FLAMING HOT TAKE ALERT: creating case studies is like flossing.
(The dental hygiene version, not that idiotic dance kids are into these days.)
Everybody knows they should be doing it. Almost nobody does. And when they finally do, it’s a painful, bloody, but oddly rewarding experience that has them vowing to do it again soon.
Because it just so happens that case studies are the single most powerful sales asset you can possibly have.
And I’m not exaggerating.
“Bold Claim, Klettke. Can You Back it Up?”
Let’s start with the psychology behind what makes case studies burrow into our brains and influence our decision-making in ways other content can’t:
1. Stories turn our brains into super-happy chemical soup.
Cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger found that reading (or hearing) words and sentences that refer to bodily actions actually activates the motor cortex in your brain.
So, for example, “she kicks the ball” just lit up the part of your brain that controls your leg movements. But it’s not just your motor cortex.
In a fascinating Spanish study, researchers were able to show that odour-related words, like “garlic” and “cinnamon”, light up the olfactory cortex (your sense of smell).
This is a lot of science-speak to say: your brain responds to reading (or hearing) about an event through a story in roughly the same way it would if you were to actually experience the event in real life. That’s a whole lot of empathy being built up in the mind of your reader.
Not only that: storytelling, done right, can literally influence the chemicals in your brain.
During a talk at CXL Live 2019, Dr. Brian Cugelman of AlterSpark explained that a good editorial hook can increase your dopamine levels, which gives you an emotional reward that temporarily makes you feel energized and curious. In addition, using a story to describe a threat can boost your cortisol levels, which grabs your attention and drives you to remove the pain or threat, real or perceived, ASAP.
And even just reading about goals and challenges can spike serotonin levels, which triggers the pursuit of goals and loss avoidance.
2. Stories are memorable by design.
When it comes to marketing, being forgotten is death. That’s where customer success stories curb stomp other content.
According to Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, a story is up to 22x more memorable than facts alone. Done well, case studies are stories that help you stay top-of-mind and sell at the same time.
A story is up to 22x more memorable than facts alone.
jennifer aaker, stanford
3. Stories appeal to both the rational and emotional parts of the brain.
According to Dual Process Theory, there are two systems at work in the human brain: system one is fast and emotional, and system two is slow and rational. System one is always on, while system two requires focus and gets quickly depleted.
The bad news is that the majority of our decisions are made by system one.
While we’d all like to think of ourselves as logical people living in a logical world, but we’re actually instinctual people who rationalize our emotional decisions after the fact.
The tension, emotion, and cold hard facts in well-written case studies appeal to both systems—a killer one-two punch that ensures you’re covered no matter which system is taking the lead at the moment.
4. Customer success stories replicate word of mouth marketing.
Reviews, case studies, and other voice of customer content mimic the effects of word of mouth—and word of mouth is super-mega-important to the modern buyer’s journey.
But here’s the kicker: 91% of respondents under 35 trust online content as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.
“Nice Theory. But Does It Work in Real Life?”
Yep. The numbers are there, too.
Studies show that not only do buyers actively seek out case study content, they also spend more time engaging with it compared to other types of B2B content.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, case studies remain the preferred content format among B2B buyers, with 79% of respondents claiming they’ve consumed this type of content in the last year.
And in a study of 34 million (yes, million) interactions between buyers and content, Harvard Business Review found that case studies had an 83% completion rate, orders of magnitude higher than any other type of sales or marketing content.
The case for case studies (ha!) grows even stronger when you realize B2B buyers aren’t just more likely to read case studies—but much more likely to share them as well.
64% of respondents share case studies with colleagues, which is second only to blog posts (74%).
Demand Gen 2018 report
That’s a HUGE deal, because so many business decisions (especially on SaaS platforms) are made jointly by people in different roles. Harvard Business Review found that the number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases climbed from an average of 5.4 in 2015 to 6.8 in 2017.
It’s no wonder, then, that the vast majority (73%) of content B2B marketers surveyed by Content Marketing Institute in 2018 said they use case studies for content marketing purposes. 47% said case studies were among their top three most effective types of content marketing when it comes to achieving specific objectives, a very close second to eBooks and whitepapers (50%).
Adding case studies into their sales and marketing mix helped them close over $175,000 worth of deals in one month. Chris Dreyer, founder and CEO, says:
“We closed over 179,444 worth of deals in the past month, and case studies helped close them all. If you’re trying to improve your conversions and showcase your expertise, you need case studies. Case studies are powerful lead magnets, they’re powerful presentations, and they’re great for sales.”
And (BONUS!) as we’ll dive into later on, case studies are also one of the only content assets that can be used across your entire funnel, and even reused time and time again.
But if case studies are so great, then why isn’t everyone investing heavily in them?
The truth is that getting case studies right is difficult and time-consuming. It’s a heck of a lot harder than just plugging in a “Problem, Solution, Results” rubric.
And when you have a million ecommerce orders to fulfill or you’re deep into rewriting your SaaS onboarding flow, it’s easy for case studies to start looking like a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.”
Thankfully, I’m here to help. After more than three years of running Case Study Buddy, I’ve been part of putting together over 150 studies for clients ranging from enterprise SaaS companies to Fortune 100 clients I can’t even name without being sent to jail.
And I’m about to hand you YEARS of knowledge I’ve picked up the hard way.
How to Get Case Studies Right—the First Time
Getting case studies right the first time around comes down to four way-too-easy sounding steps:
Define your strategy
Choose the right candidates
Run a great interview
Write up the story
Put your case studies to work(strategically!)
