Content marketing is still a hot topic, but when I first heard of it, (don’t ask how many years ago, I was hiding in a corporate marketing job, we didn’t only use jargon, we invented more of the stuff.) I groaned inside. Why? Because every marketer started repeating parrot fashion:
Content is the way to sell.
No, no, no, it’s not.
The way to sell technology and complex services is to meet people, understand people, call them back, find out what their pains are and solve them. Or make their dreams come true. But how do you that? And more importantly, how do you show your ideal customers that you’re capable of making their problems go away?
Bottom line, before anyone will buy from you, your brand has to instinctively ‘feel right’ for them. You have to share stuff: values, style, life-experience, conversations, time – oh, and your marketing (whatever you use) has to appeal to them, not repel them. But so many businesses are missing the mark by making these six mistakes with their content. What are they? And how can you avoid them?
1. Your content doesn’t resonate with your audience
The first is obvious. Your client doesn’t recognise themselves in what you wrote. Nothing about the article convinced them you understand their problem. So spend more time understanding them. Find out how you can serve them. A customer avatar, or customer persona, or profile is not a work of fiction. Ask your existing customers, ask your customer-facing teams, get third party perspectives, but fill your customer profile with facts. Lots of them.
2. It doesn’t reflect your real values
The second is easy to avoid when you’re Nike or Apple. But smaller businesses don’t have the budget to refine, create, build and share advertising and consumer content where every word is synonymous with the brand values. What happens when you’re busy, you don’t take time to reflect on the business values at all, the company grows organically, people working there like their jobs, but the leaders don’t or can’t articulate ‘why’ they will continue to like it and why customers can be proud to buy from them.
Get together, take time out, figure out what you want your potential clients to see. Then put ‘that’ into your articles – or if you haven’t got time to write them, brief your copywriter properly. Adam Brooks reminded us of this in his Customer Lifetime Value talk, thanks sir. And yes, one of my favourite books is “Start with Why.” If you don’t share enough content about the business values, why it was formed and what you want to help people with, they won’t feel anything at all. Guess what, we buy with feelings. Which vary at different times of the day, week, month, year.
3. Your content isn’t shared often or widely enough
Thirdly, if you’re a sole trader or freelancer, you might have heard that bit about including your values in your blogs, so you’re busy writing them every week and sharing ‘behind the scenes’ information about yourself. Phew, it’s hard to keep that up. Perhaps one a month will do? Some statistics tell us companies who blog get more leads than those who don’t. But read Hubspot’s detailed analysis: for business to business audiences, it talks about blogging 11 or more times per month to generate more traffic and having a back catalogue of over 400 posts. I’m not suggesting give up, but instead, share a story when you’ve got something valuable or important to say. And share it everywhere, not just on your website. Don’t write a rubbish article because you’ve been told consistency is key.
4. It isn’t consistent
Oh wait. The fourth mistake – consistency IS key. Sticking to a content plan or schedule does work better than publishing random content for most businesses. But there’s a bigger problem for small and medium sized businesses. Most marketing content doesn’t flow well because they haven’t thought through an overarching set of themes, topics and events which all fit together. The reader doesn’t come back to read your blog again because they don’t know what to expect.
5. It isn’t about them – it’s about you
Fifth. Avoid oversharing, it becomes boring fast. I may know you, trust you and like you already, so don’t blow it. Your email newsletter doesn’t need to ‘chat to me’ about all your internal workings. Yes, I’m happy to read your news and customer success stories, but only if I can see what I’ll get out of it. You’ve got a new team member: great, tell me how they’re going to improve your services because they’re an awesome hire. Educating me works better, especially if you’ve figured out exactly what I’m struggling with or want to learn more about.
6. It isn’t really your voice they hear
The sixth mistake is more subtle. I’ve written this blog today under the influence of hearing some brilliant speakers at StroudNet and Dent recently. But does this article sound like me? The same Debra who shows up at networking and smiles quietly when you show much you care about your customers?
Being congruent with who you are, what you stand for and how you want people to feel after they’ve bought your service is a challenge when you’ve got other people writing on your behalf. What I’m learning, is how important it is for a business to have a separate personality from the founder, even in infancy while you’re a sole trader. I’m not suggesting the managing director HAS to write every blog or marketing article, but the leaders do need to take an interest and make sure the ‘company’ personality is clearly represented. We call it ‘tone of voice’ and it matters because your ideal clients can spot BS a mile off. They’re human, they have strong instincts too.
