I’ve read one too many customer case studies that just don’t try hard enough.
The latest offender: a feature on a frequent flyer in an airline inflight magazine that will remain nameless.
The back story
This past weekend I traveled to Phoenix to cheer family on in a half marathon. While perusing the inflight magazine, I was pleased to see a customer story. But just one sentence into it I was ready to move on.
Most of the other articles in this award-winning publication were very well-written and interesting. This one seemed out of place for its lack of panache.
Sadly, this lackluster story isn’t an isolated case.
When did the rules of good journalism and marketing stop applying to our case study writing?
– "The most important part of a story is the lead"
– "Each sentence should serve to keep the reader moving on to the next sentence"
– "Choose the most compelling angle for your audience"
Those are just a few tenants. While I certainly am guilty of not being perfect at these objectives and others, I like to think that I try to remember and apply them as much as possible.
So what were this story’s particular offenses?
The story began with just some dull facts about the business traveler’s company, NOT the person whose photo was prominently displayed.
The opening sentence read (leaving out names to protect the innocent), "___________ is one of the country’s largest ________________ companies."
Wow, not good.
Sure it’s worthwhile to mention what his employer does but it shouldn’t kick off the story.
It’s easy to be lazy. I certainly know. I’ve had a newborn at home the past few months and lazy feels more comfortable.
But our craft deserves more than that. How do we keep from being lackadaisical?
Let’s try to aspire to a few goals on every story:
– Plan first. Before writing a word, spend time reviewing your notes and pull out the most interesting tidbits. How might you organize them for the optimal effect on the reader?
– Spend more time on the lead than the rest of the story. How can you begin with something so interesting that the reader must hear more?
Writing for video and print are different but it’s a helpful exercise to imagine a nightly news anchor reading the story aloud. Never would it begin with dull PR description about a company.
So begin with something truly interesting and then weave in the must-have description of what the company does later.
– Choose the most compelling angle. In customer case studies, that means choosing an angle that’s interesting to readers (and the media) and that puts the vendor company in a positive light.
– Include quotes that stick with readers, not just PR quotes. The customer quotes in this magazine feature? Very forgettable.
The interesting thing is, this story didn’t have to be this way. All the information was there to make a compelling story. It just wasn’t organized in the most compelling way.
Perhaps cooking is a good analogy. Most of the time you can’t just throw the ingredients together in any order. A certain sequence and melding of ingredients often makes all the difference. Add flour at just the right time to thicken the sauce, etc.
Writing is, in essence, completely about sequence. The words in this sentence, just thrown in any order, mean nothing to readers.
An entire story is the smart structuring of a bunch of sentences. While poor ordering might still make sense, it doesn’t communicate well.
I’m tempted to rewrite the story with just the information there, as a fun challenge. It’s painful to see a missed opportunity.
Who’s doing it well?
Here are just a few great examples of true case study effort, where the writer resisted the urge to just get the information down:
What are your favorite examples? And what are your own steps to write your best case study possible?
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