Charles Abel
25th February 2020 - 6 mins read
Y

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

5 marketing and advertising campaigns that imploded in 2018

Emily Stonham 5th November 2018 — 10 mins read
W

hat better way to mark Bonfire Night than to ‘remember, remember’ some digital marketing and advertising stories which went up in smoke this year?

We’ve picked five of the most spectacularly misjudged efforts from 2018.

Some of them are simply ridiculous, others are just offensively tone-deaf.

 

Mastercard Football Tweets

Starting off with a social media campaign that it’s hard to believe ever got approved, cast your minds back to May. Mastercard announced a two-year campaign on its Twitter feed that offered to donate the equivalent of 10,000 meals to the World Food Program.

It sounded nice in principle, until the next part of the paragraph which stated that the meals would only be donated if footballers Messi or Naymar scored a goal.

Understandably, people were outraged online. Why should the starvation and malnourishment of children be left down to a glorified game of fetch? (Sorry football fans - Ed)

There were surely good intentions behind this campaign, but the stunt did nothing but wind up social media users and paint Mastercard in a bad light.

If an organisation has the ability to donate such large amounts of money, it seems like a better idea would be to donate the money rather than publicly flaunt it online for the sake of a football match and a bit of misplaced PR.

 

IHOP/IHOb Name Switch

In June, the American brand IHOP (International House of Pancakes) announced to its distraught followers that they were changing their name to ‘IHOb’ and invited everyone to guess what the ‘b’ stood for.

It caused a lot of dismay with its audience, and earned them a lot of sassiness from other brands.

This stunt seems to have been a lot more trouble than it was worth. After a month or so of IHOb drama and many ‘b’ related tweets, the company announced that the ‘b’ stood for burgers.

I think Mashable put it best when they called the stunt ‘thoroughly underwhelming’. A brand’s name is a huge part of its identity, and the month long change doesn’t seem to have had the desired results for IHOP.

H&M Sweater

Moving on to a social media crisis that should really have been anticipated, H&M found itself in hot water due to one of its clothing adverts. The image depicted a black child wearing a sweater that said ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’.

 

Social media users were immediately enraged - citing the fact that the other white models were wearing different sweaters, and questioning how this photo got approved by an entire team.

This particular controversy caused a lot of debate. Some people immediately declared this a racist act, with celebrities such as The Weeknd publicly breaking any ties that they had with the company. Consumers boycotted the brand, and stores were even faced with vandalism in response to the advert.

 

Here's a video of the protesters destroying a store, via EuroNews on YouTube.

 

However, some determined that this was not at all a racist act, including the boys own family, who said that it did ‘not ring alarm bells’ and they didn’t deem it offensive. Other social media users defended the company’s actions, questioning whether a large company would have deliberately tried to offend people in this manner.

 

Heineken Light Beer

Continuing the theme of unintentional offensive advertising campaigns, this particular one had critics wondering whether Heineken had deliberately created a racist advert in order to attract more attention.

The advert in question is for their light beer, and features a bartender sliding a beer bottle down the bar. It passes several black people, and ends up being picked up by a light skinned woman - with the tagline ‘sometimes, lighter is better.’

People were fuming. The ad suggests a preference for light skin, and the tagline comes across in a horribly offensive way.

Chance the Rapper, a popular musician, branded the advert as ‘terribly racist’ on social media. He also opened up an interesting discussion about whether brands were deliberately using racist imagery or offensive slogans to gain more media coverage.

Shortly after, the advert was pulled, and Heineken issued an apology, announcing that they ‘missed the mark’ with this advert.

 

Snapchat Rihanna Advert

The final example we have today is an advert that caused a lot of distress and outrage online.

For those who may not know, the singer Rihanna was a domestic abuse victim at the hands of her ex-partner Chris Brown. The case is understandably something that Rihanna has tried to distance herself from.

It’s therefore a shock that Snapchat would allow a game to promote this advert on its ‘story’ feature.

The advert was for a ‘would you rather’ styled game, and presented the option to slap Rihanna or punch Chris. Social media users called it ‘tone deaf’ and ‘awful’.

As one user pointed out on Twitter, adverts on social media have to go through an approval process. This means that multiple people looked at this advert, thought about it and said to themselves ‘yes, this is fine.

Rihanna herself condemned this advert, wiping over £700m off of Snapchat’s parent company's value in the process. She discussed the ad on an Instagram story, saying it was ‘intentionally shaming domestic abuse victims’.

 

Snapchat immediately pulled the advert and issued an apology, saying it had been put up in error, but it seems the harm had already been done. Countless people were upset by the fact this advert had ever been created in the first place, regardless of Snapchat’s insistence that it was a mistake.

 

Overall

Overall, there’s been some pretty poor advertising and marketing mistakes this year. From the ‘simply underwhelming’ to the ‘disgustingly offensive’, there hasn’t been a shortage of questionable campaigns to learn from.

So, what can your business learn from these examples in particular?

Firstly, and I know it sounds obvious, but consider carefully how people will react to your campaign. This is especially important if it features something sensitive, e.g. poverty, discrimination or politics.

For example, there were undoubtedly good intentions somewhere in the Mastercard football campaign, but the delivery and perception of it online led to it being seen as something twisted and ugly.

Using crowd feedback to gauge responses on topics like charity can be a great way to prevent things like this happening. Try tools like Instagram or Twitter polls, or encourage users to submit questions or statements - perhaps which charity they’d like your business to support.

Another important consideration is how social media will impact your campaign. I’m sure that the H&M photo didn’t seem like a huge issue at the time to the photographers and creatives, but once social media users got hold of it, the story took on a different turn.

Consider how your campaign will look out of context. Does it still make sense? One of Dove’s ads from 2017 shows the importance of considering context more carefully. A sequence of 4 photos were taken out of the whole advert, and they spread like wildfire.

Here’s the sequence of 4 photos.

 

And here’s the full advert, from Business Insider's channel on YouTube.

The set of four photos looks to be implying that dark skin is dirty and that white skin is pure. It’s crucial to make sure that your advert can’t be taken out of context and be given a whole new meaning.

The final thing to consider is using humour. It might be hilarious to you and your team, but jokes in marketing and advertising can often be lost in translation, especially if it’s dark/offensive humour. If you’re not sure, it’s best to leave it alone.

What’s the worst example of marketing or advertising that you’ve seen this year? Feel free to let us know on our Twitter at @37agency.

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, informative and shareable so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Emily Stonham
7th December 2018 - 5 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.