Good news, all these mistakes can be fixed quickly:
Treat your content marketing plan like a jigsaw. Look at the big picture before you start.
Bring other people in to explore your plan. Your perspective might be wonky.
Know who you are you writing it for. Or read about mistake one again and go do your research.
Pick three key adjectives for your business or go back to your values and include those within every single one of your articles.
Storytelling in your content works – but make it easy for the readers to take the next step.
Call to action, terrible piece of jargon. Here is mine: I offer a free consultation to help businesses diagnose whether their content is hitting the mark with their customers and how case studies can help reach more of them. I spend a lot of time calling other people’s customers and my filter is ready. Sadly, sometimes I get a brief and I have to write what the client wants. Don’t be that client. Ask me what I really think, and I’ll tell you.
Footnote: Did you spot me using words like ‘instinctively’ and ‘feeling’ and ‘client’ instead of customer? I want my clients to know I’m here to help them grow, but also to support them longer term to make their marketing resonate more. I’m developing my superpower, empathy. What’s yours?
Or are you adding value by giving away free advice to help other businesses?
When your customers refer new business, it works really well – because they only do it when they’re confident the other person will benefit from your services. This has fuelled the trend for businesses to share lots of testimonials on their website and share them on social media to spread the word.
Great to see the positive approach to marketing. However, with the rise in focus on feedback from users to tell a story, are people really reading them?
How effective are customer testimonials?
Customer testimonials are great when a recognised brand or person has given the feedback. For me, in a local network, that’s as simple as a business I know from Bristol; for you, it may be more credible coming from a FTSE 500 company or so-called blue-chip brand.
Happy testimonials are a common goal for small businesses everywhere, because Google reviews help to improve their rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). And LinkedIn recommendations appear to have a positive effect too – more people see your posts, from the other person’s network as well as your own.
If you add one simple question, when you gather your testimonials, to ask “How likely are you to recommend us out of ten?” you can begin to build a net promoter score from the results. Which is useful to monitor over time. But if you share too many, without considering how they help others, it can get boring for your audience!
My top tip: spread your customer testimonials across several pages of your website, rather than expecting a web visitor to click that one page!
What’s the difference when you write a case study up in full?
The difference when you write up a full case study is the opportunity to interview the customers in more depth, asking them not only their testimonial and a score but also the reasons for giving that score. By hearing more from their perspective, you can write blogs, eBooks and more helpful content with their needs at the centre of your efforts.
Using a set of pre-planned questions, it’s possible to gain more information about your service delivery – and pass the feedback over to the operations team. Customer comments are gold-dust for improving your services and offering useful information, either via your blogs, news or Frequently Asked Questions. The testimonial comments and happy feedback often surfaces early, but it’s great to get the insight and constructive information from the conversation too. The story itself can offer valuable tips on changes which other businesses can make to address a similar challenge.
The result: instead of boasting about your amazing results with customers, you can tell the story – warts and all – of how you solved their struggle. And who doesn’t want to work with a business who gets results – but also cares enough to take time and listen to their customers’ frank feedback?
Search engines prefer long copy web pages which offer value and answer questions. Your blogs have to pack enough information in them to be useful. A case study is more powerful than snippets from your customer testimonials, because you can frame the challenge and articulate the solution your business offers. Most important of all, you must include the results – whether it involved saving time or making money or removing the problem.
My top tip: include a search-engine friendly keyword phrase in each of the sub-headings in your case studies.
How to structure your case study for greatest impact
Start with the challenge; help the readers instantly recognise whether it’s similar to their own situation.
Describe the solution; your process is important to you, not them – only share the nuggets which will attract them to try it for themselves.
Report results! Make sure the reader knows what’s in it for them after they’ve read to the end of your story – which should be an absolute minimum of 500 words. What outcome did your customer have – has it saved them money, made them money or removed a problem? Anecdotal feedback works well here, if the results are less tangible than time saving or money-making. Often people aren’t looking for a pure monetary difference – the results you’re offering have to appeal to their emotions.
My top tip: spend time listening to your customers about their feelings towards your services before you write down their testimonials – better still, cover the full story in a case study.
Contact me for a Case Study clinic if you want to explore how this would work for your business.
