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Do you have content that answers your audience’s questions and provides value along every stage of the sales funnel? Some of the most influential pieces of content include proof of ROI value, thought leadership, customer stories, and case studies.
Today’s guest is LaRissa Hendricks, product marketing copywriter at CoSchedule. She describes how to create relevant and compelling customer case studies.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
Nathan: They say you should have content to answer your audience’s questions and provide value at every part of the marketing-to-sales funnel, but some pieces might hold more weight than others. As you learn today from LaRissa Hendricks, some of the most influential pieces of content include proof of ROI value, thought leadership, and customer stories. Specifically, case studies and customer stories can provide social proof as well as value assessment.
Today, we’re chatting with LaRissa about the power of customer stories. Now, LaRissa is the Product Marketing Copywriter here at CoSchedule actually and one of her recent projects has been connecting with customers, understanding their unique use cases, and conveying the value they receive in the form of case studies. Today, you’ll learn how to define a case study process for yourself, how to interview customers to get the data you need to tell a good story, how to structure that story for the biggest impact, and a whole lot more. I’m Nathan from CoSchedule and now, let’s get AMPed with LaRissa.
Hey LaRissa, thank you for being on the podcast.
LaRissa: Yeah. It’s great to be here.
Nathan: Well, it’s great to have you on the team, I would say. For everyone who doesn’t know, LaRissa is one of the newest members of our marketing team here at CoSchedule. I guess with that, Larissa, that’s a nice transition. Could you tell me a little bit about what you do here?
LaRissa: Yeah. I’m a Product Marketing Copywriter at CoSchedule. I’m basically part of the product marketing team, which means my job is to write copy that focus on our go-to market strategy and really help drive sales enablement. My role is basically all about selling CoSchedule as a product through various forms of content, which is everything from ads to website copy to case studies.
Nathan: I guess that’s a great transition to case studies in general. Let’s start with the high level. Just in your own words, how would you define case studies? What are case studies?
LaRissa: I would call case studies success stories. They’re essentially success stories about how customers use a product or a service to reach a certain outcome. Here at CoSchedule, we refer to them as customer stories and that’s why. They’re essentially meant to be shared as sort of a proof point with prospective customers. They’re meant to give those customers and their bosses or their stakeholders an idea of some exact numbers or outcomes that they could see by using CoSchedule. They give them example of what other teams have achieved with CoSchedule and what they could also achieve.
Nathan: Nice. That makes sense. As you’re working through these, what would you say the purpose or goal of them is?
LaRissa: I would say that the goal would be to give them a good idea of what they could accomplish by using CoSchedule so we really want to use them to show people how they can effectively use CoSchedule. For example, say sales is working with a potential customer who is in the healthcare industry and they really want to know how they could effectively use CoSchedule to complete more projects, then we could hand them a case study that shows how one of our current healthcare customers is effectively using CoSchedule in that way. It really just helps us in the sales process sell CoSchedule to customers and helps potential customers understand what they could accomplish.
Nathan: Nice. One of the things that you’ve mentioned a few times here is outcomes and you just used the words helping people understand what they can accomplish. For CoSchedule, what are those outcomes that you’re trying to help people understand that they can achieve by implementing CoSchedule?
LaRissa: Our goals are to help people complete more marketing projects, complete more projects on time so they’re meeting more deadlines, really prove their marketing value to stakeholders within their company, and show that they’re able to be successful in their roles as marketers.
Nathan: That makes sense. How did you go about finding how people care about these things? How did you find those sorts of angles or how did you know that that was going to be the right sort of approach for your case studies?
LaRissa: I usually start by looking at a specific customer’s use of CoSchedule and really figuring out where they shine as a marketing team because where they shine is where other people will be able to identify with that. Sometimes, it will be a customer who is completing hundreds of projects in a year with a really small team or sometimes, they’re meeting 80%–90% of their deadlines even, which those are both awesome outcomes. I look for those areas where they’re really shining first and that’s how I figure out what would be a great angle for a case study.
Nathan: That makes a lot of sense. LaRissa, one of the things that you mentioned a few times here is you’re thinking about prospective customers and you had mentioned the sales process seems like a good place to use this. Bring this back to that. We’re working on case studies. We think this is good for people, but at what point in the sales funnel do you think or do you see case studies being most effective?
LaRissa: We learned that it’s actually most effective to use case studies at the beginning of the sales funnel, which would be the time when our prospects are looking into using CoSchedule. We work with an advisory firm called Gartner and according to them, case studies are actually the third most valued marketing asset for buyers. That comes right after thought leadership and value assessment tools. That’s because they really clearly show customer challenges and the outcomes that they’ve achieved in a way that’s engaging and helps establish trust with those customers or potential customers.
