Tag Archives: case studies

What can kill—or save—The Great American Case Study?

Last night I was soaking in the bathtub with a magazine—very girly and all—when I came across something that really jolted me into business mode. In a good way.

I’ve been writing case studies for companies like Microsoft, HP, and others for years now. They all have a very specific style, tone, and format that they insist upon, and most of them have not varied it for years.

Until now.

What shook me up in the tub last night was probably the best, most effective Microsoft case study I’ve ever seen. . .and it wasn’t a case study at all.

This was a full-page ad for Microsoft Dynamics on the back cover of the June issue of Fast Company. This is why I love it:

  • Huge visual of an actual person, not a piece of hardware or a company logo
  • Customer-centric headline
  • Less than 100 words from start to finish

That’s it. Really.

Yeah, it’s an ad, but I hope it signals a change in the way tech firms think about case studies. Because this is everything a great case study needs to be: Crisp, digestible, and no fluff. A fast read with a focus on customer benefits, tying it all up with a link for product info. No muss, no fuss, and never any need to download or scroll through multiple screens of anything.

BOOM. Microsoft, are you listening?



Marketing wisdom from an 11-year-old


Today marks the end of Spring Break week for my kids. This morning after breakfast, my 11-year-old was on her laptop at the kitchen counter, and I asked her, “Have you checked your email lately?”

She looked directly at me, and said something brilliant (she is my child, after all): “Mom, email is POINTLESS; everyone either texts or uses Instagram now.”

BOOM. She’s right. And this applies to more than just email. Long-form web copy, datasheets that go on more than one page, textbook-size business white papers, and case studies that take more than 5 minutes to read through are just over. People don’t have the time, patience, or desire to be marketed to in that way anymore.

So what to do? I think the key is, in whatever kind of content you’re developing, to Think Social. Put things into perspective by thinking about how you might say the same thing with a Facebook post, a snapshot, or a tweet.

Looky at a couple of places that get this right:

  • IBM – Check out their website: Nothing but crisp, digestible content nuggets as far as the eye can see.
  • OpenText – Great case studies that combine brief text and (ooooh) video. Long Story Short scores!

So next time you’re tempted to develop a marketing deliverable in the form of the Great American Novel, stop and Think Social instead.

And speaking of social, are you following my fascinating (and brief) Twitter posts?


Screw Ads—Get Valid!

Recently, I became inundated with online ads for an up-and-coming tech startup. They were EVERYWHERE. Banners, emails, sponsorships, promoted tweets—you get the picture.

So great; I want to know more. I went to their site and poked around a bit. It had lots of fabulosity around the company’s product and service offering, and benefits and business value were cited left, right, and center. But something was missing. . .

Validation. Specifically, third-party validation.

In our currently wacky economic climate, companies are scaling WAY back on spending. If an expenditure isn’t clearly and directly contributing to the bottom line, odds are it’s either been cut, or is about to be. And moreoever:

Who’s gonna just take a startup’s word for it
when it comes to an IT infrastructure purchase?

The answer there, my friends, is just about nobody.

What this startup was missing the boat on is cold, hard customer evidence. Yep, all that venture capital spent on engineering brilliance and massive advertising exposure, but not a single ringing endorsement from a happy customer to seal the deal.

Now more than ever, customers are looking for value. And nothing will help them choose one offering over another like stories of happy, happy deployments that saved boatloads of time and money, and maybe even boosted productivity through the roof.

When comes right down to it, customers are truly one of most effective forms of advertising. Whether they’re raving about a service on a company’s Facebook page, tweeting a link to the product they just deployed, or sharing their success story through a case study, customers can really make a massive impact on sales.

Got case studies? Need some? Contact us today!


Is The Bird REALLY the Word?

Recently I heard a client exhorting an employee who was blathering on (and on, and on. . .) to “keep it tweetable!” This got me to thinking about the vast amount of marketing gems floating around out there, and the fact that right now, Almost Everything Marketing seems to be designed to pander to the 140 characters of goodness that is Twitter.

“A-well-a, everybody’s heard about the bird
Bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word. . .”

The thing is though, not everything is, or should be, tweetable. Here’s some stuff you need to know, and share:

  • Tweets are there to entice, to tease, to provoke
  • You absolutely cannot tell a story with them
  • Twitter should not be your entire marketing strategy
  • Twitter should not be your entire social media strategy
  • There is a strategy to using Twitter

Sure, definitely use Twitter if you’ve got a solid, standalone message to send that can be captured crisply in 140 characters or less. These things are cool, and can often get retweeted as-is. Yum.

