Tool Overload is Slowing Your Marketing Team Down

Marketing teams tend to pick up a new tool for every problem.

An email marketing tool here, an ads tool there, a CRM somewhere else. Before you know it, accomplishing your daily tasks requires you to navigate a tangled, borderline incomprehensible web of point solutions, free trials, and complex, custom integrations that stall out when you need them the most.

Building a marketing strategy around an à la carte selection of tools seems sustainable at first, but it can get messy fast — especially for growing companies with shifting needs.

Consider this: over 50% of marketers say they use five or more tools a day, and over a quarter use more than ten.

Wrangling this veritable hodgepodge of tools takes a lot of effort, and it’s stealing valuable time out of your day (not to mention, energy and patience from your employees).

Over 50% of marketers reported spending over 30 minutes a day integrating marketing tools, maintaining existing integrations, and managing their marketing technology. 28% said they’re spending an hour or more each day managing tools.

It shouldn’t be this challenging to keep the technology your team depends on functioning properly. All those tools don’t just create a major hassle for your marketing team — they also lead to a crummy experience for your customers.

When your tools aren’t talking to each other, your customers get a subpar experience with your brand.

So what does tool overload look like from your customers’ perspective?

When your marketing tools are disjointed, you aren’t able to personalize content or offers to prospects when they take an action on your website, like filling out a form.

For example, I filled out a form on a popular clothing retailer’s website and reported my gender as ‘male’. If this company’s marketing tools were all on the same page, they would be able to serve me emails and other relevant materials about their new men’s fashion offers. Unfortunately, the information they collected about me on a form doesn’t seem to be connected to their email marketing tool. As a result, I’m consistently receiving unpersonalized emails about women’s fashion.

With too many disconnected tools in rotation, you also risk sending your existing customers offers or promotions for products they already have. For instance, I frequently receive emails from my credit card company asking me to sign up for the card I’ve already been using for months. That’s not just an annoying disconnect between their customer database and their marketing database — it’s a missed opportunity to introduce me to something new.

So how do you beat tool overload?

Instead of adopting an entirely new tool for each marketing problem you encounter, find a tool that can grow with you — adapting to your changing needs and connecting each part of your marketing strategy without a steep learning curve.

Your marketing tools work better when they work together. Form submissions should populate immediately in your CRM. Your CRM should inform your email segmentation. Emails should be personalized based on CRM data. Sales and marketing should work in the same system. All the context for all your contacts should exist in one simple place.

That all sounds great, but are people actually thinking that way? As it turns out, yes.

34% of marketers are interested in switching to an all-in-one software provider for marketing.

So what’s stopping them?

Well, getting a lot of different features to work seamlessly together tends to be really expensive. And making that first significant investment can be scary.

But what if you didn’t have to make a big, upfront investment to get your tools to talk to each other? What if there was a way to start with a system that had everything you need right now in one place, and would be able to grow and scale as you do?

Marketing Hub Starter offers a complete suite of tools that work together and grow with you.

With so many tools available, it’s easier than ever to start building out your marketing strategy. But it’s harder than ever to get started right.

Learn More About Marketing Hub Starter


Why HQ Trivia Is Actually a Genius Marketing Strategy

It’s been less than a year since HQ Trivia launched — and since then (around here, at least), it’s hard to go a day without hearing its name.

Don’t get me wrong. As a major proponent of pub trivia nights (not that I excel at them), I can see the appeal of a trivia app. But one, I thought, that is consumed passively — perhaps while waiting in line, or in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.

But no. HQ Trivia — the live, game-show-esque, social trivia app — does things differently.

You can only play at certain times of day: 3:00 and 9:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. You can win cash, no matter how nominal the amount. And you play with a community — of about two million players per game — that you can engage with during the game, in real-time.

But it’s not just two million of your closest friends who have taken notice. Investors have, too, and as of March, the company was valued at $100 million.

What’s more, certain tech giants look to be borrowing some ideas from HQ — though they’re not exactly admitting it. Facebook, for example, is adding game shows to its Watch roster, along with interactive elements that allow viewers to watch and “play along at home.” 

YouTube, for its part, introduced similar tools for creators — like audience polling — last November.

So what’s the big deal? Why are so many people taking notice of, investing in, and trying to copy HQ — and what can the rest of us learn from it? 

The Genius Marketing of HQ Trivia

The Appeal

Play to Win

Prior to writing this story, I had never played HQ, though I had heard of it — which seems to be common.

According to our survey of 478 internet users, we found that most respondents hadn’t heard of HQ — and that of those who were familiar with it, most had never played it before.

Have you ever heard of HQ Trivia_

Data collected with Lucid

Before the games began, I asked my more HQ-savvy colleagues to share their insights. Is it worth the hype? Is it as addicting as it seems?

“Yes,” says Leslie Ye, a senior content marketing manager at HubSpot. “People lose their minds over winning three cents.”

So maybe that has something to do with HQ’s success — the potential to win something, especially if that “thing” is as tangible as real money (instead of, say, cryptocurrency).

For each game, HQ sets a certain amount of total cash available to win, like $5,000, for instance. But that amount rarely goes to just one or two players, says HubSpot Marketing Blog Intern Swetha Amaresan — whose friend once won $6 playing — and is more often divided among thousands of winners.

“It’s so rare that you’ll win more than once — or that you’ll even win as much as $6,” she explains. “It’s the app’s way of keeping you playing even after you win.”

Social Edition

But the appeal doesn’t end there, and unsurprisingly, the social aspects might lend itself to the app’s success, too.

“It’s very, very social,” Amaresan tells me. “People all over the world are commenting while they’re playing, and you can engage with them or see how they’re doing.”

And maybe, says Ye, that also adds a competitive factor to its appeal — what she calls a potentially “weird pride thing.”

So that seemingly powerful nexus — where a social, interactive experience meets the potential to win — isn’t just anecdotal, nor is it limited to this one trivia app. 

Keri Lindenmuth, Marketing Manager of technology consulting firm KDG, says that her company has seen similar success with projects that added an element of gamification.

“We’ve found that crowdfunding campaigns do much better when there is a game in place, because an entire community is working toward a common goal,” she says. “Social sharing always helps. People like to share how well they did in a game … which only encourages more users to get involved.”

“HQ Trivia works the same way.”

– Keri Lindenmuth, Marketing Manager, KDG

That’s exactly how HQ Trivia works, Lindenmuth explains. “Players feel as if they’re part of a community, and everyone loves to brag a little on Facebook or Twitter about how many questions they got right.”

The Experience

There was one element of the game for which I wasn’t forewarned: its tendency to glitch, making many users unable to select any answer at all.

That’s what happened when I set forth, with Amaresan’s help, to play my very first 3:00 PM game of HQ Trivia. The app experienced a glitch, and unable to answer the most fundamental question of the game, I was eliminated from the first round.

“That was stressful,” I later told her. “I feel like one of the women eliminated from ‘The Bachelorette’ on the first night.”

“That’s very sad,” she responded.

But here’s the thing — neither the glitch, nor my obscenely early elimination from the game, are likely to discourage me from playing again.

That’s partially because I kept watching, even after I was eliminated, and saw how many of the subsequent questions I would have gotten correct. 

Aha! So it’s that possibility of winning, as I mentioned earlier — the “I would’ve gotten those answers right” effect — that, for now, will keep me coming back, even if my total winnings would have amounted to $0.88.


That’s core to the marketing brilliance of HQ: let people participate, and give them a reason to come back — with an incentive.

“It’s engaging, and possibly addictive, for a variety of reasons,” says Nate Lehoux, co-founder of competitive cash trivia app PROVEIT, “but we think that its primary appeal is actually the fact that it’s almost impossible to win.” 

“What used to be a spectator sport is now a virtual community event. That’s a huge disruption of the status quo.”

– Nate Lehoux, Co-founder, PROVEIT

So it’s not winning, Lehoux says, that keeps people coming back — which is exactly what seemed to happen with my own inaugural HQ experience. 

“Losing a round of HQ creates an ‘I’ll show you!’ mindset,” he explains, “that makes players come back next time to try and beat their own previous records.”

So, will I allow myself to become a glutton for punishment and tune in for the 9:00 PM game?

Well, of course. After all — that’s just one part of what makes the HQ strategy so effective.