Case studies are a great way of using storytelling to promote your business. They offer the classic story format of starting with a person facing a challenge or desirable goals, a middle plot to share what happened next and ending with the results you delivered for the customer. A well-researched case study goes a step further than a standard testimonial by revealing your unique approach in enough detail to prompt the reader into action. The full story will resonate with people struggling with similar challenges because it shows how well you understand the pains and where you can help others.
To prove the value your products or services offer, you’ll want to share case studies which help convert potential customers into actual customers. These planning steps make case studies simple to create and strong enough to sell:
Identifying a great case study
Select the ‘best’ customers to feature in your case studies. This means identifying those who fit well with your brand values and sit in markets where you already sell or want to sell in future. When shared on popular platforms, a relevant case study will increase your brand awareness, credibility and authority. Only choose the stories where you can demonstrate measurable change because we, as readers, all care about results.
Matching the story with your target audience
Review it afresh: who are your ideal audience? What do you know about the specific people you’d like to help and therefore, have to sell to? It’s no good guessing what your average customer looks like. Whoever they are, it matters whether the problem you’re covering in the story is well-defined enough, so that those people recognise themselves and relate to it.
Doing the research before writing your case studies
Book time in to talk to the person in your organisation that knows the client best. Spend time discovering more about the customer as a person and research the company they work for. Having a clear understanding of the relationship history and the industry will save you time. When you’re ready to talk to the customer for their testimonial, you can get straight to the heart of the story.
Interviewing the customer
Many businesses write their case studies without talking to the customer. I always recommend interviewing them, to seek the truth behind the service delivered. I find it saves time for getting the story approved for sharing it publicly. Be open and honest about how the case study will be used and what you hope the results will be. Being more transparent helps the customer feel more comfortable, which in turn gets you detailed and honest answers.
Adapting the interview questionnaire
Effective interviewing comes with practice, but an easy first step is to plan and adapt your questions. Plan beforehand based on the information you want to get, but be prepared to adapt it on the call to gain deeper insight. I design a custom questionnaire for each of my case study clients, to make sure the practical results and emotional impact are covered. Using prompts to explore the interviewee’s answers will get more honest feedback to create a compelling story.
Demonstrating the impact of working with you
To be strong enough to sell your services, case studies have to prove why it’s worth spending money with your business. The most powerful case studies feature measurable results. Instead of tailing off the story with anecdotal feedback, aim to showcase impressive outcomes – the more numbers, the better. To uncover these, your questions would include:
What differences have you seen since buying this service?
How is the product or service helping you save time?
What £ costs or revenue impact has there been from using this service?
How does it enhance your competitive advantage?
A final note: before you define what makes a great case study for your business, it’s critical to consider, what are you trying to achieve? Case studies can certainly help you sell, but if your challenge is gaining greater brand awareness, you could choose a different range of case studies to feature – and make them wider-reaching instead of detailed stories.
Identifying a baseline before you start helps you track the effectiveness and marketing metrics of each case study you share – to see how many people engage with it and goal conversions. Then you can see what’s working well and what isn’t. Use this data to tweak your plans; move on by testing different approaches or find ways to inject a little humour! Contact me if you’d like more help to plan the right case studies for your business.
Creating content takes planning, routine, and plenty of ideas. But for a small business with a solo marketing manager or owner-director writing about the business, it’s hard to find time because you’ve got many other responsibilities. And it takes time to shape raw ideas into compelling content. So, how do you plan your marketing and allocate enough time to serve up consistent content? And why is consistency so important to attract new customers?
For me there are three reasons why consistency is important:
1. Extend your brand identity
2. Build trust in your expertise
3. Prove your reliability
Your brand identity shines when creating content consistent with your values
Having a strong, consistent brand identity helps to build trust with potential customers and people are more likely to buy from businesses they trust. It’s so important to reflect your business values in your marketing messages, because people are instinctive – they know when the two don’t match. Sharing the same message consistently helps to build confidence. Your style of language, brand colours and logo on your marketing materials all help people recognise and believe in your service – as long as you can demonstrate the return, of course. With consistent words and actions, you reinforce that you will meet their expectations.
Your expertise stands out when sharing it to help others
Building trust is about serving customers’ needs with your expertise, but also continuing to develop it. Sometimes businesses are afraid to admit their people are still learning; some shy away from promoting themselves as experts. The truth is, every area of knowledge is growing exponentially – it’s impossible for anyone to know everything. But your loyal customers need reassurance that you’re keeping your knowledge up to date. If you’re solving a problem for them, they don’t want to find out later (or worse, from your competitor) that your methods are outdated. They’ll only see you are learning when you share fresh information from your field. To help my clients boost their website traffic by sharing case studies, I’m researching more on key words, search engine optimisation and creating cornerstone content. My theory is, with so much content already out there, yours has to become a well-structured jigsaw puzzle – all linking back to one big picture of how you help customers!