Three things to remember, though:

  1. A tweet cannot sell one customer based on another customer’s success. For that you need a case study.
  2. A tweet cannot get a bunch of folks to register for your spiffy event. For that you need a well-crafted newsletter or emailer. And a kick-ass landing page so they can click ‘Register.”
  3. A tweet cannot convey the detail of the new technology that you have developed to revolutionize an industry. You need a compelling, sexy blog post for that.

Sure, use a sweet tweet as one of the vehicles to drive your followers to that case study, landing page, or blog post, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Twitter can do all the heavy lifting in your marketing world.

Oh, and if the lyrics up top got you all in the mood, feel free to sing along. ;)


Tech Startup CEOs: BACK OFF!

When you’re heading up a tech startup, you have a TON of things on your plate:

  • Development
  • Venture Capital
  • Partners
  • Marketing
  • Customers
  • Sales
  • Channel

. . .I’d go on, but you are probably waaaaaaaay too busy to read a lengthy post about what you’re doing all day (and probably late into the night).

So why, then, are you killing yourself writing your own marketing copy?

Believe it or not, hiring a good writer does more than just get your Web site/case studies/blogs/whatever written better and faster than you could do it yourself―it can actually make a lot of those things on your to-do list easier as well.


 Yes. Check this out:

Venture Capital – Venture capitalists want to know that you’ve got your marketing sh*t together before they give up the goods. This means they need to see polished, professional copy that speaks eloquently and persuasively to your target audience, and demonstrates knowledge of that audience’s needs. This is not something you can just jot down in the back of a cab between meetings, folks.

Partners – No company wants to hitch its wagon to an organization that does not have strong, strategic messaging that aligns with or complements its own, and a consistent presence across all media. Do you really have time to stay on top of all that?

Marketing – This almost goes without saying. Your product marketing folks are probably in overdrive developing strategies to make your offering a huge success. Don’t think you can leave it at that, though. Stellar copy that weaves those strategies into content that engages and informs will drive the leads that can take your business to the next level.

Customers – Existing customers are one of your best gateways to NEW customers. If they are not receiving clear, consistent information from your company, and they have no way to develop a relationship with you online, you will literally be tripping over missed opportunities on your way to the water cooler tomorrow. . .

Sales – Does your sales team really have what it needs in order to sell to customers? What do their customers want―and need to hear? If you haven’t had time lately to chat with your peeps out in the field, your copywriter can. Finding out about what’s really important to your target audience can be a real game-changer for copy strategy overall. Being able to deliver the specific information your sales force needs in order to sell to customers is like gold.

Channel – These folks can be a bit self-centered; they want to know just what your offering is going to do for them―and really, can you blame them? After all, The Almighty Dollar does play into this relationship right from the get-go. If potential channel partners cannot see smart, strong branding and unique customer benefits upfront, they might simply not see the vast potential in selling your product for you.

Convinced? Now, step away from that keyboard and call a brilliant copywriter today. You’ll be glad you did.


The Write Tool for the Job

Do you know the difference between needing to hire a marketing writer, vs. needing to hire a tech writer? Unless you are deeply ingrained with a major player in the technology industry, such as Microsoft HP, Adobe, Apple, or Google, you’re probably getting it wrong.

There have been many occasions when I’ve been contacted by a potential client (who has presumably read my Web site and already done a bit of research on me) about a new project. Once we start chatting about their needs, however, it often bubbles up that they are looking for someone to develop a reviewer’s guide, user documentation, or possibly even a technical white paper.

Now, there is nothing at all on my Web site that would lead anyone to believe that I am a technical writer, yet this person somehow assumes that this is what I do for a living, simply because I write. And people just like this seem to land on my doorstep almost weekly, looking for my assistance.

A writer is not a writer is not a writer is not a. . .well, you get the drift.

Getting your tech writing project done correctly and on time is not merely a factor of “insert writer here.” You have to have the correct resource for the job. To help alleviate any further confusion, here’s a quick cheat sheet on these two types of writers, and the types of content can realistically expect them to produce for you:

Tech Writer

  • software documentation
  • operating instructions
  • assembly manuals
  • technical blogs
  • technical white papers
  • e-learning materials
  • online help files

Marketing Writer

  • case studies
  • Web sites
  • direct marketing
  • e-mailers
  • newsletters
  • slide presentations
  • banner ads
  • business white papers
  • demo scripts
  • brochures
  • advertisements
  • social media content
  • data sheets
  • SEO copy
  • messaging frameworks

This of course is not an exhaustive list, but it should at least give you a concrete idea of the kind of resource you need to get your job done. Got questions? Just ask!


