Attributes of Killer Case Studies

A strong story is one of the best ways to sell your company, service or product. Also known as a “success story”, a case study is one of the simplest and most resonant techniques to build compelling storytelling content.

Case studies are 1-3 page stories of how one of your customers/clients found success with your product or service.

This type of content gives you an opportunity to showcase some lively, descriptive writing as part of your marketing collateral. You can also add SEO, promote the story with a press release, use it to pitch reporters, turn it into a webinar or sales deck and feature it in a brochure.

Why are case studies effective?

A good story draws people in, creates an emotional connection and entertains the reader. Of course, those are only three things a story is capable of. They’re crucial to the success of your marketing.

One of the most important things a case study can do for a marketing program is temporarily take the marketer to an outside perspective. Whenever I write a case study, I make it a priority to talk to the person the story is about, rather than the client the story is for. The interview and resulting copy offer a unique view into the benefits of your products or services.

Case studies:

  • Engage customers/clients with a compelling story
  • Inspire empathy from potential customers
  • Illustrate how others applied your products/services
  • Showcase endorsed validation that your product/service works.

Before you get started, consider the structure.

The typical case study format

Successful case studies vary in terms of how they approach the story. But the basic structure is the same. Even if you plan to create a sequential narrative, you’ll still need to follow the guidelines of strong case studies if you want it to land.

The basic case study structure consists of:

  • Background: Here, you’ll explain who the customer is. This area should be short and sweet. Even a well-crafted boilerplate (if your client is into press releases) should suffice.
  • Problem: In this section, you’ll want to detail exactly what caused the client to seek out your services in the first place. In most cases, it’s usually some sort of business problem. For consumer case studies (and some B2B), perhaps there was no problem. But there’s always a catalyst prior to your business building a relationship with the client. Detail the catalyst if it isn’t technically a “problem”.
  • Solution: Now, it’s time for your brand to swoop in and save the day. If the previous section detailed a problem, how did you solve it? Be sure to dig deep. Ask the right questions to find the features or angles that offered the biggest impact for your client.
  • Benefits: Finally, if you can find ways to quantify the benefits, you can detail them in the last section. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to sprinkle this section with qualifiable benefits as well. But make sure to tie in some hard metrics (even educated guesses) to create a basis in reality.

What else can you do to craft an effective case study?

Tips for creating case studies

Building a strong case study will take a bit of time and energy. Done often for a single client, you’ll get into a groove that’ll greatly speed up the process. (Writing case studies for ecommerce software provider 3dcart has become pretty formulaic for me.)

Here are a couple of bonus tips for writing case studies.

  • Quote often: You’ve interviewed someone who gave you a glowing testimonial! Use that information so the audience knows this is coming from a valid source. (Hint: I usually craft quotes based on my notes and ask for permission from the client before the case study is published.)
  • Find the angle: If you have a narrow audience, writing case studies can get stale. Spice things up a bit by focusing on a different angle every time you write a new one.
  • Be descriptive: Get creative with it. Use saucier language and create a setting. Tell the story almost like you’re writing fiction.
  • Ask and answer questions: Ask the reader a question about what will happen next. Answer the question in the next section. But be careful: this can get cheesy if you take the wrong approach.
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6 Techniques for Better Press Releases

Over the past half a decade, there’s been a lot of scrutiny over press releases. Turns out many of the articles going over the wire weren’t saying much of anything at all.

Think about it: how many press releases do you see that call the company “cutting-edge” and the product “innovative”? Meanwhile, the quote starts off with, “We’re really excited…” The boilerplate offers a bunch of useless details or, worse yet, is three paragraphs long, detailing the numerous accolades of the company.

For instance: “We’re so hipster that we typed this press release on an honest-to-god typewriter.”

Keep in mind that press releases were initially intended for members of the press. Unless you’re a major player in the tech space, don’t expect many journalists to find your release and run with a story. No, nowadays, you need to consider your potential customers and clients your target audience. Your press releases are now available online and serve a drastically different purpose than they used to.

