Tips to make your customer stories more compelling

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You can’t beat a good story to get your business noticed. That’s why customer case studies in brochures and newsletters are so compelling. They are often what people like to read first. After all, readers don’t just want to hear you telling them how good your products or services are; they like to check an independent view as well. The opinions and verdicts of satisfied customers helps persuade prospects they are making the right decision in choosing your business.

The strongest element in company brochures, newsletters and websites is often the story telling. This is your opportunity to produce compelling copy with a soft sell subtly woven into the fabric of the story. Having captured people’s attention, you can position your business, brand, culture and identity in the best possible light.

It can be a challenge bringing together the ingredients needed for strong customer stories that stick in the mind. A useful approach is to put POWER (Perspective, Ownership, Warmth, Endorse, Rapport) in your copy:

Perspective – see the world from the customer’s point of view, not yours. Tell stories relevant to their world and let them make their own minds up about how good you are.

Ownership – tell your stories in the first person, highlight the actions of colleagues and say why they are important to the story,  personalise the content with your own contact details at the end. This builds trust and confidence that you are accountable and prepared to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’.

Warmth – show compassion and a deep understanding of customers’ challenges – plus a readiness to help tackle them. A ‘we’re in this together’ philosophy creates stronger stories.

Endorse – the all-important real-life examples of how you help customers is your opportunity to say ‘Don’t just take our word for it…’. One of the first things businesses look for are what other customers have to say about you.

Rapport – speak the same language as your customers with straight-talking, jargon-free communication that they will understand and respond to positively.

If you want to put more POWER in your company stories contact us.

Paw turnout at work

Dogs3The tail definitely wags the dog at EDG. Pooch power drives the business, and not just on Bring Your Dog to Work Day, which this year is on 22 June. EDG’s three tail-wagging co-workers never miss the chance to assist in the smooth running of the business.

Having a national day to bring your dog to work is a transatlantic thing, with initiatives taking place in the UK and US.

The UK’s Bring Your Dog To Work Day has been organised since 2014 by Hownd, a natural pet care brand for dogs. It supports two charities – All Dogs Matter and Animals Asia. Hownd cites scientific studies that support claims pets can reduce a person’s stress levels at work. According to Hownd, workers who have taken part in the day report increased job satisfaction and improved team co-operation.

US-based Pet Sitters International (PSI), an educational association for professional pet sitters, started the stateside Take Your Dog To Work Day in 1999. Its survey of 1,000 pet owners found 78% thought a pet-friendly policy was an employee benefit. While 82% felt pets help reduce stress in the workplace, and 63% said pets at work could encourage colleagues to collaborate and interact more.

Significantly, just over half the respondents in PSI’s survey said a pet-friendly policy would be a deciding factor between two potential employers who were equal on all other counts.

Of course, you have to be very careful about how a dog day is organised, particularly the suitability of the workplace and the pets. You’ll need to consider the feelings of colleagues who don’t count themselves as canine lovers.

If you want further compelling benefits, Blue Cross, the animal welfare charity, offers tips for bringing dogs to work.

It’s not just dogs that can help us humans.

Charities like Pets as Therapy visit hospitals, nursing and care homes to improve patients’ health and wellbeing with animals. And calming, fluffy animals can help stressed students.

The charity Greatwood uses former racehorses to educate disadvantaged children and young adults with special educational needs. Riding for the Disabled Association also shows the transformative effect horses can have. And anyone can pop into a cat café for coffee and feline pampering.

With the dogs at work day approaching, why not take the lead? Suggest your boss opens the door to dogs. And don’t worry if colleagues think you’re a bit barking. Man’s best friend etc.

Humour at work? You’re having a laugh

Mad image 2A Google search for ‘humour at work’ reveals just two results. And one is for hummus at work.

Actually, that’s a rather poor attempt at humour. There are millions of Google results (95.9, 54.5 or 3.36 million, depending on which day you search). Whatever. Clearly, there’s no shortage of smarta***s out there.

Aparently, the ability to laugh with colleagues, laugh at yourself – just laugh – is fundamental to being human. It’s what sets us apart from animals. Try telling that to a hyena.

But how much humour, and when, are tricky questions.