Are You Cheating Your Bottom Line?

It’s still hard to make a buck these days, regardless of any small economic inroads the country has made over the past couple of years. Every dollar spent and earned counts, but while you’re watching your budget, are you simultaneously ignoring one of your most cost-effective marketing resources—and cheating yourself out of new customers?

You know you love your customers, and they love you back. Are you putting that to work for your company? When a customer has a GREAT experience with your product or service, do you thank them profusely for their business and move on, or shout it from the rooftops?

Now is the time for all good marketers to start shouting like crazy.

Case studies. Yeah, those. You’ve seen them floating around, but have you really thought about how they work? In an economic climate where buyers are cautious about spending, and demanding big ROI for every single purchase they make, a case study can deliver real-world examples of the value of your product or service. This kind of third-party validation is right up there with word-of-mouth, only better, because you have control over how far and wide the story gets broadcast.

When prospects can actually read how one of their peers has directly benefited (metrics! metrics!) from working with your company, they are significantly more likely to want to learn more about what you’re offering—and sign on the dotted line.

Need help getting your customer success stories told? Don’t wait—contact us now!


State Your Case―Briefly

Do you need some really strong validation for your offering? But does the thought of committing to an extensive suite of “Customer Evidence” (multi-page case studies, videos, and the like) make your budget cringe, quiver, and run for the hills?

If you want a lot of bang for only a little buck, think brief. Solution Brief, that is.

A Solution Brief, in layman’s terms, is sort of like a highly concentrated version of a case study, focusing solely on the solution’s value and benefit set. What makes them great is that they are short, to-the-point, and very cost-effective. They deliver the most essential messaging and facts to your customer in an easily digestible format. Sort of like distilling your latest blog post down to 140 characters and Tweeting the result.

Much like a standard case study, a Solution Brief will include some “Fast Facts”-type sidebar info, an overview of the business challenges addressed, the solution itself, and benefits delivered. And it does it all in a simple, 1-page format!

Now, if you really want the third-party validation that a customer case study can bring, a Solution Brief might not be the right choice for you. But if your product or service has great business value, or a strategic partnership has yielded a solution that can rock your customers’ worlds, don’t be afraid to sport some briefs. Solution Briefs, that is. : )



KIll Them with Blandness

Everyone knows that word-of-mouth is the best advertising out there. And smart marketers are taking advantage of the wealth of customer conversations taking place on the Web, and via various social media portals, to build third-party validation for their products and services. But as always, some are missing the mark.

I was editing some Web content recently, and came across the following customer verbatim: “It’s vital that our communications. . .are effective and efficient.”

Huh? Where’s the rave about how effective and efficient the company’s communications are―now that they are using XYZ product? How much time and money are they saving? How significant is the improvement over their previous solution, ABC product?

Bottom Line:  if you use a customer quote in your collateral and it does not reference your offering or the benefits thereof, you have completely wasted an opportunity.


There’s More to Marketing Than SEO

Lately, everything I see or hear about copywriting ultimately leads back to SEO. Yes (rolling eyes), that SEO: Search Engine Optimization. I think that marketers have gotten so caught up in the drama and sheer competition driven by the Internet that SEO has somehow become the be-all end-all of copywriting.

Not true.

For one thing, the explosion of the communications force of nature we know as Twitter doesn’t necessarily lend itself to SEO-heavy writing. I mean, 140 characters is 140 characters, and if you’re trying to cram in too many keywords, your Tweets are just going to look like Mike Tyson wrote them.

And then there are case studies. Lovely case studies demonstrate how happy your product or service makes your customers. Case studies actually develop a bit of a relationship with that browsing customer who is looking to read something that gives her the feeling of, “Hey, this guy had my problem, and look how he solved it!”

Friends, good copy is about more than just keywords. It’s crisp, focused, compelling, and persuasive. It engages and informs.

So next time you are reading about the Importance of SEO Copywriting, smile, nod, and give it its due. . .but also take time to remember the artistry of the writer whose copy actually resonates with your customers, long after they’ve read it.