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The Green Sheet Online Edition

August 10, 2009 • Issue 09:08:01

Marketing 101
A case for case histories

By Nancy Drexler
SignaPay Ltd.

Let's face it. All ISOs provide similar products and services in much the same way - and at comparable prices. Yes, some of us have built brands that connote dominance in key industries. Others of us are known best for our technology or our sales incentive programs. But, at the end of the day, differentiating ourselves to end users is not easy.

That's where marketing comes in. When I started in our industry seven years ago, most ISOs were relying on clip-art ads and tradeshow meetings to build sales. Today, many have come to depend on more skillful and experienced marketing practices and practitioners.

We, however, are not miracle workers. To maximize our companies' differentiation and awareness, we continually rack our brains for new or different ways to set ourselves apart. And sometimes, we remember an old way to do it that worked pretty darn well.

Timeless solution

One old standby is strategic placement of case histories. They are, quite simply, stories told by satisfied customers about how your company helped them achieve an objective or exceed a goal. Also known as case studies, they are testimonials fleshed out to include facts, details and results in the form of a narrative.

The benefits of including case studies among your marketing staples are numerous. For one, they are fairly simple to do. They require none of the design or print work that a sales piece or advertisement requires and, as a result, they cost far less.

In fact, they can cost nothing, depending on how you use them, which is another benefit of employing case studies: They can meet a variety of marketing needs. Formatted similarly to this article, case studies can be "white papers" used on Web sites, offered in e-mails, or presented at meetings or tradeshows.

Related as narratives and wrapped in four-color design with photos of your "speakers," case studies can also be lovely additions to sales kits, presentation materials or direct mail campaigns.

Because they are stories, case histories can be much more attractive to readers than other marketing collateral - and far more compelling. People remember stories. Best of all, case studies are likely to be the most credible form of marketing you use. They involve, after all, your customers, not your marketing director, extolling your virtues.

Easy implementation

Ready to get started building your own library of case histories? This article will guide you through the process.

Decide what you want to accomplish. Every case study should clearly demonstrate how you were able to get tangible, measurable, successful results for businesses similar to the ones you are targeting for this project.

Ideally, you should decide what the focus of your case history will be and then find the best story to illustrate it.

Admittedly, some of us start from the opposite end, identifying a willing customer spokesperson and then basing the narrative on that person's experience.

Either way, it helps to decide upfront what your end goal is. Then, you have a framework by which you can take the following steps:

  • The media: First, pick your medium. Then, before you begin to gather your data and prepare a budget for your project, you must answer five questions to develop a sense of what form your case study will take.

    1. Do you plan to incorporate case histories into your selling process or simply host them on your Web site?

    2. Will you be printing copies for distribution or offering a Microsoft Inc. Word document to a publication, or a PowerPoint presentation to a meeting group?

    3. Are you focusing on one sales advantage or a series of advantages that work together to build a whole?

    4. Will you use one spokesperson, or will you feature a number of different customers?

    5. Will your pieces be used individually or as part of a series?
  • The content: Amass your information. I don't have to tell you how difficult it can be to get people to say what you want them to say (without paying them to say it). Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised. But, most of the time, it's best to have a Plan B.

    You might want to begin by preparing questionnaires and having some of your best customers or reps fill them out.

    This could give you some new ideas for presenting information about what makes your products and services different or special. It can also help you identify spokespeople who are prepared to give you the information and responses you are hoping for.

    Once you select the person or people you'd like to interview for your case histories, make sure your company is OK with your choices. And make sure your spokesperson's company is also on board. You will, after all, be using information about them in a public way.

    When the necessary executives from both organizations have signed off on your case study candidate, it is time to set up a personal interview with your subject.

    Meet him or her in a quiet place, and be prepared with a list of questions designed to get the responses you need. And use a tape recorder to catch every word (after receiving the interviewee's permission to do so).

    Keep in mind that the interview process should be comfortable and rewarding for your spokesperson. First and foremost, this means establishing what the customer is or is not willing to see in print and establishing his or her credibility to an audience.

    From there, it is a simple matter of prying loose interesting and factual information that supports the veracity of your sales pitch.

  • The narrative: In crafting your case study, you now have two objectives:

    1. Write a story that people will want to read.

    2. Write a story that convinces readers they will get the same positive results as your spokesperson did.

    The second objective is not as simple as it sounds. You may want to create different narratives for different media. A full-blown white paper, for instance, will incorporate many more facts and specific examples, while a Web testimonial will move far more quickly to the bottom line.

    Never forget to submit your final copy to your spokespeople for approval. Keep a signed copy in case you need proof that the exact use of words and facts was approved by the signer. You never know how people will react to your summation of their views.

Distinct advantages

You've done the hard part. Now, make sure you reap the benefits. Case histories never go out of date; they can be reformatted and used for years. Turn case studies into sales letters.

Send your spokesperson to tradeshows to speak on your behalf. You can even submit well-written case histories to trade journals, garnering publicity for your customer and yourself, and probably picking up a few good clients in the process.

Have I made my case? If so, then go ahead and make yours. end of article

Nancy Drexler is the Vice President, Marketing for SignaPay Ltd., an ISO headquartered in Dallas. Reach her at nancyd@signapay.net.

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