Featured image: Apple/Intermedia Labs

The 14 Management Principles Every Manager Needs to Know

When you think of the French mining industry in the 1890’s, what pops in your mind? Terrible working conditions? A catastrophic collapse? The black lung?

What about the birth of modern work culture?

A coal mine might seem like an unlikely place for the emergence of work culture and organizational management theory, but you’d be surprised.

More than a century ago, Henri Fayol, the managing director of a French mining company, made groundbreaking advances in organizational management theory by constantly iterating his miners’ working conditions to uncover the optimal environment for efficiency, productivity, and happiness.

Click here to download leadership lessons from HubSpot founder, Dharmesh Shah.

Advancing the field of operational management was Fayol life’s work. For 28 years, he kept refining his own management techniques to improve his miners’ working conditions. And since there weren’t many management resources in the early 1900’s, he decided to write a book called General and Industrial Management about his own theory of management, Fayolism, to teach other managers how to lead a team.

Fayol’s book covers the 14 principles of management that he leveraged to improve his mine’s efficiency and culture, and his ideas still ring true today. He’s considered the father of modern operational management theory, helping countless managers boost their team’s productivity and morale.

Honing the fundamentals of modern management isn’t easy. But, fortunately, we wrote this blog post to help you learn some of the most timeless principles of management that have guided teams toward success for the last 100 years.

1. Division of Labor

Modern Translation: Figure out what you’re employees are good at, and assign them tasks that play to their strengths.

All employees have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. And if you know your employees’ skill set and let them specialize in their strengths and expertise, they’ll sharpen their skills and boost your team’s efficiency, productivity, and accuracy.

Allowing your employees to specialize in one or two related skills everyday gives them more repetitions and time to master their craft. They’ll improve a lot faster compared to learning a broad range of skills. And the better they are at their jobs, the better your team will perform.

At HubSpot and most modern companies, all of our teams specialize in one area. For instance, on the blogging team, our job is to craft clear, concise, and compelling stories that build an audience. But we can’t do this to our fullest potential if we have to spend time finding the optimal keywords to target or the highest converting lead generators to attach to our posts. We leave that to the SEO and Lead Generation team — improving our Google ranking and generating more leads are their strengths, and they can do those things better and faster than we can.

Specializing prevents us from wasting any time on tasks not related to our core goals. We would attract less organic traffic and generate less leads than the SEO and Lead Generation team would anyway. With specialization, we can spend more time honing the skills that actually help us reach our team’s goals, which is the best way we can help our business grow.

2. Party of Authority and Responsibility

Modern Translation: You should take on more responsibility for your team’s output as you gain more power.

In nearly all organizations, management makes the calls. As a manager, your job is devise your team’s overarching strategy and collaborate with your employees to find the most effective and realistic way to implement your vision.

But with this amount of power comes a lot of responsibility. Since you’re the one calling the shots, the consequences of your actions fall directly on your shoulders. If your strategy fails, it’s your fault. Not your employees.

Blaming and punishing your employees for the failure of your own vision and strategy is immature and spineless. Your employees will think you’re ungrateful for their efforts and won’t want to work for you anymore.

Holding yourself accountable for the consequences of your actions, especially when they’re bad, proves to your employees that you have strong integrity: you work to serve and protect your people, and you won’t throw people under the bus for your own personal gain.

3. Discipline

Modern Translation: You should demand as much discipline in your team as you do with yourself.

Every successful leader knows discipline goes both ways. You need to earn your employees’ respect, so they feel compelled and genuinely interested in following you. This way, you can streamline your team’s processes and help your employees produce quicker and better results.

But you also need to discipline yourself by making sure that you’re overseeing your team as ethically as possible. If you exploit your employees or cut corners just to improve productivity, then your employees will feel disrespected and unfulfilled, leading to low morale. Respecting your employees and offering them a good work-life balance is the right thing to do, even if the opposite conduct could produce more results.

4. Unit of Command

Modern Translation: Each of your employees should only have one manager.

Your employees are the most successful when they only have one direct manager overseeing their work. This creates a direct, genuine relationship between the two, and clarifies your employee’s sense of direction at work.

Having two managers isn’t ideal for anyone. It can spread employees thin, lead to conflicting directives, and even divide loyalty. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, each of your employees should only have one manager.

5. Unity of Direction

Modern Translation: Each of your teams should only have one plan of action.

Each group of employees who have similar responsibilities and goals should pursue one plan to achieve those goals. For example, your blog team should focus on building an audience to increase website traffic. And your lead generation team should focus on turning that traffic into qualified leads. These teams obviously have different responsibilities and goals, so they should follow their own plan of action.

Merging both these teams into one would cause chaos. The merge wouldn’t change their incentives, prompting each sub-team to steer the combined team towards their desired direction. This power struggle would prevent both of them from meeting their own set of goals.

As a manager, you should set clear goals for your team, document your plan of action, and monitor progress. You also need to effectively communicate the purpose and benefits of your vision, so your team will buy in and do whatever they can to achieve your goals.

6. Subordination of Individual Interest

Modern Translation: Your employees should prioritize the company’s interest over their own personal interests.

Everyone has their own unique interests that they should pursue. But in terms of work, your employees should prioritize the company’s interest over their own’ personal interests. If you don’t clarify the importance of putting the company’s goals ahead of individual goals, workers who constantly pursue their personal interests before their company’s could veer your business off the path that’s best for them.

At HubSpot, we want to help our employees understand our company’s goals and communicate the importance of prioritizing them over their personal goals. But we don’t want to be overbearing and regulate their every move, so instead of using pages of policies and procedures to police our employees, we have a three-word guideline for just about everything. It’s called Use Good Judgement. And to help our employees use good judgement, we ask them, to first, do what’s best for our customers, then the organization, then their team, and, finally, themselves.

7. Remuneration

Modern Translation: You should reward your employees.

One of the best ways to motivate your employees is to regularly recognize their accomplishments and milestones and ensure their compensation reflects their performance. Ample recognition and fair compensation helps your employees meet the majority of needs in the most influential model of motivation: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Photo Credit: Simple Psychology

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist in the 20th century, suggested that humans have to meet some needs before others to truly be happy, like meeting physiological and safety needs before esteem and self-actualization needs. But once we successfully meet one need, we’re motivated to meet the next one.

In theory, the purpose of life is to meet every need in the hierarchy. So if someone can meet their physiological and safety needs, but can’t fulfill their need for love and belonging, they can’t truly be happy.

Fairly compensating your employees helps them meet their physiological and safety needs. Recognizing employees helps them meet their esteem and self-actualization needs, since awards and praise make them feel valued, boosts their confidence, and motivates them to meet their true potential.

8. Degree of Centralization

Modern Translation: There should be a balance of authority between upper, middle, and lower management in your organization.

When a company is centralized, it means that upper level management has all the decision-making power. On the other side of the spectrum, when a company is decentralized, middle and lower level managers wield more power in the company’s decision making process, just like a democracy.

The best organizations strike a balance between the two. Absolute centralization and decentralization isn’t sustainable — no one wants to follow the order of a small, powerful group. But you also need a central power to instill order and guidance in employees so they can’t just do whatever they want.

Fayol suggested that companies should choose their degree of centralization based on the size of their business, experience of their superiors, and the ability of their employees.

9. Scalar Chain

Modern Translation: There should be an clear chain of communication in your organization.

Hierarchies exist in every business. From the executive board to your own team, they’re everywhere. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Fayol states that the most successful organizations have a clear understanding of each team and employees’ level of authority, and everyone should respect the hierarchy — especially when an employee wants to communicate with upper management.

Messages and requests should go through a chain of communication. If you want to communicate to the highest part of a hierarchy, you need the help of the employees who are just above you to get your message across.

For example, low-level managers who want to pass a message along to upper management should contact the mid-level managers about it first, who can then convey their message to upper management.

But Fayol also realized that by the time a low-level manager’s message reaches the top of the communication chain, it could be irrelevant. If it takes too long to communicate a message, what’s the point of sending it? To combat this problem, especially when the message is urgent, you should let your employees skip parts or all the steps of the communication process and take shortcuts to anyone whose higher up than them, even if they’re the CEO.

