The most straightforward way of revitalizing your content marketing is to jettison some content pieces that just aren’t working for your brand. Here are six options you should consider first. Then you can focus on producing content that your audience (as well as search engines) will love.
1. Mobile unfriendly
We’ve been discussing mobile optimization for years, but a surprising number of businesses still publish content that isn’t mobile friendly.
First, check to see if your site is mobile friendly in your users’ and Googles’ eyes. Open it on your smart device and see how well you can see it. You also should type the URL in Google Search Console’s mobile-friendly test.
If the tests show your site is not optimized for mobile, you need to take a few steps. (The good news is you don’t need to build a whole new website.)
Look at your content or editorial calendar (if you don’t yet have one, then I’d recommend drawing one up). Ask yourself how varied your content is and identify all the opportunities for more interactive, creative, and engaging formats.
Start using multimedia
Now that 72% of people are looking at content via their mobile devices, they are more likely to expect big blocks of visually appealing content. Use infographics, images, and videos to generate more views and shares.
For infographics, you can use free tools like Piktochart. For images, create your own high-resolution photos or use websites like Creative Commons to access free images and stay on the right side of copyright laws. Free tools like Pixlr and Canva can help you edit those images.
Try immersive content
Immersive content includes formats like virtual reality and augmented reality. Although a newish tactic for marketers, it’s gaining momentum. Get into the swing of immersive content by streaming live stories on Instagram and then look at Facebook Horizon (formerly Facebook Spaces) to see about incorporating VR into your content marketing.
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It’s amazing how many businesses still just push out content in bulk to drive traffic. The content doesn’t speak to a specific audience. It has no particular purpose and it’s not designed to be helpful or shareable.
Your goals don’t need to be complicated. You may want to increase traffic, improve online, or grow your subscriber list. Whatever it is – and you may have more than one goal overall – make sure that each piece of content has one clearly defined goal.
Your content also should achieve your target audience’s goals – learn about an idea, solve a problem, learn how to do something, etc. Make sure each piece of content achieves at least one of those goals.
Add a call to action to your content to encourage your audience to take some action. Ensure that it aligns with your brand goal and is relevant to the audience’s goal. For example, if the goal is to grow your subscriber list, the CTA should encourage your audience to sign up for more content connected to the article topic. If your goal is to grow your online sales, direct people to your product pages.
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I’ve already shared the thirst for high-quality content. And it’s not just your audience that wants it. Google rewards sites with valuable and audience-relevant content.
Any content that isn’t backed by relevant data and research probably isn’t worth doing. Or at least it should only be one component in a mix of high-value content.
First, give the team time to produce good quality content. Although it’s good to publish frequently, it’s more important to prioritize quality. Space out deadlines across your content calendar in line to create a manageable workload and keep track of all the tasks involved in creating quality content.
When creating content, identify key trusted sources to inform your pieces and include relevant and well-sourced data points. Make sure to link to these sources from your content and reference sources appropriately.
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5. Sales push
It’s tempting for marketers to use content for the hard sell. Even if you think it’s subtle, chances are your audience will sniff out the sales pitch. And guess what? They probably won’t be happy about it.
Today’s consumers don’t want to be sold to. They want to consume relevant content that helps them navigate their buyer journey and supports their decisions.
The fix: Respond to your audience’s needs
Ditch the sales pitch from your content and instead carry out some audience or persona research. Develop profiles that describe in detail what your audience looks like – their relevant online behaviors, goals, pain points – and consider how your content can cater to their interests and needs.
Go further and map your customer journey, identifying key moments or touchpoints where your content can help them in their decision making.
Finish up your audience-focus fix by adding all your content opportunities to the editorial calendar. Ensure that you’ve covered all parts of the sales cycle, from the moment your audience discovers your company to long after they converted.
Even basic SEO gives your content (and your website in general) a better chance of being found by search engines, reaching the most relevant audiences and achieving your online goals.
The fix: Invest in SEO
Do keyword research first as it underpins the rest of your SEO work. This means listing the relevant search terms (both short and long) that your target audience would type in the search engine field to find your content.
Enter that list into a keyword research tool like Moz or SEMrush to determine which would be the most valuable to include in your content (i.e., those keywords that receive a high volume of traffic but have a low difficulty rating).
Once you have established a solid list, you can attend to other SEO tasks when you produce a new piece of content. These include:
Create a compelling meta description and title tag.
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The first step toward improved content is identifying what isn’t working in your current model. By examining (and fixing) these six frequent mistakes first, you can put your content on a better path to success.
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).
Another step you can take to create more effective content is to attend Content Marketing World this October. Several tracks are devoted to multiple elements of content creation. Register today!
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
And that’s a wrap of the week ending Feb. 14, 2020
This week I’m thinking about the trap between strategy and planning. I offer my take on a new article that claims publishing less content is helping publishers grow their audiences. Veteran content marketer Rich Schwerin shares his thoughts about the business challenges of content strategy today. And I point you to an article about deconstructing a content marketing platform to come up with a better content marketing plan.
Listen to the Weekly Wrap
It’s Valentine’s Day (if your Valentine is on Twitter, you can call them tweetheart). Our theme this week is how I left the plan and learned to love the planning. Let’s wrap it up.
One deep thought: The problem with strategic plans (2:35)
How much strategy is enough? We all agree that a good strategic plan is important – it’s a compelling argument for why we want to go somewhere, a clear road map to help us get there, and a set of standards for the benefits of arriving at our destination.
But how detailed does the plan need to be? Too much detail and no one will read it or adopt it. Too little detail and people won’t care about the strategy, won’t be clear about the plan, or won’t understand what success looks like.
The conventional wisdom is to do two versions: a highly detailed plan with hundreds of slides and the 20-slide executive summary version of that plan.
Both of these become useless quickly. Details go sideways right away due to delays, budget fluctuations, and resource changes. Once the details change, managers worry about their ability to meet the standards of success. Then people question the direction, and everything starts all over again.
Should we just stop creating strategic plans? I explain a better way – one that keeps the strategy fixed and the plan fluid.
The article details several publishers that have trimmed the number of articles they’re producing yet are seeing more traffic, longer times on site, and more subscribers. These include The Guardian, The Times of London, and Le Monde.
The quote from media analyst Thomas Baekdal stood out to me:
Whether a digital magazine publishes 100, 500, or 1,000 articles makes no difference. It’s the quality and interest of the articles that matter instead. We see this clearly on YouTube, where the most popular YouTubers rarely post more than once or twice a day. Publishers look at this, do the analysis, and they discover that when they cut away the not valuable, nobody realizes that it is gone.
I’ve started to see this with my consulting clients. When they take the time to create their strategy and plan to create fewer pieces – and focus in on the quality of those pieces – they build stronger, more engaged audiences and see better results.
I explain how this seemingly counterintuitive strategy can help content marketers focus on helping people find what they want while leading them to start reading more of what we want them to consume.
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This week’s person making a difference in content: Rich Schwerin (14:17)
This interview is a fun one because Rich Schwerin is not only a wonderfully smart guy, he’s also seen it all when it comes to content marketing in Silicon Valley. Rich is now a senior content strategist at Autodesk, where he focuses on content that engages attention, solves problems, and delivers results.
He’s worked for years in enterprise technology content strategy, including stints at VMware and Oracle. He’s done a variety of things in and around content marketing, including SEO, social media marketing strategy, and product marketing. Rich also puts his background in journalism to work writing articles and moderating panels for the Bay Area Content Marketing Meetup.
Here’s a preview of our chat:
Editors know more than readers. You and your subject matter experts are living and eating and breathing your subject 24/7 … There’s a danger in assuming the audience knows all that. Your job is to organize the information and interpret it and focus on what the audience needs to know – not everything.
Listen in to our conversation about content strategy and some of the challenges he’s seeing in business, then get more from Rich:
One content marketing idea you can use (29:30)
I’m sharing an article from way back in 2013. Before you scoff about the age, let me tell you this article is as valuable as it was seven years ago. In Learn What Makes a Content Plan Successful by Taking One Apart, my friend Buddy Scalera wrote about building a better content plan by taking apart your existing one, putting it back together by making decisions about what works and what doesn’t, and documenting the process.
Here’s something you should plan for – especially if you’re looking for a content tech strategy. I’m talking about ContentTECH Summit April 20 to 22 in San Diego.
We’ve got amazing, speakers like Meg Walsh, who runs content services at Hilton Hotels; Cleve Gibbon, chief technology officer at Wunderman Thompson; and Wendy Richardson, senior vice president of global technical services for MasterCard.
These brand-level folks are ready to teach you the effective use of technology and better processes that can help your strategic efforts to create, manage, deliver, and scale your enterprise content and provide your customers with better digital experiences.
And I’ve got a discount for you. Just use the code ROSE100 and you’ll save $100 on registration.
Join me next week for one thought that I love from my head to matoes. I won’t glaze over the fact you doughnut want to miss the love we share for the hole news story. And – hotdog – I think you’ll relish the content marketing tip we cannoli offer you through this podcast. You have a pizza my heart, you guys. And of course, it’s all delivered in a little less time than it takes to spray-tan your face.
If you have ideas for what you’d like to hear more of on our weekly play on words, let us know in the comments. And if you love the show, we’d sure love for you to review it or share it. Hashtag us up on Twitter: #WeeklyWrap.
Let’s look at each relationship (then stick around for a bonus example of a brand that unknowingly became a player in the story of the U.K.’s two most famous stop-animation film stars).
The Bachelor dates Cleveland
I’m not a frequent viewer of The Bachelor, but I watched the two episodes that took place in Cleveland, Ohio, (where I live) this season. The Bachelor regularly visits towns when supported by local or state tourism bureaus. In fact, tourism bureaus have become a key player in The Bachelor franchise.
