Casey Hibbard Q&A
I was quite excited to come across Casey Hibbard and her Compelling Cases approach to telling customer stories — as well as her excellent book, Stories That Sell, and am delighted to bring you this Q&A with her:
Bio: The following is from one of Casey’s Web sites:
Casey Hibbard, founder and president of Compelling Cases, Inc., has helped dozens of companies create more than 450 customer stories over the past decade. She has produced and managed success stories for companies such as Macrovision, Jobfox, USA.NET, IHS, and Vocus. Casey is featured in numerous books, articles, and teleclasses. She consults with organizations one-on-one and conducts online customer-story classes. She is also author of Stories that Sell and the blog of the same name.
Q&A with Casey Hibbard:
Q: In the introduction of your amazingly comprehensive and information-rich book, Stories That Sell, you note: “If it seems as though you’re seeing more customer stories than ever, you are.” To what do you attribute the growth in customer stories?
A: The use of customer stories has grown considerably in the past 10 years. Technology companies are the original pioneers of customer stories because they were extra compelled to educate and validate potential customers about their complex and expensive products.
Now that has spread to all types of organizations for a few reasons: We’ve suffered from a credibility crisis. Surveys show that the public’s trust in companies is at its lowest ever. Along with that, trusted sources information have changed as well. A company is now way down on the list of trusted sources compared to 10 years ago. Now “strangers with experience” is a close second behind someone a person already knows. You see that in how much we rely on Amazon and eBay reviews and feedback.
We also no longer do business face-to-face as much. It’s much easier to establish trust and feel confidence in what you’re buying if you can talk face-to-face with another human being.
Finally, there’s more of a need to validate purchases. Companies have never been so pressed to make decisions that will bring a return on investment.
In the absence of trust and in-person connections, customer success stories and case studies help foster credibility and validate products and services. A potential customer can read a true account of another organization just like them that solved a problem successfully — increasing their confidence. If the story has measurable results, then it also provides the validation that buyers need.
Q: The culture is abuzz about Web 2.0 and social media. To what extent do you participate in social media (such as through LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Second Life, blogs, etc.)? To what extent and in what ways do you feel these venues are storytelling media?
A: I do participate in social media (blogging, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and online communities specific to my field). However, I’m still exploring how story fits into this new development.
They all have the potential to be storytelling media but in different ways. Some formats are more suited to telling a complete story in a single serving, such as blogging and YouTube. Others are more about building a story about yourself, your business or your brand in bite-size pieces, such as on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
What’s fascinating is that they’re all interactive. Stories are not just told, but people can immediately comment and add to the understanding, or share their own similar stories. In my realm of marketing communications, this is unprecedented access and communication between an organization and its audiences. It’s part of a greater movement of authenticity and bringing down barriers. They’re letting go of control of every single word, and the result is impressive. Many companies are also now creating their own online communities that foster relationships and storytelling between their customers.
I think organizations have to find ways of weaving story into social media without sounding too contrived. A company can share a story on its blog or link to a YouTube video from Facebook, but ideally their customers are the ones freely sharing the stories and links in social media venues. The most compelling stories will be ReTweeted and shared again on any of a number of other sites like Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc. That’s when the real momentum starts to happen.
Q: What’s your favorite story about a transformation that came about through a story or storytelling act?
A: The best stories of transformation through story are those that mobilize people to give or do for great causes. There’s such an emotional component to putting a story behind a problem. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath recounts a couple of these stories. Their book names Stories and Emotion as two of the six principles of sticky ideas.
They share an anecdote about a study where people were asked to consider donating to Save the Children. Two different appeal letters were used to portray the problem of hunger in Africa. One gave statistics about food shortages and the number of people affected. The other recounted a brief tale about a single seven-year-old girl who would be helped by the money. Those who received the second letter gave more than twice as much as those who received the first letter. Putting a face and story behind a problem truly makes a difference. Kiva.org, which gives microloans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, has been very successful with this concept as well.
Q: If you could share just one piece of advice or wisdom about story/storytelling/narrative with readers, what would it be?
A: Since my focus is customer stories (which can also mean beneficiaries of a charitable cause), my advice is to keep it real. By that I mean try to maintain authenticity in the customer’s voice.
A major pharmaceutical company recently came out with customer success-story videos. The customers were real, but they seemed very coached to the point of sounding like actors. The videos completely lost the real quality, and man-on-the-street style endorsement that carries power. It was really a lost opportunity. They had these customers with great stories and they manipulated them to the point where they felt just like all the other drug company stories with actors. It would have been much more effective if they had spent a lot less money and just let customers tell their stories.
Q: Success-Story Marketing, which you define as “the act of leveraging the stories of satisfied customers — in any form and any way—for promotional purposes,” is the centerpiece of your book. How did you initially come to discover the effectiveness of Success-Story Marketing?
A: I had been writing and managing customer case studies for a year or so before I truly understood their power. As it turns out, I needed to hear stories about the effectiveness of these case studies for it to click for me! Such is the power of story.
After creating and managing a number of customer case studies for a client, a software company, word got back to me about a very specific success with one of the case studies in particular — featuring one branch of a nationwide mortgage company. The mortgage company was saving a significant amount of money by using the software, and improving customer service, and that was documented in the case study.
From there, the software company approached the national contacts for this mortgage company with the case study in hand. Sharing the success of a single branch led the national folks to recommend that branches adopt the software, leading to numerous new deals.
After 10 years in this field, I have now heard many anecdotes about how customer stories helped land media coverage, win an industry award, get people to sign up for a webinar, donate to a worthy cause, and so on. It’s an approach that just about any organization can leverage to communicate with their audiences.