We are living in the midst of a content boom. An astounding 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone. 306.4 billion emails are sent every day. 95 million photos and videos are shared every day on Instagram. More than 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Simply put, there have never been more demands on our audience’s attention.
This staggeringly crowded landscape presents extraordinary challenges for savvy communicators looking to cut through the clutter. And in this adapt-or-die digital environment, the communications tactics of previous generations may hold little value for the B2B content marketers and brand storytellers of today.
A Former Heavyweight Fails to Captivate
For generations, the case study reigned supreme as the pound-for-pound undisputed champion of communications tools. There had never been a more effective way to showcase your value to a prospect than offering proven examples of third-party-validated performance of your product or service in the real world.
And yet, a 2020 survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs shows that only 56% of manufacturing marketers used case studies over the last 12 months, down from 75% just a few years ago.
So, what killed the traditional case study? Boring, soulless storytelling.
In their attempt to distill the case study to its essence, the cookie-cutter “problem, solution, results” write-ups of today have gone stale, stripping the story of any dramatic tension or human emotion that would compel the reader to invest. For the modern case study to have any place in the content strategy of the future, it’s clear the form needs to evolve to compete in a landscape filled with dynamic, data-rich visual storytelling.
Enter the Customer Narrative
These stories must connect with your customers on a deep emotional level, guiding them down the sales funnel from consideration to action through boundary-pushing content that puts them at the center of the hero’s journey. A successful customer narrative approach incorporates the following tactics:
- Reprioritize the customer. The first critical element of the customer narrative approach? The customer comes first! Putting your customers at the center of the story helps others identify with their needs and/or pain points, ultimately telling a far more impactful story. When you approach them as pieces of brand journalism rather than as commercials for your products or services, your customer-centric narratives carry more authenticity. They also dramatically decrease tune-out factor by connecting with the emotion of the human impact your solutions bring to the people you serve.
- Commit to a company-wide process. Identifying, sourcing and creating these stories requires buy-in across your organization. From front-line sales and service teams to R&D and legal experts, defining a clear Customer Narrative process with roles and expectations will lay the groundwork for a smooth development process for every story.
- Turn in your tired old templates. Ditch the cookie-cutter formatting. Instead of putting every customer success – no matter how diverse the situation, solutions and outcomes – in the same old template, embolden your stories to tell you how they want to be told. The potential outputs are varied and endless, from social media graphics, animation, infographics and data visualization to short- and long-form video highlights, podcasts, endorsements, listicles and Q&A’s. Expand the impact of every story by recontextualizing how and where you tell it.
- Maximize your investment. In a business environment in which every dollar falls under increased scrutiny, the customer narrative approach also helps you check multiple boxes with a single story. Stretch the value of every marketing dollar by considering the multi-platform potential of every narrative. Produce diverse assets that fuel your website, social channels, digital ad campaigns, media relations programs and more.
- Experiment, test and measure. Remember, the purpose of these stories is to move the needle! Take the time at the outset to pinpoint your KPIs and establish a robust, fully-integrated measurement infrastructure that will enable accurate attribution of your efforts.
The results of this Customer Narrative approach speak for themselves. With the demands on your customer’s attention at an all-time high, stop boring your prospects to tears with case studies that belong in a history book, and start compelling them to action with content your audiences crave.
The traditional case study is dead. Long live the Customer Narrative.