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

The unsexy content which needs to be part of your communications strategy

Adam Fisher 13th February 2018 — 4 mins read
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ther forms of content, such as the less formal eBooks, blogs, infographics and interactive games appear more exciting and attractive and ultimately seem to have become more popular.

You could be forgiven for thinking, therefore, that whitepapers have had their day and are just another victim of digital progression.

But there is another school of thought – one which we subscribe to at Thirty Seven – that whitepapers are alive and well and continue to play a crucial part in effective content marketing strategies.

In fact, we believe they have an integral role in providing the comprehensive, detailed material which is all too often missing in other parts of content marketing.

It is the perfect long-form content medium in which to position a brand as a genuine authority in its field and take a deep look at the issues which matter to its clients and potential customers.

Here are a few more of its strengths:

Whitepapers have longevity

A whitepaper which successfully tackles an important issue will be saved and printed out and people will refer back to it again and again when they make important decisions.

Whitepapers are shared

They may not go viral in the social media sense, but whitepapers are typically shared by colleagues and teams and can travel extensively within just one organisation, greatly increasing the size of the audience and spreading awareness of your brand. My boss, for example, will regularly share whitepapers with me that he has downloaded and found useful and I often pass these on to other colleagues and even people in other organisations.

Content that can be reused

A common concern organisations often have about whitepapers is that they require considerable time and effort for just one piece of content. But actually that isn’t the case. A good whitepaper can typically be sliced and diced into a series of blogs. Not only is this fresh content, but each resulting blog can be used to encourage the reader to download the whitepaper for detailed analysis of the wider issue.

Whitepapers create strong leads

Whitepapers are not for the casual reader – they require too big a time commitment from the consumer for that. So, when someone signs-up to receive a whitepaper they are looking for a solution to a particular problem and they are trusting your organisation to provide it.

If whitepapers have all these benefits, how can you ensure yours doesn’t fall into the ‘unsexy’ trap?

Tackle a topic which matters to your audience

As with all content marketing, understanding your audience and the issues that matter to them is pivotal.

For your whitepaper to gain the interest of your customers it needs to tackle both an issue they want to be resolved and offer a unique perspective.

This involves detailed research, information being verified and experts being interviewed - and a clearly communicated argument.

Improve the visual

One key way to improve the image of whitepapers is to make them look visually better. Page after page of text is only going to cause readers to lose interest and stop reading, no matter how well it is written.

Photographs, infographics, charts, pull-out quotes and even coloured boxes all have a role to play in adding a creative touch and making whitepaper content more visually appealing.

Length

Even though whitepapers are long-form content a careful eye needs to be kept on length.

A 10-15 page document should easily be enough to construct a credible and persuasive argument and will be much more digestible and less daunting than something double that length.

This means that writing needs to be sharp, concise and waffle free.

Use variety to spice it up

If you’ve already got whitepapers as part of your content, try using different templates and styles to make new ones stand out. Find different ways for readers to test what they have learnt in different sections of the paper, add bullet point summaries after specific sections and use different layouts.

Produce an attention-grabbing headline

No matter how strong the content of your whitepaper you still need to find a way of ensuring you customers are going to read it.

The headline is key to ensuring that your whitepaper stands-out, generates curiosity and promises the solution to a problem.

Enable people to preview whitepapers before they download

Allowing customers to preview a few sample pages of the whitepaper before they need to enter their details and download it is a great way to entice readers and highlight the quality of your document. If it is good enough for Amazon and the books they sell then I think it is something we should all consider.

Check out this example we created for Every Angle.

Whitepapers may not be sexy. They may not provoke instant excitement. But get them right and your customers will find them hard to resist.


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.