content marketing

This Classic Storytelling Formula Can Make Your Case Studies Sing

OurHero

Most aspiring writers don’t set out with dreams of authoring case studies.

But if you’ve been forced to shelve your idea for the great American novel in order to write copy that helps put food on your table, case studies offer an opportunity to use the classic storytelling elements you learned in creative writing class.

That’s because the best case studies rely on the same narrative arc found in most great literature: a protagonist faces a significant challenge, identifies a solution, and then lives happily ever after. 

Humans are hard-wired to relate to stories built like this, which is why even in our hyper-wired, attention-span-of-a-gnat age, a good case study can still break through the clutter.

With that in mind, consider approaching your next case study in three acts:

Act I: The hero of your story faces a vexing problem. The more detail and drama you can infuse into this section, the better. As with any great story, your goal is simple: to get your readers to empathize with your hero, and see elements of their own journey in the story they’re reading.

Act II: The second act provides the climax to your tale. After struggling mightily under the weight of the challenge—and perhaps unsuccessfully trying several fixes—the hero finds the answer. For your case study, that solution comes in the form of the services, products or advice that you offer.

Act III: The final section of your case study highlights how life is good since your hero found the right solution to their problem. Provide specific details and data to highlight the success, as well as quotes that provide insight why the solution proved to be the right fix—and how it has spawned positive change. In essence, this is your hero’s “happily ever after.”

Along the way, you can also use some other storytelling tricks, such as foreshadowing, to help add complexity and texture to your tale.

You might not be following in the footsteps of Hemingway or Tolstoy, but case studies give you a chance to showcase your storytelling skills in ways that help support your mission and achieve your goals.

SEO: Storytelling Equals Opportunity

Flickr Creative Commons photo, courtesy of tvorbaweb-stranok.sk

Flickr Creative Commons photo, courtesy of tvorbaweb-stranok.sk

Once upon a time, the Internet gave birth to something called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. 

As its name suggests, SEO was cold and calculating.

It was also quite imperfect — and easy to manipulate.

Robots and ‘content farms’ gamed the system by cranking out keyword-riddled clickbait and unreadable copy.

Often, the most useful — and best — content was buried in search results, left behind by computer-generated garbage.

But then Google — the Dr. Frankenstein in this story — decided to try to reign in the monster it had inadvertently created.

Google took a good hard look at what had happened with SEO and vowed to make big changes

It placed increased value on well-crafted stories aimed at helping people solve problems, learn new things, or be inspired to action. 

Instead of putting too much value on the almighty keyword, Google aimed to reward humans beings writing real human thoughts and sharing real human emotions.

There is still much work to be done, and certainly new challenges await, but SEO has started to become real.

To honor this ongoing transformation, when you’re thinking about your content through the lens of SEO, I challenge you to think about it not only as Search Engine Optimization.

Think about it under a new rubric: Storytelling Equals Opportunity.

Instead of keyword density, focus on finding good stories and telling them well.

Certainly, pay attention to technical fundamentals of sound SEO.

Yet, ultimately, you’ll be rewarded if you get to know your audiences better and then execute on a thoughtful content strategy that focuses on telling stories that connect with those who matter most.

Knock it out in November: Make Your Messages Matter in a Noisy Month

Image: Troye Owens via Flickr Creative Commons

Image: Troye Owens via Flickr Creative Commons

We’re just one days away from a mid-term election that’s drawing Presidential-cycle like attention in many parts of the country.

With that in mind, the next week or so is going to be pretty noisy, so plan your media outreach and messaging accordingly. 

Here's our quick guide to navigating the month ahead.
 

A Takeaway from the Campaign Trail
Election Day will reveal who will control the House and Senate. But its results will also help communicators get insights into who won the messaging war.

We’ve been providing communications support for a highly-watched House race and have already learned some timely lessons from this year's race.  I’ll be doing a more in-depth blog with some key takeaways after the votes are counted, but for now here’s a nugget that has relevance to all communicators trying to engage their audience:

Pitch the story, not the policy: Never underestimate the power of a compelling personal story. We found a highly effective approach to addressing a policy issue is to find ways to frame it with an authentic story. For instance, the candidate we’re working with lost his father at a very young age. His mother who had never worked outside her home, had to re-invent herself to provide for her three kids. Fortunately, Social Security offered a bridge that allowed her to keep her home and her family together. When told in this context, the candidate’s support for protecting Social Security takes on real, authentic meaning—and sticks with those who heard the story. 


