Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Anti-Case Study

I've noticed something about business folk. We are a boastful bunch. We are all about case studies, testimonials, retweets, recommendations, comments, "likes," and providing the proof that one can find in the pudding of our success.

I'm not knocking this facet of the business world. Business is competitive. You need to prove you do stuff better. I get that. However, I would also toss out there that I tend to sort of skim-read testimonials and case studies. Okay, you did this, you made money, now you're telling me about it. I am very happy for you, I am humbled, nay blinded by your success and intellect. Ho-hum.

Where are the humans?

As much as a person can learn from someone else's success, I find that I tend to remember bloopers a little bit better. I mean, when you watch a television show, for example, you take for granted that everything is going to run smoothly, no one is going to forget their lines. That particular part of the project doesn't stick out. Of course it's great. These are professionals. But when you see a gag reel or bloopers? Man, that stuff sticks with me forever. It shows that the actors are human, that they are maybe of this planet. I think marketing could benefit from the same thing.

Now, there is an inherent risk in this, which is that you don't want to look dumb. But from my perspective, the world is pretty chock-full of experts who seemingly attained rock star status almost accidentally. I would love to hear about the mistakes that they learned from along the way. The bloopers.

Mistakes have legs

One of the things we preach to our clients is that case studies and testimonials have legs. You can use video testimonials as a multi-media dimension to your website or to your Social Media campaign. Testimonials are tremendous fodder for ads, e-blasts, and just about everything else. But I'm going to toss out there the idea that mistakes, or anti-case studies, could have legs, too. How? Why?

1. Mistakes are things people can easily relate to. They might be in the middle of the same exact mess you already experienced. If you can help them feel like they are not alone in their blunder AND that there is a way out, you will very likely earn their eternal admiration.

2. Admitting you can and do make mistakes makes you more credible, at least to me. I can't really relate to these experts who talk about the fact that they fell out of bed and ended up with 10,000,000 Twitter followers. But if you tell me that you started a Twitter account, had 17 followers for 5 months and then started growing your base...that I'm interested in. I want to know how you did that.

3. People are in to feeling like they are the smartest people in the world, and it's not hard to make yourself feel that way. With sites like Wikipedia and heck, with the fact that we can get people to not only LIKE us but to FOLLOW us, I think all of us are getting a bit of an ego problem. I think the idea of the case study may get overshadowed at some point by the fact that people don't necessarily want to know why what you did was great. They want to know either how to fix the one problem they can't fix or how you can help them.

Psst...the anti-case study can actually be a case study

Okay, so here's the neat part about this concept of the anti-case study. You can actually redeem yourself and create a believable, credible, realistic, easy to understand case study. Imagine, for example, if BP not only stops the oil gushing into our treasured wetlands but also manages, some centuries down the road, to redeem themselves. Wouldn't you want to know how they did that? And if they came out strong with how-to lessons on how to prevent another disaster like this, that PR would practically write itself. Become environmentalists, BP. Save the planet, save yourselves.

Tell me what you did wrong. Tell me how you fixed it. Let me use you as an example of how someone can get into a bind but then climb right out. It's a lot more interesting than retweeting a post or 5 from Mr. or Mrs. DoNoWrong.

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