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When marketers of professional services turn to branding as a way of differentiating their product offerings, they would do well to consider the subtle power of success stories.

Why?

Because brand identity is largely about building trust, and success stories—or marketing cases—are credible testimonials that demonstrate how your firm has lived up to that brand promise.

In their 1996 paper titled “Sales Training to Build Trust in Buyer-Seller Relationships,” University of Alabama at Birmingham professors Richardson, Swan and Bowers identified five elements of trust: dependability, honesty, competence, customer orientation and likeability.

They found that one of the best ways to convey each of those elements was with “proof sources,” or customer testimonials.

Even though these elements of trust reflect many of the underlying values of an effective branding campaign, a Google search on “brand development” yields an endless stream of marcom sites stressing the importance of logos, company names, Web site designs and clever taglines.

Although these are all key aspects of an identification strategy, branding is really about how customers feel when they hear and see that creative collateral.

Naturally, the primary objective of a series of client testimonials is to clearly demonstrate how your firm has “done the job and done it well.” In addition to spotlighting particular areas of expertise, though, cases can also provide an excellent venue for expressing brand emotions.

Here's how to add that extra splash of color.

First of all (if you haven't done so already) summarize your firm's core values as they relate to your brand promise. This list, often encapsulated within a company's mission statement, will point to the highlights you'll be working to fold into your cases.

As with all testimonial projects, once you have identified the specific talents you want to showcase, locate articulate clients who are willing to speak on tape about their positive experience with your firm—how you either saved them money or increased revenue, and by how much.

For each interview, provide your participant with a general statement of issues that you plan to cover during the session. Resist the temptation—or the request—to furnish your prospect with a comprehensive set of talking points.

Many clients, when given the questions ahead of time, will feel compelled to jot down notes or even write out detailed responses. This preparation will almost always dampen the spontaneity of the exercise and make it more difficult for you to capture engaging, realistic quote material.

Conduct the interview as you normally would, but in addition ask questions that will foster comments about how your customer identifies with your brand. Here are some examples of brand-related queries:

  • Before you engaged our services, what was your impression of our company?

  • How were those initial impressions satisfied during the course of our work?

  • Why did you choose our company over the competition?

  • If someone called you for a quick reference about us, what is the first thing that would come to mind?

As you compose the case—or work with a writer assigned to the task—use brand-related sentiments (in italics) to add subtle depth and color to the story:

We were spending so much time trying to catch up with our billing that our customer service began to suffer. We had to get someone in here, and I had heard that Acme Accounting Services was efficient and dependable. They spent the time to understand how we do business, and then really helped me develop an accounting system that now saves us at least twenty hours a month in manual labor.

An exact citation? Hardly.

But as long as you have explained the objectives of the project, and faithfully portrayed your client's intended message, don't expect too many red marks when you send them the draft.

While quotes are powerful devices, your branding inferences need not be limited to the material found in the interview transcript. Be careful, though. The best marketing cases typically read like news reports, so make sure that your brand highlights are communicated in that same voice:

Riverside Promotions, best known for its work on behalf of local non-profits, was well suited to the challenge facing their newest client….

To perpetuate a branded marketing case program, it is essential that you remain open and curious about how your brand is viewed in the marketplace.

Outside of speaking with clients directly, one of the best ways to keep in touch is to solicit regular feedback from your sales staff, service professionals, administrative assistants and anyone else in direct contact with your customers.

As you move ahead with updates and new cases, don't miss the opportunity to make sure that your brand impression comes through, soft and clear.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carl Hedberg Carl Hdberg is a business writer who specializes in success stories, business school teaching cases, and other interview-driven projects. Reach him at carl@wordwrite.net