When someone tells you about a positive experience with a particular product or service, chances are you will draw on that information the next time you are in the market for a similar item. You may or may not ultimately make a decision on the basis of some word of mouth publicity, but at least you will be aware of the option and consider the recommendation. This applies to just about anything, whether you are shopping for a new insurance policy or simply looking for a new place to dine out.
It is not-so-common knowledge that there is a public relations/marketing tool that formalizes this approach to marketing; namely, the application -article. An application article is essentially an in-depth testimonial, wherein one of your customers tells the world how your product or service has made a significant difference to his/her business.
Now, before I go any further, let me caution that this tool does not work for everyone. Putting together an application article is an involved process, and a lot hinges on the customer you plan to use as a
Qualifying Your Customer
An application article must be substantial, and should make a strong case for how your product or service has made a significant difference to your customer’s business — preferably to the bottom line. You need a customer who is willing to give details, and you need to ensure the overall impression is positive. Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a customer to feature in an application article:
- Be sure your customer is willing to invest the time and energy that will be needed to fully develop the article.
- Prepare him/her in terms of what will be expected, and ensure he/she will be willing to cooperate with the writer for interviews and approval, as well as with the publication.
- Confirm your customer is willing to be identified and quoted, and will provide background on his/her company.
- Identify a ‘before’ and ‘after’ component to the story. An application article is about what you have already done for your customer, and how you did it — not about what you expect to do.
- Pinpoint tangible facts about how your product or service has helped your customer (For eg, XYZ’s time management software saved us $2,00,000 a year by eliminating the need to input time sheets manually and allowing us to generate our own productivity reports).
- Ensure the customer is willing to provide details about the implementation (For eg, time and cost involved, what prompted it, how many people were affected).
- Choose a customer with whom you have a well-established and secure relationship and who, in turn, has a solid reputation.
Getting into Print
Keep in mind that even when you have the perfect application article, it will be more difficult to get it published than it would be to place by-lined stories, or issues-oriented articles in which you are quoted.
First, the content of your application article must be closely matched to the editorial content of the publication you are targeting. Usually the strongest potential lies with the vertical trade publications. For example, if your customer is talking about how your product saved time and money in running his/her Canadian grocery store chain, a Canadian retail magazine will be your best bet.
Secondly, many publications will not accept a pre-written application article, but may be willing to take your outline and contacts, and have one of their own writers do the story. This will mean you don’t have the same level of control you would if you wrote the story yourself or employed someone to do it, but your credibility and your customer’s credibility go up another notch if an in-house writer by-lines the article.
In the end, the time and possibly money you and your customer put into developing an application article can pay off handsomely. A well placed, positive piece, in a publication that your target audience typically reads, has more credibility than the largest, most costly of advertisements. This is because readers know that while you can pay to have an advertisement published and have it say exactly what you want, it doesn’t work that way on the editorial pages — generally, publications print what they believe to be true.
So, if one of your customers can tell the kind of good news story we’ve outlined, cash in on the opportunity to show other prospects and customers what you can do for them.
-Cathy Lynch, Views expressed are those of the author. She can be contacted