In our case, a customer might be wondering what they can accomplish with CoSchedule, or more specifically, what a company in the same industry as theirs has accomplished, or maybe what a marketing team of a similar size has accomplished, or one that’s faced the same challenges as they have. We really want these case studies to answer those questions for them along with any higher ups in their organization who really need that info to help drive buying decision.
Nathan: That makes a lot of sense. LaRissa, I know that there was something in place before you started working on this project. Could you tell me about some of those common pitfalls that if I were to start writing case studies for my company, what would you recommend I avoid before I even get started?
LaRissa: Sure. One major pitfall that our team was experiencing before I even got here was that our old case studies just weren’t being utilized at all. They were these long, detailed pieces and they weren’t being used internally by our sales and success teams. I was trying to figure out why that was the case and we really realized that it was because we, as a product marketing team, weren’t holding them accountable. It was on us. We weren’t proactive in letting them know which case studies should be used or when they should be used and we didn’t follow up with them to find out how they were using those case studies or if they were using them.
Another thing we realized, thanks to Gartner, was that we needed to revamp our case studies to make them more effective. Again, they were long, they were rambling, they were 700–800 plus words, multiple pages, tons of scrolling. That was an issue. We were burying our leads in those initial case studies, which means that we were working so hard to set up the story in the beginning that the outcomes didn’t show up until the very end. So, the customers and potential customers couldn’t even see what the main point of the case study was until they had finished reading through all of that content.
Another issue that we saw was that we were focusing on the product and product features rather than the customer, which is who we should be focusing on along with those outcomes. We ended up totally revamping those case studies and rewriting them to be more concise, outcome-driven, and customer-centric.
Nathan: That makes a ton of sense to me, LaRissa. Definitely hear you on the feedback from Gartner. It kind of makes me wonder when you were writing this case study, who are you thinking about? Who is that audience for you?
LaRissa: The audience for me would be just anybody with an interest in CoSchedule and then split out by different areas. For us, we take a step back and we look at the types of customers who are already using CoSchedule, so we really started creating case studies based on their industry. It’d be one of those areas like tech, healthcare, high red, a handful of others. And then, we made sure that we were going to cover a variety of team sizes, a variety of marketing challenges they’re experiencing, and then those outcomes I talked about earlier as well. We really just want to create a wide variety of case studies that a wide variety of potential customers can relate to.
Nathan: Nice. You had mentioned something about short-form and long-form. Could you tell me a little bit about what you’ve learned with a structure that works really well for case studies?
LaRissa: Yeah. We were initially, as I said, writing those really long-form case studies. Long-form content can be great for deliverables that come later in the sales chain, which would be after prospects have actually become customers so they’re in the success area, but when they’re in the buying phase, they don’t want to have to dig through multiple-paged case studies and try to figure out what makes CoSchedule worth it.
For that matter, their managers don’t want to have to do the same thing. They just don’t have time to look through an entire 800-word case study to figure out why CoSchedule is worth buying for their organization. That’s where we really benefit from writing those short and engaging case studies where all of our audience can clearly see what the outcomes are right away. We ended up boiling down those initial case studies we had written from over 800 words to around 300 words, which is a huge cut, but it makes them so much easier to consume and it really brings the point to the front.
Nathan: It sounds like you’re really focusing on some of that more pointed, punchy sort of language in them.
Nathan: LaRissa, with them being that short, I know that you’re thinking about a common structure or system for them. Could you walk me through what that looks like for you?
LaRissa: Yeah. Are you talking from a writing standpoint?
Nathan: Yeah. Like the structure of intro and then I think you’ve got a couple or three different body sections. Could you talk about that?
LaRissa: Yeah, of course. It starts with the headline. Everyone starts with the headline, of course, and then we have a short intro section that is no more than three sentences long, and then we go into three different outcomes that the customer has achieved, each one of those is 1-2 sentences.
We go into three different sections, which is a challenge section and that details the challenge that the customer was going through before they started using CoSchedule, and then we have a solution section, which is just about the customer implementing CoSchedule and how it helped them get on track, and then the outcome section, which kind of reiterates those three outcomes that were listed at the very beginning and shows how the customer has really benefited from using CoSchedule.
We’ve also been throwing a graphic in there, too, to make it a little more visual. That’ll be something like a chart or a graph that shows how many projects they were completing before using CoSchedule compared to after using CoSchedule and also, a customer quote just to back up all of those awesome outcomes and give people a quote that’s coming straight from the customer’s mouth.
