A person telling the story will trump a dry tech solution manifesto any day.
In the high-tech world, it's easy for customers to lose their connection to a business when they receive messages from a faceless corporation. Incorporating a nice logo, fancy imagery or personal-sounding copy simply will not warm up marketing content in the same way an actual person telling a story can. But it takes more than just adding the company's CEO in a video clip on the website.
Here are a few ways to integrate the human element into an organization's marketing message and some activities to create a stronger connection with the audience.
Keep It Real
Celebrities, executives and actors have long been used to put a face on businesses. Apple's Steve Jobs is the ultimate example. However, for many business-to-business companies, there isn't a large enough budget to justify the expense of a celebrity or to truly build up a CEO as the company's spokesperson.
A better option is to use a person who is already known and respected in the market. This could be a customer who is willing to talk about his or her experience with the business or an engineer employee who is frequently invited as a knowledgeable speaker at industry events. In both cases, the goal is to leverage that person's equity as a recognized thought-leader. The best "spokesperson" is often the one who has lived in the trenches and is recognized for his or her expertise and knowledge.
Alternately, an organization can build recognized expertise within its team. Let a real person, say "Bob," host a webinar or company event. Send invitations directly from Bob, via personal email and LinkedIn. Give Bob a relatable title (such as Cisco's TechWise "Chief Geek," who delivers webcasts) and give him the opportunity to relate personally to the audience. Over time, he'll become a trusted person to whom the audience will respond. Remember, it won't happen overnight-it takes time and consistency to develop-but the rewards are huge.
For example, in side-by-side tests, emails sent from an established "Bob" outperformed emails from the corporation by up to 4-to-1. People wanted to hear what "Bob" had to say versus the company, even though it was the same message.
A similar, easy-to-execute technique is to have salespeople invite customers to key events such as training sessions, workshops or seminars. This can draw strong attendance as well as aid in forming personal connections with customers.
Everyone loves a good story. That's why case studies and testimonials are such great marketing assets. However, they are often poorly executed or underutilized.
Often, the study quickly drifts off into corporate speak and only occasionally quotes the customer. In other instances, the story quickly goes into product specifications-details that should be saved for data sheets. The customer should remain the storyteller from beginning to end, especially when describing her experience in language all audience members can understand. A person telling the story will trump a dry tech solution manifesto any day.
Because case studies can sometimes be challenging to produce, companies need to maximize that effort by using the content everywhere: brochures, presentations, the Web, tradeshows, press releases and anywhere else it fits. Adding a picture with a pullquote can also make the case study far more effective. Include a short video of the customer speaking: That's the ultimate form of storytelling.
When soliciting a testimonial, try to identify customers who have cachet in the industry, not just corporate name recognition. Look for a company known for innovation. Better yet, look for a customer who is a respected leader in the industry. That individual may have more pulling power with other audience members than his or her company's name.
The phone is still an extremely effective tool for reaching prospects in a personal way-as long as it's authentic.
Don't use a script. Repeat, do not use a script. Speaking from a pre-written document sounds robotic and impersonal. Provide the phone team with discussion guides that enable members to understand the product or solution. Make sure the team is properly trained so they can converse with the customer in an appealing, personal and believable manner.
Take it one step further by using a lead nurturing program. Assign ownership of a particular prospect to one person, so that "Amy" always calls "Tom." He might start as a hand-raiser only, but at some point he is likely to buy from you or a competitor. Throughout the nurturing process, Amy is a consistent and personal connection with Tom, unlike impersonal solicitations.
Companies that want to employ these marketing strategies should first examine the current state of their tools and programs. Next, imagine how a more personal approach could improve them. Then find ways to add that human element. Remember, people relate to people, and they love good stories.
JD Biros is partner and creative director at Sudden Impact Marketing, a Columbus-based firm that serves high-tech business-to-business clients. He can be reached at (614) 942-0908 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted from the December 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.