Defining Your Strategy
Before investing a ton of time and money into creating a case study, you need to get really clear about why you’re doing this in the first place.
Otherwise, you risk wasting hours of time and energy capturing stories that won’t ever help you accomplish your goals. Start by asking yourself three questions:
What’s my end goal? Maybe you’re trying to launch a specific service, promote a specific product or appeal to a specific industry.
The stories you tell need to align with that goal.
Who am I targeting? Which types of buyers are you trying to attract with your case study? Do they have a specific role, or work in a certain industry?
The people you profile should look like the people you’re trying to attract.
How will I use the case study? Where in the sales and marketing processes will you plug in this case study? How will you reuse different elements of the case study?
Your use case will influence the way you go about capturing and telling the story (more on that later!)
As a quick example, conversion copywriter Kira Hug was keen to do case studies. With a ton of happy clients, she could’ve chosen any of them to feature.
But Kira stopped and defined her goal. She wanted to use case studies to attract more clients looking for help launching products and courses.
While a success story about one of her SaaS clients would’ve made her look great, it wouldn’t have helped her achieve that goal.
So instead, she approached Rick Mulready to capture a story that would support her goal.
Choosing the Right Candidates
In the example above, Rick was the obvious choice. But how do you find willing candidates and get them on board once you’ve got your strategy in place?
The first step is identifying candidates who have a strong positive affinity towards you. These three approaches to be the simplest:
Send out a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey. Isolate all those who responded with eight or higher and reach out to them to gauge their participation interest.
Mine existing customer reviews online. Look for places where your advocates have already invested their time to sing your praises—whether that’s on G2Crowd, Capterra, Amazon, your ecommerce comments section, social media, reddit… you get the point.
Find the most detailed reviews and reach out to the authors.
Send out an in-depth survey. If you want to take it a step further and capture more details right off the hop, a full survey is also an option.
If you go this route, keep in mind that your goal is to turn your customers into storytellers, not butt-kissers. Ask them experience-based questions such as…
What was going on in your life that sent you looking for a solution like ours?
What does success look like for you?
How has our [service/product] helped you achieve that success?
Which features or benefits do you like best about [working with us/using our product]?
“How do I get buy-in?”
Finding viable candidates is only the beginning. Now you need to convince them to do you a favor and go on the record. It’s arguably the hardest part of doing a case study—and the reason many companies quit before they even begin.
Realize that almost every rejection boils down to three factors, all of which you have an opportunity to counter:
Clients may say “no” because they’re uncertain about what will be exposed and how they will be presented. The best way to counter this is to give them control.
Often, countering this objection is as simple as assuring them that nothing will be published without their review and full consent.
Another powerful countermove is to show them examples of other studies (yours or someone else’s) that mimic what the end product would look like.
People are busy! Some won’t want to take part in a case study because they assume it’ll take hours of their time.
To counter this, make sure your client knows that the entire process will take less than an hour of their time, and spell out exactly what you’re asking them to do.
“What’s in it for me?” is a common response when you ask someone for their time, which means you’ll need to frame the case study as something that benefits both sides.
For example, you might share how big the audience you’ll share the study with is, or emphasize that you’ll be linking to them from your site.
“How Do I Make the Ask?
Keep it short and simple. This email template has worked wonders for me, and you can use something very similar on a live call:
“We’re so excited that you’ve [achieved a result] with our
. We want to showcase the good stuff you’re doing—to show people what you’ve accomplished in your space. We’d love to schedule a time to interview you for a case study.
You will always have the final say. Nothing will be published without your approval. All we need is 30 minutes of your time. And we’ll make sure you look like a rock star.
We’d like to get this case study published at the end of next month. Can we count you in?”
Running a Great Interview
Congrats! You’ve found the perfect candidate and they’ve given you an enthusiastic yes.
Now it’s time to get them on a call (or a video chat) and capture their story.
1. Prep your questions. Before your call, craft a list of interview questions you KNOW will help you capture the core elements of the story.
Open-ended questions are ideal, because “yes/no” questions require absolutely no elaboration (and thus, no storytelling!)
I like to use the “BDA” (before, during, after) format to get to the heart of the interviewee’s experience and story:
Before: What were they feeling before purchasing from you?
During: What were they feeling during the purchase process?
After: What were they feeling immediately after? How about six weeks after?
This line of questioning encourages your interviewee to walk through each stage of the process step-by-step instead of spewing out platitudes.
You might ask, for example:
What does success look like for you?
What was going on in your business when you purchased [service/product]?
Most valuable thing [service/product] brings to the table, and why?
What results have you seen because of [service/product]?
Before the big interview day arrives, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Limit the number of interviewees to two. And honestly? One is even better. The more people you have on a call, the more they’ll talk over each other. Worse, you may lose juicy details because an individual may feel less confident being candid with someone else listening in.
Test your tech ahead of time. Microphones, cameras, recording software… make sure it all works, and make sure you have a backup plan if it doesn’t!
You don’t get a mulligan on this: clients are only willing to do you so many favors.
Prepare a list of questions early and send it to the interviewee in advance. The more comfortable and prepared your lead feels going in, the easier they’ll be to get details out of. Nothing sucks more than asking about their ROI and hearing “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
Spoiler alert: they won’t.
Record the call. You’ll want to review the call later on, even if you take light notes live. Frantically jotting down notes doesn’t make for a very human conversation.
Follow up for more details if necessary. There’s a good chance your interviewee won’t remember specific dates and numbers, for example.
