How to Craft Customer Case Studies That Convince And Convert With Whitney Deterding From CoSchedule [AMP 104]
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The struggle is real for marketers because they are in the midst of a customer trust crisis. And things are only getting worse. Studies show that only 48% of the general population in the United States trust businesses. Earning the trust of customers can be difficult, so deliver what you promise when it comes to your products.
Writing a case study is a great way to do just that. Today, we’re talking to Whitney Deterding, CoSchedule product marketing specialist, who focuses on the company’s case studies. You’ll learn from her that case studies need to resonate with your prospects and have a purpose. She shares best practices to use when selecting customers and avoiding pitfalls. Discover how to craft case studies that move your prospects down the funnel.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- Case studies need to have social proof to build trust; gives people insight into how great your product or service is direct from the customer’s mouth
- CoSchedule’s Customer Success Team has direct connection to customers; identify which customers should be used in case studies and testimonials
- Sales Team deals with prospects all the time and become aware of the problems they face and trends in various industries
Incent is a common tactic used to get customers to be in case studies; both CoSchedule and its customers reap benefits
- Send personal Thank You messages or gifts to the customers to show how appreciative and grateful you are for their time
- Questions to Ask: What is the problem that your service/product solved? What steps were taken relieve a pain point and generate results?
- Do research beforehand to help you discover and uncover unique things that a customer might discuss
- Transcribe and listen to interview recordings to highlight quotes and case studies
- Present case studies with the customer’s logo, headshot, demographics, and other items to make it authentic and give readers something valuable to pull out
- Once you’ve done the interview, there are many ways you can use that information to move prospects through the funnel
- Measuring the ROI of a case study depends on how it’s being used; include a call to action to measure conversions
- Common pitfalls include trying to do too many case studies together – they tell the same story, and don’t control the interview – be able to pivot
Eric: Marketers, the struggle it is real. We are in the midst of a consumer trust crisis and I hate to use such flamboyant words, but studies are showing that it’s looking more and more bleak by the minute. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer—that’s a mouthful, but trust me, it’s the industry standard for measuring this kind of stuff—only 48% of the general population in the United States trust businesses. That’s down 10% last year and with the general trend, that’s just going down and down and down over the past decade.
Earning the trust of prospective customers can be a real grind. Let’s be honest, before you can even begin to expect to earn their business, you need to demonstrate your ability to deliver on what your product or service promises. Well, guess what? Writing a case study is a b-e-a-utiful way to do that. That’s why this week, I am excited to have Whitney Deterding as a guest on the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Whitney is a marketing specialist here at CoSchedule and owns all of our case study efforts. Now, let’s not fool ourselves, folks. Not all case studies are created equal.
Today, you’re going to learn how to make them not only resonate with your prospects, but do so with some flair and with purpose. You’ll learn best practices around selecting customers and questions, and also some common pitfalls you have to avoid. Finally, you got to learn how to craft the case study that moves your prospect down the funnel. It is going to be a goodie. My name is Eric. I’m the brand and buzz manager here at CoSchedule, the new voice and host of the Actionable Marketing Podcast, and I am absolutely delighted to be with you, and I can’t wait to introduce you to Whitney. All right. Let’s get AMP’ed.
Hey, Whitney. Thanks so much for joining the podcast today. It’s great to have you on.
Whitney: Thanks for having me.
Eric: Absolutely. We’ve got the whole State of North Dakota covered, right? Fargo, Bismarck.
Whitney: The big ones.
Eric: Thanks for being my first guest. This is fantastic. I’m just fascinated about the topic today. The good thing started, I would love if you just share with our audience about your role here at CoSchedule and maybe your journey leading up to it.
Whitney: Perfect. I’d love to. Right now, I’m on the product marketing team at CoSchedule. I serve in two roles, supporting a lot of the internal teams like sales, PR, growth, marketing, and customer success by putting together different marketing materials related to the product, and then also, just nailing down the story of our customer, and how they’ll use the product that solve their problems and their pain points. The second thing I do is work with the product team to just serve as the voice of the marketer as they’re developing new features.
Those are just a few of the things I do. But before I joined CoSchedule, I worked for a digital agency for about five years. I handled things like blog rating and website management, social media management for a wide variety of customers. The really cool thing is, my experience allowed me to work with a lot of marketers in different industries, which I think has really helped me at CoSchedule as well. That’s pretty much my background there.
Eric: It’s funny you know what someone does and then you hear them explain it and it’s just a lot more clear, so I appreciate that. As you were growing your marketing career—I love this question—who has been your biggest marketing brain crush?