The episodes I watched feature traditional beauty shots and local vendor product placements (think a hotel, prime destinations, and restaurants). But The Bachelor isn’t about Cleveland. It’s about the drama between the bachelor and his suitors – women who vie for one-on-one dates in hopes they avoid the dreaded group date, and who want a rose at the end of the episode (so they get to stay) and eventually an on-air marriage proposal.
By design, Chris Harrison’s announcement of the trip to the contestants meets with the response local tourism officials expect – and want to change: “Why Cleveland?”
The partnership was designed to challenge that thinking, says Colette Jones, chief marketing officer of Destination Cleveland, the city’s tourism organization. The positive and lesser-known narrative of Cleveland could unfold to an audience of millions of Bachelor fans.
These Cleveland-centered episodes bring all the interpersonal drama viewers expect. But as those stories unfold, so do stories of Cleveland. The Bachelor Bowl (the group date in one of the episodes) features two former Cleveland Browns as coaches at FirstEnergy Stadium (where the NFL team plays). A one-on-one activity encompasses the bachelor and his date grabbing a bite at a pierogi cart, dancing a polka in Public Square, and riding in a Soap Box Derby car – elements of Cleveland’s desired narrative.
“While there was risk to the association between the brands, the potential for improved equity and perception change outweighed that risk,” Colette says.
The Destination Cleveland team provided The Bachelor producers with an overview of Cleveland from a tourism perspective as well as messaging that it hoped would be conveyed in the episode.
“While not all the brand elements and messaging made the final cut, we know the concerted effort to develop an understanding of our brand messaging strategy and who we are as a destination were essential to our success,” Colette says.
And Destination Cleveland didn’t let the show itself serve as a one-time marketing event. It continued the story by leveraging digital and media relations channels.
The Destination Cleveland team also is tying all the content to a bigger “Love, Cleveland” story being told across its digital channels this quarter.
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NASCAR drives The Crew
Like Destination Cleveland, NASCAR has plenty of content topics. The global auto-racing sanctioning and operating body crafts its content on star drivers, competitive races, etc. (And it does it well – Evan Parker, then-NASCAR vice president of content, was a 2018 Content Marketer of the Year finalist.)
But NASCAR is taking its content marketing to the next level – becoming the setting for an upcoming Netflix series, The Crew. Kevin James stars as an old-school race team crew chief who butts heads with the team’s modern-minded owner who wants more high-tech thinking, according to TV Insider. The setup isn’t new (someone who doesn’t like change is living in a world where change is a requirement). The format isn’t new either (it’s a traditional multi-camera sitcom).
What is new is the role of the NASCAR brand – it’s an integral component of the story. And NASCAR leaders Matt Summers, managing director, entertainment marketing and content development; and Tim Clark, senior vice president and chief digital officer, serve as executive producers on this mainstream sitcom.
Samantha Thompson, vice president of development, Branded, at Remedy Television + Branded, explains, “The brand is the story rather than the storyteller itself, opening up an entirely new opportunity for viewership, and of course, brand affinity as well.”
(Note: Samantha offers her perspective as a brand developer and is not involved in The Crew or in the following example.)
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Ancestry plants TV roots
Ancestry built its business on connecting its customers to historical records for genealogical research. Over 30 years later, the company continues to connect families with their history (most frequently through its web-based membership site) and has added AncestryDNA, bringing genetic analysis to help customers learn their family history.
In 2010, Ancestry became involved in TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are, with executive producers Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky. Each episode follows a celebrity tracing their ancestral roots. During the journey, these famous faces follow the family tree created through Ancestry.com to learn about a relative or identify the next point to their genealogical path.
Ancestry shows up in other series, too. Its DNA testing was the launch point for a multi-episode arc of CNN’s United Shades of America in which its host Kamau Bell traces his genealogy.
Last year, NBC launched A New Leaf, which uses Ancestry DNA testing to explore the family ties of non-celebrities. The show “teaches the importance of understanding their family history in order to make important decisions and enact positive changes in their lives,” according to A New Leaf’s site.
“The brand has truly taken advantage of the recent cultural elevation and interest in genealogy and helping to tell those stories,” says Samantha Thompson of Remedy Television + Branded. “Ancestry’s products are not just integrated into these shows – they’ve made themselves essential in order to move the narrative forward.”
Illustrator Mark Armstrong says this topic of brand stories being told in shows rang a bell at the cheese factory for him.
Which cheese factory? Wensleydale, the favorite brand of Wallace in Wallace and Gromit, the popular U.K. stop-motion animated shorts and films.
As Mark explains, Wensleydale had nothing to do with the original storyline. As IMBD details, the ongoing storyline of Wallace’s love of cheese led series creator, Nick Park, to name Wallace’s favorite brand. He picked Wensleydale because he liked the name, dropping it into several animated shorts around 1995.
What he didn’t know was that making Wallace a fan of Wensleydale cheese would lead to the business’s survival. Facing financial struggles and an uncertain future, Wensleydale saw sales take off after it became part of Wallace’s story. Today, it’s a big success and even features Wallace and Gromit Yorkshire Wensleydale among its products.
Envision the possibilities
Letting others tell your brand’s narrative can open a wealth of opportunities – to grow brand awareness, to connect with new audiences, to raise your profile among your target audiences. But the key to success is being deliberate and taking advantage of all the related potential opportunities.
Destination Cleveland’s Colette Jones offers this sage advice:
Overall, it’s essential to be strategic in the opportunities you consider – from ensuring brand and audience alignment to understanding how the partner has incorporated other (similar) brands and how fans responded to those partnerships to determining if the opportunity lends itself to a broader integrated marketing effort.
Who or what could tell your brand’s narrative within their larger story? Dream big and small – and share in the comments.
Want to visit the city that most recently gained attention through The Bachelor and that’s served as the backdrop for movies, including A Christmas Story and Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Want to grow your content marketing skills? You can do both at Content Marketing World this October. Register today.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
Here are some key steps and best practices to keep in mind while reaping the most fruit from your brand for SEO purposes:
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Collect your data
Tools like SEMrush and Google Search Console make it easy to find brand-related keywords and data such as rankings and search volume. If you’re running paid ad programs like Google Ads, dive into the search queries people use (not just the words you feed into your campaigns).
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Figure out what’s ranking No. 1
Although the rankings could fluctuate over time, you’re probably safe to assume your No. 1 rankings will hold. Those top rankings aren’t your priority. Enjoy how they support your business.
For example, Bayer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, does not need to pay attention to these No. 1 rankings:
Analyze keywords that rank No. 2 to No. 10
Start with the keywords just beyond your fingertips. If you’re already No. 2, shouldn’t that be enough? No. You could be No. 1. See what you can do to boost any of your top-but-not-No.-1 positions.
Industry data from Advanced Web Ranking shows clicks drop between the No. 1 and No. 2 positions and continue to decline. Moving up one spot can make a difference in traffic. Backlinko found that the No. 1 result has a 31.7% average click-through rate and is 10 times more likely to get a click than the No. 10 position.
Bayer ranks No. 11 (second page of results) for “Bayer aspirin” with an average of 14,800 Google searches each month:
What are the main obstacles? Bayer’s site doesn’t use “Bayer aspirin” in the SEO page title, content header, main content, and image file name.
Fortunately, Bayer leverages a digital strategy that many brands embrace. They create related sites (microsites) with separate content and keyword-rich domains. For “Bayer aspirin,” bayeraspirin.com is the No. 1 ranking.
Why fret over a No. 11 spot when you have the No. 1? Why not? Bayer should make the effort to get a better ranking to reinforce the brand and meet website and business goals.
Clearly, Bayer has strong rankings for https://www.bayer.com/en/aspirin.aspx. But some slight SEO adjustments could be made to improve the “Bayer aspirin” ranking and probably several other top 10 keyword phrases as well.
The SEO page title is: Kisses Milk Chocolate 12-Ounce Bag | HERSHEY’S.
I’m sure Hershey’s wouldn’t want to play up the calories with an SEO page title like this: Consume 160 Calories with a Serving of 7 Hershey’s Kisses – Milk Chocolate Bag.
But the company doesn’t shy away from nutrition data deep on the website page. “Hershey Kiss calories” and other top-ranking keyword phrases might rank better with this SEO page title: Hershey’s Kisses – Milk Chocolate 12-Ounce Bag | 160 Calories Per Serving.
Here are some other Hershey’s keywords that do well for the same page:
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Be careful before optimizing a page to rank higher
Once you identify some priority branded keyword phrases, you still need to check other data before fine-tuning the page to get a better ranking.
Sort the data and find out what other keyword phrases are ranking for the same page – both branded and nonbranded keywords. Evaluate data like:
Relevant words that rank in the top 10 positions
Google estimated search volume for each keyword
Page focus based on the page content header and maybe a subhead
Why do you need to go through all of that trouble? You don’t want to make page adjustments that could displace other high rankings. If you revise the SEO page title or the page content header (or both) to support a branded keyword phrase, you might lose other positions for branded or nonbranded keywords.
In Hershey’s case, some minor changes to the Hershey’s Kisses page would not be too disruptive.
Look at your numbers and decide how much to modify your page. If a relevant branded keyword has 500 monthly searches and ranks No. 7 and a nonbranded keyword ranks No. 5 with only 20 monthly searches, you might feel comfortable about updating the SEO page title, content header, and other content.
However, don’t always be quick to dismiss keywords with low search volume.
Sometimes the low-volume, long-tail keyword phrases are worth protecting. Be careful because those keywords that aren’t as popular may be profitable for your business. How much is your product or service? What are your margins? What is your lead to close ratio? You might not have access to all of the data, but the context of the keyword phrase should help you decide whether it’s valuable.
And it’s unlikely to rank higher for “Pentair filter parts” since it’s supporting so many keyword phrases. More than 50 phrases are among the top 10 positions. I wouldn’t mess with this page.
