Charles Abel
25th February 2020 - 6 mins read
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ou’ll notice I’ve left the caps lock on when I’ve written the TRUTH. That is because it is an acronym used to describe what the term ‘newsworthy’ means.

And it also applies to case studies. You can read more about what it stands for in this recent blog, but for now I want to focus on just two elements of it which are crucial for writing convincing, authentic, memorable and believable case studies.

 

Trouble

When we think about the testimonials and case studies we read when we are looking to buy something, they are often little more than a description of the product and a few lines on why they liked it.

And this is all a bit bland. The quality of many case studies is dubious at best.

To make something attention-grabbing you need to have that trouble element. By that, I mean that your product or service will have solved a particular problem. And solutions sell, so it is crucial you find this type of content.

The fun bit here is that that the trouble element may not be your customer’s problem. It could be a concern they had about your product or service before they chose to buy. Perhaps they didn’t think that it could do the job properly until they saw it in action.

I recently bought a laminator and I wasn’t convinced that this particular one I was interested in could treat the thickness of material I wanted to use. I was worried about the thickness going through the laminator and then I saw this one testimonial that said it is absolutely fine with 250 microns and it solved my worry about the product.

 

Human interest

Your case study also has got to have the H-word – human interest.

As a journalist, I have made money writing stories that are full of human interest – they are about people, not products and services.

And it is the people that bought your product or service that matter. How did they feel? What motivated them? What was their emotional response? You have got to get to this to bring the story to life otherwise it is just a corporate brochure. And that is boring.

So, how do we get to this content?

The key is in the questions that we ask. You need to ask questions that steer and guide the person you are talking to away from saying bland things like ‘it is brilliant’.

A question that works really well is something along the lines of ‘what were you concerned about before you bought this product?’.

They might respond by saying something like “I didn’t think it would be cost-effective”; “I thought it would be too expensive”; “I didn’t think the service would be good enough”.

And from there you can find out what changed their mind and convinced them to buy.

Another question I love to ask, is “what did you enjoy most about the product/service?”.

We get too bogged down with the logical, rational reasons for doing things. They might be worthy, but they are also dull. A more emotional response can be much more impactful. For a car, something along the lines of “what I really enjoy is that you can get to the national speed limit from the traffic lights far quicker than anyone else” might really resonate with some audiences.

I wrote a testimonial on an Israeli plastics manufacturer which produces these huge rolls of netting wrap. The man I was speaking to was talking about the benefits but was also saying how heavy they were and said that when they added a handle it made it so easy to put in the machine. At that point, the case study came alive.

The other great benefit of this type of question is it encourages people to talk in a natural way. There is a great risk with case studies that people will talk to you corporate to corporate, business to business and that is bland, boring and turns people off. 

You want them to talk to you as if you are their friend and use that language and talking about enjoyment can achieve that.

“Is there anything you’d like to add?” This may sound like an innocuous question. Perhaps, more of an afterthought. But you would be amazed how many good stories I’ve got from asking this simple question as a journalist.

And it works for case studies as well. You tend to find that because the interview feels like it has come to an end, they are more relaxed and speak more freely. You can find some real gems of information through this question.

What else can you learn from journalists that might help with your case studies?

Well, a crucial one is avoiding offering copy approval. 

If you send them the text, you can be sure they will worry about it and they will pass it around colleagues who have had nothing to do with it, and it will come back with all the good stuff stripped out. Instead of copy approval, I ask them at the end of the interview if they are happy with everything that has been said and give them a summary of what I have taken from it. That’s the end of my approval process.

Another useful tip is to think in advance about what you want them to say and then tee them up to say it. Phrasing a question by starting with ‘would it be fair to say that…’ can be a good way of achieving this.

When newspapers quote ‘sources’ in their articles it is often seen as half-truths and spin and there is a growing backlash against it in the age of fake news. And it is the same with anonymous case studies. If you saw a case study from ‘service user, Peterborough’, would you believe it?

This is a person who isn’t prepared to put his name to the comment. So where is the integrity? Did he really believe what he said? If you are reading that you are thinking “this is rubbish”. Prove the person is authentic by including their name, job title and a little bit of information about their business.

My final point here is that you need to be careful with your editing. If you try to polish too much you are going to end up with something that resembles an advert. Journalists don’t change their quotes and neither should you. Rephrasing is a terrible thing to do which takes away authenticity and the customer will invariably see through it.

But where are you going to get these testimonials from?

Just like a journalist, you need to cast your net far and wide and have different strategies to gather the content you need.

It is key that you engage your sales team and ensure they understand the benefits of what you are trying to achieve so that they don’t see it as a marketing whim. They will have the relationship with customers and will be able to identify the success stories where one of their clients may be willing to speak.

It is important here that they are able to tell the client what they will get out of the process – raising their profile.

Another good avenue for spotting case study opportunities is social media. Make sure you know what people are saying about you.

And make it easy for people to leave case studies and testimonials on your website through a simple form.

The final point from me is that everyone seems to be looking to create a case study that will go viral and get thousands of clicks. But will anyone buy anything else as a result? This process isn’t just about generating clicks – it is about creating something helpful that encourages people to find out more and ultimately buy.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is a podcast or email marketing.

Marketing

Our guide to copywriting jargon

Adam Fisher 16th May 2018 — 7 mins read
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wenty years down the line these terms are second nature to me, but I have to keep reminding myself that to many others they are a mystery.

