The Power of Real People: Using Customer Profiles to Sell Your Story

By Chris Birk on 9 January 2010 (Updated 14 January 2011) 0 comments
Photo: CEFutcher

Consumers crave authority and credibility.

They’re also in search of peers who not only understand their problem but who have also found a powerful solution.

And that’s why customer profiles can prove so crucial.

Highlighting positive feedback and glowing consumer reviews is an essential part of a top-level business site. But there’s only so much a quick quote or a brief “Thank You” note can convey. Companies in a host of industries and spheres are creating multidimensional content that showcases how their goods and services made a difference for their thankful consumers.

Stories, profiles and videos — often more journalistic in nature than purely advertorial — can provide a more positive and lasting impression than most straightforward testimonials and still dovetail with online marketing needs.

The reality is there’s real power, not to mention ROI, in real people.

Customer Profiles

Customer profiles take traditional testimonials to a higher level. They also require more time and investment and come with some unique challenges. At the outset are three hurdles:

  • Identifying satisfied customers who consent to the process and to public identification
  • Ensuring the customer’s story is actually worth telling
  • Committing time or money to conduct an interview and then produce a story

Unlike a testimonial, customer profiles are typically borne of interviewing and storytelling. These are more involved than just collecting and repackaging positive feedback.

Finding Profile Subjects

It may be true that everyone has a story, as journalism wonks love to say. But the hard truth is that not everyone’s story is worth telling.

Comb through your testimonials and notes of praise and look for consumers who rave about your product or service. Seek out repeat customers. People who are truly passionate about their experience with your business are great initial targets.

Make sure subjects understand your intentions from the beginning. Their name, hometown, age, photo, and possibly more will be disseminated to the masses.

Give them complete editorial control over the finished product. That concept makes even some recovering journalists squirm, but the bottom line is that this isn’t objective news — if the customer isn’t happy with a quote or wants a paragraph rephrased, make the changes.

Consider creating an incentive (a small token or gift) as way to thank — and, um incentivize — consumers to share their stories. Send them a copy of the finished piece along with their beautiful fruit basket. Whatever it is, make it nominal.

Telling Their Stories

The key here is to let the subject’s story unfold naturally. Provide general themes and problems that scores of consumers might face.

Instead of writing a glowing account of your product or services, focus on the consumer and his or her own unique circumstances. Allow the subject to talk about how your company provided the perfect solution. Stay out of the way as much as possible.

Allsup, the nation’s leading Social Security Disability Insurance representation company, does an exemplary job of this (Full disclosure: I have written some of their profiles).

If you have a corporate mission statement or formally established company values, consider weaving one of those into the profile as a running theme.

Brevity is always your friend on the web. Craft a solid lede, or opening paragraph, that pulls in prospective consumers. Use strong, active verbs and subject-verb-predicate constructions. Prize short sentences and economy of language.

No matter how compelling the tale, most consumers aren’t going to commit to a 1,500-word profile on a company website. It’s best to shoot for no more than 750 words. But 500 is better.

Adding Multimedia Elements

Video can be even more powerful than the written word.

It also requires a bigger commitment from your consumers. Someone who’s happy to see their name in print might not want a two-minute interview hosted on your company site in perpetuity.

There are also technology and travel concerns, from video load times on your site to the logistics of actually logging and then editing the tape. Of course, you can record an interview without physically being there, but odds are the finished product won’t look nearly as polished.

Colleges and universities have long capitalized on these types of video stories. While Sanford Brown calls theirs “alumni testimonials,” many of the edited videos are nearly a minute long — definitely enough for prospective students to get a sense of personal story and positive outcomes.

Building Interest

Don’t limit yourself to the confines of your website when the time comes to publish. Send press releases and try to connect the customers to smaller media outlets in their community. Make sure you have permission from the subject.

Trumpet these stories through your social media channels.

At the same time, encourage your front-line employees, customer service representatives, and others to keep an eye out for future profile subjects.

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