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

How you can conduct a content marketing interview

Adam Fisher 2nd May 2018 — 7 mins read
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’ve woken up with content ideas in the middle of the night, half-way through a gym session and while eating dinner. One of the best ways to create content, however, is to interview people. 

Not only can these be written up as a straight interview, like this example from our magazine, but you can also use them to breathe life and add fresh impetus into existing content ideas. And invariably, as you carry out more interviews, you will find you spot more content ideas through the people you talk to. 

Whether it is people in your own organisation or key influencers in the sector, getting the views, opinions and personalities of other people into your content can offer your readers something strong and different.

But how do you carry out an effective interview if you don’t have a journalism background?

I’ve worked as a journalist and now create content for Thirty Seven and its clients.

Here are my tips for successful content creation interviews:

 

Avoid the word ‘interview’

I’ve always tried to avoid using the word ‘interview’.

As a journalist, I found that it was a word that made people nervous.  It has a formal feel and conjures up thoughts of job interviews or politicians being torn apart by Jeremy Paxman on TV. 

On occasions, it would stop people from talking to me altogether.

However, if I said something like ‘have you got a few minutes for a quick chat’, I would get a much better response.

I’ve found this theory is the same when it comes to content creation. If I use the word ‘interview’, I might typically get a response like ‘I wouldn’t know what to say’.  If I say ‘I just want to get your thoughts on…’ they are generally up for the idea.

It all goes back to making sure the person you are interviewing, or wanting to interview, is relaxed.

 

Start off gently

There is a good chance that the person you will be talking to will not have done an interview before or had any form of media training (something our sister company Media First can help with).

That means that while I’m still going to take a journalistic approach to the interview, I’m going to start more gently than I would when faced with an experienced media spokesperson.

I’ll be looking to ask questions that hopefully put them at ease, help them to relax and open up and encourage them to share their thoughts.

I tend to think on my feet and if I feel they are growing in confidence I may go for some harder questions. If not, I’ll continue with open, gentle questions which encourage them to keep talking.

Whatever their confidence level, I won’t look for the curveball question that I may have used as a journalist.

 

Don’t share questions in advance

You will find conflicting advice about this in other blogs about content creation.

But, I really don’t believe in sending interviewees a list of questions I’m planning to ask in advance.

In my experience, doing this ensures scripted responses which won’t capture the conversational tone you need to aim for.

And, as I have already mentioned, I don’t prepare my own questions in advance.

I’m not completely heartless though. I will give them an overview of what I am looking for and hope to cover ahead of the interview. 

If conducting a #ContentMarketing interview, don't share the questions you're going to ask before-hand. It ensures you create a conversational tone and avoid scripted answers. Via: @37agency

 

Focus

It might sound needy, but when I carry out an interview I want the interviewee’s undivided attention.

There is nothing worse than when someone is in full flow, telling a great anecdote or story which will bring your content to life, and suddenly they are distracted by an email appearing on their screen or a phone call for example.

So, if I can, I always strive to carry out interviews away from their desk. Perhaps there is a meeting room you could use in your building, or you could possibly meet in a coffee shop.

I’ve even arranged to meet interviewees at their home to keep them away from the distracting work environment.

Similarly, I try to make sure they have got plenty of time for the interview. Finding that you have been given a 15-minute slot sandwiched between two meetings will result in a distracted interview.

 

Be curious

I have recently found myself writing content about office designs and workplace trends.

This is a subject I have not encountered in my career, despite some of the newspaper offices I have worked in being completely dingy and in desperate need of refurbishment.

So I was a little unsure of how this would go. But then my journalistic curiosity came into play and I wanted to find out what lay behind the statements I was being told.

I found myself asking lots of open questions, many of which began with ‘why’ or ‘how’ - part of the 5Ws and an H which form the basis of most lines of questioning (what, when, who, why, where and how).

Why should a modern officer contain lots of greenery? How does that improve the health of the office worker?

To adapt an old proverb, while curiosity killed the cat, lack of curiosity killed the reporter, or in this case the content producer.

 

Look out for sound bites

When we use the term sound bites in written content, we are talking about those all-important quotes that could potentially make your content stand out.

A good quote can make a punchy headline or perhaps some pull-out quotes that can be used to break up sections of content.

But, often people don’t talk in complete sentences or are not concise, which can mean finding these quotes can be tricky.

There are a couple of tricks I use.

The first is that I may suggest I have missed their last point, perhaps by saying something like ‘my shorthand isn’t what it used to be’ and ask them to repeat it in the hope they deliver something stronger second time around. 

The other approach is to re-phrase it for them. Once they have finished their point, I’ll say something along the lines of ‘so what you are saying is’ and look to produce a summary of what they have just said that better lends itself to being a quote.

If they agree with that summary then I can put the sentence I have reworded in their name.

 

Get it all down

As a former journalist, I have the advantage of being able to use shorthand when I carry out interviews.

I’ll admit my shorthand ability isn’t what it once was –neglected by years in newspaper managerial roles and a move to PR - but even if I was still capable of producing 100 words per minute, I would still look to record interviews I carry out for content production purposes to ensure I capture everything that is said.

Always make sure, however, that the interviewee is happy to be recorded.

 

Keep it conversational

I want my content to have a conversational tone.

That means that if I’m going to have lots quotes from my interviewee in the blog then I need them to be in the sort of everyday language they would use when talking to friends or family.

Industry jargon, management speak and acronyms could make great swathes of text unusable. Again, getting them out of the workplace and helping them to feel relaxed can help with this.

It also means that while I’ll have an idea of what I’m going to ask and may have some prepared questions to use as a guide, my interview is not going to be scripted.

A pretty sure fire way of making a conversation stilted is for the interviewer to make their way through a great shopping list of questions.

I want to be able to adapt as we go along and explore things that come up in conversation that I may not have considered and veer off in a direction I may not have imagined – you never know where this might lead.

 

Avoid group interviews

Group interviews are a nightmare for the content creator.

While the interviewee might prefer the ‘safety in numbers approach’, the result is typically a series of incomplete quotes as the subjects talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences.

And I think you also miss out on a lot of the personality that comes through when you talk to one person face to face.

It may be more time-consuming, but I would rather interview the people separately and then stitch together what they have said to form my content.

 

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.

Emily Stonham
12th October 2018 - 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.