The amount of time your employees can shave off the communication process and the type of shortcuts they can take all depend on the situation. If it’s an emergency, they should be able to take a big shortcut and quickly convey their message to an executive. If the matter is less pressing, they should take smaller shortcuts and more time to convey their message. The executive team will gladly listen to your request for mitigating a PR emergency. But no one wants a midnight Slack message about a marketing email that was sent twice in one day.

10. Material and Social Order.

Modern Translation: You need to make sure your employees can succeed

To help your employees do their jobs well, you need to make sure your teams have enough resources and know what resources they have at their disposal. You should also ensure their work environment is safe and clean — a place where they look forward to going to work everyday.

As a manager, you also need to confirm that your employees are a good fit for their roles. Can they handle the stress? Can they manage their time and workload? Can they perform? These are things that every successful manager should know about all of her employees.

11. Equity

Modern Translation: You should treat your employees fairly.

In exchange for your employees hard work and dedication, you need to treat them fairly in return. This is crucial for healthy employee-manager relations because if one of your employees feels like other team members are getting preferential treatment over her, she’ll feel discriminated against, making her less happy and motivated at work.

You should always be hyper-aware of how fairly you treat each member of your team as well as your own unconscious biases towards your employees’ age, sex, religion, and personality type.

12. Stability of Tenure

Modern Translation: You should strive for a low turnover rate on your team.

Your new employees need time to get used to their work, improve, and, ultimately, succeed. Of course, you should expect your employees to master their jobs eventually, but if you don’t give them enough time to get acclimated, you’ll have to let them go — they won’t be able to hit their lofty goals immediately. Constantly recruiting new hires, training them, and then recruiting their replacements is a waste of your time and resources.

On the other side of the coin, when your employees know their job is stable, they’ll feel safe at work and enjoy their role more. This can lower your team’s employee turnover even more because employees will be less likely to move on from your team. You can also retain your employees longer by investing in their growth and wellbeing. Try offering them new learning opportunities, healthy snacks, and an inclusive environment.

13. Initiative

Modern Translation: You should let every employee make an impact on your team.

Your employees shouldn’t be scared to express their ideas. Instead, you should encourage them to take initiative and always be striving to improve your team’s efforts.

When you start implementing your employees’ ideas, your team will usually experience rapid growth — your employees’ trust and affinity for you will skyrocket, and they’ll also have more energy at work since their creations are coming to life. This gets your employees invested in the company, which helps your team come up with more break through ideas.

There are also more employees than managers at a company, so diversifying your ideation process with your employees’ different perspectives can generate more creative and effective ideas than the same, few minds can.

14. Espirt de Corps

Modern Translation: You should know how to boost your team’s morale.

Managers are leaders. You need to know how to get your team to passionately support a mission, even during the rockiest of times. And there’s three things you need to consistently do to make sure this happens.

First, you need to convince your employees to buy into the “why” behind your mission. This gives your employees a purpose and drives them to work as hard as possible.

Second, you should foster a team bond and a sense of unity. By encouraging the development of personal relationships with each other through team outings or daily chit-chat, you can create an atmosphere of trust, understanding, and inclusivity. You team will have harmony when each of your members feels like they belong, and this inspires them to work harder because they’re not just working together — they’re working for each other.

Lastly, you need to make your employees feel significant by rewarding high-performers and giving underachievers a chance to improve. If your employees know how important their work is to your team, they’ll feel valued, trusted, and motivated to help you succeed.

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The Local SEO’s Guide to the Buy Local Phenomenon: A Competitive Advantage for Clients

Posted by MiriamEllis

Photo credit: Michelle Shirley

What if a single conversation with one of your small local business clients could spark activity that would lead to an increase in their YOY sales of more than 7%, as opposed to only 4% if you don’t have the conversation? What if this chat could triple the amount of spending that stays in their town, reduce pollution in their community, improve their neighbors’ health, and strengthen democracy?

What if the brass ring of content dev, link opportunities, consumer sentiment and realtime local inventory is just waiting for you to grab it, on a ride we just haven’t taken yet, in a setting we’re just not talking about?

Let’s travel a different road today, one that parallels our industry’s typical conversation about citations, reviews, markup, and Google My Business. As a 15-year sailor on the Local SEO ship, I love all this stuff, but, like you, I’m experiencing a merging of online goals with offline realities, a heightened awareness of how in-store is where local business successes are born and bred, before they become mirrored on the web.

At Moz, our SaaS tools serve businesses of every kind: Digital, bricks-and-mortar, SABs, enterprises, mid-market agencies, big brands, and bootstrappers. But today, I’m going to go as small and as local as possible, speaking directly to independently-owned local businesses and their marketers about the buy local/shop local/go local movement and what I’ve learned about its potential to deliver meaningful and far-reaching successes. Frankly, I think you’ll be as amazed as I’ve been.

At the very least, I hope reading this article will inspire you to have a conversation with your local business clients about what this growing phenomenon could do for them and for their communities. Successful clients, after all, are the very best kind to have.

What is the Buy Local movement all about?

What’s the big idea?

You’re familiar with the concept of there being power in numbers. A single independent business lacks the resources and clout to determine the local decisions and policies that affect it. Should Walmart or Target be invited to set up shop in town? Should the crumbling building on Main St. be renovated or demolished? Which safety and cultural services should be supported with funding? The family running the small grocery store has little say, but if they join together with the folks running the bakery, the community credit union, the animal shelter, and the bookstore … then they begin to have a stronger voice.

Who does this?

Buy Local programs formalize the process of independently-owned businesses joining together to educate their communities about the considerable benefits to nearly everyone of living in a thriving local economy. These efforts can be initiated by merchants, Chambers of Commerce, grassroots citizen groups, or others. They can be assisted and supported by non-profit organizations like the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

What are the goals?

Through signage, educational events, media promotions, and other forms of marketing, most Buy Local campaigns share some or all of these goals:

  • Increase local wealth that recirculates within the community
  • Preserve local character
  • Build community
  • Create good jobs
  • Have a say in policy-making
  • Decrease environmental impacts
  • Support entrepreneurship
  • Improve diversity/variety
  • Compete with big businesses

Do Buy Local campaigns actually work?

Yes – research indicates that, if managed correctly, these programs yield a variety of benefits to both merchants and residents. Consider these findings:

1) Healthy YOY sales advantages

ILSR conducted a national survey of independent businesses to gauge YOY sales patterns. 2016 respondents reported a good increase in sales across the board, but with a significant difference which AMIBA sums up:

“Businesses in communities with a sustained grassroots “buy independent/buy local” campaign reported a strong 7.4% sales increase, nearly doubling the 4.2% gain for those in areas without such an alliance.”

2) Keeping spending local

The analysts at Civic Economics conducted surveys of 10 cities to gauge the local financial impacts of independents vs. chain retailers, yielding a series of graphics like this one:

While statistics vary from community to community, the overall pattern is one of significantly greater local recirculation of wealth in the independent vs. chain environment. These patterns can be put to good use by Buy Local campaigns with the goal of increasing community-sustaining wealth.

3) Keeping communities employed and safe

Few communities can safely afford the loss of jobs and tax revenue documented in a second Civic Economics study which details the impacts of Americans’ Amazon habit, state by state and across the nation:

While the recent supreme court ruling allowing states to tax e-commerce models could improve some of these dire numbers, towns and cities with Buy Local alliances can speak plainly: Lack of tax revenue that leads to lack of funding for emergency services like fire departments is simply unsafe and unsustainable. A study done a few years back found that ⅔ of volunteer firefighters in the US report that their departments are underfunded with 86% of these heroic workers having to dip into their own pockets to buy supplies to keep their stations going. As I jot these statistics down, there is a runaway 10,000 acre wildfire burning a couple of hours north of me…

Meanwhile, is pointing out,

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since the end of the Great Recession, small businesses have created 62 percent of all net new private-sector jobs. Among those jobs, 66 percent were created by existing businesses, while 34 percent were generated through new establishments (adjusted for establishment closings and job losses)”.

When communities have Go Local-style business alliances, they are capitalizing on the ability to create jobs, increase sales, and build up tax revenue that could make a serious difference not just to local unemployment rates, but to local safety.

