What if a customer won’t talk? How to maximize customer storytelling through elevating executive thought leadership

One thing tech PR professionals consistently ask clients for is whether they have new customer stories. While these assets can be tricky to negotiate, they are crucial to an effective communications program, especially when it comes to using those insights to differentiate clients’ messaging from the morass of generic ‘me too’ product marketing that’s out there.

A good customer story can be a brand’s biggest asset, serving as a powerful tool when it comes to building credibility with prospective customers and investors, as well as increasing customer loyalty, boosting sales, and enhancing marketing materials.

The Catch22 in all of this, however, is that customers are busy and have a number of competing priorities on their plate at any given time. More often than not, this results in their reluctance to participate in such activities, either for their own reasons or due to other constraints, such as their own policies around supplier endorsement; unwillingness to divulge sources of competitive advantage or regulatory agreements. And for those that are willing to talk, it can sometimes take time to encourage them to prioritize their customer stories over other pressing tasks.

That’s why it is key to find creative ways to overcome the challenge of not having a straightforward customer case study or name to share publicly.

So, how can a brand demonstrate expertise and customer success when customers aren’t willing to talk?

Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject…

What’s in a customer name, anyway….?

We have worked with many brands over the years that have faced that age-old dilemma of not being able to name their customers, so we have had to get creative in how we tell those stories. One technique we use to achieve this is by honing in on the expertise and capabilities that enabled the client company to overcome a specific set of challenges, highlighting the issues that are being felt more broadly by players throughout the industry and outlining the approach that was taken to help overcome them.

Anonymized case studies and data points

While a brand may not be able to directly mention a customer by name, that doesn’t mean they cannot still create an anonymized case study and showcase it on their website, use it for supporting messaging for media, analyst or sales discussions, or in wider marketing materials.

Data points are like gold dust in these situations – any statistics that show tangible business impacts like increased ROI, time saved, money saved, increased productivity go a long way to telling a well-rounded, results-driven story and point back to product or service validation of the brand. An anonymous example could look like, ‘Using our technology/service, one of the top pharmaceutical companies in the US was able to cut costs by over $50,000 a month and reduce workload time by 63%.’ These data points are also great for executives to weave into their social media comms and especially good to strengthen a talk track if they are speaking at a conference or on a panel.

Utilize sector-specific examples

A brand may also find it has customers that represent one, multiple, or dozens of key sectors like healthcare, insurance, finance, or education. It’s important for a brand to show results-driven stories that show expertise and ability to deliver impact in each sector, even if anonymous examples are used. This information goes a long way in showing prospective customers how the client’s expertise and offerings can help them overcome similar challenges and bring that story to life.

Brand executives can then also showcase their expertise in these sectors through blog posts, LinkedIn and Medium posts, along with a regular cadence of Tweets; demonstrating how their knowledge of the sectors and how their product or service can support each area, using the anonymous customer examples and supporting data points.

Tying to industry trends

Another way for a brand to stay competitive is to keep its finger on the pulse of industry and macro trends. They can use these to tie back to the product or service offering to demonstrate expertise and understanding of a particular challenge and how to overcome it. This can be done through media commentary, weekly blog posts, industry panel discussions, and social media amplification. This approach can help elevate a brand and its executives to that of a higher-level thought leader in particular sectors where they can then also reference the anonymous customer stories to serve as proof points.

Demonstrate high level understanding

In conclusion, just because a brand cannot name a customer, that doesn’t mean they can’t showcase their expertise. The points outlined are just a few guideline examples to help brands overcome the lack of referenceable customers by demonstrating at a higher level that they understand their customers and prospective customers industries and challenges, and that they provide a product or service to overcome them as the main factor, while using the anonymous customer examples as supporting points. This can also serve to arm a brand with wider thought leadership presence and demonstrate they have the expertise to tackle the industry challenges their audiences care about.