On the hunt for the ‘unambiguous value statement’

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This is the next entry in our “Best of” series, in which we venture deep into the vault to replay blog opinion and insight that has withstood the test of time. Today’s post hails from September 2009. We welcome your feedback.

By Leo Valiquette

It’s been a while since I have expounded on the subject of reference customers. (OK, it’s been a while since I’ve expounded on any subject on this blog, but here I am, back in form.)

In our work at inmedia, where we strive to engage with the editors of specific trade and industry titles to sell them on the merits of a client’s story, enthusiastic reference customers who can articulate the pain points that were addressed by our clients’ products will, more often than not, make the editor sit up and take notice.

Customers who have actually opened their wallets for a vendor’s product or service provide validation and demonstrate uptake in the market. They can speak in dollars-and-cents terms about why they adopted a particular product and the benefits and return on investment they have derived from it.

Please note the emphasis on that last part. A customer testimonial along the lines of “we thought this was a great product and we highly recommend it” is so utterly void of tangible value that it’s better to not have it at all.

When developing an in-depth article such as a white paper or case study with an agreeable reference customer who scrutinizes the worth of every expenditure, it’s easy to delve deep and get beyond such a vapid endorsement.

In my freelance work, however, I have found myself working on a number of projects for clients who have taken the other approach to getting their name in a desired industry publication–they’ve paid their way by purchasing advertising space for a corporate profile. Which is all well and good, but to ensure those dollars have been well spent and the potential for lead generation is maximized, the copy must sing with the same unambiguous value statements expected of a case study that has passed muster with a competent editor dedicated to providing his or her readers with the information and opinion they need to run their businesses more effectively.

Too often, however, I see paid profiles, or advertorials, that come across as brochure-ware, produced either by writers who do not have the benefit of a journalism background, or worse, by a committee of the organization’s marketing staff and senior management.

It’s not that these profiles are poorly written (well, not always), or fail to convey core messaging, but they have often been developed with a lack of appreciation for three key points:

  • This is an ad. That means the odds of actually engaging with a reader have just taken a nosedive, considering that the publication’s editorial content is also vying for their attention.
  • We are all busy and pressed for time. We often don’t read, we skim. We take only a couple of seconds to decide if something is of value to us before flipping past it.
  • People don’t want to read a bunch of quotes attributed to stakeholders in the organization. Flagrant self-promotion is a dish best served as an appetizer, not as a main course.

What does this mean?

  • It means a 900-word profile that fills more than half of a full-page ad with grey text has little chance of being read.
  • It means that you don’t have the luxury of wowing readers with colourful prose which details the rich and successful history of the organization before getting down to the nitty gritty of why your products and services are relevant to them.
  • It means that an unambiguous value statement from an enthusiastic customer eager to put their name beside what they have to say is not only essential, it should probably lead the piece.

And on that last point, don’t try to micro-manage the process and put the words you want to hear in the mouth of your reference customer for their rubber-stamped approval. Yes, some degree of polishing and massaging will no doubt be necessary, but let the customer express the value points that mattered most to them in their own words. They are, after all, representative of the people you are trying to reach. To have relevance and resonance, this value statement should come across as sincere and true. This is also worth keeping in mind when developing an effective news release.

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