A little light humour during dark periods of stress can work wonders. In a busy workplace, you can’t beat a bit of banter. Those one-liners or a running joke that wends its way back and forth can boost morale.

The funny thing is how seriously people take humour. Take these two events coming up in June and July 2018. Real rib ticklers, and there are probably plenty more like them.

The International Society for Humor Studies’ 30th annual conference should be a laugh a minute. Or 5,760 minutes – four days of academic presentations from theories on verbal humour to satire in politics.

If you prefer Wolverhampton to Tallinn this summer, there’s an international summer school on humour and laughter. It’ll get you up to speed on the theory and methods used in the scientific study of humour.

Is humour worth the effort? Evidence, as if it were needed, suggests it is.

Researchers at Wharton School discuss in a Wall Street Journal podcast how teams work better when they laugh and joke together. They say humour can improve productivity, although we’re not sure if that’s meant to be a joke.

Fortunately, there’s even a place for sarcasm, so long as it doesn’t turn nasty or negative. The Wharton School researchers found that being on the end of sarky comments can actually boost your own creativity and expand the way you think.

The researchers even say humour can improve your status at work – on the basis that you’re more confident and willing to get involved doing stuff that gets you noticed. Although some of the glummer senior execs we’ve worked with prove exceptions to this rule.

So, what kind of worker are you? The ‘pack up your troubles and just get happy’ or the ‘heavens knows I’m miserable now’ type?

Remember, your next joke could make all the difference to your career.

Cut your clichés for clearer copy

Blue sky thinking outside the box to upsize low hanging fruit delivers a win:win scenario. What? Call it corporate-speak, jargon or gobbledegook, we are probably all guilty of slipping the occasional confusing business babble or cringeworthy cliché into our conversations and copy.

Although jargon can be criticised as a sign of lazy copy you sometimes just can’t help yourself. If a hackneyed phrase paints a clear picture that colleagues easily understand and helps convey important messages then carefully rationed use should be okay in business language. And you never know, clichés could help you climb the career ladder.

A good rule is to challenge yourself about what the word or phrase really means and ask whether you can say the same thing more clearly in a different way.

If you want to avoid the more obvious examples then check these, these and these. And if you want some fun trying out your own then the Plain English Campaign’s gobbledegook generator can help.

At the end of the day it’s not rocket science. Co-workers probably won’t mind a limited sprinkling of the stuff. However, most of us would probably prefer to be remembered for our positive contributions to business success rather than our catchphrase.

Our tip is to replace the traditional office swear box with a clichometer to penalise the most over-used examples. It’s a big ask but by the close of play you could have a tidy sum to donate to charity.

Why it is okay to split infinitives

Whenever a Star Trek movie hits the big screen the USS Enterprise’s mission is, as always, ‘to boldly go…’. Meanwhile, down here on earth a debate Mr Spock would surely consider illogical re-ignites. Should we split our infinitives?

The answer is yes, no or maybe, depending on your personal preference or corporate style guidelines. But what matters more – rules or readability? Copy needs to flow easily and splitting infinitives is no longer such a serious rule breaker.

Indeed, the Smithsonian describes split infinitives as one of many ‘phoney rules’ in grammar. Oxford University Press supports the view, saying objectors have no real justification. OUP notes ‘people have been splitting infinitives for centuries’. Or longer, in Captain Kirk’s case.

The conversational tone you see in good corporate writing has room for flexibility. The best corporate style embraces George Orwell’s advice to break rules rather than say ‘anything outright barbarous’. However, a line should be drawn, and phasers set to stun, in the fight against sloppy copy.

If the split infinitive scans okay, then it probably is okay. When you think about it, if Kirk & co had instead decided ‘to go boldly’ they might not have gone quite so far.

Continue the conversation after your conference

handshakeEverybody agrees your conference was a massive success. Handshakes and high fives all round. New opportunities abound with a stack of business cards and email addresses to personalise communication with your new fans.

You have confirmed people are happy to receive information from you in the future. So what now?

Your audience of customers and prospects will expect something useful from you. Your communications must deliver value to them. A great way to start or continue business relationships at this crucial point is with a post-event publication.

A magazine or newsletter summarising what was said provides delegates with a handy summary of the event, especially sessions they may have missed, in an easily digestible format. Even better, you can send the publication to people who couldn’t attend as well as prospects to entice them to your next event.