Whitney: I would say Joanna Wiebe. Copywriting is a huge part of my day, whether it’s writing emails or writing talking points on some of our new features, I have to be really focused on the words that I use and how important they are and how valuable they are. Joanna is awesome at breaking down different ways to write emails and write landing page copy. She’s so relatable and things are just really actionable. Plus, if you attend any of her webinars or things like that, she’s really likable, which helps, because sometimes you go to those webinars or trainings and you zone out and it’s not super engaging, but she does a great job of making things easy to learn and apply. Big fan of that.
Eric: If you could talk about really the significance of case studies I think we’re all–listeners are probably familiar with them, but when you’re putting what is the true goal of a case study?
Whitney: The most important thing about a case study is that it gives people insight into how great your product or service is direct from the customer’s mouth. You can sit there and talk about how great your product is or your service is all day long, but without that social proof to back up what you say you can do, it’s tough for people that maybe aren’t super familiar with your brand or company to really believe you. It just adds and beefs up that social proof that makes it easier for someone to trust you and trust your product.
Eric: There’s a lot of studies that talk about who consumers trust, the brand versus something else. I definitely would see that being a big part of it. If I put myself in the shoes of one of our listeners, I’m going to go on this case study endeavor. How do I know which customers to choose? I’m sure they might have customers that span a variety of different industries who are using a product or service that you use differently. How do you know which ones to pick?
Whitney: I think for CoSchedule, it’s been a really smooth process for us just because of the makeup of our team. We actually have a sales team and a customer success team. The customer success team has direct connection to some of our customers. They’re able to really identify and also have good relationships with those customers so it’s a little bit easier to reach out and get those testimonials, and most case studies from them because of those existing relationships. They also work with them so they know how they’re using the product and can identify unique use cases that other people might find appealing for using the product. That’s been super helpful.
Also, our sales team, they are talking to prospects all the time and they know first hand the problems that our prospects are facing. They also can spot trends and industries that we’re seeing a lot of leads coming from and that kind of thing. That’s been tapping into both of those teams and asking them, “What the sales team, what industries are you seeing?” and then going to the customer success team and saying, “Hey, we’ve got a lot of leads coming in from education industry. Do you have any customers that would be a good fit? That we could tell their story?”
That’s the way that we’ve done it but I think looking for those unique use cases of your product or service, and then obviously, customers that are power users are really loyal customers are a good place to start.
Eric: The brilliance is in the simplicity. If you have those teams that are available, tap on their shoulders. Let them know which are the great customers that would love to talk about how they’ve leveraged your product or service. Great tips there. I appreciate that. Maybe this is bit of a faux pas, but how do you incent a customer to say, “Hey, we love to feature you.” Do you feel that we need to incent? Is that a common practice in this case study world?
Whitney: I think you can. I think it just depends on your customer and your product, to be honest, and also the relationship that you have with the customer. Most industries and most companies that I’ve worked with, the customers that really love your product, are really loyal to your brand, are going to be talking to you in a positive light, offline as a well as online. If they’re open to talking about how great your product is with their peers and other people in they’re industry, they’re going to be a really easy sell to ask, “Hey, can we interview you for this feature?”
But I do know when we reach out to customers to ask them for a case study, we do talk about the benefit. We’re promoting them as well. They’re getting featured on our website, we get to tell their success story. There’s a little bit of that. It helps us and lets us tell their story and how they use our product but it goes both ways. There’s that benefit as well.
We always take the time to be really personal in the thank yous that we send, following the process. I think that just is really important is showing how appreciative and grateful you are for them taking that time out of their day for us marketers are so busy. For someone to take 30 minutes out of their day to do an interview is a big ask, and so we really grateful for that and we usually send a nice thank you gift or thank you message when we wrap up as well. That’s something you could think about doing. But again, I think it depends on the length of your case study and the commitment that you’re asking someone to make.
Eric: You’re going to the process of choosing the customer you want to do a case study on. I love to get your thoughts on what do you feel is the best way to really go about conducting the interview. Specifically, what questions do you recommend marketers ask to really start to create that narrative story you want?
Whitney: I think the most important thing is thinking back to what is the problem that your product or service solves for that customer, and then asking them about their experience from, “Where were you at before your problem was solved?” and, “What steps happened in between?” Because then you really do get that true narrative of, “Oh, this was the struggle, this was the pain,” and then, as we implemented it, we started to see results.
