No matter the industry, the value proposition or the call-to-action, every brand can benefit from powerful testimonials. As the — wait for it — free cheerleaders for a company, those who are the biggest fans of a product or a service often make it known far and wide. Capitalization on these reviews and praises is an effective and budget-mindful way to tell the narrative of a business.

As Kelly Chase, the director of content marketing at Fracture puts it, harnessing customer stories can serve as a game-changer for brands since today’s customers are connected more than ever to technology. Because they’re flooded with endless marketing messages, genuine, sincere and captivating narratives around customer stories can help businesses break through the noise — and win the hardest factor of all: trust.

“Leveraging customer stories allows the people who are already fans of your company to advocate for you on your behalf in a way that feels more authentic,” she continues.

But uh, how do you do that? And how can you take user-generated content and turn it into gold? With the help of talented, smart content writers, of course. For any brand or wordsmith that is hoping to tap into this sector, understanding the most effective and meaningful ways to craft narratives with customer input is step one.

Here’s how to craft narratives around customer stories:

How to craft narratives around customer stories: take a step back.

Take a step back.

When writers first approach their clients prepared to recommend a customer-centric narrative angle, it can be a lot to digest. After all, the concept of customer-first isn’t outdated, but putting them in the limelight can be a hit or a miss. That’s why Chase suggests taking a big step back, hitting pause, and working together to be aligned to the goal at stake.

This means researching how current customers are interacting with the company, where the majority of leads are tunneled through and how the brand is perceived within the industry.

Chase explains:

It’s easy to get so consumed in the day-to-day work that you lose track of what your brand looks like from the outside — and customer stories are one of the best ways to rediscover that focus and to gain key insights.

Start with reviews.

If your client is an online retailer, they likely already have a plethora of reviews to field. Or, if they are a service-provider, testimonials are likely buried within their tool kit. This is the no-brainer place to begin considering the narrative of the company. What are themes you see throughout customer perspectives? What descriptive language do they use to illustrate their experience?

Chase says thumbing through these pages is beneficial to both the writer and the leader of the brand:

The amount of information and insight you can gain through reviews is astronomical. You can start to identify problem areas, find out how your customers are actually using your products or services, and also begin to get a sense of the customer stories that exist.

How to craft narratives around customer stories: shift the language.

Shift the language.

When entrepreneurs start their business, it’s usually because they experienced or witnessed a pain point, and found a solution. Meeting the need within any market is the beginning of a promising company, but all too often, that’s where the language begins and ends.

As communications strategist Jennifer McLucas explains, brands tend to focus on the description of the solution, rather than using the words their customers choose. This is a miss, and the way the reviews of a fanbase can make a difference in a content writer’s work.

She suggests shifting from the solution to the ‘you’ approach. Seems simple enough but this creates an easy, tangible way for a prospective customer to see themselves in a story. And more to the point: to see how this product, service or company will make their life easier.

Just think about the way you make reservations for hotels or restaurants: you check the reviews. What if that info was already part of the way they described themselves, and you didn’t have to go searching?

Set up a process.

Part of business development and growth is setting up strategic systems that streamline processes. It’s not the sexiest part of meeting numbers and expanding, but it’s an essential one. As brands think about their own hurdles when cultivating customer narratives is first, collecting the information, second, going through them, and lastly (but most importantly) putting them to work.

That’s why Chase suggests content writers have candid conversations with their clients, covering questions like:

  • What are the best channels to connect with customers to get their stories? How can you incentivize customers to share their stories?
  • What kind of customer stories do we want to tell?
  • What are the best platforms on which to tell these stories so that we can best leverage them to connect with new customers?

Once you have a plan and a process in place you’ll be able to start building out a content calendar to support it, she shares.

How to craft narratives around customer stories: get started with low hanging fruit.

Get started fast with low-hanging fruit.

It’s one thing to understand the value of a narrative around customer stories — and it’s another to actually get started. Though taking time and consideration to think critically about the overall approach is important, social media manager and entrepreneur Olivia Howell says to try to think of easy, low-hanging-fruit opportunities to test the waters.

One of her clients, a concierge real estate company, hosts a ‘Testimonial Tuesday,’ posting quotes from real folks via graphics. Another option may be Feature Friday, where Howell’s company shares photos of clients, their quotes and other interesting information about their work together.

Without putting too much work on paper — and likely without 10 meetings to seal the deal —Howell suggests utilizing Instagram stories:

We share screen shots of customer reviews in graphics, and we also share video content of customer stories, as well as any tweets or Instagram posts the clients have tagged the company in. Therefore, we craft a really nice Instagram story series chock-full of customer stories and it adds klout and social proof to the brand’s narrative.

Let the customer be the hero.

Repeat after Chase: the customer is the star of the narrative — not the brand. This is something many companies get wrong: only utilizing the reflection of the customer to lure in attention, then turning it into a sales pitch, fast.

As Chase says:

The reality is that customers make buying decisions in an effort to solve their own problems and meet their own goals. So if you want to really resonate with potential customers through customer stories, make the story about them — their struggles, their hopes, their fears.

The more you put the current customer in the limelight of the narrative you’re writing for a brand, the more traction they will find.

How to craft narratives around customer stories: embrace change.

Don’t be afraid of change — embrace it.

It’s the one constant we can all depend on — and a truth freelancers know all too well: change happens. Fast, frequently and always. But it doesn’t have to be a negative part of building a content marketing and development business. Rather, you can use your own experiences as a way to convince a brand to modernize and focus on empathy, rather than purely numbers-driven goals.

As Chris Olfers, the founding partner the brand management and visual storytelling firm, The Southern Influence, explains, putting kindness at the heart of narratives is number one. Many companies may struggle with transformation in the early stages, but don’t let what Olfers calls ‘the most dangerous six words’ get in the way of progress: “We’ve always done it that way.”

According to Olfers:

Change isn’t just good — it’s great. You’ll never know what works if you don’t give it a shot! If you’ve never tried a video before, don’t start with a three-minute ‘hero’ video — start with some 15-second stop-motion videos. You can tell a great story with your cell phone and a good window to light you,  and once you know what works you may be ready to take the next step and start scripting out a larger campaign.