Content production, like any other industry, has words, phrases and acronyms which while meaningful to those working in it, mean nothing to those outside.

Of course, we don’t use these terms in our content (we are still on a mission to eradicate all jargon from content), and we try to avoid using them when talking to clients.

But we thought it would be fun to take you through some of the frankly, often bizarre, and sometimes morbid terms we use and explain what they mean.

So here is our guide to copywriting jargon:

 

Above the fold – Traditionally this referred to broadsheet newspapers, with the top half of the page being above the fold, and therefore being the most prominent place for an article. It is now a term that is used in web design, referring to the part of the page visible without scrolling.

Blurb – The blurb is similar to a byline (see below). It is a brief introduction to the author that follows the headline.  If you look at our magazine In This Issue you will find some short text on each main article which details who wrote the piece and their experience.

Byline – The byline on a piece of content gives the name of the person who has written it. But it is not really about giving credit to the author. It is more of a tool which adds legitimacy to an article. For example, if you looked up the author of this post, you will see that I should know what I am talking about. When the byline is from maybe a senior leader in an organisation, or a particularly experienced writer, it can play a role in encouraging the reader to keep reading. The byline has evolved in recent times and will sometimes include a small bit of background on the author, or perhaps a Twitter handle so that readers can continue the conversation. 

Churnalism – Not a phrase you would hear at Thirty Seven. This refers to the practice of churning out content and articles rather than producing fresh, original and well-researched material.

House style – This refers to an organisation’s rules for writing, spelling and presenting content. For Thirty Seven, for example, one of the house rules is that numbers one to nine are always written out. In my experience, particularly from working in newspapers, any attempt to move away from house style is often met with profanities from editors and a stint in the naughty corner.

Greek – This is what we call the nonsensical text used when we are designing the layout for some content and the real copy is not yet available, even though it is actually Latin. You will probably have seen it at some point starting with ‘Lorem Ipsum’. This dummy text has more-or-less normal distribution of letters allowing the design to look complete so that it can be shared with a client. 

Gutter – No, not a reference to tabloid journalism. This refers to the white space in a magazine where two pages meet. It can also refer to the white space between text columns.

Hook – Hooks are a crucial component of effective content. These are the bits which keep your readers interested and engaged. They may be unusual facts, emotive examples, eye-catching statistics or perhaps posing a question the reader wants answered. Essentially, anything that encourages someone to keep reading the content is a hook.

Kerning – This may sound like some slightly obscure Winter Olympics sport, but kerning is actually the process of adjusting the process of space between letters.  I’m told by our designer that this is actually an ‘art’. But I write the words around here and I would describe it as a way of adding some polish to the design and improving legibility. Kerning can play a key role in eliminating orphans and widows, which sounds a lot more brutal than it actually is (more on those terms soon).

Kicker – This helpfully has a few different meanings when it comes to content. Traditionally, it has referred to a line above a headline which reveals something about the content – a sort of headline on the main headline.  More recently, it has also come to mean something surprising or poignant that is used to end a piece of content.  So if you hear us talking about a kicker, we could be discussing something at the beginning of a bit of content or something at the very end – helpful.

Orphan – One of the content world’s more morbid terms and something that is often confused with a ‘widow’. Even by those in the industry. It refers to a single word which appears at the top of a column or page. It is considered a villain of typography as it causes poor horizontal alignment at the top of a column or page. The key to remembering the difference is that an orphan is alone at the start, while a widow is alone at the end. Dark.

Pull quotes  A pull-quote is a strong, attention-grabbing quote, which has been, well, ‘pulled’ from the main text to add some visual flair to lengthy articles and make them more appealing to readers. Ideally, they are short, direct quotes, used to break up large sections of words and encourage the reader to keep going.

They are sometimes also called ‘callouts’ – but not by us.

Sidebar  This one more or less does what it says on the tin. It is a short article in a magazine or on a website sitting next to next to the main piece, which contains additional and supporting information  

Spike – Hopefully you won’t get to hear us use this phrase. It refers to a decision not to publish a piece of content or an article.

Standfirst – This is the term given to a brief introductory summary often used on longer forms of content. Its role is to give the reader an overview of what they will find in the rest of the blog or article and encourage them to invest their time in continuing to read. Generally, a standfirst will just be a few lines. Brevity is considered key.

Strapline – A strapline in print terms is a headline beneath the main headline, written in a smaller font, and used to give the reader further teaser information about the article.

Subheads – Subheads are the little headlines, usually one or two words long, that you will see scattered across longer forms of content. They serve a dual purpose. Firstly they break up the content making it appear less daunting for the time-pressed reader. Additionally, they make it easier for people to scan content to get a good idea of what it is about.

Teaser – This refers to a few lines of copy designed to encourage a reader to find the rest of the article. A printed magazine, for example, could include a teaser on the first few pages for a piece appearing further back in the publication.   

 

Tracking – Similar to kerning, but tracking is the process of adjusting the spacing throughout an entire word. Once kerning has been used to get the spacing right between each letter, tracking can be used to change the spacing equally between every letter at once. Clever hey? Still not an art though. (Stop picking fights with our designers Adam – Ed)

Widows – Another bleak term and something which is very similar to an orphan.  It refers to a short line – usually a single word - at the end of a paragraph or column. This is a design problem in printed content as it leaves too much white space between paragraphs.

WOB – Quite simple this one. It means white on black and refers to white text on a black or other coloured background.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Tom Idle
29th March 2018 - 8 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.