4) Shaping policy

In terms of empowering communities to shape policy, there are many anecdotes to choose from, but one of the most celebrated surrounds a landmark study conducted by the Austin Independent Business Alliance which documented community impacts of spending at the local book and music stores vs. a proposed Borders. Their findings were compelling enough to convince the city not to give a $2.1 million subsidy to the now-defunct corporation.

5) Improving the local environment

A single statistic here is incredibly eye opening. According to the US Department of Transportation, shopping-related driving per household more than tripled between 1969-2009.

All you have to do is picture to yourself the centralized location of mainstreet businesses vs. big boxes on the outskirts of town to imagine how city planning has contributed to this stunning rise in time spent on the road. When residents can walk or bike to make daily purchases, the positive environmental impacts are obvious.

6) Improving residents’ health and well-being

A recent Cigna survey of 20,000 Americans found that nearly half of them always or sometimes feel lonely, lacking in significant face-to-face interactions with others. Why does this matter? Because the American Psychological Association finds that you have a 50% less chance of dying prematurely if you have quality social interactions.

There’s a reason author Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series about life in a small town in North Carolina has been a string of NY Times Best Sellers; readers and reviewers continuously state that they yearn to live someplace like this fictitious community with the slogan “Mitford takes care of its own”. In the novels, the lives of residents, independent merchants, and “outsiders” interweave, in good times and bad, creating a support network many Americans envy.

This societal setup must be a winner, as well as a bestseller, because the Cambridge Journal of Regions published a paper in which they propose that the concentration of small businesses in a given community can be equated with levels of public health.

Beyond the theory that eating fresh and local is good for you, it turns out that knowing your farmer, your banker, your grocer could help you live longer.

7) Realizing big-picture goals

Speaking of memorable stories, this video from ILSR does a good job of detailing one view of the ultimate impacts independent business alliances can have on shaping community futures:

I interviewed author and AMIBA co-founder, Jeff Milchen, about the good things that can happen when independents join hands. He summed it up,

“The results really speak for themselves when you look at what the impact of public education for local alliances has been in terms of shifting culture. It’s a great investment for independent businesses to partner with other independents, to do things they can’t do individually. Forming these partnerships can help them compete with the online giants.”

Getting going with a Go Local campaign, the right way

If sharing some of the above with clients has made them receptive to further exploration of what involvement in an independent business alliance might do for them, here are the next steps to take:

  1. First, find out if a Go Local/Shop Local/Buy Local/Stay Local campaign already exists in the business’ community. If so, the client can join up.
  2. If not, contact AMIBA. The good folks there will know if other local business owners in the client’s community have already expressed interest in creating an alliance. They can help connect the interested parties up.
  3. I highly, highly recommend reading through Amiba’s nice, free primer covering just about everything you need to know about Go Local campaigns.
  4. Encourage the client to publicize their intent to create an alliance if none exists in their community. Do an op ed in the local print news, put it on social media sites, talk to neighbors. This can prompt outreach from potential allies in the effort.
  5. A given group can determine to go it alone, but it may be better to rely on the past experience of others who have already created successful campaigns. AMIBA offers a variety of paid community training modules, including expert speakers, workshops, and on-site consultations. Each community can write in to request a quote for a training plan that will work best for them. The organization also offers a wealth of free educational materials on their website.
  6. According to AMIBA’s Jeff Milchen, a typical Buy Local campaign takes about 3-4 months to get going.

It’s important to know that Go Local campaigns can fail, due to poor execution. Here is a roundup of practices all alliances should focus on to avoid the most common pitfalls:

  1. Codify the definition of a “local” business as being independently-owned-and-run, or else big chain inclusion will anger some members and cause them to leave.
  2. Emphasize all forms of local patronage; campaigns that stick too closely to words like “buy” or “shop” overlook the small banks, service area businesses, and other models that are an integral part of the independent local economy.
  3. Ensure diversity in leadership; an alliance that fails to reflect the resources of age, race, gender/identity, political views, economics and other factors may wind up perishing from narrow viewpoints. On a related note, AMIBA has been particularly active in advocating for business communities to rid themselves of bigotry. Strong communities welcome everyone.
  4. Do the math of what success looks like; education is a major contributing factor to forging a strong alliance, based on projected numbers of what campaigns can yield in concrete benefits for both merchants and residents.
  5. Differentiate inventory and offerings so that independently-owned businesses offer something of added value which patrons can’t easily replicate online; this could be specialty local products, face-to-face time with expert staff, or other benefits.
  6. Take the high road in inspiring the community to increase local spending; campaigns should not rely on vilifying big and online businesses or asking for patronage out of pity. In other words, guilt-tripping locals because they do some of their shopping at Walmart or Amazon isn’t a good strategy. Even a 10% shift towards local spending can have positive impacts for a community!
  7. Clearly assess community resources; not every town, city, or district hosts the necessary mix of independent businesses to create a strong campaign. For example, approximately 2.2% of the US population live in “food deserts”, many miles from a grocery store. These areas may lack other local businesses, as well, and their communities may need to create grassroots campaigns surrounding neighborhood gardens, mobile markets, private investors and other creative solutions.

In sum, success significantly depends on having clear definitions, clear goals, diverse participants and a proud identity as independents, devoid of shaming tactics.

Circling back to the Web — our native heath!

So, let’s say that your incoming client is now participating in a Buy Local program. Awesome! Now, where do we go from here?

In speaking with Jeff Milchen, I asked what he has seen in terms of digital marketing being used to promote the businesses involved in Buy Local campaigns. He said that, while some alliances have workshops, it’s a work in progress and something he hopes to see grow in the future.

As a Local SEO, that future is now for you and your fortunate clients. Here are some ways I see this working out beautifully:

Basic data distribution and consistency

Small local businesses can sometimes be unaware of inconsistent or absent local business listings, because the owners are just so busy. The quickest way I know to demo this scenario is to plug the company name and zip into the free Moz Check Listing tool to show them how they’re doing on the majors. Correct data errors and fill in the blanks, either manually, or, using affordable software like Moz Local. You’ll also want to be sure the client has a presence on any geo or industry-specific directories and platforms. It’s something your agency can really help with!

A hyperlocalized content powerhouse

Build proud content around the company’s involvement in the Buy Local program.

  • Write about all of the economic, environmental, and societal benefits residents can support by patronizing the business.
  • Motivated independents take time to know their customers. There are stories in this. Write about the customers and their needs. I’ve even seen independent restaurants naming menu items after beloved patrons. Get personal. Build community.
  • Don’t forget that even small towns can be powerful points of interest for tourists. Create a warm welcome for travelers, and for new neighbors, too!

Link building opportunities of a lifetime

Local business alliances form strong B2B bonds.

  • Find relationships with related businesses that can sprout links. For example, the caterer knows the wedding cake baker, who knows the professional seamstress, who knows the minister, who knows the DJ, who knows the florist.
  • Dive deep into opportunities for sponsoring local organizations, teams and events, hosting and participating in workshops and conferences, offering scholarships and special deals.
  • Make fast friends with local media. Be newsworthy.

A wellspring of sentiment

Independents form strong business-to-community bonds.

  • When a business really knows its customers, asking for online reviews is so much easier. In some communities, it may be necessary to teach customers how to leave reviews, but once you get a strategy going for this, the rest is gravy.
  • It’s also a natural fit for asking for written and video testimonials to be published on the company website.
  • Don’t forget the power of Word of Mouth Marketing, while you’re at it. Loyal patrons are an incredible asset.
  • The one drawback could be if your business model is one of a sensitive nature. Tight-knit communities can be ones in residents may be more desirous of protecting their privacy.

Digitize inventory easily

30% of consumers say they’d buy from a local store instead of online if they knew the store was nearby (Google). Over half of consumers prefer to shop in-store to interact with products (Local Search Association). Over 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition (Bright Local).

It all adds up to the need for highly-authentic independently-owned businesses to have an online presence that signals to Internet users that they stock desired products. For many small, local brands, going full e-commerce on their website is simply too big of an implementation and management task. It’s a problem that’s dogged this particular business sector for years. And it’s why I got excited when the folks at AMIBA told me to check out Pointy.

Pointy offers a physical device that small business owners can attach to their barcode scanner to have their products ported to a Pointy-controlled webpage. But, that’s not all. Pointy integrates with the “See What’s In Store” inventory function of Google My Business Knowledge Panels. Check out Talbot’s Toyland in San Mateo, CA for a live example.

