I spent some time in Williamsburg, Va., last week and we visited the nearby Jamestown settlement and Powhatan Indian village exhibit. There was something about Caucasians playing the part of the Indians that left me thinking about authenticity, or the lack of it.
Case studies can provide compelling content, but authenticity is key. Potential customers want to read real stories, and if your copy sounds like a sales pitch, they will quickly move on.
An authentic story begins with an interview that goes beyond the basics. Here are some of the methods and questions I have found helpful in capturing an authentic and compelling story from a business owner, customer or subject matter expert.
Before the Interview
Learn as much as you can about the business of the person you are interviewing. Check their profile on Linked-In, view the company website, make a personal visit to their business if possible. By doing this you will avoid the obvious questions, become familiar with the industry-specific language, and identify topics for discussion.
Begin with some small talk and set a friendly tone. Let them know you will provide them with an opportunity to review their comments. This serves to relax the person being interviewed. If someone is rushed, offer to call back when they are not distracted by pressing business problems.
During the Interview
A vivid description of the customer and their problem will engage readers who will identify with the story. Ask questions in a non-threatening way. Don’t just run through a predetermined list of questions (although it’s a good idea to prepare questions in advance). Show genuine interest and ask follow up questions. And if the person goes off on a tangent, be patient.
Ask about their responsibilities and their biggest work challenges. Ask how the product or service fits into the grand scheme of their job or product. Ask what life was like before they found a solution. If they are a business owner, ask how they got into the business. Uncover what the true pain points were. Get all the details that will create an authentic story.
If you are a marketer, you must take off your marketing hat and think like a journalist, asking the who, what, when, where and why questions. Ask them to compare how they do things now, vs. how they did things before. Ask how they came to find out about the solution. Ask what they were apprehensive about in choosing a supplier and how they were able to alleviate these doubts. Ask about the other options they considered and why they didn’t choose them. Ask what they would do differently, if they had to do it over again. Avoid presenting a completely one-sided view.
Ask how the solution met or exceed their expectations. Focus on customer service issues as well as benefits of the product. Ask about any critical timing or delivery issues. Ask if there were any unexpected benefits or rewards. Ask if any problems came up and how they were resolved. Find out if there was positive feedback from customers, sales or the management. Are there any quantitative measures of success? If so, find out what those numbers really mean to the business. Were they able to increase profits or reduce costs? Facts and figures are an essential component of a convincing case study.
After the Interview
When writing the case study, use quotes, facts and details gleaned from your interview to add authenticity and personality. Make your story easy to read and skim online through with good use of subheads and call-out quotes. Don’t forget to include your keywords and phrases.
I like like this case study from Trimble. The details and conversational language helps to make it both authentic and readable.
What are some other ways to add authenticity to your website content?