The answer to a higher ranking for “Pentair filter parts” could be the creation of a new page that showcases some of its top filtration products.
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Reach higher for branded keywords
To succeed with SEO and branded keywords, don’t settle for the low-hanging fruit. Make calculated changes AFTER you understand your data and website objectives.
What steps do you take to analyze your keywords? Do you update existing pages or make new ones dedicated to keyword phrases that feature your brand?
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Higher rankings can happen with top learning opportunities for you and your team. Search engine optimization is one of the many tracks at Content Marketing World this October. Make plans to join us today.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
Trying to stand out online is like standing in a crowd at a concert and screaming your friend’s name, and she’s 100 yards away, watching the main noisemakers on the stage. She can’t hear you. She’s not even looking in your direction. And if she were, she’d probably see the bigger people around you first.
My point is that standing out is hard. The internet is a saturated marketplace with a whole lot of noise, a lot more chaos, and a heavy-handed dash of capitalist ambition. It’s noisy, and most businesses are only adding to the noise rather than creating a bit of quiet.
No, I don’t mean going dark and ghosting your digital audience. I mean creating a moment of quiet from your audience. Getting them to stop in their scrolling, clicking, flipping, and tossing to engage with your video, post, blog, website, email or advertisement is the goal. That’s the pivotal moment. Will they or won’t they become a paying customer? What will make them click?
It’s in the way you connect, which is to say, your story. Not the “who we are” kind of story, but the “we’ve got your back, and here’s why” kind of story.
In this post, I’ll outline three ways you can spruce up your content to create that moment of quiet for your customer so they can make a split-second decision to trust you.
Tip 1: Determine the Problems You Solve
Make a list of 1-5 main problems you solve for your customers, and then make a point of talking about them to everyone, think about them regularly, and constantly work toward solving these problems. Go to bat for your customers against an obvious villain! They’ll thank you for it with their business.
Here are the problems we help our customers solve:
Being left behind by the growth of digital marketing and the overwhelming noise online.
Struggling to keep up with the competition online.
Unable to commit the time to content.
Not enough staff to help with content.
No marketing budget.
That last one is actually a misnomer; every business has a marketing budget, or they wouldn’t be a business at all.
Tip 2: Write Out How IT Happens
“It” being your customer’s purchasing journey. What steps do they need to take to buy from you? Creating these steps is a practical exercise, and not so much a creative one. Your purchasing process should be no fewer than three steps, and no more than six. Here’s an example:
The Your Imprint Customer Journey:
Visit my site, blog and social pages
Schedule a 15-minute consult.
Get a custom quote with a scope of work.
Sign the Services Agreement and other needed paperwork like a BA or NDA.
Have a discovery meeting with us (jokingly called “The Data Dump”).
Pay invoice after work is completed.
Yours may be much simpler, like:
Refer a friend for a free gift
Once you have the steps they can take, you’ll want to make sure those steps are easy to follow through your website. For example, if your main call to action is “Buy Now,” that needs to be a huge, bright button in the top right corner of your site. It should also be a button all over the website to make it easier for customers to buy no matter where they are on your website.
Tip 3: Create a Funnel
It’s much easier than most people make it sound. I really like this picture from Bias Digital because it lays out the kind of content used in each part of the funnel.
Here’s how ours is set up to help you on your way to creating an airtight funnel:
Visitors comes into the funnel by organic search, referrals, social media, or they go directly to our website. They get here with content to look at more content. That’s a good sign. At the top of the funnel, we build trust. We prove ourselves by:
Having a fast, user-friendly website that looks good
Make it easy and convenient for them to buy (pay after we perform!)
In the middle part of the funnel, people aren’t usually ready to buy just yet. They’re thinking about us, though. They come back to the website a few more times, follow us on social, or sign up for our newsletter. In this part of the funnel, we create content for:
Email deals at the end of the newsletter
Social media giveaways
Polls and surveys to engage them with our services
Special printing deals
The bottom of the funnel is for sales. These are paying customers who deserve and expect to be honored by their favorite brands. Content here is focused on:
Delighting them with extra special offers and sneak peeks
So, now you know what the customer needs from you because you solve a specific problem they’re having. You’ve created a clearly defined process to communicate with your audience on how they can buy from you, and you’ve made a funnel that will help you create content and keep up with the fast pace of digital marketing.
Nose painting. Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road. Mad science experiments. The common thread? It’s all happening on TikTok, the social networking app for short video content.
Called “the defining social media app of Gen Z,” TikTok is a surprisingly friendly place for B2C marketers. Last fall, e.l.f. Cosmetics launched its #eyeslipsface campaign – inviting TikTok users to show off their makeup talents to the tune of a 15-second track the cosmetic company had made for the challenge. The campaign smashed records. Its initial video garnered 2.5 billion views in the first two weeks and sparked over 3 million user-generated videos.
And that’s just a taste of what TikTok has to offer.
What is TikTok?
TikTok, known as Douyin in its home base of China, is a social network for sharing short videos, often set to music. Lip-syncing and dance videos are especially popular in part because TikTok merged with lip-syncing app Musical.ly in 2018, migrating all former “musers” to TikTok’s platform.
The app – which The Verge has christened the “joyful, spiritual successor to Vine” – gives social media users a chance to let loose and indulge their playful side. Unlike social platforms like Instagram, TikTok isn’t about crafting an idealized version of yourself. TikTok users embrace their silliness, performing cheesy dance routines with their friends and participating in goofy short-lived trends like nose painting (yep, this is a real thing). The platform’s best-known creators are quirky, relatable, and above all, real.
TikTok surged to prominence last year, with over a billion downloads and an estimated 800 million monthly active users worldwide – 40% are between the ages of 16 and 24. While many organizations have dabbled in the platform, only a select few are treating it as a core part of their content marketing strategy. This is a mistake, particularly if you are a B2C brand targeting Gen Z.
TikTok’s extremely loyal and active users set it apart from other social networks. They open the app an average of eight times per day and browse for approximately five minutes each time – much longer sessions than Snapchat or Instagram. “The engagement on TikTok is unreal,” creator Drea Knowsbest, who has over 4 million followers, told Vox in a recent interview. “All the creators on the app have very loyal fans.”
Brands who take TikTok seriously are reaping incredible results. Not only did e.l.f.’s #eyeslipsface campaign smash records for the brand, it also inspired celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Reese Witherspoon to spontaneously join the challenge without being compensated.
Even more shockingly, the 15-second music clip in the campaign got so big that e.l.f. released it as a full-length single on Spotify and Apple Music. DJs played it in clubs, the track got picked up by a major record label, and now there’s even an official music video on Vevo. That’s the kind of virality most marketers can only dream of achieving – and it was all made possible thanks to TikTok’s exceptionally engaged user base.
What most brands get wrong about TikTok
There’s no way e.l.f. would have inspired such incredible results if it didn’t adapt to the unique demands of the TikTok platform. That’s opposite of what many marketers do with TikTok – they repurpose material from other social platforms and expect it to perform just as well.
As Evan Horowitz, CEO of the agency behind e.l.f.’s campaign, told Vox, “TikTok is the opposite of Instagram in some important ways: Instagram is all about your most polished ‘best life’ that you put out there, and TikTok is so real, it’s so raw.”
Polished, studio-quality video is antithetical on a platform dominated by clips of teens lip-syncing in their bedrooms. And this might be what’s scaring marketers from committing to TikTok – tried-and- true video strategies from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram don’t translate.
But this lack of TikTok understanding represents an opportunity for brands that take the time to understand the platform first and then create the content.
How to succeed on TikTok
A little bit of preparation and a willingness to experiment will help any brand succeed on TikTok. Here’s how.
1. Do your research
If there’s proof that anyone can succeed on TikTok with the right preparation, it’s The Washington Post.
You’d never imagine that a 142-year-old newspaper – especially one where the average reader is over 40 – would have a dedicated TikTok following, but it does, all thanks to the dedicated efforts of The Post’s TikTok creator Dave Jorgenson.
Before creating videos for TikTok, Dave researched the platform in depth and pitched the idea to his superiors. “He truly came with a full stash of research, and he’d spent a lot of time, and it impressed me instantly how much he passionately believed in it,” says Michelle Jaconi, Jorgenson’s boss.
His research prompted him to try creating mockumentary clips about life in the newsroom in the style of the TV show The Office. “All of (Gen Z) is growing up re-watching The Office constantly,” Dave told The Atlantic. “And I do think that there is a little bit of a tone of The Office that they love, and I try to recreate that in TikTok. That sort of mockumentary style, zoom, and all these different things.”
That play for the younger audience is critical to The Washington Post. As Dave explained in The Atlantic interview: “This is a really good way to, at the very least, get (younger people) to trust the brand or to know the brand.”
Since TikTok prioritizes authenticity, brands must build trust with their audience on the platform. One way to do this is by working with established TikTok creators. As Joel Mathew, president of Fortress Consulting Group, writes in Forbes, “Advertising through influencers allows brands to promote through someone that a niche community watches, engages with and trusts on a daily basis.”
Chipotle partnered with comedic TikTok creator @itssadowski to create a micro-sketch featuring his character “Mama Penny” panicking because she doesn’t know how to make a burrito for her friend. (The solution, it turns out, is to order from Chipotle and hide the evidence). It’s pure silliness — but if the video’s 275.9K “likes” are any indication, it was a hit with Chipotle’s audience.
How do you find TikTok influencers? Influencer Marketing Hub offers a couple tips. Search on Google for “top TikTok creator” and your niche or industry. Or you can use its free TikTok influencer search tool.
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3. Understand your metrics
TikTok offers detailed analytics to any user who switches to a pro account (just follow the instructions in the link). It’s free to do. Then you can access dedicated tools for tracking your brand’s TikTok performance over time, including monthly views, follower growth, and trending videos.