Pointy is a startup, but one that is exciting enough to have received angel investing from the founder of WordPress and the co-founder of Google Maps. Looks like a real winner to me, and it could provide a genuine answer for brick-and-mortar independents who have found their sales staggering in the wake of Amazon and other big digital brands.

Local SEOs have an important part to play

Satisfaction in work is a thing to be cherished. If the independent business movement speaks to you, bringing your local search marketing skills to these alliances and small brands could make more of your work days really good days.

The scenario could be an especially good fit for agencies that have specialized in city or state marketing. For example, one of our Moz Community members confines his projects to South Carolina. Imagine him taking it on the road a bit, hosting and attending workshops for towns across the state that are ready to revitalize main street. An energetic client roster could certainly result if someone like him could show local banks, grocery stores, retail shops and restaurants how to use the power of the local web!

Reading America

Our industry is living and working in complex times.

The bad news is, a current Bush-Biden poll finds that 8/10 US residents are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about the state of democracy in our nation.

The not-so-bad news is that citizen ingenuity for discovering solutions and opportunities is still going strong. We need only look as far as the runaway success of the TV show “Fixer Upper”, which drew 5.21 million viewers in its fourth season as the second-largest telecast of Q2 of that year. The show surrounded the revitalization of dilapidated homes and businesses in and around Waco, Texas, and has turned the entire town into a major tourist destination, pulling in millions of annual visitors and landing book deals, a magazine, and the Magnolia Home furnishing line for its entrepreneurial hosts.

While not every town can (or would want to) experience what is being called the “Magnolia effect”, channels like HGTV and the DIY network are heavily capitalizing on the rebirth of American communities, and private citizens are taking matters into their own hands.

There’s the family who moved from Washington D.C. to Water Valley, Mississippi, bought part of the decaying main street and began to refurbish it. I found the video story of this completely riveting, and look at the Yelp reviews of the amazing grocery store and lunch counter these folks are operating now. The market carries local products, including hoop cheese and milk from the first dairy anyone had opened in 50 years in the state.

There are the half-dozen millennials who are helping turn New Providence, Iowa into a place young families can live and work again. There’s Corning, NY, Greensburg, KS, Colorado Springs, CO, and so many more places where people are eagerly looking to strengthen community sufficiency and sustainability.

Some marketing firms are visionary forerunners in this phenomenon, like Deluxe, which has sponsored the Small Business Revolution show, doing mainstreet makeovers that are bringing towns back to life. There could be a place out there somewhere on the map of the country, just waiting for your agency to fill it.

The best news is that change is possible. A recent study in Science magazine states that the tipping point for a minority group to change a majority viewpoint is 25% of the population. This is welcome news at a time when 80% of citizens are feeling doubtful about the state of our democracy. There are 28 million small businesses in the United States – an astonishing potential educational force – if communities can be taught what a vote with their dollar can do in terms of giving them a voice. As Jeff Milchen told me:

One of the most inspiring things is when we see local organizations helping residents to be more engaged in the future of their community. Most communities feel somewhat powerless. When you see towns realize they have the ability to shift public policy to support their own community, that’s empowering.”

Sometimes, the extremes of our industry can make our society and our democracy hard to read. On the one hand, the largest brands developing AI, checkout-less shopping, driverless cars, same-day delivery via robotics, and the gig economy win applause at conferences.

On the other hand, the public is increasingly hearing the stories of employees at these same companies who are protesting Microsoft developing face recognition for ICE, Google’s development of AI drone footage analysis for the Pentagon, working conditions at Amazon warehouses that allegedly preclude bathroom breaks and have put people in the hospital, and the various outcomes of the “Walmart Effect”.

The Buy Local movement is poised in time at this interesting moment, in which our democracy gets to choose. Gigs or unions? Know your robot or know your farmer? Convenience or compassion? Is it either/or? Can it be both?

Both big and small brands have a major role to play in answering these timely questions and shaping the ethics of our economy. Big brands, after all, have tremendous resources for raising the bar for ethical business practices. Your agency likely wants to serve both types of clients, but it’s all to the good if all business sectors remember that the real choosers are the “consumers”, the everyday folks voting with their dollars.

I know that it can be hard to find good news sometimes. But I’m hoping what you’ve read today gifts you with a feeling of optimism that you can take to the office, take to your independently-owned local business clients, and maybe even help take to their communities. Spark a conversation today and you may stumble upon a meaningful competitive advantage for your agency and its most local customers.

Every year, local SEOs are delving deeper and deeper into the offline realities of the brands they serve, large and small. We’re learning so much, together. It’s sometimes a heartbreaker, but always an honor, being part of this local journey.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

How to Write a Case Study: Bookmarkable Guide & Template

Earning the trust of prospective customers can be a struggle. 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.

Writing a case study is a great way to do that.

Sure, you could say that you’re great at X, or that you’re way ahead of the competition when it comes to Y. But at the end of the day, what you really need to win new business is cold, hard proof.

One of the best ways to prove your worth is through a compelling case study.

What Is a Case Study?

A case study examines a person’s or business’s specific challenge or goal, and how they solved for it. Case studies can vary greatly in length and focus on a number of details related to the initial challenge and applied solution.

In professional settings, it’s common for a case study to tell the story of a successful business partnership between a vendor and a client.

Whether it’s a brief snapshot of your client’s health since working with you, or a long success story of the client’s growth, your case study will measure this success using metrics that are agreed upon by the client you’re featuring. Perhaps the success you’re highlighting is in the number of leads your client generated, customers closed, or revenue gained. Any one of these key performance indicators (KPIs) are examples of your company’s services in action.

When done correctly, these examples of your work can chronicle the positive impact your business has on existing or previous customers. New Call-to-action

To help you arm your prospects with information they can trust, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide on how to create effective case studies for your business — as well as free case study templates for creating your own.

Want to learn as you write your case study? Listen to an audio summary of this post below.

Case Study Templates

How to Write a Business Case Study

1. Determine the case study’s objective and format.

All business case studies are designed to demonstrate the value of your services, but they can focus on several different client objectives and take a few different forms.

Your first step when writing a case study is to determine the objective or goal of the subject you’re featuring, and the format in which you’ll create the case study. In other words, what will the client have succeeded in doing by the end of the piece? How will you tell this story?

Possible Case Study Objectives

The client objective you focus on will depend on what you want to prove to your future customers as a result of publishing this case study.

Your case study can focus on one of the following client objectives:

  • Complying with government regulation
  • Lowering business costs
  • Becoming profitable
  • Generating more leads
  • Closing on more customers
  • Generating more revenue
  • Expanding into a new market
  • Becoming more sustainable or energy-efficient

Possible Case Study Formats

Case studies don’t have to be simple, written one-pagers. Using different media in your case study can allow you to promote your final piece on different channels. For example, while a written case study might just live on your website and get featured in a Facebook post, you can post an infographic case study on Pinterest, and a video case study on your YouTube channel.

Here are some different case study formats to consider:

Written Case Study

Consider writing this case study in the form of an ebook and converting it to a downloadable PDF. Then, gate the PDF behind a landing page and form for readers to fill out before downloading the piece, allowing this case study to generate leads for your business.

Video Case Study

Plan on meeting with the client and shooting an interview. Seeing the subject, in person, talk about the service you provided them can go a long way in the eyes of your potential customers.

Infographic Case Study

Use the long, vertical format of an infographic to tell your success story from top to bottom. As you progress down the infographic, emphasize major KPIs using bigger text and charts that show the successes your client has had since working with you.

Podcast Case Study

Podcasts are a platform for you to have a candid conversation with your client. This type of case study can sound more real and human to your audience — they’ll know the partnership between you and your client was a genuine success.

2. Find the right case study candidate.

Writing about your previous projects requires more than picking a client and telling a story. You need permission, quotes, and a plan. To start, here are a few things to look for in potential candidates.

Product Knowledge

It helps to select a customer who’s well-versed in the logistics of your product or service. That way, he or she can better speak to the value of what you offer in a way that makes sense for future customers.

Remarkable Results

Clients that have seen the best results are going to make the strongest case studies. If their own businesses have seen an exemplary ROI from your product or service, they’re more likely to convey the enthusiasm that you want prospects to feel, too.