95% of your job is listening and asking “why?” You’re not there to talk – you’re there to listen and probe. It’s fine to ask the same question multiple times or investigate another angle—sometimes, clients are grateful to be asked again because they’ll remember new information.
How I Write a Powerful Case Study
First, the basics: just like every story has a beginning, middle, and an end, case studies should all follow more or less the same flow:a headline, a challenge, a solution, the results, and a call to action (CTA).
I’m we’re going to rip apart an example case study from Case Study Buddy client Pillar, a construction data company that provides risk management technology.
(Phew! Is it just me, or did it just get vulnerable in here?)
What It (Really) Is The headline is the pillar (get it?) of your cover page, but it’s also the snippet you’ll lead with when sharing your study on your site, in ads, on your blog, and so on.
The headline has exactly ONE job: getting people curious enough to keep reading.
How to Do It Right A great case study headline draws your leads in immediately by leveraging one (or all) of the following:
A company they recognize or relate to
A pain they’re intimately familiar with
A result they desperately want to replicate
Here are some headline formulas that work well (in our experience):
How [service/company] helped [client] [result]
[Result] for [client]
[Client] gets [result] with [service]
How [client] eliminated [pain] with [service]
When in doubt, keep your headline simple and direct. Avoid jargon, complicated words, and creative adjectives.
Use metrics whenever possible. In Pillar’s case, “a 30 Million Dollar Fire” emphasizes the costly impact of not having risk management in place.
If you don’t have any big, sexy metrics to use, leverage the headline to highlight a relatable challenge or pain point instead.
joel klettke, case study buddy
If you don’t have any big, sexy metrics to use, leverage the headline to highlight a relatable challenge or pain point instead. For example, take a peek at this headline for Looop, a SaaS in the employee learning space. Even though their study HAS great metrics, none of them were universal enough to appeal to the diversity of leads Looop would be sending the study to.
Instead, we chose to use the headline to address the shared pain point we knew all leads would have:
On the opposite end of things, here’s an example of a time we..
Cutting a piece of paper seems like a simple enough task.
But for much of my childhood, I got anxiety every time I had to do it.
From the time I was in kindergarten, any piece of paper I cut looked a hot mess.
The problem? I’m left-handed. And most scissors are made for people to use their right hands to cut. So if you use “traditional” scissors with your left hand, your paper ends up looking like this:
As a kindergartener with perfectionist tendencies, I thought something was wrong with me. I avoided cutting whenever possible. And when that wasn’t an option, I learned how to cut with my right hand, so I wouldn’t feel so inadequate when working with scissors.
It wasn’t until I got to fifth grade that I discovered left-handed scissors existed. It was like a miracle. Finally, I could cut with the hand that felt most natural to me, without feeling like I belonged in a remedial class. I realized that I wasn’t the problem. I just hadn’t had the equipment needed to help me perform at my best.
Who do I blame for the years of scissors-induced trauma?
Sure, the marketers of these companies are an easy target. I could hurl accusations to them about their discriminatory practices, lack of empathy and insensitivity toward the 10% of the population who are left-handed. Hmph.
But the marketers are only a scapegoat of a bigger problem. The probable source of their disregard for left-handers was their buyer personas.
The personas that so many smart marketers live by caused them to make many qualified customers feel like they didn’t belong.
Inclusive Buyer Personas: The Foundation That Gives You the Keys to the Kingdom
Have you ever tried to buy a gift for someone you don’t know?
Over the holidays I went to a party where we did a white elephant gift exchange. A few hours before, I found myself aimlessly roaming around trying to find a cool gift a stranger would enjoy.
It’s hard buying gifts for people you don’t know very well. You end up finding something that is boring or generic enough so as not to offend anyone. But in trying to find a basic item, most of the time you end up forfeiting the opportunity to deliver a gift that the recipient will love.
Your business is like that. The products, services and experiences you deliver are like a gift you are giving the customers you serve. The better you know your customers, the better equipped you’ll be to give them gifts they’ll be excited about.
That’s why savvy marketers treat their customers like their good friends.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle company Goop tripled their year-on-year revenue in 2017. Elise Loehnen, their Chief Content Officer, told me they attributed a large part of that growth to producing content and products for their readers who they view as their “friends”:
“So, that’s really what we focused on is talking to our readers the way that we would talk to our smartest friends and giving them all the context, all the information that they would need to feel like they’re making a great decision or a great purchase.”
Grammy-Award winning singer, actress and entrepreneur Rihanna thinks of her fans and customers the same way:
“I have this perception that my friends are the consumer.”
Good buyer personas are detailed enough that they demonstrate that you know your customers as well as you know your best friend, especially as it relates to the problem you help them solve.
When your personas are done right, they help you attract the customers you want like a magnet.
They provide a roadmap that enables you to know exactly what to do throughout your customer journey, to draw your customers closer to you. In particular, buyer personas help you with the following:
One: Personas Drive Products
There’s no need to guess about what kinds of products your customers want to buy from you.
When you know them well and pay attention to what they say and do, over time what they need most will become obvious, much the way it does with you and your friends.
Sprinkles Bakery knows that their ideal customer has a dog. So they’ve introduced a product line of “pup packs” designed to delight both dog-owner customers and their beloved best friends.
The products you produce for your customers should be such a perfect match for them that they say, “Here, take my money!”
Two: Personas Drive Copy
Many of us use a different kind of lingo when we talk to our friends. It’s less formal. It’s rife with inside jokes that make it difficult for those who aren’t in our inner circle to follow along. The words we use with our friends deepen our bond.