These tools can help you assess what’s working well and what you can fine-tune to better engage your audience. Make sure to regularly take time to evaluate your content.
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Build a bond with Gen Z
TikTok exploded last year, and its success indicates it’s not going away any time soon. The platform’s highly engaged user base is an ideal audience for B2C brands targeting a youthful demographic. If your brand is trying to reach Gen Z this year, it’s time to pull out your smartphone and get on TikTok – time is ticking.
This year also should be the time to connect with your fellow content marketers, get inspiration, and learn a lot at Content Marketing World this October. Register today.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
Editor’s note: Given that metrics matter to every content marketer, we’ve brought back this article from a couple years ago – everything discussed is still key today.
Using vanity metrics to measure the performance of content campaigns on social media is perhaps one of the simplest things to do in marketing but also one of the most difficult.
It’s simple because vanity metrics are easy to obtain in large numbers – all platforms supply them; it’s difficult because they are often ambiguous when it comes to reporting a return on investment (ROI) or value to a business. It’s this second point that is the thorn in the side of many marketers struggling to discover the true value of a vanity metric to a business.
In this article, “vanity metrics” include impressions, “likes,” shares, comments, followers, open rates, views, traffic, time on site, bounce rate, and more. Often called “engagement metrics” or “consumption metrics,” they are the most-used metrics in social media, content marketing, digital advertising, PR, and inbound campaigns to measure the performance and success of marketing efforts.
As far as the numbers go, vanity metrics look great on paper. But the sheen on these numbers fades when you use them to explain important business outcomes like ROI or customer lifetime value (CLTV); they become hollow digits that contribute little substance to proving your marketing is making money.
A case in point, the number of “likes” earned from a Facebook post rarely correlates to the number of products sold on a store shelf. Some would argue that there is no correlation at all. Indeed, it is possible to make more sales from a post with only one “like” than from a post with 10,000 “likes.” The number of engagements is usually irrelevant to the number of sales. There is no clear correlation or causation between the metric and the goal.
It’s the act of counting vanity metrics as evidence for success that is a problem — a problem easily demonstrated when measuring metrics such as impressions or traffic. In the example below (highlighted in green), Facebook earns three times more traffic than SlideShare as a channel. If reporting stops at the number of people clicking through to the site, Facebook is the best-performing channel. However, that assumption would be incorrect.
Taking a deeper dive by following that traffic down the funnel to a conversion and the revenue earned by conversions (highlighted in blue), you’ll find that SlideShare is the more valuable channel for this website. The vanity metric of traffic tells only half the story. There is no point in counting traffic unless it’s paired against a business objective. Yes, you need traffic to convert; but more traffic does not always equal more conversions.
As a caveat, vanity metrics such as impressions, “likes,” and traffic are not useless, quite the contrary. The value of a vanity metric is in measuring non-transactional marketing goals (such as brand awareness, sentiment, and share of voice) as well as to optimize campaigns and troubleshoot marketing problems.
Let’s take a step back and look at why so many marketers use vanity metrics as indicators of business success. The simplest answer is, as Seth Godin says, “Those clicks, views, and ‘likes’ are only there because they’re easy, not relevant.” Vanity metrics are typically free or easy to obtain compared with other valuable metrics such as ROI or CLTV, which require time, qualification, and testing to build.
Marketers take this easy route peppered with vanity metrics, not because they are lazy but because they are under pressure to show immediate success to superiors. Jill Avery, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and co-author of HBR’s Go To Market Tools, explains, “CFOs are under tremendous pressure to deliver quarterly earnings, and may not be patient for the longer-term effects of marketing to take hold. You’re asking them to believe in forward movement in a progression through a customer’s purchase journey, and that can take a long time.”
Marketers use vanity metrics because they are both easy to obtain and they help show others in the organization that marketing provides immediate value. In other words, it’s quick and cheap reporting. Sounds a little dirty, doesn’t it? Surely we can do better than this?
Advertisers are using engagement to report ROI. It’s not how such metrics work and it’s an example of why marketers are terrible at content impact measurement.
It is important to remember that while the marketing spend will have an impact on the profit-and-loss statement immediately, dollars spent today are building the brand as an asset for the future. Marketing efforts not only drive sales and profits in the short term, they strengthen brand equity and customer relationships over time. You only see these long-term results through effective and relevant content, and evaluation of vanity metrics over time.
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Optimization metrics, not vanity metrics
Like clickbait, the words “vanity metric” have earned undeserved negative connotations, making it easy for marketers to dismiss their value. I like the term “optimization metrics” because it helps you understand their value. The purpose of a vanity/optimization metric is to help optimize your content for your target audience on a specific channel.
When you report the number of impressions, clicks, or shares your content receives, you should NOT tie the numbers to ROI. Instead, you should tie them to better understanding your audience on that channel. Even the same vanity metrics (“likes,” comments, and shares) have different meanings depending on the channel.
For example, a 2017 study by Business Insider revealed that people felt safer commenting on LinkedIn than on other channels. One likely explanation is that, unlike YouTube or Facebook, LinkedIn includes a person’s professional profile (name, place of employment, education), and thus people are more respectful and constructive when providing feedback. It’s harder to be a troll when people know where you work. Whereas, on YouTube, an individual can create an anonymous account and troll the comments.
As a marketer, you can judge the vanity metric of comments on LinkedIn to be more valuable to your brand’s sentiment and marketing efforts than those received on YouTube.
Alternatively, when it comes to the vanity metric of traffic, those who engage with content through Google search are usually of higher value (if your goal is transactional) than those on Instagram.
With this in mind, leverage vanity metrics to support how to improve messaging to your target audiences through A/B testing and troubleshooting.
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Relationship between A/B testing and vanity metrics
Again, vanity metrics are most useful to report on your marketing goals, not your business goals.
As an example, let’s take the marketing goal of awareness. You want to know if your content is resonating and relevant to your target audience members – are they aware of your brand and content? To uncover this, measure awareness through A/B testing and the resulting vanity metrics. Let’s say you post content to LinkedIn and want to test imagery to see which works better for your targeted LinkedIn audience. You run an A/B test on snippet images to see if the image of the computer or the image of the woman is more relevant to your target audience.
Hypothesis: What image engages my audience better to maximize my reach?
Data: Click-through rate and impressions are evaluated. More clicks equal a positive correlation. More impressions could mean positive or negative correlation (I explore this further in the next section).
Insight: The CTR vanity metric is a 160% higher rate for the image of the woman than for the image of the computer. Therefore, you can conclude that images of people are more relevant to this targeted LinkedIn audience. But this finding may not be the case on Facebook because Facebook has a different audience with different intent and different engagement behavior.
Action: You now adjust future content posts on LinkedIn to the optimized iconography.
Note: A/B testing requires strategic planning across a large audience pool to deliver actionable insights. It takes time to do this right, so expect posts to fail in the beginning when you are light on insights. But as your testing gets better so will your content and its performance.
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Using vanity metrics to troubleshoot content issues
Let’s say you are running a paid campaign on Facebook and it is underperforming regarding traffic (marketing goal) and sales (business objective). How can you use vanity metrics to solve this problem?
You know the campaign is receiving a below-average click-through rate based on:
Number of people reached by the post (impressions)
Number of engagements performed from the post (clicks)
First, evaluate the impressions because if you aren’t reaching the right audience, they can’t click. You hypothesize that you are reaching the right audience but not enough of them. Now, use that insight to increase your spend on Facebook to earn more eyeballs.
On the flip side, if impressions are abnormally high but people are not clicking on the content, you can hypothesize that you are targeting the wrong audience or your content isn’t sufficiently compelling.
Exercises like this show you how valuable vanity metrics can be to your marketing efforts. Using vanity metrics in this manner will help improve your content on the channel and, over time, lead to higher engagement and success for your marketing goals.
Vanity metrics contribute to a return on investment, but how much they contribute to ROI fluctuates wildly; you need to align your expectations. At times, you can clearly see a direct line of sight from vanity metrics to an ROI goal; yet most of the time, the vanity metric is so high up the funnel that the results are too ambiguous to contribute effectively around bottom-of-the-funnel goals.
To illustrate this point, it is both difficult and fruitless to measure the impact a piece of engagement (such as a “like” on Twitter) had on creating a sale on your website. First, as we’ve discussed, metrics such as the number of “likes” do not necessarily correlate to the number of sales. Secondly, time is important.
Let’s speculate about a customer who “liked” your tweet 18 months before they converted to a sale. A lot of time has passed between that engagement and the business goal, which makes it unlikely that the “like” on Twitter had anything substantial to do with the sale. Perhaps the “like” happened on a mobile phone whereas the sale occurred on desktop. Unless the customer is tracked across devices, her “like” on Twitter is invisible to the eventual outcome. All these factors support the relatively ambiguous and pointless exercise of tying vanity metrics to measuring ROI without a good attribution model in place.
Instead, when looking to measure ROI, focus on metrics that allow you to enhance the volume and quality of your conversions such as customer lifetime value (CLTV). This metric is not a vanity metric. Nor is it easy or fast to build. Vanity metrics illuminate movement along the customer journey, but CLTV ultimately is attributed to how well you track and understand your consumer journey.
To better understand your CLTV, you need to build attribution models and lead scoring, and set business goals and values against user actions. Again, this process is not easy nor fast – if it were, none of us would be doing the foolhardy practice of using vanity metrics as the substitute.
You will not know your CLTV for perhaps a couple of years. During that time, you should use your vanity metrics to A/B test and enhance your marketing around the audience with the goal to develop a better understanding around their journey and clarity on their CLTV. Better use of vanity metrics leads to a more accurate and actionable CLTV, resulting in better business returns.
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Use vanity metrics the right way
Overall, vanity metrics can be used to measure many things, but they are most valuable when used to test and improve how your target audience is reacting to your content on different channels.