One part of this step is to choose clients who have experienced unexpected success from your product or service. When you’ve provided non-traditional customers — in industries that you don’t usually work with, for example — with positive results, it can help to remove doubts from prospects.

Recognizable Names

While small companies can have powerful stories, bigger or more notable brands tend to lend credibility to your own — in some cases, having brand recognition can lead to 24.4X as much growth as companies without it.


Customers that came to you after working with a competitor help highlight your competitive advantage, and might even sway decisions in your favor.

3. Reach out to your chosen subject.

To get the right case study candidate on board, you have to set the stage for clear and open communication. That means outlining expectations and a timeline right away — not having those is one of the biggest culprits in delayed case study creation.

It’s helpful to know what you’ll need from your chosen subject, like permission to use any brand names and share the project information publicly. Kick off the process with an email that runs through exactly what they can expect from you, as well as what is expected of them. To give you an idea of what that might look like, check out this sample email:

Case study permission email template for sending to a client or subject

You might be wondering, “What’s a Case Study Release Form?” or, “What’s a Success Story Letter?” Let’s break those down.

Case Study Release Form

This document can vary, depending on factors like the size of your business, the nature of your work, and what you intend to do with the case studies once they are completed. That said, you should typically aim to include the following in the Case Study Release Form:

  • A clear explanation of why you are creating this case study and how it will be used.
  • A statement defining the information and potentially trademarked information you expect to include about the company — things like names, logos, job titles, and pictures.
  • An explanation of what you expect from the participant, beyond the completion of the case study. For example, is this customer willing to act as a reference or share feedback, and do you have permission to pass contact information along for these purposes?
  • A note about compensation.

Success Story Letter

As noted in the sample email, this document serves as an outline for the entire case study process. Other than a brief explanation of how the customer will benefit from case study participation, you’ll want to be sure to define the following steps in the Success Story Letter.

The Acceptance

First, you’ll need to receive internal approval from the company’s marketing team. Once approved, the Release Form should be signed and returned to you. It’s also a good time to determine a timeline that meets the needs and capabilities of both teams.

The Questionnaire

To ensure that you have a productive interview — which is one of the best ways to collect information for the case study — you’ll want to ask the participant to complete a questionnaire prior to this conversation. That will provide your team with the necessary foundation to organize the interview, and get the most out of it.

The Interview

Once the questionnaire is completed, someone on your team should reach out to the participant to schedule a 30- to 60-minute interview, which should include a series of custom questions related to the customer’s experience with your product or service.

The Draft Review

After the case study is composed, you’ll want to send a draft to the customer, allowing an opportunity to give you feedback and edits.

The Final Approval

Once any necessary edits are completed, send a revised copy of the case study to the customer for final approval.

Once the case study goes live — on your website or elsewhere — it’s best to contact the customer with a link to the page where the case study lives. Don’t be afraid to ask your participants to share these links with their own networks, as it not only demonstrates your ability to deliver positive results, but their impressive growth, as well.

4. Ensure you’re asking the right questions.

Before you execute the questionnaire and actual interview, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. A strong case study results from being prepared to ask the right questions. What do those look like? Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • What are your goals?
  • What challenges were you experiencing prior to purchasing our product or service?
  • What made our product or service stand out against our competitors?
  • What did your decision-making process look like?
  • How have you benefited from using our product or service? (Where applicable, always ask for data.)

Keep in mind that the questionnaire is designed to help you gain insights into what sort of strong, success-focused questions to ask during the actual interview. And once you get to that stage, we recommend that you follow the “Golden Rule of Interviewing.” Sounds fancy, right? It’s actually quite simple — ask open-ended questions.

If you’re looking to craft a compelling story, “yes” or “no” answers won’t provide the details you need. Focus on questions that invite elaboration, such as, “Can you describe …?” or, “Tell me about …”

In terms of the interview structure, we recommend categorizing the questions and flow into six specific sections. Combined, they’ll allow you to gather enough information to put together a rich, comprehensive study.

The Customer’s Business

The goal of this section is to generate a better understanding of the company’s current challenges and goals, and how they fit into the landscape of their industry. Sample questions might include:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • How many employees do you have?
  • What are some of the objectives of your department at this time?

The Need for a Solution

In order to tell a compelling story, you need context. That helps match the customer’s need with your solution. Sample questions might include:

  • What challenges and objectives led you to look for a solution?
  • What might have happened if you did not identify a solution?
  • Did you explore other solutions prior to this that did not work out? If so, what happened?

The Decision Process

Exploring how the customer arrived at the decision to work with you helps to guide potential customers through their own decision-making processes. Sample questions might include:

  • How did you hear about our product or service?
  • Who was involved in the selection process?
  • What was most important to you when evaluating your options?

The Implementation

The focus here should be placed on the customer’s experience during the onboarding process. Sample questions might include:

  • How long did it take to get up and running?
  • Did that meet your expectations?
  • Who was involved in the process?

The Solution in Action

The goal of this section is to better understand how the customer is using your product or service. Sample questions might include:

  • Is there a particular aspect of the product or service that you rely on most?
  • Who is using the product or service?

The Results

In this section, you want to uncover impressive measurable outcomes — the more numbers, the better. Sample questions might include:

  • How is the product or service helping you save time and increase productivity?
  • In what ways does that enhance your competitive advantage?
  • How much have you increased metrics X, Y, and Z?

5. Lay out your case study outline.

When it comes time to take all of the information you’ve collected and actually turn it into something, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Where should you start? What should you include? What’s the best way to structure it?

To help you get a handle on this step, it’s important to first understand that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the ways you can present a case study. They can be very visual, which you’ll see in some of the examples we’ve included below, and can sometimes be communicated mostly through video or photos, with a bit of accompanying text.

Whether your case study is primarily written or visual, we recommend focusing on the seven-part outline, below. Note: Even if you do elect to use a visual case study, it should still include all of this information, but presented in its intended format.

  1. Title: Keep it short. Focus on highlighting the most compelling accomplishment.
  2. Executive Summary: A 2-4 sentence summary of the entire story. You’ll want to follow it with 2-3 bullet points that display metrics showcasing success.
  3. About the Subject: An introduction to the person or company you served, which can be pulled from a LinkedIn Business profile or client website.
  4. Challenges and Objectives: A 2-3 paragraph description of the customer’s challenges, prior to using your product or service. This section should also include the goals or objectives the customer set out to achieve.
  5. Your method: A 2-3 paragraph section that describes how your product or service provided a solution to their problem.
  6. Results: A 2-3 paragraph testimonial that proves how your product or service specifically benefited the person or company, and helped achieve its goals. Include numbers to quantify your contributions.
  7. Supporting Visuals or Quotes: Pick one or two powerful quotes that you would feature at the bottom of the sections above, as well as a visual that supports the story you are telling.

To help you visualize this case study outline, check out this case study template, which can also be downloaded here.

Case study template with sample outline

Case study template with sample outline 2

When laying out your case study, focus on conveying the information you’ve gathered in the most clear and concise way possible. Make it easy to scan and comprehend, and be sure to provide an attractive call-to-action at the bottom — that should provide readers an opportunity to learn more about your product or service.

6. Publish and promote your case study.

Once you’ve completed your case study, it’s time to publish and promote it. Some case study formats have pretty obvious promotional outlets — a video case study can go on YouTube, just as an infographic case study can go on Pinterest.

But there are still other ways to publish and promote your case study. Here are a couple of ideas:

Gated Behind a Blog Post

As stated earlier in this article, written case studies make terrific lead-generators if you convert them into a downloadable format, like a PDF. To generate leads from your case study, consider writing a blog post that tells an abbreviated story of your client’s success and asking readers to fill out a form with their name and email address if they’d like to read the rest in your PDF.

Then, promote this blog post on social media, through a Facebook post or a tweet.

Published as a Page on Your Website

As a growing business, you might need to display your case study out in the open to gain the trust of your target audience.

Rather than gating it behind a landing page, publish your case study to its own page on your website, and direct people here from your homepage with a “Case Studies” or “Testimonials” button along your homepage’s top navigation bar.