A few years ago, I read Joanna’s post here on CopyHackers about time management. Every time I read it, I laugh out loud when I get to this part:
My mom wouldn’t get the joke. Many of my friends wouldn’t get the joke. But I get the joke. And that’s all that matters.
Joanna knew I would get this joke reference from 1998 because she knows me, her ideal reader and customer.
The way you talk to your customers is part of what makes them feel like they belong with you as well.
Thus your buyer personas should reflect the intimacy you have with them, that informs the way in which you communicate with each other, particularly in the copy you use along your customer journey.
Three: Personas Drive Photography
Business is about belonging. Effective marketing will signal to your ideal customers that they belong with you. They will feel like you see them, get them and designed your products, services and experiences to fit them perfectly.
When your buyer personas reflect your customer friends, it makes it easier for you to produce imagery that either is a reflection of who they are or who they aspire to be.
Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. They define an athlete as “anyone with a body.” When you consider it that way, the imagery associated with who their ideal customers are could take on many forms and multiple personas.
Nike has embraced that diversity of various personas with the photography on their Instagram page.
Your photography should communicate “you belong here” to your ideal customers.
Buyer Personas: The magnet that simultaneously attracts and repels
By their very nature, buyer personas help you exclude certain groups of customers. Not everyone can and should be your customer. The same way that everyone can’t be your friend.
But the excluding that you’re doing should be intentional. The challenge is this:
Far too many brands have personas that exclude large groups of customers, without their marketers even realizing it. It isn’t too difficult to understand why so much exclusion marketing happens.
It comes down to a scientific term known as homophily, which essentially goes like so:
“You’re just like me. You’ll fit in just fine here.”
The homophily principle says that “contact between similar people occurs at a higher rate than among dissimilar people.”
A group of researchers from the University of Arizona and Duke analyzed various studies of homophily over many decades. They published their findings in the paper, Birds of a Feather: Homophily In Social Networks. Here’s how they summarized their observations:
Similarity breeds connection. This principle—the homophily principle—structures network ties of every type, including marriage, friendship, work, advice, support, information transfer, exchange, co-membership, and other types of relationship. The result is that people’s personal networks are homogeneous with regard to many sociodemographic, behavioral, and intrapersonal characteristics. Homophily limits people’s social worlds in a way that has powerful implications for the information they receive, the attitudes they form, and the interactions they experience. Homophily in race and ethnicity creates the strongest divides in our personal environments, with age, religion, education, occupation, and gender following in roughly that order.
The authors went on to add:
“By interacting only with others who are like ourselves, anything that we experience as a result of our position gets reinforced. It comes to typify ‘people like us.’”
In other words, when marketers go through the process of doing their ideal customer research and creating their buyer personas, they are more likely to profile prospects that are more similar to them, rather than dissimilar.
While that similarity helps you to focus your efforts on a group of customers whom you have an inherent degree of familiarity with, it also causes you to leave out those groups of customers who have backgrounds and experiences that deviate from your own.
Thus, it isn’t a far leap to hypothesize that many of the marketers who worked on scissors when I was a kid didn’t have a ton of left-handed people in their world. As a result, their frame of reference for considering how to serve left-handed people was limited or non-existent.
If a restaurant owner, chef, or meeting organizer doesn’t have people with dietary restrictions in their inner circle, they are less likely to fully consider those who do have them when they’re creating their menu.
EDITOR’S INTERJECTION: How long did it take for restaurants and pubs to add hooks for handbags under their tables?
While many brands have gotten away with marketing to “people like us,” trends show that approach won’t be so effective in the future.
The makeup of the people we serve is changing in multiple ways. Here are some noteworthy demographic trends you should be aware of:
While demographics shouldn’t be the only consideration when constructing your buyer personas, it is important to note the impact these demographic characteristics have on the psychographics and behaviors of the people you are serving.
And if your marketing is targeted effectively to your ideal customer, but it excludes one of their friends, then you run the risk of losing out on multiple groups of customers.
For health reasons, I follow a gluten-free diet. Thankfully, when I go out to eat with my friends, they are very good about making sure we go to a restaurant that has plenty of options for me to eat. My friends go through this effort because they want to include me. They want me around and aren’t going to let my dietary restrictions get in the way of our quality time together. And if a restaurant works for them, but doesn’t work for me, we don’t go.
With all the various types of differences that exist, buyer personas that only focus on what has historically been considered “mainstream” could be signaling to a large number of potentially loyal customers that “this isn’t for you.”
Ade Hassan is the founder of Nubian Skin, a company that specializes in lingerie and hosiery for women of color. Here she is explaining to me how being told “this isn’t for you” one too many times compelled her to start her company.
For the visual learners like me, here’s what comes up on Amazon when you type in nude hosiery:
Here’s what those “nude” stockings look like on a woman of color like me (just to be sure we’re all on the same page – this ain’t cute!):
And here is the hosiery that Nubian Skin sells, with a range of nudes for women of color:
When your buyer personas exclude customers you didn’t intend to, those very customers go off in search of other companies who acknowledge their needs and serve them.
“You get a car! You get a car! And you get a car!”
Buyer personas are a powerful marketing tool. But like with any tool, their ability to help or hinder your business is only as good as 1) the inputs that go into it and 2) how you use it.
Even though far too many personas unintentionally exclude, there are plenty of smart marketers who’ve done an excellent job of using personas to include more of their ideal customers.Even though the homophily principle implies that many people are limited in their consideration of others because their circles are largely similar, there is other research that showcases the ways in which the homophily phenomenon can be overcome – ways that can help you be more inclusive in your marketing: openness and empathy.