You can build stronger client relationships after conferences and seminars by:

• Sharing your knowledge leadership – capture and present your key messages plus information discussed and shared on the day. As well as your own experts you are likely to have involved external speakers, whose influential opinions you can include. Often, the key highlights at events are the informal, unscripted elements such as Q&A sessions. These can be summarised for publication if you have someone there to report on them.

• Keep the communication going – publications provide essential follow-up contact that should create lasting interest in your organisation, especially for people who couldn’t attend your event.

A magazine, newsletter or brochure is a great way to add extra value in your mix of customer engagement activities. At EDG, our writers, photographers and designers can rapidly create impactful content and images from events to produce a timely publication that captures the flavour of the day and acts as a memorable reminder of your industry-leading views.

Really, it couldn’t be easier for you. Contact us and we’ll show you how

Flexible working works

Woman smiling - cropMaking a success of flexible working is a tough balancing act for both employer and employee. Pulling in one direction is the wish for a better work/life balance and in the other the desire to maintain productivity and a consistent quality of work. It relies on a combination of motivation, good planning and trust but despite the challenges, flexible working appears to be paying off for both sides.

The rapid development of business-friendly mobile technology and a cultural shift away from the rigid discipline of the typical 9-5 working day has accelerated the pace of change. Management fears that ‘out of sight’ means ‘out of mind’ and inevitably leads to a drop in productivity has never really materialised. Concerns that remote employees would feel isolated and even be psychologically damaged have proved unfounded.

A Gallup report shows remote workers are more productive. Nearly four in 10 employees surveyed said they spent time working remotely or in locations away from co-workers and felt more engaged. However, the report notes that there is a point of diminishing return for engaging remote workers with people who spend less than 20% of their time working remotely feeling the most engaged.

According to a study by Vodafone and the Royal Society of Arts, Britain’s economy could receive a £8. 1 billion shot in the arm from increased productivity if organisations and employees agreed to more flexible working hours.

In the past, opportunities for flexible working were restricted although nowadays more employees are able to consider the option. Recent research by the Institute of Leadership and Management found that at the top of the corporate hierarchy 77 per cent of chief executives and 54 per cent of senior managers work flexibly.

Despite this steady shift in attitudes, the Institute of Directors believes business leaders are not doing enough to harness the full potential of flexible working. A response to this challenge comes from the Agile Future Forum, which was set up by 22 companies to promote agile working practices that generate value for both employers and employees.

The UK government plans to introduce changes to flexible working in 2014 so it is more widely available. ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) notes that this will remove the current statutory procedure for considering requests. Instead employers will have a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner, however, they will be able to refuse requests on business grounds.

When you work away from your office you tend to face two key challenges: how to avoid distractions and maintain motivation. Forbes outlines several practical steps to maintain productivity, including taking a brisk walk around the block, a nap, a chat and even brushing your teeth. Freelance journalists are used to working alone and recommendations from this quarter include bringing structure to your day and having a dedicated work space.

Our favourite piece of advice for home-based flexible workers is to put on a pair of shoes when you sit at your desk rather than working in slippers (and definitely not the Homer Simpson pair you received for Christmas).

The write way for brand names

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. Brand names create business impact, fire consumer passion and generate income for their owners.

They are valuable business assets yet do not actually exist in a physical sense, like a building or piece of machinery. In essence, a brand is the promise of a certain experience, an assurance that you will receive a level of service or type of product.

The amounts involved are huge. Consultants Interbrand places Apple top (brand value $98 billion) in its list of brand values with Google second ($93 billion), followed by Coca Cola ($79 billion), IBM ($78 billion) and Microsoft ($59 billion).

To appreciate what this means you only have to look at the success of Apple and everything it stands for in terms of products and service. People will pay more for a premium experience.

indexed papers cropThat is why brand names are fiercely protected. Back in the 1980s, brand owners started to put monetary values on their intangible assets and included brand names in these calculations. It was seen as a way for companies to protect themselves against takeovers or receive a fair purchase price by ensuring the true value of their business and brands was calculated. In broad terms, the difference between the balance sheet value of a company and the actual price paid by a purchaser is deemed to be the goodwill element and that includes the value of brand names.