Business Case Study Examples

You drove the results, made the connect, set the expectations, used the questionnaire to conduct a successful interview, and boiled down your findings into a compelling story. And after all of that, you’re left with a little piece of sales enabling gold — a case study.

To show you what a well-executed final product looks like, have a look at some of these marketing case study examples.

1. “New England Journal of Medicine,” by Corey McPherson Nash

Case study example on New England Journal of Medicine, by Corey McPherson Nash

When branding and design studio Corey McPherson Nash showcases its work, it makes sense for it to be visual — after all, that’s what they do. So in building the case study for the studio’s work on the New England Journal of Medicine’s integrated advertising campaign — a project that included the goal of promoting the client’s digital presence — Corey McPherson Nash showed its audience what it did, rather than purely telling it.

Notice that the case study does include some light written copy — which includes the major points we’ve suggested — but really lets the visuals do the talking, allowing users to really absorb the studio’s services.

2. “Shopify Uses HubSpot CRM to Transform High Volume Sales Organization,” by HubSpot

Case study example on Shopify, by HubSpot

What’s interesting about this case study is the way it leads with the customer. That reflects a major HubSpot credo, which is to always solve for the customer first. The copy leads with a brief description of why Shopify uses HubSpot, and is accompanied by a short video and some basic statistics on the company.

Notice that this case study uses mixed-media. Yes, there is a short video, but it’s elaborated upon in the additional text on the page. So while your case studies can use one or the other, don’t be afraid to combine written copy with visuals to emphasize the project’s success.

3. “Designing the Future of Urban Farming,” by IDEO

Case study example on INFARM, by IDEO

Here’s a design company that knows how to lead with simplicity in its case studies. As soon as the visitor arrives at the page, he or she is greeted with a big, bold photo, and two very simple columns of text — “The Challenge” and “The Outcome.”

Immediately, IDEO has communicated two of the case study’s major pillars. And while that’s great — the company created a solution for vertical farming startup INFARM’s challenge — it doesn’t stop there. As the user scrolls down, those pillars are elaborated upon with comprehensive (but not overwhelming) copy that outlines what that process looked like, replete with quotes and additional visuals.

4. “Secure Wi-Fi Wins Big for Tournament,” by WatchGuard

Then, there are the cases when visuals can tell almost the entire story — when executed correctly. Network security provider WatchGuard is able to do that through this video, which tells the story of how its services enhanced the attendee and vendor experience at the Windmill Ultimate Frisbee tournament.

Showcase Your Work

You work hard at what you do. Now, it’s time to show it to the world — and, perhaps more important, to potential customers.

But before you show off the projects that make you the proudest, make sure you follow the important steps that will help ensure that work is effectively communicated, and leaves all parties feeling good about it.

case study creation kit - guide + template

12 Brainstorming Techniques for Unearthing Better Ideas From Your Team

If you want to hold brainstorms that unearth better, more creative ideas, it all starts with the people in the room. Like, the actual number of people in the room.

That’s my first tip for you: Follow the “pizza rule” for brainstorming. If you’re unfamiliar with the “pizza rule,” it’s the idea that if you have more people in a room than you could feed with a pizza, there are too many people in that room to hold a productive meeting.

New Call-to-action

The same rule goes for a brainstorming session: If you’ve got a dozen people sitting around a table, expect a really long list of truly mediocre ideas.

So, what else can you do other than bribe a group of two to six people with pizza to unearth good ideas? So glad you asked.

12 Team Brainstorming Techniques for Getting to Good Ideas

1) Invite a diverse group of people.

If your team works on all of the same projects together, goes to team meetings together, sits next to each other in the office, and hangs out in the same group chats all day … well, needless to say, the ideas will likely start to get pretty homogenous.

Instead, invite new people from other teams to your brainstorms — people with different skill sets and experiences to help get you out of your rut and see things in a new way. It’ll give you that great mix of new perspectives and contextual knowledge that’ll help you land on ideas that are both original and doable.

2) Keep the meeting to 22(ish) minutes.

Nicole Steinbok advocates this technique, and it’s one I’ve used with positive results. (I usually round up to 30 minutes, but what’s a few minutes among friends?) It works particularly well for people like myself that thrive under the threat of a deadline.

In my experience, having a limited amount of time to brainstorm only works if all participants are actually ready for the meeting. (More on that in a minute.) But two other tenets Steinbok harps on are a no-laptop rule, and a no off-topic-banter rule. While some might disagree with the latter, I have found that aggressive time constraints help keep people on task and delivering their best ideas as a result.

3) Provide context and goals well before the meeting.

“Well before the meeting” doesn’t mean that morning. Offer any pertinent information at least two business days in advance so people have a fighting chance at actually being prepared for the brainstorm.

In addition to providing any reading materials or contextual information that help set up the reason for the brainstorm (and explicitly asking that they read it, too), describe what the ideal outcome of the meeting looks like. This will help people come into the meeting understanding the scope of what you’re all trying to do. I think you’ll find this helps you avoid wasting time catching everyone up so you can get to the brainstorm right away.

If necessary, run your meeting like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and dedicate 30 minutes specifically to quietly reading in a group to bring everyone together — especially if they won’t have time to read before the meeting.

4) Ask people to come prepared with some ideas.

Often, great ideas don’t show themselves when you ask them to. They pop up on the train, in the shower, while you’re watching TV … basically any time you’re not actually trying to come up with the idea.

This is one reason why it’s good to provide a few days of lead-time before your meeting, but it’s also why you might want to explicitly ask people to think of some ideas beforehand. With this approach, you might find that you start the meeting off with pretty strong ideas from the get-go, and the group can add to and modify them to make them even stronger. In fact, this hybrid brainstorming approach was found to be more effective in a University of Pennsylvania study.

Frankly, I’ve also found that when everyone comes in cold turkey, the brainstorm often ends with a long list of very uninspired ideas. At the very least, whoever runs the brainstorm should come with a few ideas to kick off the brainstorm and give an indication of what a good idea looks like.

5) Say “no” to the bad ideas. Fast.

It might be brainstorm heresy to recommend people squash bad ideas, but I’ve seen one too many brainstorms go astray because people are too scared to say “no.” This is particularly important if you’re trying to run a quick brainstorm session.

Yes, there’s a fine line: Squashing bad ideas could lead people to fear speaking up, missing out on good ideas as a result. But if you’re giving every idea equal due regardless of merit, then you get off-track real fast and end up down a bad idea rabbit hole.

Better brainstorms that yield better ideas leave time to nurture the strongest inclinations.

On that note …

6) Foster an environment where bad ideas are okay.

Yes, you should call out bad ideas. But you should also make it okay that people had them. Call out your own ideas, in fact. If people can speak freely, but not feel stupid for doing so, you’ll get more ideas out — which makes it more likely you’ll land on a good one.

7) Lean into constraints.

If you have every resource and opportunity in the world, creativity will naturally stifle. Lay out the constraints you’re working within in terms of goals and resources for executing any idea you come up with. Then, try to see those as opportunities for creativity instead of roadblocks that make it impossible to come up with a good idea.

8) Lean into silence.

Anyone in sales already knows: Silence is power. In a brainstorm, silences are times when people get thinking done — either about their own ideas, or how to build on the last idea that came up.

And hey, it might also encourage more people to speak up with an idea, just out of their hatred of uncomfortable silences.

9) Lean into failure … outside of the brainstorm.

If you have a team where taking smart risks — regardless of outcome — is rewarded, people will have a better sense of what ideas are worth pursuing and what’s worth passing on. Because, you know, they do it a lot and get a second sense for these things.

If experimentation is a part of your team culture, that’ll manifest itself in better ideas than if your team is stuck in stasis. You’ll have better brainstorms where creative and smart, yet risky ideas come out.

10) Be prepared to ditch the meeting altogether.

Sometimes in-person meetings aren’t the right format for unearthing good ideas. Certain brainstorms can be better performed digitally.

For example, we often resort to Google Docs or Slack for brainstorms when curating blog post or title ideas across a large group of people. There’s really no need to pull everyone away from their work to participate in a brainstorm like that — and the benefit is that people can participate on their own time, when they’re ready and eager to contribute ideas, not when the meeting happens to occur.

11) Provide a place for anonymous submissions.