Those same five or so years have brought a reanimation of press release writing. They’ve brought about a return to simplicity. Many writers now understand that the shorter you can get in and get out while saying what needs to be said, the better. (The real problem is convincing an older client who thinks he/she knows press releases.)

Press release writing really isn’t an art. Just follow some of the tips below and you’ll immediately start improving your releases.

1. Lead with benefits, differentiators and the timeliness factor. There are three simple rules of thumb for your nut graph (and the following paragraph). I tend to follow this pretty closely for most of the releases I pen. In the opening paragraph, lead with the newsworthy (timely) element of the story. But make sure to weave in the benefits to the audience in that paragraph, even if it’s just a high-level overview. (Why should the reader care? They want to know immediately.) Finally, what makes this news different from what other organizations are doing in your space?

2. Use bulletpoints. A lot. People are busy and don’t like reading something that looks intimidating during the work day. Every chance you have, use bulletpoints to summarize crucial main points. It breaks up the narrative of the release nicely. But more importantly, it attracts the lazy reader. The ‘lazy’ reader may not always be lazy, but when several tasks are attracting her attention at once, she’ll only look if you give her the facts upfront and highlight the most important information.

3. Stay away unprovable claims. Listen, you make think your company is the best at what they do. Still, if you have no quantifiable proof of that claim, why are you labeling your brand the “leading” one of its kind? It sounds pompous. People will see right through it. Journalists will delete your release. Give us the facts only. And don’t tell us your window cleaning solution is ‘unparalleled’ in the field. That’s just silly, and it’s sensationalized. People are much more conditioned to pick that stuff out than you think.

4. Quotes should actually say something. Alright. When you describe your excitement, thank your new partner or tell the audience that something is ‘interesting’, just what in the hell do you expect to accomplish? Of course you love your new partner. That’s why you partnered with them. Don’t insult your reader’s intelligence. Tell us something useful about the announcement — something perhaps that resonates better coming directly from a human.

5. Keep your boilerplate simple. Businesspeople like to talk about their business. Hey, that’s great! You love your work and you feel a sense of kinship with your brand. The problem is that no one loves your business as much as you do. When you write a boilerplate about your company, you don’t have to put every important fact about your organization down. Keep it short and sweet, just the facts, and direct the reader to your website. There they can read up on your brand if they so choose.

6. Tie in keywords. It’s SEO time. You have control of your destiny here. Work in SEO keywords and phrases to get more bang for your buck. Link your most important keyword to your website. But make sure to follow search optimization best practices. You don’t want to get blacklisted for keyword stuffing.

Why Would You Hide One of Your Best Attributes?

A small business owner once approached me for a copy project. We talked a bunch about the themes and messages he wanted to run throughout.

“What I want,” he explained, “is to give the impression that we’re a big company.”

This wasn’t the first or the last time I got this request. I responded: “Why would you want to hide one of your company’s best attributes?”

Alright, I probably didn’t word it that perfectly. But you get the drift. Time and time again, executives want to give the impression that they’re bigger than they are.

Guess which one Apple sponsored.

By projecting a big company feel, they think:

  • Customers respect a company that’s obviously been around for several years
  • A big brand equates to reliable customer service
  • Doing it longer means doing it better

In reality, customers don’t necessary want a big brand. They want big accomplishments. They crave reliable customer service. They want a reliable product or service. Big companies tend to assume small competition. As a result, companies like GoDaddy, Comcast, Best Buy and AT&T have customer service problems. Because they know they can get away with it. They’ve cornered the market. They put their big budgets into marketing and ignore things that customers care about.

Why project that image? Why not tout the benefits of a small company feel? Successful small businesses offer a more personalized experience for customers. Try carving out a niche on which you can actually deliver.

Small businesses imply:

  • They’ll work harder to get and keep their customers’ business
  • They’ll offer personal, human interaction
  • They’re trying something new that will advance the market

Your copy should embrace your aesthetic. Customers will thank you for your honesty. And maybe that honesty will result in massive growth. Then, you can start ignoring what your customers want. *rolls eyes*

Why I Had No Choice But To Stop Idolizing Kerouac

It’s a hard thing to get older. You end up replacing some of that good, old-fashioned idealism with tough cynicism. As writers, some of our biggest influences die right before us. You realize that you can’t be them, and you can only barely be like them.

