to duplicate sales to people in the same or similar market or situation.

The opportunities are as close as your own files. When you locate these approach-to-problem situations, you have available one of the most powerful marketing tools invented.

The case history is not only powerful but is really sought after by the media ... local, regional and national. Through the editorial pages you can begin telling others -- in the customer's/user's own words -- how they solved a problem and improved their own business. Covering this type of information is one of the prime reasons for any publication to be in business ... help the readers do their jobs better and more profitably.

Case histories are excellent for you because:
  • They quickly inform the market of new and different solutions.
     
  • They demonstrate your products and/or services in use.
     
  • They illustrate a company's innovation.
     
  • They show acceptance and experience in the marketplace.
     
  • They add credibility and user benefits to your message.
     
  • Properly handled, they encourage readers to relate solutions to their own needs.
At the recent industry trade show, a software supplier approached me about work we were doing for one of his competitors. The vice president of marketing couldn't understand why the software had so many great articles written about the product in the trade media when his product had so many more features and did more.

I told him it wasn't any big secret. We just made it easier for the editors to inform their readers how people in similar work environments – their counterparts -- were solving certain problems. Coincidentally, the the solution happened to be the use of our client's product. The marketing VP simply shook his head and walked away.

It was just good marketing. We were filling a need. In this instance, our market happened to be editors and their need was to fill the space in their publications with meaningful, interesting and useful articles.

We were filling the need much better than our “superior Product” competitor.


Easy Steps

The development and placement of case history articles is easy. The hard part is actually doing it.

First, define your goals.

If you ask questions based on your objectives before any case history story is started, you'll rarely find yourself in the awkward position of having to back out of the article halfway through.


Questions To Ask Your Satisfied Customer

Ask about the company, its place in the industry, size, etc.
  • Why did they first need your products/services?
     
  • How did they use the products/services?
     
  • What was the most important feature to them?
     
  • What can they do that they couldn't do before?
     
  • How does the solution save time, money, and rejects?
     
  • Could they accomplish the same with a competitive solution?  If not, how does your solution provide savings they couldn't otherwise achieve? If so, why did they select your solution over all others?
     
  • What is the customer contact protocol? Who should clear and approve the article?
     
  • Of your products/services, on what did the customer draw upon to solve their problem?
     
  • Who was involved in the application?
Answers to these questions are available within the customer's organization, but they do require some digging.

So dig. Go to the sources--the people who use your product daily. They know the technical aspects of problems and solutions. They can probably give you outstanding information to make an interesting article. Since it will be a positive article on their firm, their activities and the specific department/people; they are usually more than willing to assist and work with you. Especially when they know they will be able to review/approve the piece before it is placed.

Before you begin writing, consider who would be interested in the article after you have all of the facts. This helps you target and formulate the structure of your article. Ask the following questions:
  • Who do you want to interest?
     
  • What types of publications do they read?
     
  • What magazines in particular address this type of problem for this type of reader?
     
  • Are there perhaps two or three ways the article can be written to appeal to other market segments?
Once you have all the facts and you're sure of the audience, you'll know what slant you will want to take in preparing the article. But before you sit down at your terminal and begin banging away, take a moment to outline the entire article. This will help you pin down your priorities, keep the central theme clear and make transitions smooth.

A good lead is mandatory. Your lead should first grab the editor since you have to convince him or her to use the article. Then you have to grab the reader’s attention, stimulate his or her interest. Then introduce the slant or “news” angle you want to pursue.

Typically, the article should give some introduction to your solution, background on the subject, explain what the initial problem or solution was, how the positive outcome came about (this is where you introduce your product/service story), and then add a closing that sums up the successful outcome and projects as to the future uses the customer has for the product or service.

Once you've written your first draft, edit it for length and clarity and pass it by several of your marketing/technical people to make certain it presents the message you want to impart. You're almost ready to submit it for publication.

Once the article is written, make certain it is thoroughly approved within the customer's location. That means it should be circulated throughout their marketing department to ensure that it properly presents their company as they wish.

If they don't get all of the approvals necessary, the article may be published with erroneous information. Suddenly you're the bad person in the situation.


Focus On Customer

Make certain the customer you will feature is doing an outstanding job and has a good reputation in his industry. This sounds simple, but it can often be overlooked in your zeal for getting a good article on your products/services into print. If the customer is a loser, what do you gain by teaming up with him?

The significance of a company name doesn't necessarily add any value to your company or your product. There are more than fourteen million firms across the U.S. and over 40 million around the globe that are not in the Fortune 1000. That means more people will be able to relate size, problem, solution and results with the "smaller" firm.

In addition, a relatively small or unknown organization may have an outstanding application that creatively solves a problem common to thousands of prospective customers. Few CEOs or senior managers can associate the problems/solutions of a Fortune 1000 firm with their situation.  However, when the company being covered is a similar size and in a similar position it is easier to see how the reader could possibly implement the same or similar solution.

Given the choice, go with the smaller or unknown customer every time.  First, they are going to be easier to deal with. Secondly, they are going to want the exposure more and will assist you. Finally, they will become stronger extensions of your own selling efforts.

Since you've pegged your audience so well, you'll have no trouble placing your well-written, reader-oriented article.  It can be done locally, regionally, nationally and possibly even internationally.

But don't expect miracles overnight. Editorial schedules may mean your article won't appear for 3-6 months. Or it may be used in a special issue on the subject, giving your product/service further credence.

A steady and aggressive case history article program can provide tremendous payback for the customers you write about as well as your organization. And very quickly, you can become the authority in a specific market segment.

Something that is often forgotten also is that the article has a potential life after publication. In fact, the after-life can be even more valuable to you than having the article published.

As soon as the article appears, obtain reprint rights from the publication. Reprints given out in the store, handed out at trade shows, used by sales people during customer calls or direct mailed to prospects, are excellent selling tools.

Again, they are letting someone else tell your story for you. That someone is not only the customer but also the publication. The publication is "endorsing" your product/service by implication with their coverage. Capitalize on that "endorsement."

All you have to do to get started is to have good product/services and fulfill your commitments to your customers. Then work with your customers and let them tell the world how successfully you helped them.

© Copyright 1999, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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