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Case history articles—also known as application stories or testimonials—are the most powerful way to drum up interest in your product. That's because they feature a real customer talking about how your product or service solved a real problem.

Here's how to write a case study and see it through to publication.

1. Win the Cooperation of Your Customers

Many companies have difficulty getting their customers to cooperate with their publication efforts. When they ask their contacts for assistance, they are often told: "I'd love to help but I don't have time" or "We can't release any information on what we are doing because we are way ahead of our competition."

Try approaching your customers not as if you are asking for a favor, but rather as if you have something to offer them. Approach them with something like: "We see the opportunity to get some favorable publicity in major trade journals for both of our companies based on the success of this application."

Mention the name of one or two trade journals in their industry—read by their customers—that would be targeted for publication of the article. Tailor your approach to the size of the customer.

If it's a small company, stress the value of exposure to their own prospects and customers. If it's a larger company or one that's already well-known, emphasize the value to your contact of gaining industry recognition.

2. Develop a Process for Bringing Case Histories to Completion

While writing the article is the most visible part of creating a case history, it normally constitutes less than half of the total task of bringing the article to completion.

The rest of the job consists of working with the customer to get permission to do the story, scheduling and performing the interview, presenting the first draft to all involved parties and making changes to win their approval, collecting illustrations, and obtaining written approval from the customer.

With multiple case studies underway, this job requires solid organization and continual attention in order to complete the articles on a timely basis. Make sure that you have either allocated the time to do it within your organization or selected a partner with the process and resources to bring the articles to completion.

3. Walk a Fine Line in Writing

Writing case histories is a delicate task that involves creating an article that simultaneously promotes your company, makes the customer feel comfortable, and fits the requirements of magazines that you are interested in publishing in.

The job of the writer is to make everyone in the process feel that they have been positively and fairly portrayed without going so far that the article lacks credibility and becomes difficult or impossible to publish in reputable trade journals. It's important to appreciate the concern of the customer not to appear to be endorsing or completely locked into a single supplier.

Ideally, the writer should have a track record in producing material for trade journals that the article is targeted for. The writer's understanding of these publications' style and hot-buttons and the publication's comfort with the writer will greatly simplify the process of getting the article published.

4. Obtain Multiple Trade Journal Placements

If you have customers that are achieving a substantial return on their investment in your product and you can create a professionally written and reasonably objective sounding article, magazines will bring them to the attention of tens or even hundreds of thousands of readers at no cost to you.

The vast majority of publications aren't even concerned whether you advertise or not, but simply whether the article will be of interest to their readers. The magazine picks up the substantial cost of printing the article and distributing it to their readers and also increases its credibility by attaching their name to it.

This is clearly a unique advantage of producing case history articles and a key reason why they should play a major role in your marketing effort. The articles can often be placed in more than one non-competing publication by writing them with several audiences in mind.

5. Take Full Advantage of Other Opportunities

Often the greatest benefit of case history articles comes after they are published. For example, Techno, a leading supplier of computer-controlled routers, regularly produces case history articles and places them in magazines that reach customers and prospects in the wood and plastic machining industries. The articles generate a considerable number of sales leads but their greatest value comes later.

Each of the company's demo centers is equipped with a book of dozens of published customer application stories. Dealers walk prospects through the book prior to the demonstration to highlight the success of customers with applications similar to the prospect's. The prospect is nearly sold prior to the demonstration, resulting in 30 percent and higher annual sales gains since the new method was implemented.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jerry Fireman (jerry_fireman@strucinfo.com) is president of Structured Information (www.strucinfo.com), a company that provides marketing communications services on a project basis.