A 2017 study of more than 12,000 British households found that the personality trait of openness caused respondents to be more likely to have friends who lived farther away, were of the opposite sex and were of another ethnicity.
Professors at the Universities of Iowa and Toronto authored a New York Times article where they argued that empathy is a choice:
“While we concede that the exercise of empathy is, in practice, often far too limited in scope, we dispute the idea that this shortcoming is inherent, a permanent flaw in the emotion itself. Inspired by a competing body of recent research, we believe that empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.”
When you treat your customers as your friends, it becomes easier to make sure your friends are taken care of. Openness and empathy are woven into how you treat each other.
When you think of your customers and the relationship you have with them, the focus isn’t on how they are different and how that might inconvenience you. It’s on making sure that you do what you need to do to include them in whatever it is you’re doing.
It is important to note that inclusivity isn’t always about accommodating differences that may require a different approach to your products and services.
At times it’s just about refocusing your targeting efforts to welcome customers who could be loyalists to your brand, if introduced to your product and consistently engaged in a relevant manner.
The craft beer market is starting to embrace this concept. According to a New York Times report, the industry is looking beyond “young white dudes with beards” as a means to bolster slowing sales growth. As a result of their openness in recent years, the Brewers Association hired a diversity ambassador and has established a set of guidelines and resources to assist brewers in making their brands more inclusive. They are making progress as consumption of craft beer among women, African-American, Native American, and Hispanics are on the rise.
3 ways to know if your personas are a repellant for loyal customers
Your customers leave you clues that help you figure out whether or not they like what you’re doing. And because the topics of diversity, inclusion and belonging can still be touchy for folks, the good news is you can use cold hard data as your guide when it comes to assessing your brand.
Here are three sources to turn to for insight.
One: Evaluate if your customers are representative of the population
Ideally, your customers should be reflective of the population that fits within the demographic of your buyer persona. If 85% of your customers are women and 50% of the people who check all the boxes for the characteristics you describe in your persona are men, that’s a signal that something about your marketing doesn’t make men feel like they belong.
Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried used this approach to identify that the company needed to diversify their team. He penned an article that declared his company’s
Famous American investor Jim Rogers took a trip to Ethiopia.
It was during one of the worst famines in recorded history.
Foreign assistance to Ethiopia was, according to Rogers, commendable… but destined to fail.
See, 3 million Ethiopians were starving. But the country produced enough food to feed 60 million people.
They didn’t necessarily need more food.
They needed an infrastructure to carry the food they had from the rainforest to the desert.
So what’s that got to do with Facebook ads?
FB advertisers find themselves in similar situations when trying to troubleshoot ad campaigns that aren’t working.
They focus on bidding, on audiences and on ad structure – forgetting far too often about the importance of the most fundamental stuff in marketing and advertising:
Content and copywriting.
“But People Don’t Read Long Ads on Facebook”
Popular belief is that with Facebook ads, only the images matter; the copy does not. (This was particularly devastating for the Copy Hackers team to learn.)
Most marketers also believe that the copy should be short.
But are they right?
AdEspresso recently ran a Facebook Ad Copy Length experiment that challenges this belief. In it, they tested seven different ads for the same offer, where everything was the same for each ad except for the copy. Here’s a summary of their copy tests:
Variation A: One Sentence, Version A (claim with data)
Variation B: One Sentence, Version B (question)
Variation C: Bullet Points
Variation D: Bullet Points + Emojis
Variation E: One Paragraph
Variation F: Three Paragraphs
Variation G: Six Paragraphs
AdEspresso then polled marketers to see which variation they thought would win.
Nearly half of the marketers polled guessed Variation A: One Sentence would win.
But not only did Variation A NOT win. It also had a much higher CPA.
Turns out Variation E: One Paragraph was the ultimate winner, followed closely by Variation F: Two Paragraphs and then Variation G: Six Paragraphs.
Even better? Not only did the longer copy in these ads bring in the most leads… but long copy also had the lowest CPAs across the board.
That experiment showed a big increase in Facebook ad performance… based solely on changing the copy. (More about it here)
CAVEAT: When you write longer copy, you effectively change the message, too. So an easy argument here is, “Well didn’t the message also change?” Of course it did. Longer copy gives you room to explore more facets of a message, increasing your messaging surface area – or effectively increasing the size of the net you cast, allowing more message to pull in more people.
These results are not just for AdEspresso.
I once took a course fromPerry Marshall, a business consultant endorsed by FORBES and INC Magazine. He also wrote the world’s best-selling book on Facebook advertising, and he teaches clients how to successfully write long-form FB ads. One of his clients, Revelation Pets, had a sales increase of 300 percent in the month after taking his course. And another student dropped her cost per lead from $7 to $1.76.
I’ve written about long ad copy and how it helped BetterBack – a company that appeared on Shark Tank – run a profitable campaign.
But maybe you’re still not sure long copy actually works in Facebook ads???
Okay, lemme give you another example. But before we dive into it, think about the size of YOUR email list today. How many subscribers do you have? How many did you acquire last month alone? And how about last week?
With those numbers in mind, take a look at this case study:
Case Study: “I Will Teach You a Language”
uses long Facebook ad copy to get 3000+ subscribers in 1 week
Founder Olly Richards speaks eight languages and helps others learn new languages quickly through storytelling. For the past three years, FB ads have been consistently building Olly’s email list.
In a seven-day period recently, we received 3,118 opt-ins at £0.54/lead.