Use vanity metrics to best measure your marketing goals such as sentiment or brand awareness on a specific channel. For business goals, such as ROI, vanity metrics should take a back seat to those metrics that build the customer lifetime value narrative (conversions, subscriptions, MQLs, SQLs, etc.). But note, this is not a quick win. CLTV takes time, A/B testing, volumes of content, and conversions to build an accurate picture. Don’t look for the quick-and-dirty win with vanity metrics; it’s not there.
Cutting a piece of paper seems like a simple enough task.
But for much of my childhood, I got anxiety every time I had to do it.
From the time I was in kindergarten, any piece of paper I cut looked a hot mess.
The problem? I’m left-handed. And most scissors are made for people to use their right hands to cut. So if you use “traditional” scissors with your left hand, your paper ends up looking like this:
As a kindergartener with perfectionist tendencies, I thought something was wrong with me. I avoided cutting whenever possible. And when that wasn’t an option, I learned how to cut with my right hand, so I wouldn’t feel so inadequate when working with scissors.
It wasn’t until I got to fifth grade that I discovered left-handed scissors existed. It was like a miracle. Finally, I could cut with the hand that felt most natural to me, without feeling like I belonged in a remedial class. I realized that I wasn’t the problem. I just hadn’t had the equipment needed to help me perform at my best.
Who do I blame for the years of scissors-induced trauma?
Sure, the marketers of these companies are an easy target. I could hurl accusations to them about their discriminatory practices, lack of empathy and insensitivity toward the 10% of the population who are left-handed. Hmph.
But the marketers are only a scapegoat of a bigger problem. The probable source of their disregard for left-handers was their buyer personas.
The personas that so many smart marketers live by caused them to make many qualified customers feel like they didn’t belong.
Inclusive Buyer Personas: The Foundation That Gives You the Keys to the Kingdom
Have you ever tried to buy a gift for someone you don’t know?
Over the holidays I went to a party where we did a white elephant gift exchange. A few hours before, I found myself aimlessly roaming around trying to find a cool gift a stranger would enjoy.
It’s hard buying gifts for people you don’t know very well. You end up finding something that is boring or generic enough so as not to offend anyone. But in trying to find a basic item, most of the time you end up forfeiting the opportunity to deliver a gift that the recipient will love.
Your business is like that. The products, services and experiences you deliver are like a gift you are giving the customers you serve. The better you know your customers, the better equipped you’ll be to give them gifts they’ll be excited about.
That’s why savvy marketers treat their customers like their good friends.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle company Goop tripled their year-on-year revenue in 2017. Elise Loehnen, their Chief Content Officer, told me they attributed a large part of that growth to producing content and products for their readers who they view as their “friends”:
“So, that’s really what we focused on is talking to our readers the way that we would talk to our smartest friends and giving them all the context, all the information that they would need to feel like they’re making a great decision or a great purchase.”
Grammy-Award winning singer, actress and entrepreneur Rihanna thinks of her fans and customers the same way:
“I have this perception that my friends are the consumer.”
Good buyer personas are detailed enough that they demonstrate that you know your customers as well as you know your best friend, especially as it relates to the problem you help them solve.
When your personas are done right, they help you attract the customers you want like a magnet.
They provide a roadmap that enables you to know exactly what to do throughout your customer journey, to draw your customers closer to you. In particular, buyer personas help you with the following:
One: Personas Drive Products
There’s no need to guess about what kinds of products your customers want to buy from you.
When you know them well and pay attention to what they say and do, over time what they need most will become obvious, much the way it does with you and your friends.
Sprinkles Bakery knows that their ideal customer has a dog. So they’ve introduced a product line of “pup packs” designed to delight both dog-owner customers and their beloved best friends.
The products you produce for your customers should be such a perfect match for them that they say, “Here, take my money!”
Two: Personas Drive Copy
Many of us use a different kind of lingo when we talk to our friends. It’s less formal. It’s rife with inside jokes that make it difficult for those who aren’t in our inner circle to follow along. The words we use with our friends deepen our bond.
A few years ago, I read Joanna’s post here on Copyhackers about time management. Every time I read it, I laugh out loud when I get to this part:
My mom wouldn’t get the joke. Many of my friends wouldn’t get the joke. But I get the joke. And that’s all that matters.
Joanna knew I would get this joke reference from 1998 because sheknows me, her ideal reader and customer.
The way you talk to your customers is part of what makes them feel like they belong with you as well.
Thus your buyer personas should reflect the intimacy you have with them, that informs the way in which you communicate with each other, particularly in the copy you use along your customer journey.
Three: Personas Drive Photography
Business is about belonging. Effective marketing will signal to your ideal customers that they belong with you. They will feel like you see them, get them and designed your products, services and experiences to fit them perfectly.
When your buyer personas reflect your customer friends, it makes it easier for you to produce imagery that either is a reflection of who they are or who they aspire to be.
Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. They define an athlete as “anyone with a body.” When you consider it that way, the imagery associated with who their ideal customers are could take on many forms and multiple personas.
Nike has embraced that diversity of various personas with the photography on their Instagram page.
Your photography should communicate “you belong here” to your ideal customers.
Buyer Personas: The magnet that simultaneously attracts and repels
By their very nature, buyer personas help you exclude certain groups of customers. Not everyone can and should be your customer. The same way that everyone can’t be your friend.
But the excluding that you’re doing should be intentional. The challenge is this:
Far too many brands have personas that exclude large groups of customers, without their marketers even realizing it. It isn’t too difficult to understand why so much exclusion marketing happens.
It comes down to a scientific term known as homophily, which essentially goes like so:
“You’re just like me. You’ll fit in just fine here.”
The homophily principle says that “contact between similar people occurs at a higher rate than among dissimilar people.”
A group of researchers from the University of Arizona and Duke analyzed various studies of homophily over many decades. They published their findings in the paper, Birds of a Feather: Homophily In Social Networks. Here’s how they summarized their observations:
Similarity breeds connection. This principle—the homophily principle—structures network ties of every type, including marriage, friendship, work, advice, support, information transfer, exchange, co-membership, and other types of relationship. The result is that people’s personal networks are homogeneous with regard to many sociodemographic, behavioral, and intrapersonal characteristics. Homophily limits people’s social worlds in a way that has powerful implications for the information they receive, the attitudes they form, and the interactions they experience. Homophily in race and ethnicity creates the strongest divides in our personal environments, with age, religion, education, occupation, and gender following in roughly that order.
The authors went on to add:
“By interacting only with others who are like ourselves, anything that we experience as a result of our position gets reinforced. It comes to typify ‘people like us.’”
In other words, when marketers go through the process of doing their ideal customer research and creating their buyer personas, they are more likely to profile prospects that are more similar to them, rather than dissimilar.
While that similarity helps you to focus your efforts on a group of customers whom you have an inherent degree of familiarity with, it also causes you to leave out those groups of customers who have backgrounds and experiences that deviate from your own.
Thus, it isn’t a far leap to hypothesize that many of the marketers who worked on scissors when I was a kid didn’t have a ton of left-handed people in their world. As a result, their frame of reference for considering how to serve left-handed people was limited or non-existent.
If a restaurant owner, chef, or meeting organizer doesn’t have people with dietary restrictions in their inner circle, they are less likely to fully consider those who do have them when they’re creating their menu.
EDITOR’S INTERJECTION: How long did it take for restaurants and pubs to add hooks for handbags under their tables?
While many brands have gotten away with marketing to “people like us,” trends show that approach won’t be so effective in the future.
The makeup of the people we serve is changing in multiple ways. Here are some noteworthy demographic trends you should be aware of:
While demographics shouldn’t be the only consideration when constructing your buyer personas, it is important to note the impact these demographic characteristics have on the psychographics and behaviors of the people you are serving.
And if your marketing is targeted effectively to your ideal customer, but it excludes one of their friends, then you run the risk of losing out on multiple groups of customers.
For health reasons, I follow a gluten-free diet. Thankfully, when I go out to eat with my friends, they are very good about making sure we go to a restaurant that has plenty of options for me to eat. My friends go through this effort because they want to include me. They want me around and aren’t going to let my dietary restrictions get in the way of our quality time together. And if a restaurant works for them, but doesn’t work for me, we don’t go.
With all the various types of differences that exist, buyer personas that only focus on what has historically been considered “mainstream” could be signaling to a large number of potentially loyal customers that “this isn’t for you.”
Ade Hassan is the founder of Nubian Skin, a company that specializes in lingerie and hosiery for women of color. Here she is explaining to me how being told “this isn’t for you” one too many times compelled her to start her company.
For the visual learners like me, here’s what comes up on Amazon when you type in nude hosiery:
Here’s what those “nude” stockings look like on a woman of color like me (just to be sure we’re all on the same page – this ain’t cute!):
And here is the hosiery that Nubian Skin sells, with a range of nudes for women of color:
When your buyer personas exclude customers you didn’t intend to, those very customers go off in search of other companies who acknowledge their needs and serve them.
“You get a car! You get a car! And you get a car!”
Buyer personas are a powerful marketing tool. But like with any tool, their ability to help or hinder your business is only as good as 1) the inputs that go into it and 2) how you use it.
Even though far too many personas unintentionally exclude, there are plenty of smart marketers who’ve done an excellent job of using personas to include more of their ideal customers.Even though the homophily principle implies that many people are limited in their consideration of others because their circles are largely similar, there is other research that showcases the ways in which the homophily phenomenon can be overcome – ways that can help you be more inclusive in your marketing: openness and empathy.
A 2017 study of more than 12,000 British households found that the personality trait of openness caused respondents to be more likely to have friends who lived farther away, were of the opposite sex and were of another ethnicity.
Professors at the Universities of Iowa and Toronto authored a New York Times article where they argued that empathy is a choice:
“While we concede that the exercise of empathy is, in practice, often far too limited in scope, we dispute the idea that this shortcoming is inherent, a permanent flaw in the emotion itself. Inspired by a competing body of recent research, we believe that empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.”