I think the other piece that is really powerful is to think of questions that might generate real numbers and I rely on metrics that prove the value. I think anecdotes and stories are super great but anytime you can have those numbers to back it up, the better. But I will say, to ask for those numbers, is probably something that you do near the end of an interview, where there any direct statistics or growth and sales due to the implementation of XYZ. That’s a hard thing for someone to recall during an interview so that’s a good thing for someone maybe to follow-up with after the fact. They might have to do a little digging. But anyway you can generate some of those answers and responses is a good place to start.
But I also will say, doing research upfront is just as important because it might just help you discover and uncover unique things that that customer might bring to the table. Knowing your customer that you’re interviewing beforehand can help you come up with custom questions that are unique to that customer too.
Eric: We’ve done the interview and now we’re ready to put pen to paper, as they say, and this is maybe where your skill set comes with writing. How do you […] that’s going to keep a reader engaged? Do people read case studies that out from the first word to the last period? Do you find them perusing? How do you go out making sure it’s really consumable for them?
Whitney: Something that I do that helps a lot during the writing process is actually transcribe and listen to the interview recording afterwards. That way, I can go through and highlight the quotes or the use cases that really stick with me. I think during the interview, that will be apparent which ones are really powerful, but taking a step back and relistening to it and then actually physically pulling out those quotes that are really good nuggets is a great place to start. Then using those really cools stories or pull quotes and featuring them or calling them out specifically in the story is a good way to make it skimmable.
If you go to the CoSchedule website and look at our customer stories, you’ll notice that we actually feature pull quotes from the person that we interview and it’s really fun to be able to say this is what they said word-for-word about our product and their experience. I think that makes it really powerful and easy to skim as well. We always have a picture of the person we’re quoting, having that face makes it feel really real and relatable as well.
We focus on maybe three, four main talking points over things that really stand out and then feature those. But yeah, finding those unique, little nuggets that are really powerful is a good place to start, taking that time to re-listen to the interview and focus on that is a good place to start.
Eric: We’ve got more case study wisdom coming from Whitney in just a moment, but right now I’d like to ask you for a quick favor. Since you’re listening to this podcast, I know you like to continue hearing from wicked smart guests like Whitney. If you have a free moment, I would love to see a review and a rating from you for this podcast on iTunes. If you leave your rating and review, then send us a screenshot and email that to firstname.lastname@example.org. In return, I’m going to hook you up with some real sweet CoSchedule swag. Would you do that for me? Awesome. All right. Thanks. Let’s get back to the show.
The next part, I think, is you’ve crafted the words, you wordsmith it, but I think maybe one thing that I’ve maybe seen that—not to pat ourselves in the back—but I think what CoSchedule does a fantastic job of is how you present the case study. Tell me about the formatting and where does design come into play with all of this?
Whitney: I mentioned it a little bit earlier, but as part of our process, we typically will email our customer right afterward. We ask them for a company logo, any photography that talks or demonstrates their culture and their product and service, and then also for headshots of the people that we’ve interviewed. That way, we can integrate those into the design of the customer story on our website.
What makes it so great is that it makes it feel really authentic and it is. It’s the story right from the person that we’re interviewing. It’s not us using stock photography and throwing it up there. It makes it really personal to the customer, which I think is really powerful. I also think having skimmability. Because some people will take the time to read the entire customer story or case study, and some people might be more top of the funnel and they’re doing some big-ended research on your product and they’re just skimming. You want to make sure that regardless of what experience someone’s having, as a reader, they’re going to pull out something valuable from it.
Highlighting those stats, if you have them, and really featuring those in the design, featuring standout quotes and then also highlighting some of the demographics of the company. The industry that they’re in, the company size, the size of their marketing team, those are things we highlight because that helps other customers or prospects maybe see themselves in the story that we’re telling. Those are few little things that we do when we put ours together.
Eric: I’m totally guilty of the skimming. I’ve looked at the case studies and I’m just scanning for the highlights. Maybe it’s a serious issue with ADD or something, but I scan stuff. I think that’s great note to say, “Hey, now everyone’s going to sit down and read things all the way through. Think about that as how you write and how you design your case studies.” Great points there.
You threw out a term, you talked about the top of the funnel which leads me to my next question. When you think about a case study and its impact, where’s your organizations or companies be positioning and using the case study as a way to further a prospect through the sales cycle? Is it at the beginning? Is it at the end? What are some of the research that we’ve found that works best?
Whitney: The beauty of a case study is that once you’ve done the interview, once you have that information at your fingertips, there’s so many ways you can use it, and you can pepper it throughout the entire funnel. For CoSchedule, we use testimonials for social content, so feature some of those quotes on our Facebook page, LinkedIn and that’s going to be maybe going to be more top of funnel, letting people get to know CoSchedule. Then it goes all the way through and maybe a nurture email, serious about what we’re doing for prospects, and even for re-engagement. We have a customer story on a certain industry and we want to reach out to maybe some leads that have gotten a little cold in that same industry, we can share that and maybe re-engage them.