The secret is no secret at all: I consistently write lots of ads in which I engage in storytelling, which allows us to get leads at a good cost. I use long copy.
Here’s the ad that brought in all those leads in one week:
And now take a look at the comments! That ad got 2.2k likes, 545 shares, and 443 comments (708 total comments, if we count nested ones).
SIDE NOTE: Also in this example, someone wrote a comment that got 18 replies related to the ad topic. Nested comments are more proof that they’re reading!
Long-form copy has been given a bad rap in the marketing world.
People love to tell you that nobody reads online.
And here’s the thing: that can be very, very true.
But any great conversion copywriter will tell you this:
Don’t write for the people who don’t read online. Write for the people who do.
K, so how?
I’m about to walk you through 10 techniques for using long-form content and storytelling in Facebook ads. These are the exact techniques I follow to get results for my clients. And in case skepticism starts to creep in as you read – or in case you go put a pot of tea on and return to read the rest of this post having forgotten everything you just read – I’m also going to share a few more case studies as we go….
But first, let’s agree on this.
Engagement with your Facebook ads MATTERS.
Long ad copy can be incredibly engaging, and that’s a big part of what makes it a powerful weapon to fight off Facebook ad fatigue. And this is important for two reasons:
1) High engagement helps you get a higher relevancy score, which Facebook rewards with more impressions and lower CPM. Facebook itself recommends working on the ad text when it comes to improving the ad’s relevancy score.
2) Facebook ad delivery does not depend only on bids but also on the user experience. An official FB video says it is also about the user value, which combines both relevance and user engagement with the ad.
Agreed? Aligned? Got that tea made, and ready to hunker down? Let’s do this….
10 Techniques for Writing Effective Long-Form Facebook Ad Copy
Writing high-converting Facebook ads can feel intimidating, but you really don’t need to be an experienced copywriting expert to knock it out of the park.
Ready to test out long-form copy for yourself? These 10 tips can help you see results.
1. Understand and Reflect Your Customer’s Struggle… Specifically
If you were reading a page from your ideal customer’s diary, what would their struggle look like?
Understanding specific pain points and how your product or service can relieve them is key. Below is an example of an ad we ran that opens with a very visceral struggle:
This long copy uses Joanna Wiebe’s favorite framework: PAS. Problem -> Agitation -> Solution.
Here are a few key things to note with this Facebook ad copy:
We built desire before pitching. We didn’t go for the hard sell. We captured attention, provided value… and then appealed to a need. At the end, we finally offered the solution: a downloadable training kit.
We were specific. We used a singular, detailed story that many people can relate to in order to evoke an emotional connection. We didn’t just say, “She felt like she wasn’t part of society.” We SHOWED how she didn’t belong. If you can apply specific storytelling to a pain point, you’ll see great results.
We didn’t cut out the stuff most marketers cut out. The parts of the ad copy that most engage your reader are the details. We didn’t lose sight of the need for details, and we didn’t prioritize some random idea of “always be short” over the power of storytelling.
Specificity increases the likelihood that people will take action on your campaign. Two professors at Duke and Stanford University, Dan and Chip Heath, proved this over a 20-year research period. In their book “Made to Stick,” they described how concreteness and specificity make it easier for people to understand and respond to a message, which is what you want to happen in your Facebook ad copy.
In one of the book’s examples, researchers Shedler and Melvin Manis of the University of Michigan ran an experiment (in 1986). Subjects pretended to be jurors for a fictional trial about whether “Mrs. Johnson” should retain custody of her 7-year-old son. Jurors were presented with an equal number of arguments for and against. Experiment groups broke down like this:
Arguments for custody, featuring no specific details
Arguments against custody, featuring no specific details
Arguments for custody, featuring specific but unrelated details (e.g., a description of the boy’s toothbrush)
Arguments against custody, featuring specific but unrelated details (e.g., a description of the boy’s toothbrush)
How did jurors side?
Jurors tended to side with the argument that included vivid details. Even if the details were unrelated to whether or not Mrs Johnson was or was not fit to keep custody of her son.
Facebook is for new things. New announcements. New life changes. News. And new forms of news.
So little wonder stories that seem immediately relevant perform well as Facebook ad copy.
A while ago, I saw a story about a missing parrot who turned up speaking Spanish and without its previous British accent. I had a lightbulb moment and knew it would be the subject of my next Facebook ad. Here’s what I wrote:
When you see something newsworthy, why not make it the basis of your new long-form Facebook ad?
Many stories that get covered by the media COULD relate to your niche. Spin the story into an ad.
3. Mine the Comments for Facebook Ad Copy Inspiration
The comments section on an ad will be filled with everything from the hilarious to the outrageous.
Sometimes you can mine those comments and turn them into ad copy. For example, someone left this comment on one of our ads:
Of course I couldn’t use the same language left in the comment, but there was a seed of an idea there.
I wondered if, when trying to learn a language, it would actually help to date a native speaker.
So I searched Google for people’s experiences, both positive and negative. What I found became the ad copy below, where we used a different spin on storytelling – and some humour – to make a point.
Let the comments on your ad guide you toward the next ad you’ll write…
That Facebook ad copy follows the old copywriting rule: the job of a line of copy is to get your reader to read the next line.
Short copy doesn’t build up to the next line. Long copy does.
4. Use the Power of Analogy in Your Facebook Ad Copy
“Like Jaws in Space.”
That’s how the people behind the movie Alien pitched it. They took something their audience knew and wanted more of… and they connected it to their new product. And it worked – they sold the script and got funding. Because analogies and similes are powerful in sales. They help people understand more quickly – they’re a shortcut for actual knowledge.