When you treat your customers as your friends, it becomes easier to make sure your friends are taken care of. Openness and empathy are woven into how you treat each other.
When you think of your customers and the relationship you have with them, the focus isn’t on how they are different and how that might inconvenience you. It’s on making sure that you do what you need to do to include them in whatever it is you’re doing.
It is important to note that inclusivity isn’t always about accommodating differences that may require a different approach to your products and services.
At times it’s just about refocusing your targeting efforts to welcome customers who could be loyalists to your brand, if introduced to your product and consistently engaged in a relevant manner.
The craft beer market is starting to embrace this concept. According to a New York Times report, the industry is looking beyond “young white dudes with beards” as a means to bolster slowing sales growth. As a result of their openness in recent years, the Brewers Association hired a diversity ambassador and has established a set of guidelines and resources to assist brewers in making their brands more inclusive. They are making progress as consumption of craft beer among women, African-American, Native American, and Hispanics are on the rise.
3 ways to know if your personas are a repellant for loyal customers
Your customers leave you clues that help you figure out whether or not they like what you’re doing. And because the topics of diversity, inclusion and belonging can still be touchy for folks, the good news is you can use cold hard data as your guide when it comes to assessing your brand.
Here are three sources to turn to for insight.
One: Evaluate if your customers are representative of the population
Ideally, your customers should be reflective of the population that fits within the demographic of your buyer persona. If 85% of your customers are women and 50% of the people who check all the boxes for the characteristics you describe in your persona are men, that’s a signal that something about your marketing doesn’t make men feel like they belong.
“Basecamp is approaching its 18th year in business, and for most of those years we’ve been mostly male and mostly white. We’re not proud of that.
We weren’t almost entirely male and white because we wanted to be. We simply kept doing what we’d always been doing: hiring people just like us. So we ended up with a lot of white guys.
I have nothing against white guys, but white guys don’t reflect the world at large or our customer base. I believe a company is at its best when it reflects those it serves. If you fill a room with 20 random employees and 20 random customers, an outside observer should have trouble telling them apart.”
When planning for the INBOUND conference in 2018, organizers noted that 65% of their attendees were female. So the team made a point to ensure that the speakers on the stage were representative of who would be in the audience.
“We want to make sure that we’re putting together a lineup that is representative of the people who are coming, and anecdotally we’ve seen that if we make an effort to create diversity on the stages, we see more diversity in our attendees as well.”
When you put in the effort to make inclusion a priority, you’ll start to notice you’ll attract a broader number of customers.
Make inclusion a priority in your marketing, and attract a broader number of customers, says… Click To Tweet
Two: Note high attrition rates of specific groups of customers
Last year I worked with a marketing team at a pharmaceutical company on their African-American engagement strategy. As we were looking at the data, we recognized that, of all ethnic groups, African-Americans:
had the lowest satisfaction with the product,
stayed on it the least amount of time, and
had the lowest emotional connection with the brand.
This data was telling because of this important point: African-Americans had a higher prevalence rate of the disease state the brand treated, in comparison to other patient populations. So why did African-Americans have higher rates of attrition?
After a quick look at their marketing, it was clear why. Few attempts had been made to serve the audience in a manner that was relevant to them. And when they did try, the attempts were superficial, which had the opposite impact of what the brand wanted.
As you look through data on your customers, assess whether or not there are certain customers who are more likely than others to stop using your products and services. It could be a clear signal that they don’t feel like they belong.
Three: Pay attention to customer feedback
Consider comments from frustrated customers a gift. The majority of unsatisfied customers will just leave without saying a word.
Sometimes the ones who do speak up will give you their feedback about inclusion in the form of public rebukes, like many conference goers have taken to doing when the speaker line-up isn’t representative.
And other times, they’ll give it to you directly to help you better serve them.
Here’s Ade Hassan again from Nubian Skin talking about how she discovered her brand was leaving out an entire segment of customers.
How to build inclusive buyer personas (that attract more of the customers you want)
After going through and assessing whether or not your brand is excluding customers you don’t intend to, the fix is quite simple:
Here are four steps to help you create personas that include the customers you want to serve, and intentionally excludes of the ones you don’t.
One: Make a list of all the different types of people who have the problem your business solves
Let’s say you have a SaaS tool that you’re preparing to launch. Once you’ve got a handle on the behavioral and psychographic characteristics of the customers you want to serve, next identify the demographic differences that could be present among the people who could benefit from your service.
Here’s a sample list:
Having a full view of all the ways your customers could have differences can help you assess whether or not those differences impact their ability to use your product or connect with your brand effectively.
Two: Intentionally declare who you want to exclude
You can’t serve everyone. Nor should you. So as you’re going through figuring out who your brand is for, take some time to get clear about who you don’t want to serve, while thinking with openness and empathy. For that SaaS product, perhaps you’ll choose only to serve customers who have proficiency in English or your native language.
Note that just because you decide to exclude a group of customers at one point in time doesn’t mean you can’t serve them in the future. When I first started coming to Argentina in 2014, I had to adjust to the businesses that did not serve customers unless they paid with cash. Now some of those same businesses accept credit cards, but only those that come from Argentine banks.
Three: Evaluate if you need to create multiple personas
Plenty of brands operate with multiple buyer personas. As you determine the various customers you want your brand to serve, assess whether or not you’ll need to craft multiples.
As you go through your list of ways your customers are different, it may become clear that there are certain customers in which you’ll have to tailor your approach to serve them effectively.
A simple way to figure out whether or not you need a separate persona for a particular customer group is by asking the following question:
“How would our execution of marketing to our persona change if this person was [fill in a demographic difference].”
For that SaaS product, if you wanted to reach millennials, the channels you use to reach your customers may need to be different than the ones you would use to reach Baby Boomers or even Gen X. The cultural references in your copy or the testimonials you use may need to be adjusted.
Sometimes the answer isn’t an entirely new persona; it’s just making slight tweaks in your existing promotions to be more inclusive. For instance, some companies have opted for gender-neutral iconography, like the animals Google uses within Docs.
Kevin Curry of Fit Men Cook uses inclusion marketing to reach Spanish speakers. All his videos have Spanish copy underneath the English. He does the same for his Instagram posts.
And on his website, there’s an option for people to go to a Spanish version of his site.
Back to that SaaS product as an example, you may find that although you have chosen to serve an English speaking audience, they still may be located in countries around the world that have differences that need to be considered.
the use of a 24-hour clock vs. a 12-hour one,
the way dates are written in the numerical form (is January 6 written as 1/6/2019 or 6/1/2019?),
holiday support schedules, and
measuring and weight systems – they all matter.
These are all nuances you can be solve for, with proper forethought.
Four: Identify whether focusing your efforts on one group of customers can help you win a larger group
I’m all for the efficient use of resources. And for many brands on a tight budget, creating separate marketing campaigns for multiple personas isn’t something they can do at the moment.
One way the some brands have gotten around this problem is by identifying certain groups as their lead customers for a campaign.
Not able to speak to every persona? Try assigning a ‘lead persona’ for each campaign, says… Click To Tweet
Here’s the former CMO of General Mills explaining to Advertising Age why this approach made sense for them:
“My advice to marketers seeking to connect with African-American consumers is to think of them as lead consumers to influence your market. You can start to market their ideas to the general market; they can influence an entire campaign if you get close to them. Although they represent 12 to 13% of consumers, their influence on consumption can be much bigger than that. You can do brand campaigns with African-Americans at their heart that can drive the entire business.”
An additional reason on why this approach works well is that the groups that get ignored with mainstream marketing appreciate it when brands take the time to speak to them directly.
Michael Smith, the Senior Vice President and General Manager at Scripps Network, which has brands such as The Food Network and HGTV, gave this insight:
“According to research we have seen over the years, if you make something with an all-White cast, a White audience won’t notice it. But a minority audience will notice it… And if you make something that has a significant presence of minority characters or a minority host, White audiences don’t notice that either. … But audience members of color will really feel good about it.”
It’s time for your business to start making some new friends: how will you move forward with inclusive buyer personas?
Your growth depends on inclusive buyer personas, strategically created. Your relevance depends on it.
And the customers who have the problem your business solves are waiting for you to show up.
Your marketing either includes or excludes. There is no in between.
Be intentional about declaring the customers you don’t want to serve. Then get busy figuring out how to be a good friend to the ones you do. Especially the ones who aren’t quite like you.
FLAMING HOT TAKE ALERT: creating case studies is like flossing.
(The dental hygiene version, not that idiotic dance kids are into these days.)
Everybody knows they should be doing it. Almost nobody does. And when they finally do, it’s a painful, bloody, but oddly rewarding experience that has them vowing to do it again soon.
Because it just so happens that case studies are the single most powerful sales asset you can possibly have.
And I’m not exaggerating.
“Bold Claim, Klettke. Can You Back it Up?”
Let’s start with the psychology behind what makes case studies burrow into our brains and influence our decision-making in ways other content can’t:
1. Stories turn our brains into super-happy chemical soup.
Cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger found that reading (or hearing) words and sentences that refer to bodily actions actually activates the motor cortex in your brain.
So, for example, “she kicks the ball” just lit up the part of your brain that controls your leg movements. But it’s not just your motor cortex.
In a fascinating Spanish study, researchers were able to show that odour-related words, like “garlic” and “cinnamon”, light up the olfactory cortex (your sense of smell).
This is a lot of science-speak to say: your brain responds to reading (or hearing) about an event through a story in roughly the same way it would if you were to actually experience the event in real life. That’s a whole lot of empathy being built up in the mind of your reader.
Not only that: storytelling, done right, can literally influence the chemicals in your brain.