Prove your reliability
For attracting new audiences and retaining loyal customers, consistency is key across all areas of your business. A good reputation depends on delivering excellent service and business systems like paying invoices on time, and regularly listening to employee or supplier feedback. Consistency in your marketing reminds people you are reliable. When you use consistent messages, your ideal tribe are more likely to hear or see them through the busy ‘noise’ of life. Repetition is positive, when you link the messages to the pain points which are most relevant for your audience. However, even as a copywriter, I’ve found it really tough to write about my own business to keep my marketing flowing. The solution to help me run a monthly blog was to brainstorm it with Kimba Digital and plan the first set of blogs in one session. And for my clients I do the same – we plan 3 months ahead for creating content, which links into the themes covered in their customer case studies. It still takes time to get content produced and agreed…
Planning to achieve consistency – how do you prioritise your time?
For most businesses, client work comes first, and marketing comes second. Until you hit a quiet patch. Then your focus switches back to sales and marketing with fresh energy to reach new audiences. Of course, this doesn’t allow for the time-delay in getting your message out there and the lag before people begin to respond. By planning in a weekly slot for your marketing, it becomes possible to run a consistent set of core activities. These must focus on growing your database of enquiries and following up with them. As a default, you’ll need to allocate at least three hours per week – two hours for creating or approving content and one for monitoring the results. For your social media, you’ll need daily routines, to reply and engage with your connections. If you outsource copywriting and marketing, you’ll still need a minimum of one day a month (in weekly chunks or as a single focus day) to set the direction, approve the content, and evaluate the results.
And if you’d like to include customer success stories in your content marketing plans, but you haven’t had time, this is exactly where I can help. I always create a case study blueprint before calling your clients for their honest feedback – to ensure the story will reflect your brand and meet your marketing goals. Case studies are a fantastic way to share your good news and results. And your customers’ insights provide a foundation for creating content which will help you engage new audiences and grow. To find out more, contact me or book in a free consultation.
Case studies are a fantastic marketing tool. It’s a theme where I’m in grave danger of repeating myself! But repetition leads to consistency – which will reach your ideal audience when your content is helpful for them.
Imagine you’re a marketing manager, about to share a case study on several different social media channels. How do you make each post stand out? And entice the right kind of people to read the full story on your website? Let’s look at 6 ways to ensure your case studies are punching their full power to market your business:
Plan your case studies to match your future goals
You may have lots of happy customers, but if none are grounded in the market where you want to focus in future, you’ll waste time writing up irrelevant stories. Before you start writing, plan your suite of case studies to cover the industries you specialise in and the type of customers whose problems you can solve. Then you can ensure your blogs and social posts are relevant too.
Use compelling storytelling techniques
Case studies are a fantastic way of helping potential customers to understand what you do. The purpose of every story is to show how you helped your customer accomplish their goals. But first, reveal the detail of the pain your client was facing. Highlight the emotions and the struggle, even in a business context. When you’ve helped a customer to tackle a major issue, it will help others see the value in your services. Share your approach for solving the problem using words others can relate to; because they don’t have much time – you need to get quickly to the heart of how you work. I’d recommend showing off the results up front, but saving some juicy facts for the ending. When you use storytelling techniques, a case study leaps beyond a standard client testimonial.
Test your headlines
Writing a hard-hitting headline comes down to who your ideal audience is and your brand style; it’s no different with case studies. Identify who your audience are, and what your ideal customer persona looks like. Then when selecting case studies to feature, ask yourself – is this problem broad enough that a wide range of my audience will relate to it? To write great headlines, focus on the call to action or impact you want to make. When you want to provoke a response, go controversial. When you want to educate, start with “How to”. Or when you want to tempt, talk about “the why” and the results rather than “what you did.”
Include real life feedback
You will attract more attention from your ideal audience when the story is authentic. Pick a case study subject who has had ups as well as downs and before you talk to them, and do the background research with the person in your team who knows the client best. By asking the right questions, you’ll gain a greater insight into their pain points and the emotional impact your business had on them. Plan your interview questions for the customer beforehand based around the information you want to share. Use prompts to explore their answers to get honest feedback. Sharing a brief but clear understanding of the client’s history and the industry they work in will attract people in a similar situation – and authentic wording will help the story resonate with them.
