The mantra for hustling full-time freelancers who want to grow their income could easily be “more skills, more money.” Especially when we are tasked with developing effective content strategies, weaving in various elements take a company from checking off necessities to going a step above.
What do we mean? Part of any content offering should be search engine optimization posts, brand-building blogs and inspiring customer narratives. While founders and leaders often believe they tell their story the best, it’s their clients who are actually the loudest.
Those wordsmiths who can take an interview and weave it into marketing material are instrumental to companies. After all, the goal of these narratives is to tell a story in a way that makes the customer want to buy into whatever they’re offering.
“It needs to be compelling, emotional, and relevant to the target audience. It connects the brand to the customer in a personal way, making them more likely to not only buy, but to be loyal to the brand in the future,” explains communications consultant Jennifer Johnson.
Learn how to craft impactful customer stories and how to sell ‘em to your current and potential clients.
Start with the brand and the industry.
You pitched your angle, the editor approved (whoop!), and now you’re staring at a white screen and blinking cursor, figuring out where to start. This is where all stories begin, including a customer narrative.
As the president of FK Interactive, Cassandra Rosen, explains, researching both the brand and the industry before sitting down to scribble makes your work stronger. Though it seems like one of those no-brainer tips, it’s actually a step that’s often skipped.
Johnson says there’s a major difference between writing a customer story for a multi-tenant retail company, a wine and spirits wholesaler or a B2B startup in a competitive space. While a retailer might benefit from in-person, visual representations of these stories — think photographs and short snippets — a business that offers marketing solutions may take the video route.
This is where a freelancer has to put their perspective hat on, and consider the medium that most customers would find this particular brand, and then develop the right tactic to reach them.
“Whether you’re a service provider, a retailer, a hospitality destination, or a consumable good, when you create that connection early and often through customer stories, that customer understands why to choose you as a brand, moving you further up the buying cycle as the ideal solution,” Rosen explains.
Ask the right questions.
As you learned in journalism school, a writer is only as creative as the questions they ask. And it’s not only about the subject you’re interviewing, but the inquiries you pose to the brand hiring you to do the work.
Johnson says all wordsmiths should pose these before jumping into narrative writing:
Who is the target audience? Has the business done any preliminary research about their customer base, such as age range, level of education, socioeconomic status, or other key demographics? What are the products or services the business wants to sell with this particular narrative? What is their mission statement?
With all of this info in mind, you can then decide the format of the Q&A chat you’ll have with the customer. Most importantly, understanding what’s at the core of the business will inform the direction of your story: “When you know what the business cares about, you have the key to writing an effective customer narrative,” Johnson adds.
Also being mindful of the way you pose questions: Are they open-ended or closed? Knowing when to use different approaches to questions can make all the difference in the quality of the responses.
Create a profile.
Sometimes customer narratives tell the background of someone who is already a fan of the brand. And other instances, it may be an embellished profile of the target customer. To formulate these stories, Johnson recommends researching and brainstorming exactly what this person looks like, what they like, what they’re struggling with, and so on. You might want to cover questions like age, sex, location, income, values and concerns.
“Answer these questions carefully, and if you hit a wall, go back a step and keep building your foundation by researching and asking questions to the brand,” Johnson suggests.
Once you have a grasp on the image, it’s easier to give him or her a voice. “The story needs to be based on their needs. Keep coming back to what is most important to the customer,” she continues. “Consider what drives them, what they care about, what makes them emotional, and how to make a connection.”
Be detailed — but clear.
It’s the hardest task for most writers but one of the most important steps in the process: editing. Johnson says you want well-written prose for a customer story that evokes emotions — but you don’t want a monologue:
When describing the problem, stick with words that describe the emotional state the customer or founder is in before the problem is solved, overwhelmed, uncertain, and frustrated. Then, when the company’s product or service swoops into the story to save the day, use positive words, like proven, trustworthy, remarkable, and delighted.
Like with any article, a customer story should feature a beginning, a middle and an end that accurately show change, improvement, and end with happiness. “Customer narratives are where writers with creative writing backgrounds really get to shine. So channel what you learned in that intro to creative writing class, and get to work,” Johnson encourages.
Connect business values to customer values.
Truly, this is the sweet spot of a customer narrative: connecting what the business cares about with the person who will care about the business. “When a potential customer reads your narrative, they should feel moved, motivated, and truly believe the product or service featured will solve their problem,” Johnson reiterates.
You can accomplish this through several vehicles, and you should experiment with many to determine what works for the audience. As Johnson notes, a narrative could explain a problem the customer is likely to have, and how the product or service will alleviate the issue. Or, perhaps the company’s founder has a fascinating backstory that’s relatable. That’s a script worth sharing.
The bottom line — and main goal — is to find what connects the interests of both sides of a business.
As Johnson says:
No matter what industry you’re in, customer stories and effective storytelling help to humanize a brand, creates value propositions, and turn business-to-business decisions into person-to-person choices. It’s more effective, more relatable, and makes that customers clearly understand you are the better solution for their needs.