During a talk at CXL Live 2019, Dr. Brian Cugelman of AlterSpark explained that a good editorial hook can increase your dopamine levels, which gives you an emotional reward that temporarily makes you feel energized and curious. In addition, using a story to describe a threat can boost your cortisol levels, which grabs your attention and drives you to remove the pain or threat, real or perceived, ASAP.
And even just reading about goals and challenges can spike serotonin levels, which triggers the pursuit of goals and loss avoidance.
2. Stories are memorable by design.
When it comes to marketing, being forgotten is death. That’s where customer success stories curb stomp other content.
According to Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, a story is up to 22x more memorable than facts alone. Done well, case studies are stories that help you stay top-of-mind and sell at the same time.
3. Stories appeal to both the rational and emotional parts of the brain.
According to Dual Process Theory, there are two systems at work in the human brain: system one is fast and emotional, and system two is slow and rational. System one is always on, while system two requires focus and gets quickly depleted.
The bad news is that the majority of our decisions are made by system one.
While we’d all like to think of ourselves as logical people living in a logical world, but we’re actually instinctual people who rationalize our emotional decisions after the fact.
The tension, emotion, and cold hard facts in well-written case studies appeal to both systems—a killer one-two punch that ensures you’re covered no matter which system is taking the lead at the moment.
4. Customer success stories replicate word of mouth marketing.
Reviews, case studies, and other voice of customer content mimic the effects of word of mouth—and word of mouth is super-mega-important to the modern buyer’s journey.
But here’s the kicker: 91% of respondents under 35 trust online content as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.
“Nice Theory. But Does It Work in Real Life?”
Yep. The numbers are there, too.
Studies show that not only do buyers actively seek out case study content, they also spend more time engaging with it compared to other types of B2B content.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, case studies remain the preferred content format among B2B buyers, with 79% of respondents claiming they’ve consumed this type of content in the last year.
And in a study of 34 million (yes, million) interactions between buyers and content, Harvard Business Review found that case studies had an 83% completion rate, orders of magnitude higher than any other type of sales or marketing content.
The case for case studies (ha!) grows even stronger when you realize B2B buyers aren’t just more likely to read case studies—but much more likely to share them as well.
That’s a HUGE deal, because so many business decisions (especially on SaaS platforms) are made jointly by people in different roles. Harvard Business Review found that the number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases climbed from an average of 5.4 in 2015 to 6.8 in 2017.
It’s no wonder, then, that the vast majority (73%) of content B2B marketers surveyed by Content Marketing Institute in 2018 said they use case studies for content marketing purposes. 47% said case studies were among their top three most effective types of content marketing when it comes to achieving specific objectives, a very close second to eBooks and whitepapers (50%).
Adding case studies into their sales and marketing mix helped them close over $175,000 worth of deals in one month. Chris Dreyer, founder and CEO, says:
“We closed over 179,444 worth of deals in the past month, and case studies helped close them all. If you’re trying to improve your conversions and showcase your expertise, you need case studies. Case studies are powerful lead magnets, they’re powerful presentations, and they’re great for sales.”
And (BONUS!) as we’ll dive into later on, case studies are also one of the only content assets that can be used across your entire funnel, and even reused time and time again.
But if case studies are so great, then why isn’t everyone investing heavily in them?
The truth is that getting case studies right is difficult and time-consuming. It’s a heck of a lot harder than just plugging in a “Problem, Solution, Results” rubric.
And when you have a million ecommerce orders to fulfill or you’re deep into rewriting your SaaS onboarding flow, it’s easy for case studies to start looking like a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.”
Thankfully, I’m here to help. After more than three years of running Case Study Buddy, I’ve been part of putting together over 150 studies for clients ranging from enterprise SaaS companies to Fortune 100 clients I can’t even name without being sent to jail.
And I’m about to hand you YEARS of knowledge I’ve picked up the hard way.
How to Get Case Studies Right—the First Time
Getting case studies right the first time around comes down to five way-too-easy sounding steps:
Define your strategy
Choose the right candidates
Run a great interview
Write up the story
Put your case studies to work(strategically!)
Defining Your Strategy
Before investing a ton of time and money into creating a case study, you need to get really clear about why you’re doing this in the first place.
Otherwise, you risk wasting hours of time and energy capturing stories that won’t ever help you accomplish your goals. Start by asking yourself three questions:
What’s my end goal? Maybe you’re trying to launch a specific service, promote a specific product or appeal to a specific industry.
The stories you tell need to align with that goal.
Who am I targeting? Which types of buyers are you trying to attract with your case study? Do they have a specific role, or work in a certain industry?
The people you profile should look like the people you’re trying to attract.
How will I use the case study? Where in the sales and marketing processes will you plug in this case study? How will you reuse different elements of the case study?
Your use case will influence the way you go about capturing and telling the story (more on that later!)
As a quick example, conversion copywriter Kira Hug was keen to do case studies. With a ton of happy clients, she could’ve chosen any of them to feature.
But Kira stopped and defined her goal. She wanted to use case studies to attract more clients looking for help launching products and courses.
While a success story about one of her SaaS clients would’ve made her look great, it wouldn’t have helped her achieve that goal.
So instead, she approached Rick Mulready to capture a story that would support her goal.
Choosing the Right Candidates
In the example above, Rick was the obvious choice. But how do you find willing candidates and get them on board once you’ve got your strategy in place?
The first step is identifying candidates who have a strong positive affinity towards you. These three approaches to be the simplest:
Send out a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey. Isolate all those who responded with eight or higher and reach out to them to gauge their participation interest.
Mine existing customer reviews online. Look for places where your advocates have already invested their time to sing your praises—whether that’s on G2Crowd, Capterra, Amazon, your ecommerce comments section, social media, reddit… you get the point.
Find the most detailed reviews and reach out to the authors.
Send out an in-depth survey. If you want to take it a step further and capture more details right off the hop, a full survey is also an option.
If you go this route, keep in mind that your goal is to turn your customers into storytellers, not butt-kissers. Ask them experience-based questions such as…
What was going on in your life that sent you looking for a solution like ours?
What does success look like for you?
How has our [service/product] helped you achieve that success?
Which features or benefits do you like best about [working with us/using our product]?
“How do I get buy-in?”
Finding viable candidates is only the beginning. Now you need to convince them to do you a favor and go on the record. It’s arguably the hardest part of doing a case study—and the reason many companies quit before they even begin.
Realize that almost every rejection boils down to three factors, all of which you have an opportunity to counter:
Clients may say “no” because they’re uncertain about what will be exposed and how they will be presented. The best way to counter this is to give them control.
Often, countering this objection is as simple as assuring them that nothing will be published without their review and full consent.
Another powerful countermove is to show them examples of other studies (yours or someone else’s) that mimic what the end product would look like.
People are busy! Some won’t want to take part in a case study because they assume it’ll take hours of their time.
To counter this, make sure your client knows that the entire process will take less than an hour of their time, and spell out exactly what you’re asking them to do.
“What’s in it for me?” is a common response when you ask someone for their time, which means you’ll need to frame the case study as something that benefits both sides.
For example, you might share how big the audience you’ll share the study with is, or emphasize that you’ll be linking to them from your site.
“How Do I Make the Ask?
Keep it short and simple. This email template has worked wonders for me, and you can use something very similar on a live call:
“We’re so excited that you’ve (achieved a result) with our (product or service). We want to showcase the good stuff you’re doing—to show people what you’ve accomplished in your space. We’d love to schedule a time to interview you for a case study.
You will always have the final say. Nothing will be published without your approval. All we need is 30 minutes of your time. And we’ll make sure you look like a rock star.
We’d like to get this case study published at the end of next month. Can we count you in?”
Running a Great Interview
Congrats! You’ve found the perfect candidate and they’ve given you an enthusiastic yes.
Now it’s time to get them on a call (or a video chat) and capture their story.
1. Prep your questions. Before your call, craft a list of interview questions you KNOW will help you capture the core elements of the story.
Open-ended questions are ideal, because “yes/no” questions require absolutely no elaboration (and thus, no storytelling!)
I like to use the “BDA” (before, during, after) format to get to the heart of the interviewee’s experience and story:
Before: What were they feeling before purchasing from you?
During: What were they feeling during the purchase process?
After: What were they feeling immediately after? How about six weeks after?
This line of questioning encourages your interviewee to walk through each stage of the process step-by-step instead of spewing out platitudes.
You might ask, for example:
What does success look like for you?
What was going on in your business when you purchased [service/product]?
Most valuable thing [service/product] brings to the table, and why?
What results have you seen because of [service/product]?
Before the big interview day arrives, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Limit the number of interviewees to two. And honestly? One is even better. The more people you have on a call, the more they’ll talk over each other. Worse, you may lose juicy details because an individual may feel less confident being candid with someone else listening in.
Test your tech ahead of time. Microphones, cameras, recording software… make sure it all works, and make sure you have a backup plan if it doesn’t!
You don’t get a mulligan on this: clients are only willing to do you so many favors.
Prepare a list of questions early and send it to the interviewee in advance. The more comfortable and prepared your lead feels going in, the easier they’ll be to get details out of. Nothing sucks more than asking about their ROI and hearing “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
Spoiler alert: they won’t.
Record the call. You’ll want to review the call later on, even if you take light notes live. Frantically jotting down notes doesn’t make for a very human conversation.
Follow up for more details if necessary. There’s a good chance your interviewee won’t remember specific dates and numbers, for example.
95% of your job is listening and asking “why?” You’re not there to talk – you’re there to listen and probe. It’s fine to ask the same question multiple times or investigate another angle—sometimes, clients are grateful to be asked again because they’ll remember new information.
How I Write a Powerful Case Study
First, the basics: just like every story has a beginning, middle, and an end, case studies should all follow more or less the same flow:a headline, a challenge, a solution, the results, and a call to action (CTA).