For example, if you asked me “What does a Pomelo taste like?” and I answered “Like a grapefruit but without the bitterness,” you’d get it.
Analogies make it easier to understand something new by invoking concepts you already know. I try to use analogies frequently in my Facebook ad copy. They’re an essential part of good storytelling. Here’s an example:
We compared learning a language to running a marathon.
Note that I always try to address what an ad will be about in the first sentence; doing so keeps people engaged. You don’t want someone to read three paragraphs about running before they realize that it’s really about learning Spanish.
Make the analogy clear up front.
Analogies can work for any type of copy. If you saw a headline that read, “A typical bag of popcorn has 37 grams of saturated fat – 17 grams more than the USDA recommends in one day,” would you know just how much this was?
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) made this quantity applicable to consumers’ everyday lives. In a 1992 press conference, they announced:
“A medium-sized ‘butter’ popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings—combined!”
That made the front pages of The Los Angeles Times and USA Today. The Washington Post wrote about it. And it was featured on CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN.
The public response was so strong, in fact, that movie theaters were forced to stop using coconut oil in order to keep up popcorn sales.
5. Write Facebook Ads Based on Common Mistakes or Rookie Mistakes
Let’s say you help people learn to cook Italian food.
You might want to run an ad addressing the common beginner’s mistake of adding pineapple to pizza or ketchup to pasta. (Yes, I got myself banned from Italy.)
Fixing common mistakes for your readers builds trust and demonstrates credibility while offering value. Here’s a Facebook ad that uses this strategy, highlighting simple mistakes and showing the fix.
6. Try Opening Your FB Ad with, “It’s a common misconception that…”
All industries are plagued by misconceptions that affect their image. It’s the reality of life.
If you’re able to address a misconception in your Facebook ad copy, you may clear up a customer’s conscious or subconscious objection. When addressing misconceptions, make sure to explain your stance and back it up with evidence and stories whenever possible. Here’s what this might look like:
What is an objection you know your audience has? Write a long copy ad around that, neutralizing the objection.
7. Turn Your AMAs into Facebook Ad Copy!
Answer Questions You’re Always Asked
What’s one question you’re asked over and over? There’s got to be at least one.
Answering questions that your audience frequently asks will strike a chord with many members of your target audience, who almost certainly have the same Qs. It’s also another great chance to offer value to your audience and build a relationship with them early on. After all, for every person who dared ask a question, there are at least a thousand others who have wondered the same but never voiced it.
This is a high-converting ad we wrote to address a question we were asked regularly:
Write long-form Facebook ads that answer the questions you get asked the most.
To start keeping a collection of these questions – so you can write endless ads that follow this technique – try:
Emailing your list to ask them to submit their questions to you in a Typeform
Updating your welcome / nurturing / onboarding sequence with an email that invites subscribers to send you their most burning question
Adding a Typeform to your new subscriber or new customer thank-you page, asking people what they most want to learn from you
Embedding a form in the bottom of your blog posts, inviting people to submit questions
Hosting a Facebook ask-me-anything
8. Interview Your Clients and Use What They Tell You to Write FB Ads
When trying to come up with interesting copy, which would you rather do:
Sit at a cat cafe, staring at a blank page, looking confused, eating a big hunk of cake, getting frustrated and eventually leaving to sob in your car as you cradle your foodbaby.
Harry Harlow and a couple of his colleagues set up an experiment.
Source: Drive by Daniel H. Pink
They got some monkeys together, prepared a simple puzzle, put the puzzle in front of the monkeys and watched the scene unfold.
The scientists expected the monkeys to show disinterest.
But when the monkeys saw the puzzle, they began solving it. Immediately. With zero treats or incentives.
Over the next 14 days, Harlow and his team watched the monkeys problem-solve away their days.
Instead of losing interest and wandering off, the monkeys kept getting better and faster.
That’s when Harlow proposed a theory:
What if monkeys – and their distant relatives – actually found problem-solving intrinsically rewarding? And what if people found challenging, engaging tasks fulfilling and would happily do them not because they had to, but because they wanted to.
The scientific community thought both Harlow and his theory were ridiculous.
I was sick of simply freelancing and yet I was reluctant to join the business owner camp. Because growing my business would mean shifting my priorities and making painful changes.
It would mean investing in myself.
And this idea terrified me.
So if you’ve ever found yourself thinking:
“I want to do more than just freelance. I want to own a successful copywriting business that’s demanding and exciting and scary.”
Then this post is for you.
I’ve been consciously transitioning from freelancer to business owner since July 2018. Even in these short four months, there have been plenty of struggles.
Surprisingly, the majority of them were self-inflicted.
The crippling fear when I got in touch with three of my best retainer clients and told them that, from January 2019, I won’t be taking any paid content writing work on because I was focusing entirely on conversion copy and strategy.
The gut-wrenching panic of freeing up two full days a week to focus on growing my own business by investing time in writing long-form blog posts, planning webinar and podcast pitches, creating new products, building relationships and setting up funnels.
The myriad of tiny deaths my ego suffered every time I decided to ask other smart people for feedback on my ideas and offer feedback in return…
None of this felt good.
But it helped me get on the road I want to follow.
I didn’t do it alone.
My transition from freelancer to business owner is largely thanks to the books, studies, and individuals that helped me develop my own personalized framework- the same one I’d like to share with you in this post.
1. All the treats in the world ain’t enough
It all started the day I met Daniel Pink.