This triggered a change in the way the financial world dealt with intangible business assets and new accounting rules were drawn up to reflect this.

Intellectual property rights and trade marks protect brands and companies take exception to the incorrect use of names. A challenge for copywriters is when a name becomes a generic term, such as Hoover, to describe all types of vacuum cleaner or even a verb: hoovering. Portakabin was famous for sending a sternly worded letter from its trade marks officer to editors who failed to use a capital P, pointing out the error of their ways and suggesting they use generic alternatives instead.

Some trade marks are only protected in certain jurisdictions around the world, so it isn’t always clear how the brand name should appear in copy. It is always worth checking what the trade mark owner considers the correct format.

Question: which of the following are trade marked brand names? AstroTurf, Biro, Bubble Wrap, Dictaphone, Filofax, Frisbee, Jacuzzi, Jiffy bag, Muzak, Onesies, Ping Pong, Portakabin, Sellotape, Super Glue, Xerox.

Answer: (the clue is in the use of initial capitals) all of them. If you are not sure then find a generic description – an artificial grass playing surface, a ball point pen, a personal organiser and (for Blue Peter fans out there) sticky backed plastic.

How strong is your resolve in 2014?

Enhanced movement cropDon’t worry. If you find it hard to stick to your new year resolution then you are in good company. Apparently, only 8% of people achieve their new year goal.

According to statistics from the University of Scranton, nearly a quarter of people say they have never succeeded in keeping any of their resolutions. Time magazine warns resolutions are bad for you and the Huffington Post does a great job comparing expectation with reality for the most popular resolution choices.

So how can you stick to your resolution?

We asked the top brains at EDG for a solution. How can you scrape through most of the year without breaking that all-important promise to yourself? The answer is simple – delay delivery of your ambitious aim until at least the summer. That way, you can ease in to the task if you remember to start losing weight/doing more exercise/reading more books or whatever you choose in good time to meet your deadline.

If fitness is your goal, a good incentive is to target a specific event. Many company employees are doing just that – with fundraising thrown in – by signing up to 10k charity runs, marathons or group activities like entering the annual Corporate Games, which take place in June. This event tends to put a smile on employers’ faces as well by offering a great team building and bonding experience that also boosts workplace productivity.

Our resolution for 2014 is less rigorous but equally challenging: improve our juggling skills.

Get on top of your stressful deadlines

Man on mountain cropThey say there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind. In this industry, they come thick and fast. If a little stress helps get you over the line, have you ever wondered why?

Researchers at UC Berkeley think they have found a reason why acute short-term stress boosts brain performance. The scientists  point out: “It’s a question of how much, how long and how you perceive it.” If you can use stress to your advantage, then all well and good.

But work pressures are a growing cause of concern. Research by BUPA as part of its Healthy Minds programme says managers are often too stressed to notice colleagues may not be coping. It found half of managers felt ‘constantly worried’. Top of the stress factor chart according to BUPA is workload and trying to meet targets.

Good advice from Real Business includes watching the things we often overlook at work – what we eat, how we organise our time, taking breaks and not reacting too quickly when under stress. Real Business found the age group at most risk are 35-54 year olds.

Organisations recognise the benefits of providing employees with help to tackle stress. A survey by Human Resources consultancy Tower Watson found 40% of companies surveyed had stress management programmes in place and a further 31% planned to introduce them in the next two years. Helping employees to beat stress is so important there is a personnel industry award in the UK  to recognise the best company stress management programme – won this year by BMW.

If you have a hard time using stress to your advantage when deadlines loom then these techniques may help:

• Start planning from the end backwards: decide the outcome you want to achieve and what actions you need to take in what order to get there

• Identify pinch points and prioritise actions to mitigate these high risk areas as early as possible in the process

• Assess what you can’t control (which is one of the most stressful situations to be in), don’t be reluctant to ask for help. If you can’t control something, try and work round it by finding an alternative route to reach your desired outcome

• Don’t forget to be flexible. Be prepared to change your plan or process to achieve your target or deadline

• Learn from your stressful experience. Write down what went wrong and what compromise actions worked best.

The next time the phone rings at 5.00pm on a Friday with a very urgent demand from an extremely important client, remember to laugh – or at least smile confidently – in the face of a stressful deadline.