I’m going to rip apart an example case study from Case Study Buddy client Pillar, a construction data company that provides risk management technology.
(Phew! Is it just me, or did it just get vulnerable in here?)
What It (Really) Is The headline is the pillar (get it?) of your cover page, but it’s also the snippet you’ll lead with when sharing your study on your site, in ads, on your blog, and so on.
The headline has exactly ONE job: getting people curious enough to keep reading.
How to Do It Right A great case study headline draws your leads in immediately by leveraging one (or all) of the following:
A company they recognize or relate to
A pain they’re intimately familiar with
A result they desperately want to replicate
Here are some headline formulas that work well (in our experience):
How [service/company] helped [client] [result]
[Result] for [client]
[Client] gets [result] with [service]
How [client] eliminated [pain] with [service]
When in doubt, keep your headline simple and direct. Avoid jargon, complicated words, and creative adjectives.
Use metrics whenever possible. In Pillar’s case, “a 30 Million Dollar Fire” emphasizes the costly impact of not having risk management in place.
If you don’t have any big, sexy metrics to use, leverage the headline to highlight a relatable challenge or pain point instead. For example, take a peek at this headline for Looop, a SaaS in the employee learning space. Even though their study HAS great metrics, none of them were universal enough to appeal to the diversity of leads Looop would be sending the study to.
Instead, we chose to use the headline to address the shared pain point we knew all leads would have:
On the opposite end of things, here’s an example of a time we completely dropped the ball in the headline department for Elucidat, another great SaaS in the employee learning niche:
I mean, really? “[Company]: An Elucidat Case Study?”
At the time we thought this would throw the big, bright light on the impressive metrics below the headline. Instead, the case study hits like a wet noodle. Who’s going to want to keep reading?
If I could step back in time, here’s how I’d fix it:
The most important metric there (according to Elucidat prospects) is the 95% increase in efficiency, so I might write:
“How Integrity Inc. Increased Training Efficiency a Shocking 95%”
Juicy, right? Much better than the barf-worthy headline we rolled with. Live ‘n’ learn.
One last tip for case study headlines: add immediate credibility, weight and intrigue by including a direct quote from the interviewee on the cover page that talks about the same result or pain in the headline.
What It (Really) Is
The “Challenge” section is the place where your story either takes off like a rocket, or falls flat on its face.
In this section, you introduce the hero of the story—your client—and the problem they were facing in a way that gets your reader to care about what happens in the end.
How to Do It Right
To suck your leads into the story, your “Challenge” section should jump right into the action, set the stakes and build tension to get them emotionally involved. For example, note the study introduction in the Pillar example above:
“At 2 AM on February 3 2017, a new 200-unit community in Maplewood, New Jersey burned down. AvalonBay had been only weeks away from turning over the first phase of apartments, and in one night their 18 months of progress had been reduced to nothing.”
This could have easily read: “A fire broke out at AvalonBay’s construction site,” or “AvalonBay is a blah blah blah zzzzzzzz…”
Instead, you’re brought on an emotional journey. AvalonBay was careful and compliant, but disaster still struck. In less than 12 hours, 18 months of construction work disappeared.
As you build tension and raise the stakes, be sure to highlight core pain points that readers will identify with to make the story feel personal—like it could be about them.
AvalonBay’s disappointment and loss is almost tangible, even in just a few short paragraphs.
What It (Really) Is
The “Solution” section is where you explore exactly how the hero’s pain got solved. Your job in this section is to help the reader experience the relief, security, and confidence that the actual customer experienced in having their problem solved.
How to Do It Right Start with this: Don’t just focus on the how, include the why.
Why did you do things this way instead of that way?
What was the thinking behind your approach?
For example, Pillar doesn’t just say they installed intelligent sensors, they elaborate on the why:
“[…] designed to survive harsh construction site working conditions and don’t require users to manually check each sensor”.
For SaaS and ecommerce companies, this means going beyond mentioning the features or elements of a product the client liked and instead tying them to the actions and outcomes a lead could use them for.
As an example, check out this snippet from a study for PracticeIgnition, a SaaS that helps companies send proposals and manage the payment process:
Every time a feature is mentioned, it’s tied back to an outcome or task for the client.
And if something went wrong, be open about it.
You won’t find that in the Pillar or PracticeIgnition examples above, but consider ecommerce reviews. Being open about a product needing to be returned or exchanged, for example, highlights trustworthiness and customer care.
In real life, solutions don’t always go smoothly. People have to adjust. Changes have to be made. For example, your case study might acknowledge if your product had a steep learning curve for the client—before highlighting how you stepped in to help them out.
The “Results” section usually gets treated like a success metric dumping ground. Here’s a metric! There’s a metric! Look at all this success!
Huge mistake. The real job of the “Results” section is to wrap up the story and not only share the happy ending, but what that happy ending actually meant for the hero of the story.
How to Do It Right
When recording the results, there are a couple guidelines to keep in mind:
Talk about the “ROI” and the “RO-Why-That’s-Important.” Terrible, I know. But so, SO crucial. Pillar, for example, highlights the direct impact on Head of Safety, Jeff’s mental well-being:
“Jeff sleeps better at night knowing that AvalonBay now has preventative measures in place to stop future setbacks.”
That human impact goes a long way and serves the narrative of the story best.
Give the reader a reason to give a crap. AvalonBay’s story certainly tugs at your emotions, but some readers will still be thinking, “Not my fire, not my problem. I’ve never experienced a disaster.” That’s why the final quote in this section makes such an impact:
“There were 18 large construction fires in 2017—$480 million in losses. In 2018, there have already been eight fires and two fatalities. It shouldn’t take a disaster to get us to adopt an advance warning system.”
The Call to Action
The most important thing about your call to action (CTA) section is simply that you have one. You should always end on a CTA that relates back to the story you’ve told and the specific challenge you’ve addressed. It’s enough to clearly and directly reiterate those elements and then introduce a logical next step.
(Key word being “logical”. If you’re using your case study at the bottom of the funnel, your CTA might be very different than if you’re using your case study at the top of the funnel. You may want to create different CTAs to use, depending on the context.)
How long should a case study be?
I’ve published studies ranging from 450 to 4,500+ words.
But is one length the “right” length? Get ready to be momentarily frustrated because the answer is the dreaded “it depends.”
To narrow things down, stop fishing for a magic word count and focus on two things:
How you plan to share the study, and
The reader’s context at the time.
If you plan to send your case study attached to an RFP, for example, shorter is better as the lead already has a pile of information to sort through.
The same typically applies for situations where your lead is new to you: cold emails, ads, in-person sales pitches, and so on.
Longer studies are incredibly useful for situations where a lead is primed for detail: in your blog, sent as a newsletter, printed out as a meeting leave-behind, and so on.
And the best part is, you can use shorter formats as teasers to prime a lead to read the longer variant.
Use case and context should determine length—not some fancy magic number from a study.
Putting your case study to work
Done right, your case study has taken you a lot of time and effort to put together. That’s why it’s important to use your new piece of content strategically and squeeze out all of the value you possibly can.
There are two primary ways to do this:
Recycle, recycle, recycle.
Use your case study throughout the entire funnel.
At Case Study Buddy, we use the “Bite, Snack, Meal” model to repurpose case studies for multiple uses.
A bite usually takes the form of a slide deck, which is perfect for sharing on social media or during a pitch meeting. The focus here is compelling quotes, impressive metrics and high-level insights at a glance.
You could also consider a lone testimonial pulled out of the interview a “bite” (or a nibble!)
A snack is a short-form case study, much like the Pillar example we looked at above. There’s room to tell the bigger story, but the format is still somewhat condensed and lacks elaboration. Snacks are ideal for onboarding flows and boost your credibility in cold outreach, for example.
A meal is a long-form case study. The Pillar example we looked at above was just four pages. The long-form version of the same case study extends to eight pages. This is the version you’d put up on your website for the world to see. It includes elaboration, the finer details, more quotes, etc.
Depending on your industry, funnel and revenue model, you will use each of these assets at different times. What’s important is that you have recycled the content to fit different levels of intent and different mediums of distribution.
Off the top of my head, here are no less than 20 different ways a SaaS or ecommerce company could put their case studies to use:
Pull client quotes into on-site testimonial
Bake a story into your cold email outreach
Share your wins as organic social media content
Leverage the success metrics in paid social media ads
Add quotes or metrics to your pitch deck
Publish the study in your blog
Use the full study as a downloadable lead magnet
Write up a Q&A style blog post based on the interview
Train your staff using real-world examples of why people love you
Hand out printed versions at conferences and trade shows
Add a link to your business card for networking events
Create a slide deck for talks or in-person meetings
Add a link to your email signature
Send them to leads as part of your onboarding sequence
Use notable outcomes as email subject lines
Give them to your sales team
Turn them into a video
Put testimonials near points of friction, like pricing
Win back lapsed leads or churned users with fresh stories
Upsell existing customers
…and we’re just getting started! Remember, these assets work across the ENTIRE funnel.
Take Pingboard, for example.
Initially, they weren’t sold on case studies, but after one test trial with Case Study Buddy, Pingboard became a believer. Now they collect one to two new case studies almost every month, and recycle those case studies again and again.
“There’s more than one way we get value from these case studies: They’re sales tools, marketing tools, brand tools, and even tools for new hires,” says Cameron Nouri, Director of Growth at Pingboard.
Today, their sales team uses case studies to explain how they can help to new prospects. Their marketing team has chunked out sound bites and testimonials, which they share via Twitter. Their blog team uses case studies to share real-life lessons and examples from buyer interviews.
The utility is near endless, and the content is evergreen!
You’ve just been handed a SHWACK of my best stuff.
The science is good. The stats are there to prove it. The process is sitting right in front of you.
But just like flossing, you can only be told it’s “good for you” or “essential so that your teeth don’t fall out of your skull” so many times. In the end, it’s up to you.