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

11 easy to use tools to improve your writing

Adam Fisher 21st June 2018 — 7 mins read
O

f course, when Mr Zinsser started writing, he had little more than a typewriter for technological support.

Producing and creating content remains difficult, but the modern writer does have access to a range of online tools which can improve their writing and help them find inspiration.

Here are some of our favourites:



Grammarly

This is probably the best-known writing tool, so we won’t spend too much time discussing it.

It is essentially a proofreading tool which automatically spots grammar, spelling, punctuation and even style mistakes.

When it suggests a correction it also provides an explanation. This means the writer can make a well-informed decision on whether or not they will make that change.

You can copy and paste text into Grammarly’s Editor or install a free browser extension.



Cliché Finder

We’re all guilty of including words and phrases in our writing which might be a bit trite or overused.

Cliché Finder is a free, simple, tool which helps you to identify those expressions before your work gets published.

I used it on a blog I recently wrote and it instantly identified the expressions ‘over the years’.  Not only did this prompt me to remove this from the work, but it also means I will be more conscious about using the phrase in the future, ultimately improving my writing.



Hemmingway Editor

This is a bit like the newspaper sub-editor who has been doing the job for years and just knows how to make copy better even when there is nothing grammatically wrong.

The emphasis is on making writing short and punchy by highlighting complicated words, dull sentences, passive voice, and adverbs.

And it is easy to use. If you see a yellow sentence, it needs to be shortened; if it is red it is too complicated; purple means a shorter word could be used, and blue is used to highlight adverbs and weak phrases.



CoShedule’s Headline Analyzer

Headlines are important.

A good one will entice readers to your content, while one that fails to hit the mark could prevent people from clicking – a real shame if the article that sits below is strong.

But constantly producing eye-catching headlines isn’t easy.

The good news is there is help readily available.

CoSchedule Headline Analyzer breaks down your headline in terms of structure, grammar, and readability.

Headlines are scored out of 100 with points gained for the use of ‘common’, ‘uncommon’, ‘emotional’ and ‘power’ words and phrases.



Hub spot Blog topic generator

When the dreaded writer’s block strikes, you need to find inspiration.

And tech can sometimes provide the answer.

There are a few blog topic generators around but Hubspot’s Blog Ideas Generator is probably the best one.

Simply type a few phrases into the boxes and the algorithm does the rest.

Putting ‘words’, ‘content’ and ‘ideas’ into the system came up with the following options:

 

1 Think You're Cut Out For Doing Content? Take This Quiz

2 The Worst Advice We've Ever Heard About Words

3 Tools Everyone In The Ideas Industry Should Be Using

4 Quick Tips About Content

5 Best Blogs To Follow About Words

 

As you can see, the ideas they generate aren’t always brilliant, but the third suggestion is very similar to this blog.

This tool is free and even if the suggestions do not always hit the mark, it could just come up with an idea you can develop.



Wordcounter

This website offers more than its uninspiring name might suggest.

As well as providing a running total of the number of words and characters – useful if you have a minimum or maximum total you need to reach – its main benefit is showing whether your writing has become a bit repetitive.

The system shows how often you have used each word, giving you the opportunity to provide some alternative options.

Additionally, it provides you with a reading and speaking time for your writing - ideal if you are preparing a speech.  



Power Thesaurus

Once you’ve identified the words you are using a little too often, you may need some help finding alternative options.

There are plenty of online thesauruses, with Thesaurus.com being the biggest. But I prefer the crowd sourced Power Thesaurus for a more user-friendly experience and fewer adverts.



Urban dictionary

Not every definition in the Urban Dictionary is going to be suitable for your writing, particularly if you have an audience which may be easily offended. Some definitions are, let’s just say ‘educational’.

But, if you are looking for a definition of a word or phrase that is new or has different meanings to different people, it can be a useful tool.

When I wrote a blog for our sister company Media First about spokespeople repeatedly using the phrase ‘deeply concerned’, Urban Dictionary provided the perfect definition to give my content a little more edge.

It defined the phrase as: “An expression used in PR, especially political, when the person or organization is expected to care about a situation and comment on it, but they don't actually give a s**t, because the situation in question isn't particularly relevant to them, but it is politically imprudent to say that outright.”



Coffitivity

Sometimes writers just need to find a way of boosting their creativity.

Personally, when I’m struggling for inspiration, or just need some background noise, I plug in the headphones and let Guns N’ Roses destroy what remains of my hearing.

I appreciate though that others may have a different (not better) taste in music, or just need something a little more soothing.

This is where Coffitivity comes into its own. It recreates the ‘ambient’ sounds of a café to create a pleasant working environment. Not only that, but there is a range of coffee sounds to help you get in the mood, including some from Paris and Brazil.



BrainyQuote

Adding pertinent quotes from famous writers, politicians and entrepreneurs can be a great way of adding more depth to your writing and inspiring your audience.

You’ll notice that I included a quote at the start of this blog and in other posts I have quoted the likes of John F Kennedy, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain and Maya Angelou among others.

Of course, it is not always easy to remember who the quote originally came from or whether you recalled it correctly.

This is where BrainyQuote comes in handy. The site not only enables you to check back on famous quotes but also search for more by topics, authors, and people in the news.



Word

It is not just going online that can improve writing. The ever-dependable Word also offers some useful tools.

The Flesch Reading Ease score uses the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables in each word to calculate how easy it is to read a document. The lower the score, the more difficult the text is to read and ideally you should aim for a score of between 60 and 70.

The second check, known as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, is an equation which tells you how many years of education someone needs to understand your content.

The grade score is based on the American grade system and essentially you need to add five to your grade to find the reading age of your content.

To find your score, simply go to the ‘file’ menu, then ‘options’ and then on to the ‘proofing’ tab.

Under the ‘when correcting spelling and grammar in Word’ heading you need to tick the box which says ‘show readability statistics’.

Then when you run a spelling and grammar check you will find the two readability scores.

 

 

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.

Aimee Hudson
3rd October 2017 - 6 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.