Well… “met” probably isn’t the right word. He introduced himself to me through the pages of his book “Drive”.
You know when you read something that confirms your deepest suspicions about the way you work? The ones that you’ve half voiced over a pint at the pub but otherwise safely tucked away.
He split the students into groups and ran the experiment over three days. On day one, students were given the puzzle and a few shapes printed on a piece of paper. Then they were asked to solve it.
Halfway through the experiment, Deci went out of the room under the pretext of entering some figures into his computer. He told the students they can do whatever they wanted while they waited.
On day two, Deci paid one of the groups for every solved puzzle. Again, halfway through, he left just like last time. Then on day three, everyone was back to solving puzzles for free.
The results were intriguing.
The unpaid groups spent most of their “free” time playing with the puzzle throughout the experiment. But on day three, the paid group lost interest. They played with the puzzle for considerably less time than the unpaid groups.
Deci noticed this:
It [the money] encouraged them to try to solve the puzzles, but it robbed them of the desire to engage in this playful activity for its own sake.
How monkeys and puzzles relate to growing a business
The Soma puzzle led Deci to start researching two types of human motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic motivation taps into your immediate wants and needs. More money. More food. A place to sleep. The admiration of others. It’s an external driver that nudges behavior.
Pink sums up the way we did (and still do) things perfectly:
For as long as any of us can remember, we’ve configured our organizations and constructed our lives around its [external motivation] bedrock assumption: The way to improve performance, increase productivity, and encourage excellence is to reward the good and punish the bad.
Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, taps into your internal desires. It’s not trying to lead you with a carrot or hit you with a stick. It’s there to draw on the things you (not someone else) find meaningful.
You should do this because we offer you a great pension, a salary and a stable career.
Here’s a decent amount of money so you don’t have to worry about the bills. A good leave policy so you can see your family. A contribution towards your future because you’re worth it.
But we know that’s not enough for you- you want to build things that matter. So here’s access to other smart people who’ll challenge you and a chance to build something you’ll love. And if you want in, we’ll trust you to be all in. We’ve got your back and you’ll have ours.
They tapped into people’s intrinsic motivation- the desire for meaningful work- and reaped the benefits.
Elementary, my dear copywriter
Sherlock Holmes is the original intrinsically motivated entrepreneur.
If we ignore the opium use (it was the 1800s…) Holmes is an accurate representation of the driven conversion copywriter, eager to carve out a space for themselves.
He created his own job title: consulting detective. Found his own clients by building authority. Always went above and beyond. Chose work that challenged his mind and created meaning.
Deci theorizes that it’s intrinsic motivation that drives the entrepreneurial behavior we need to build a successful, satisfying business.
HubSpot’s culture may be driven intrinsically, but the company is still profitable and growing. It’s a business, so it’s optimized for making money. As it should be. It’s just optimized to do more than that too.
This got me thinking:
As a freelancer, my motivation was mostly extrinsic: money in exchange for a job well done. And it left me feeling empty.
As a business owner, however, I could leverage my intrinsic motivation and be more than just another writer.
But first, I’d need to get past some arbitrary constraints.
Some limitations increase creativity, but this one kills it
Too many arbitrary rules can stifle intrinsic motivation.
Sam Glucksberg from Princeton demonstrated just how much in the 1960s.
In the candle test, you’re given a tall candle, a box full of tacks and a box of matches. To complete the test successfully you need to attach the candle to the wall. Glucksberg tested whether offering people money for solving the problem will improve the time it took.
Here’s what he found:
Offering a monetary reward increased the average time it took to complete the candle test by 3 and a half minutes.
I’m going to let that sink in for a moment.
People who were offered money to solve this problem sat in a room, staring at a candle, a box full of tacks and a box of matches for three and a half minutes longer than other participants before tipping the tacks out of the box, placing the candle in the box and using the tacks to secure the box to the wall.
Glucksberg discovered that offering an external reward increased linear thinking and decreased out of the box thinking. Yet creative problem solving is essential for most common business challenges you’ll encounter.
Take a common challenge like lead generation.
Imagine you joined a competition. To win, you had to get 20 high-quality ready-to-buy leads in 10 days.
What kind of thinking will help you get there: linear or out of the box?
Let’s follow these two diverging paths a bit further.
Linear thinking is likely to send you down the well-trodden path with your blinkers on. You’ll follow all the pre-established rules, scour the internet for best practices, and try to get there using the traditional way.
But what could happen if you stepped off the road and thought around the problem?
We feel awful during the mid-afternoon. As a result, our decision-making abilities and attention spans are severely impaired.
So what do you do when your best asset turns into something out of The Walking Dead for a set period of time every day?
What would a CRO do with data like this?
If your daily schedule was an underperforming piece of copy, you’d optimize it. You’d consult the copywriting formulas, check your swipe files and adapt a strategy to suit the client’s goals.
So that’s exactly what I did. I took a look at my freelance business’s best asset (me) and created a schedule around my peak performance times. And here’s what that resulted in:
I gave myself permission to take a break mid-afternoon and work again in the evening. Plus, I now work weekends when I want to. (It’s weirdly fun.)
I split my work into chunks ranging from 15 minutes to two hours. Instead of imposing a sit-down time, I check in with my energy levels and decide. If at the end of a 20 min session I feel like working more, I keep going. And if I need a break, I take it, then get right back to work.
When do you produce your best work?
And conversely, what are your least productive times?
Do you work better in marathons or in sprints?
And if you could design your own ideal work schedule, what would it look like?
If you are not sure, Pink suggests a simple exercise in his book “