There’s so many different ways you can use it. Again, like our sales team, even having that customer story and putting those together as they’re talking directly to customers, they’re able to share some of those stories as they identify the type of customer that they are. I oftentimes will get a message from a sales team member that says, “Hey, I’m talking to someone that works in publishing and they publish a hundred blog posts everyday or every week. Do we have any customer stories or have any customers that do that?” and I can say, “Yup, we’ve got this one.” I would send them this customer story because they’re able to see themselves in that customer. As much as you can utilize them, you can repurpose and tailor that content where you need it in the funnel to fit. I think there’s no limitations. It’s just what your imagination can dream of.
Eric: That’s a great analysis of that. I think it too often sometimes, you throw the case study on the website, put a check mark by the box, but being really intelligent and methodical about where they’re at in the customer journey given to the sales team, there’s just a lot of different ways to leverage that. Great comments there.
I’m laughing because as brand and buzz in the PR world, I’m often asked about ROI of my efforts. I think as marketers, nowadays we are always asked and required to measure the success of our efforts, which makes sense. Maybe a tough question, but how do you try and measure the success or ROI of a case study?
Whitney: It goes back to how are you using it, kind of back to my last question, but as you’re repurposing that content and it’s helping people through the entire funnel, really, it’s just taking a look at how things are performing. Obviously, if you’ve got it on the landing page and you have a call-to-action for a demo, or a trial, or even a purchase depending on what kind of industry you’re in or a contact form, measuring those conversion points is an obvious first step of measuring the ROI of that customer story.
But then you have to think too there’s going to be a few things about you maybe more anecdotally measure. For example, your sales team using that customer story and a personal email to help close the sale, and it’s something that helps impact that, and that’s a win as well. There’s a lot of different things that you can do to measure the ROI, but it’s making sure that you’re really being mindful of using it in the right places, and then having those points of measurement set up, for example, on your website, so you can do some of that tracking.
Eric: That’s great. Thanks. I know some other things that you’ve talked about is this case study can be a great way just really hear for the voice of the customer and listen to the words that they’re using as they describe your product and the pain that the product or service is alleviating which is just wonderful ammunition to start using as we create additional marketing, collateral, and piece to sell.
Eric: That’s great. Maybe I’ll end with one question here. Are there any common pitfalls that you would like to provide a warning for listeners today of when they’re about to, again, whether they’re fine-tuning their case or their process or they’re just starting, what are some things they should try and avoid as they start?
Whitney: I think there’s two major pitfalls that can happen. If you try to do too many too close together, they all can start sounding the same, it kind of tells the same story over and over. If you take time to write them, make sure you’re looking for some different things that make it unique, and as you interview more and more customers, this will feel more natural. But when you go into an interview, you’re going to have that list of set questions you’re going to ask, but be flexible and adapt based on where their story is taking you. Maybe one customer talks a lot about this set of features or this value-add that your company’s product or service has. But then, another interview you might have might go in a completely different direction.
Let the interviewee drive the direction of that interview because it will give you different angles and different types of stories that you can tell. Don’t try to control the interview. Let the person who’s telling the story lead the conversation, and be flexible and able to pivot during those interviews. Don’t feel like you’re attached to your script of questions. I think that’ my number one takeaway.
Eric: With any marketing effort or tactic, there’s absolutely a science behind it. I appreciate you, Whitney, just sharing with us some of the things that have really worked for us and hopefully given our listeners a lot of things to consider moving forward. Thanks so much for coming on the show today.
Whitney: Thanks for having me.
Eric: All right. Take care.
Whitney: You too.
Eric: Sure, your kid said you’re the best at this or your crushing your competition when it comes to that. But the reality is, however, trust needs to be earned. What you really need to do to win your business is have rock-solid proof. One of the best ways to prove your worth is to write a compelling case study. Just some really good nuggets I thought from Whitney.
Leveraging your customer-facing colleagues to help choose the right customers and craft the right questions that will help you create the right narrative. When you can, pull out those real gritty stats that will make your case study authentic, and tangible, and real. Of course, be flexible enough during the interview, to explore where the customer takes the conversation. You may discover some really interesting things you didn’t know. Put as much thought into the design and format of your case study as you do the story. Is it skimmable? Do you have great visuals? What’s going to make it pop?
September 25, 2018