Keep the dream alive. But don’t forget you’re living in reality. That’s why I scaled back Kerouac’s influence on my writing.

I can’t be the only writer out there that considers Kerouac a genius. How old were you when you first read On the Road? The book is wildly appealing at any age. But if you read it as a teenager, there’s a romanticism that seems imitable.

But Kerouac was one of a kind. And it wasn’t just On the Road. Novels like Big SurThe Dharma Bums and The Subterraneans are all intense, lively and inspiring reads. They brim with youthful energy fueled by alcohol, sex and art.

Everyone wants to attain the raw energy of Kerouac’s writing, even in the world of professional writing. How do you get there? Stop trying to imitate him.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But flattery will get you nowhere with a dead author. It certainly won’t get you anywhere as a living writer. Trying to imitate someone like Kerouac is a dead-end for a writer. Especially a professional writer. His big, sweeping sentences are the exact kind that can lose your reader.

It’s sad when you finally give up imitation. But it also opens up a whole new world. It’s a scary world. We want to imitate successful writers to use them as a standard for our own writing. When you give up those influences and write from your heart, you’re likely to lose faith in your own unique voice.

Fortunately, that’s how writers get prolific in the first place. Remind yourself daily that none of your favorite writers imitated their favorite writers. Inspire yourself by discovering a style all your own and hone it to perfection.

Sexy Ways to Seduce Your Audience

Slip into something comfortable. Preferably something velour. Lay back on this leopard skin couch. Relax. Notice the subtle aroma of incense wafting about you.

How was your day? I prepared a nice candlelit dinner. Can you hear the booming baritone of the incomparable Barry White? It’s drifting into the room at dulcet volumes. The lights are dim and your eyes adjust. Go ahead. Grab one of the chocolate caramels on the coffee table in front of you. Feel it dance upon your taste buds.

If you aren’t feeling a slight hint of surreal sensuality, I haven’t done my job correctly. Everyone knows sex sells. But are we losing our understanding of that concept?

That depends on your definition of ‘sexy’.

Today, big brands like GoDaddy (woof) use blatant sexual imagery to sell. But sex sells itself. If that’s your strategy for seducing your audience, you better start over. Consider this: researchers at Iowa State University found that “viewers of programs with sexually explicit or violent content were less likely to remember commercials immediately after watching and even 24 hours later.”

As a writer, you should already have a grasp for why this is. Favoring your primary message is the best way to keep your reader on task. You want the reader to be turned on by your product. To accomplish this, seducing your audience takes place in undertones. It requires subtlety. Here are a few ways to get it done.

Consider alliteration an alluring aloe. Overusing alliteration translates to cheesy copy. Used sparingly, alliteration creates enticing, compelling moments of copy that add a layer of sexiness to your content.

Play with your diction. Everyone has words they consider emotional triggers. Want to sex up your copy? Use loaded words. A word like ‘succulent’ can evoke a strong response. Go ahead. Say it out loud. Succulent. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Massage some tight words. I’m consistently saying that strong copy is highly understandable. You wouldn’t speak in Shakespearian dialogue to a modern audience, for instance. But a colorful word every now and again can add some flair to your copy, even if it’s a bit more high-brow. Provide substantial context clues. And have a clear understanding of your audience before you head down this path.

Take us to another world. There’s no better way to seduce your audience than to get sensual. Use sensual stimuli to take your readers out of their desk chairs and transport them to another world. You can accomplish this by describing how things smell, taste, feel, sound and look.

5 Lessons Professional Writers Can Learn from Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick is a timeless classic published way back in 1851. It’s perhaps the most enduring work of American literature.

One thing’s for sure: writing was a lot different back then. Perhaps an attempt at ‘life imitating art’, the book itself is a beast of white whale stature.

The camera catches Mr. Dick off-guard. Picture circa 1851.

Moby-Dick is still read for a reason. And there’s plenty that writers can learn from the masterpiece. Assuming the right interpretation, of course. Having just finished it, I will now debase its literary prowess by relating it in terms of the lowlier professional craft of writing. Check out 5 lessons that professional writers can learn from Moby-Dick.