Nathan: That makes sense. It seems like you’re really focusing on being easily digestible, scannable. One of the things that I thought was interesting that you did was you have this bulleted section too, near the beginning that just has a few key data points. Could you tell me about that?
LaRissa: Yeah. Those would be the outcomes. We decided to bullet those straight up at the top. Those are after we completed interview with the customer and really nailed down what major outcomes they’ve achieved. It could be completing 100% more projects every month or meeting deadlines three times more quickly. There are so many options for outcomes. We choose the top three and we just bullet them out at the top of the case study. And so, say a potential customer or their stakeholder in their company just wants to quickly glance at this case study, they can look at it and see those three bullet points right away, read through them in 10 seconds, and understand what the case study really has to say and what those major outcomes are.
Nathan: Yeah, makes sense. I like how that has shaped up for sure. LaRissa, thank you for walking us through the structure and how you’ve got the challenge solution outcomes, you’ve got your graphic, you’ve got the intro with those key data points in it.
Let’s just say our case study is done. You had mentioned that one of the problems that you were trying to solve was that the prior case studies just weren’t being used and you solved this by writing new ones. What about delivery here? How did you make sure that these case studies are being used? Tell me a little bit about the promotion or delivery mechanisms that you are using here.
LaRissa: We learned that there really needs to be more communication between the marketing team and sales and success to really ensure that they know which case studies to use when. From a marketing standpoint, I created something called a customer story matrix, is what I titled it. It’s essentially a tool that sales and success can use to help them know which case studies to share in which situations.
This matrix is segmented by categories like industry, team size, team challenges, the outcomes we talked about. So essentially, the team can look at those and easily find, for example, a healthcare customer story that they can share with a potential healthcare customer or a customer story that deals with a marketing team size of 20 people or less and they can share that with a potential customer that has a similar size team. It’s about creating that tool that our team can use and their team can use and it helps them more easily share those customer stories.
Another thing is it’s basically meant to make those case studies an essential part of sales enablement since that’s part of my job as a Product Marketing Copywriter, is to really enable sales and make sure that our internal team is using them effectively in the sales process. Hopefully, that’ll help our potential customers show their managers why CoSchedule is worth it for them and it’ll help our internal sales team share the right case studies.
Nathan: Yeah, makes sense. As you’re working through this, you’ve got this piece done, you’ve added this piece into the matrix. Do you have kickoffs with sales so that they now about this or syncs with them or do you just throw out an email to them? What does that look like to make sure that they know that this piece exists?
LaRissa: I actually sat in on one of their sale and success meetings when I had first come up with the current customer story matrix and finished a few new customer stories. I just made sure that the entire team was aware that all of this exists, that we have new case studies, that we have this customer story matrix to go along with them, and informed them where they can find all of that material. It’s all in one place. Easy for them to access.
My goal now is to follow-up with that team probably once every couple of weeks and just update them on any new case studies that had been written that are now included in that reference area and ask them how they are using the case studies. I think that’s the biggest thing, is just not only ensuring that they are using them, but asking how they’re using them, when they’re sending them out, which ones they’re sending out, whether it’s been helpful to potential customers. So really just getting that feedback once every week or two.
Nathan: Nice. That makes sense. I think if you communicate something once and expect people to remember it, it just has too much potential to be in one ear and out the other.
LaRissa: Exactly. I mean we’re all busy with so many different things. Sales and success, they’re juggling plenty of current customers, prospective customers so you really just need to follow up, and just remind them, and just have those conversations.
Nathan: Definitely. LaRissa, one thing that you mentioned is that you want to be talking to them as you’re adding new case studies and get their perspective on what has been published already. Out of curiosity, how do you know when you have enough case studies? When is enough, enough?
LaRissa: I think for me personally, I will know we have enough at CoSchedule when I hear that every CSM has consistently sent one to every single prospect. There really isn’t a magic number of case studies a company can create. I’d say it usually depends on your customers and different factors like the ones we talked about, their industries, their challenges, and their outcomes. So you need to figure those out first and then you can cover all your bases after that.
I was thinking that quality should always come before quantity but really, what I learned through this whole process is that when you’re writing for quality and you’re keeping your case studies nice, brief, and outcome-forward, you’ll probably find out that it’s actually a lot easier to create a higher quantity of them so it’s kind of a win-win in the end.
Nathan: Nice. I think that’s great advice and a good place to end this episode. Just want to say thank you so much for taking on this project here at CoSchedule, LaRissa. You are the newest member of our team and kicking ass so we appreciate it.
LaRissa: Thanks, yeah. It’s been awesome.
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