Here are some other trends to watch as we move deeper into November:

Annual Reports: The Clock is Ticking
We’re a month into the fourth quarter – with the holiday season just a few short weeks away. If you’re involved with creating your organization's annual report, now is the time to start laying the groundwork for a smooth process and a stellar product. Here’s some recent advice about why now is the time to get to work

The Hard Sell is Getting Harder
A new study on brand supports the pressing need for organizations identify and promote their purpose rather than trying to force-feed their messages to consumers.

The 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study encouraged brands to connect their purpose with a relevant moment in culture as well as to confront a controversial issue that has direct impact on stakeholders and customers.

The study found that 64% of consumers identify as belief-driven buyers—a 13% jump from last year. Further, 84% of respondents said they noticed a brand communication when it engaged their attention compared to 16% who noticed it when it interrupted their attention. 

While these findings were focused on businesses, they are also relevant  nonprofits, particularly as they aim to capture their audiences attention ahead of Giving Tuesday on Nov. 27. 

Giving Tuesday and Small Business Saturday
Speaking of Giving Tuesday, November offers nonprofits a great hook for telling their stories in the media — and for connecting with their supporters. The same is true for small businesses with Small Business Saturday.

Ideally, you’ve already mapped out your communications and media strategy for these events.

But if you haven’t, it’s not too late.

Our team is happy to help you build a lightweight campaign this month — with an eye for how you can build relationships that will have lasting value in 2019 and beyond.

Contact me to learn more!

Keep Your Audience Engaged: 5 Steps to Make Your Message Resonate

Keep Your Audience Engaged

The most effective communications aim to get people engaged, influence their behavior, and, ultimately, move them to action.

Too often, though, your targeted audiences end up like the geese in this picture I snapped the other day. The fake coyotes were enlisted to deliver a simple message – keep off the grass.

Clearly, as far as the geese are concerned, that message is no longer resonating.

As communicators and PR pros, we need to constantly work to ensure our audience doesn’t become a flock of indifferent geese. Here are some ways to make sure your messages don’t go stale:

Don’t just throw one pitch – Pitchers who throw only fast balls aren’t pitchers for long. It’s key to find new and different ways to deliver the same or similar messages. Focus on adding variety in how the message is positioned, who delivers it, and how it gets distributed. A blend of digital, print, video and even in-person communications helps ensure your message stays fresh and connects with the full range of your audience. 

Stay connected to your audience – As Peter pointed out last week, it’s essential to know your target audiences. Developing audience personas can be a game changer in terms of identifying your audiences -- and gaining a deeper understanding of what motivates them and how to reach them. Beyond personas, look for ways to gather ongoing feedback to make sure your messages are resonating. 

Avoid boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome – You can go overboard with trying to get your message out. Flooding your audience with messages, particularly if they are not very compelling or actionable, can cause them to check out. This is also true when you're working with the media. If you pitch the same reporters twice a week with mundane press releases, they may not be open to listening when you have a really compelling story to tell.

Make sure you hit the porch – Back in my newspaper days after we hit deadline a savvy old editor would often quip, “well it was all for naught if the paperboy misses the porch.”  Wise words. Even the best messages can’t get traction if they are not reaching your target audience. Make sure you know the right delivery channels and platforms to connect effectively -- and keep up to date with new ways people are getting information.

Monitor and measure — These days, people are getting bombarded with messages. As a result, they can tune out quickly. It’s essential to develop multiple ways to track and measure whether your messaging is resonating. That can include drawing insights from Google Analytics, tracking click and open rates, and measuring response rates or actions taken based on a particular message or campaign. It might make sense to establish an editorial advisory board, either online or in-person, or conduct some polls or surveys to gather more feedback.

Take it from the geese: Delivering the same message in the same way will bring diminishing returns. Be proactive and open to new strategies and tactics if you want to keep your audience engaged.