1. Easy on the adverbs. If there’s one thing Melville isn’t bashful about it’s his use of adverbs. Today’s writer should use adverbs sparingly. When overused, they tend to slow down the reading process. This is especially true for ‘-ly’ adverbs. Flowery language found a niche in the writings of Melville’s era. But there are better, more succinct ways for today’s writer to create a clear depiction.

2. Vivid description sets you apart. When Melville isn’t using his adverbs, he’s launching into long bouts of vivid description. In fact, he sets aside entire chapters for description. The length won’t appeal to the contemporary reader. But the sheer vividness and enthusiasm of them compels. You can learn a lot about painting a lifelike picture from Melville.

3. Obsession can be bad. Actually, this one is kind of the moral of the entire story. Ahab’s obsession with the white whale brings about his doom. What’s your white whale? If you obsess over perfect writing, you’ll never finish a piece. Revision is necessary up until a point. But obsessing over that revision can lead to hours of useless changes and edits.

4. Submerge the ‘I’. I’ve written a bit about this before. Taking the ‘I’ out of your writing helps establish more credibility. Of course, Moby-Dick starts out with the famous line “Call me Ishmael.” But as the story rolls along, you get more and more detail about the events occurring around Ishmael, rather than those happening to him.

5. Have no fear. Seriously, you’re afraid to say, write or publish something? These guys manned tiny little boats and watched agitated whales swim from the depths to attack them! And sharks! Christ. What I’m saying is the only way to make a splash is to jump right in. Don’t be afraid to try something new in your writing.

7 Writing Techniques to Engage Your Audience More Directly

Are you communicating with your audience or just talking at them?

This is an important question that marketers should ask themselves daily. You know you and your business aren’t the center of the universe. But you have to tell yourself that every day if you want to communicate effectively.

Direct communication is necessary, even if your audience consist of yellow sexless freaks.

As in life, taking someone else’s perspective is difficult. But it’s absolutely critical for your marketing. Gathering information on your audience is the first step. The second is to gain the insights you need to take action. Put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Below, you’ll find 7 writing techniques to help you engage your audience more directly.

1. Write the first draft of your copy from the buyer’s perspective. This is a great exercise from which the remaining tips on this list should follow naturally. Pretend you’re the buyer for a second. It’ll help take you out of your own shoes and write from a less self-centered perspective. Now, write your copy from that perspective. You can deconstruct and reconstruct that copy to make sense for your purposes, but you’ll gain the benefit of the other perspective.

2. It doesn’t get more direct than ‘you.’ Amateur marketers love to start sentences with ‘we.’ But if you want to sell something, it isn’t about you. It’s about the potential buyer. Direct address using ‘you’ feels more conversational. Subconsciously, readers understand that the copy answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”

3. Frame the challenge. Empathy is a simple tactic to connect with your audience right off the bat. Direct address requires you to immediately step inside the shoes of your reader. What irks them? What issue are they grappling with on a regular basis? Frame the challenge and follow with the solution.

4. Focus on benefits and differentiators. You have the solution. What’s in it for the reader? They probably don’t care about the nitty-gritty technical details. They just want to know what they get in exchange for their money and time. It’s likely you have competition, too. How are you different? Make your differentiators clear and concise.

5. Use relatable examples and anecdotes to empathize. Everyone loves a good story. Using relatable examples helps readers more clearly envision how you could help them out. You may do this quickly to introduce a bit of copy. Or, like shopping cart software provider 3dcart, you may want to build case studies as marketing collateral.

6. Honesty truly is the best policy. Compelling copy surprises the reader. In business, honesty can be hard to come by. That’s why it makes a great technique for direct address. Say something honest and surprising. Then, tie it to your message. For instance, I’m not wearing any pants.

7. Speak their language. Without getting buzzword-happy, it helps to speak the language of your audience. For example, if you’re selling a complex tech product to a non-technical audience, stay away from industry nuances. Whatever the language, make sure you’re speaking like a human.