Answer common questions
Your case study story will rank with search engines if you use sentences which answer questions. Find the long-tail phrases which work as keywords for your business and add them into the case study narrative. The thing is, this can affect the quality of your writing. You’ve got to walk a tight balance between boring people by explaining the whole problem and letting your ideal audience know you can help solve it.
Show the results and impact on your client
Case studies are all about demonstrating successful results, so add measurable outcomes into the story – the more numbers, the better. To uncover these, use questions such as:
What challenges were you facing?
And what were the results of using the product/service?
What effect has this had on your team?
How is this helping you save time/money?
How does this affect your customers or enhance your competitive advantage?
Results will hit home when you include them upfront in the headline, but you can save them for the end of the story because you want to keep readers in suspense.
Track the marketing metrics of every case study – levels of engagement and goal conversions. This will help you identify what’s working well and what doesn’t. Use this to tweak your plans and don’t be afraid of testing slightly different approaches and find ways to inject a little humour!
Creating authentic, powerful case studies does take time. Book a FREE consultation if you’d like to understand how to speed up the process – then we can review your options in a Case Study Clinic if you want help to revise your stories.
Last year 63% of marketers said generating traffic and leads was their top challenge (Hubspot 2017) – which can be tackled with a strategic approach to content marketing. “Storify” isn’t a proper English word, but it’s out there, and I’m willing to bet we will identify 2018 as the year of stories. When written well, they support human-to-human content messaging – geared towards customers’ emotions – replacing traditional approaches in the business to business market.
Creating consistent content is still a big ask for SME marketing managers. Many businesses struggle to keep up a continuous flow of digital marketing and social media posts to reach their ideal audience. Email marketing has to be tested and tweaked, and social media algorithms are reducing organic (non-paid-for) reach. Then there’s the explosion of new platforms and automation tools. Regardless of where or how you share your story, it can only provide value for your audience when you keep your customer needs at the heart of it. But it can seem like an endless task, making it easy to lose sight of your goal to help and inspire customers.
Look again at your business data and your strengths – who you serve, where they find you and how your processes are working to support existing customers. When you focus on things that are going well, you can build trust and establish yourself as an expert because you are solving genuine problems for your customers.
Once you’ve built loyal relationships, your customers offer a rich source of stories to support your content marketing in so many ways. Writing up the case studies gives you a foundation to develop multiple versions of the content to share in different ways. Let’s take a look at the benefits of case studies and how to re-purpose the stories in your content marketing strategy:
What are the benefits of spending time on customer case studies?
When planned carefully, you’ll cement stronger relationships with your existing customers when you take the time to help promote them – delivering mutual marketing results. Your customer case studies highlight the foundations of your business success and theirs too. Depending on your marketing strategy, and how you create the content, customer case studies drive three key outcomes:
Increased website traffic.
Improved engagement within your networks and email marketing database.
Greater reach to wider audiences via online press and social media.
Search engines are content hungry; generating traffic for businesses who refresh their page content and signposting regularly. Google My Business posts and LinkedIn articles summarising new case studies or blogs are a simple tool to attract the major player’s attention. A long copy case study article on your website is a great opportunity to include select keywords and create a landing page for targeted pay per click advertising.
Your social media networks and contact database don’t necessarily know all your capabilities. (I recently had a client who didn’t realise I could organise video testimonials as part of their case study program.) By producing case studies from a range of relevant industries, readers are more likely to trust your abilities based on where you specialise and who you have helped previously. Sharing your customer case studies showcases everything about your business. Your audience can learn how it feels to work with you, what your customers love about your service and relate it back to their own pain points. We all love a story, and the best ones inspire people and invoke an emotional response.
Generating traffic by turning case studies into other content types
Providing your customers are willing, you can start by writing up the situation and describing the case study scenario in detail. Once you have the story, you can re-purpose case studies into different formats for generating traffic back to your site:
Develop the pain point into a helpful blog topic.
Include credentials in an online event brochure.
Capture visual photos or voice clips for podcasting.
The tough challenge when creating your case studies is time – getting hold of your customer after you’ve moved onto another project and completing the story. It’s also hard to listen objectively to your clients, when you’re close to the situation. That’s why 27 Marketing specialises in planning, writing and sharing case studies for businesses. Learn more here.