Printing Impressions

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Noel Ward

Real World Digital

By Noel Ward

About Noel

Noel Ward is Managing Director of Brimstone Hill Associates, which specializes in marketing communications in the printing industry, including video production. He can be reached at 603-672-3635 or via email at noel@brimstonehill.com. His website is brimstonehill.com, and he has a YouTube channel.
 

5 Steps to Effective Success Stories

 
One of the best ways to communicate the power of your company's technology is showing how customers are using it to solve business challenges. This is done using written or video formats that describe how a customer uses a given technology. Whether you call them success stories, case studies or application briefs, every vendor—and a growing number of print service providers—has a few of these on their websites. Too bad many of them don’t work very well.

The most common format is the formulaic one, usually specified by marketing or PR folks who either inherited this style as a corporate boilerplate or are afflicted with terminally linear thinking. This format divides the story into discrete chunks, sometimes with specific word counts per chunk. These sections often bear predictable subtitles such as: The Company. The Challenge. The Solution. The Benefit.

Yawn.

The core information is probably there, but with rare exceptions this format yields bland, stiff, unimaginative documents that are light on details, have all the allure of material safety data sheets, and barely scratch the surface of how a product solved a particular challenge. Most important, they impart few clues as to the value of services or technologies described. Your company deserves better.

Tell a Story
So instead, tell a story in a way that engages the reader. Since tales of printing equipment and software merge technology and business issues, it's important to explain how this happens in ways that connect with readers.

The story should read like a good magazine article. This can require more words than the formulaic approach, so tight writing is important. It's fine to keep within a specific word count, but make all the words work to tell the story while keeping it alive on the page.

Give examples readers can identity with and do it right at the beginning. If they don't see "what's in it for them," they will bail out fast. The main story should provide enough detail to show that the problems and challenges described are clearly not trivial and that solving them was an important business issue.

Interview two or three people at a company and use quotes from all of them—not just the top executive or managers. Ideally you want someone at a management level to speak to business issues and others further down the food chain who have their hands on the jobs to cover the operational side. This way you tell a more complete and credible story that is more likely to resonate with readers.

Talk about the benefits (not the features) of the technology and services your company provides and what they meant to the company featured in the story. Whenever possible, quantify labor and cost savings, improvements in efficiency, greater throughput, faster turnarounds, greater accuracy, better staff utilization and so on.

Don't beat the company drum too loudly. It's a story about what you can do, but not an advertorial or a sales pitch. Your message is far more effective and credible if the customer in the story is the winner (more efficient, more profitable, etc.) by working with your company or by using a given technology. Throw PR and advertising agency policies aside and don't use your product or company name more than two or three times. Readers aren't stupid; they know what you're talking about. (And don't put any company/product names in bold type, either.)

One of the key upsides to this format is that a trade magazine editor is more likely to be willing to run the story (after relieving it of any product pitch) because it requires minimal editing. This is not the case with stories using the formulaic approach that are too structured around a product to be used in a magazine without serious editing or rewriting—for which magazines have only thin budgets.

Finally, include some relevant photos to dress up the page and create both print and electronic versions. This gives you the same content for both media. The print piece makes a nice leave-behind and can also be included with other marketing collateral materials.

This same process is true for video versions of success stories. But that's a tale for another day.

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