For some people, the “right” format might be an anonymous submission. Provide a place for anonymous idea submission both before and after the meeting. People might have some ideas that they’re reticent to bring up in front of the group. It’d be a shame to miss out on those ideas due to shyness, discomfort, or simply a preference for writing out ideas instead of speaking about them. This is easy to set up through a Google form.

12) Be prepared to pursue absolutely nothing that came out of that brainstorm.

Don’t feel like you have to choose and pursue an idea just because you had a brainstorm. If the brainstorm didn’t yield any good ideas, that’s fine. It wasn’t a waste of time. But you will waste your time if you pursue an idea that isn’t worth doing. Moving forward with the lesser of all evils is still … evil.

Instead, do some reflection on your own about why the ideas aren’t ready to see the light of day, and see if any are worth more thought before ditching them. Perhaps you’ll get another group of people in a room to iterate on them — or even the same group once they’ve had some distance from the ideas. Now that ideas have started flowing, you might find a second round of brainstorming yields something even better.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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How to Write Compelling Copy: 7 Tips for Writing Content That Converts

Copy is writing that sells, so by definition, it has to be compelling.

Does your copy also have to be concise? Yes. Does it have to be clear? Absolutely. Brevity and clarity will ensure that your message is digestible, which is important if you want your words to be read and understood with ease. That said, the clearest, most concise copy ever written is still a bust if it doesn’t compel its readers to act.

Compelling copy fascinates its target audience and drives them to pull the trigger on a CTA. It does this by capturing their attention, unearthing a pain they’re desperate to assuage, and presenting a mutually valuable, solution-driven call-to-action.

If your goal is to write clear, concise copy, then you can train yourself to do that. Just follow a few guidelines and, of course, practice. But if you want to write compelling copy, then you have to do a lot of research and even more critical thinking.

Let’s break it down …

How to Write Compelling Copy

Before you start that next sales email or landing page, try some of the tips below. Working through them will take some time and thought, but the effort will be worth it when you walk away knowing exactly how to frame your message to achieve the best response.

1) Get to know your target prospect.

The most effective fishermen vary their bait depending on the fish they aim to catch. They know that bass, for example, go after earthworms. Carp love corn. Crappie respond well to rubber lures. Fishermen also adjust their technique depending on the time of day, the water conditions, and the season. They soak up as much information as possible about the fish and it’s environment, ultimately using their learnings to attract and, hopefully, hook.

As it happens, marketers operate similarly, learning as much as they can about their target prospects before casting them their message. Doing so makes it easier to highlight irresistible benefits throughout their copy. Benefits that relieve ultra-specific pain points, making the offer all the more compelling to the right audience.

To accurately and efficiently isolate your target prospect’s problems (which will illuminate the benefits most fascinating to them) start by answering a series of questions about their personal background, their company and the position they hold, and their challenges, goals, and shopping preferences. In other words, create a buyer persona. As a result, you’ll amass an abundance of invaluable information that you can then use to attract attention and inspire action.

2) Exploit the psychology of exclusivity.

If you want more buzz than you can handle, make your prospects feel special. Tell them they’ve been “hand-selected” or “randomly picked” to receive your offer. Isolate them … but in a good way. Make them feel important. People love feeling important.

In fact, self-esteem, or how we view ourselves, is near the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. That’s how important feeling important is to people. It’s a need marketers have been exploiting for decades …

In an article for Fast Company, Robert Rosenthal points us to this U.S. Marines tagline: “The Few. The Proud.” And this American Express tagline: “Membership has its privileges.”

The folks at Google played the exclusivity card, too, creating a frenzy when they launched a soft beta of Google+ and invited only a select few users to create a profile. Google’s marketing team wasn’t trying to be mean, they were trying to create desire (that compels) out of thin air. And they succeeded. Psychology’s good for that.

3) Make it emotional.

When it comes to converting a prospect, the features of your product or service will only get you so far. Why? Because features appeal to your prospect’s logical brain. And purchases aren’t driven by logic. They hinge on emotion, which explains why good commercials make us want to laugh or cry or pick up the phone to call home.

For example, Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign was so powerful and thought provoking that it went viral before such a thing even existed. The campaign has been active for over a decade, resonating with millions of women who were left feeling empowered by its message: you are not defined by your makeup.


Image Credit: Ad Fuel

That sentiment created countless emotional moments. Those emotions, then, were what drove Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign to its celebrated (and well-deserved) success.

(And when those moments weren’t compelling people to reach for Dove soap, they were driving a new social perspective, which is an entirely separate accomplishment.)

4) Draw analogies and metaphors.

A confusing or dull message is rarely compelling, mainly because people don’t pay much attention to what they don’t perceive to be valuable. If you think about it, most things in life boil down to value. It’s a potent human driver. Therefore, as a copywriter, your job is to first and foremost figure out the value in what you’re selling and then put it into clear, concise, and compelling words.

The latter is almost always harder to do. And if you’re new to copywriting, it could feel almost impossible, like trying to thread a needle while wearing hockey gloves. That’s where analogies and metaphors can lend a hand. They’re especially effective at putting concepts into perspective.

Here are a few examples of metaphorical taglines from The Houston Chronicle:

  • Tropicana: “Your Daily Ray of Sunshine.”
  • Werther’s Original Popcorn: “It’s What Comfort Tastes Like.”
  • Burger King: “Subservient Chicken.”

See how these brands combine two starkly different concepts to tell a story or create an image? You can do that in your copy, too. As long as your juxtaposition makes sense — as long as it connects the dots and isn’t trite — you’re likely doing your reader a favor by helping them experience your offer in a fresh, descriptive, and interesting way.

5) Avoid weasel words.

Weasel words are used by people who want their statements to maintain some plausible deniability. Politicians trying to avoid making any definitive comments, for instance, would use weasel words. Copywriters use them a lot, too, especially if their product’s promise is weak or loose. For example:

  • “Viva Hand Cream fights dryness.” (i.e., you might not win.)
  • Reduce hair loss with Thick & Lush!” (i.e., you won’t cure it.)
  • “Rent from as little as…” (i.e., you’re probably going to spend more.)

These words are named after weasels because of the way the little guys eat their eggs: puncturing a small hole and sucking out the contents, leaving the egg appearing intact but, nevertheless, very much empty. Ever held an empty egg? It’s fragile and delicate, right? Given the slightest bit of pressure, if feels like it would collapse.

Is that how you want your copy to come across? Weak and listless, like ants floating in a puddle? Of course not. So avoid the weasel words when you can. Your writing will be stronger, more authoritative, and more compelling for it.

6) Create urgency.

The more relaxed and comfortable we are physically, the less eager we are to move. Nobody plops down in their favorite La-Z-Boy, puts their feet up, cracks a beer, and thinks, I can’t wait to get up. No. People don’t like moving when they’re in a comfy position.

Same goes for people in a comfortable state of mind. Therefore, if your copy leaves readers with the impression that your offer will always be there, patiently waiting for them to pull the trigger, they may use that as a justification to not convert on your call-to-action. They’ll sleep on it, consider their options, and weigh the pros and cons. And after all that, they may very well do nothing at all because you gave them the chance to talk themselves out of it.

Next time, create some urgency. Set a deadline, using time-sensitive language like “This offer ends tomorrow,” or “Last chance,” or “These savings won’t last forever.” You can also play the scarcity card, reminding them that “There are only a few seats left” or that “Supplies are limited.”

The point is to make your prospects feel uneasy about waiting. Strange as it sounds, the more uncomfortable they are, the more likely it is they’ll be compelled to act.

7) Tailor your CTA.

When you want more brown rice at Chipotle, just ask.

When you want a five and five singles back instead of a ten, go ahead and ask.

When you look at them and everything turns to color and you want to spend your life with them, ask. Ask them to take that next step with you, and maybe they’ll smile and say “yes.” Hopefully, they do.

But you gotta ask. Whether you’re at Chipotle, in line at the grocery store, or in love, if you want something, typically, you have to ask for it. Why would copy be any different? That’s why a CTA, or a call-to-action, is one of the most compelling elements your copy can possess — as long as it’s well-executed.

In other words, don’t settle for the standard “Click now” copy every time. Instead, strive to make your CTAs simple and potent; creative and forthright. Most importantly, make sure to play to your audience. For example:

  • If you’re going after an experimental SaaS audience,
    then give them a “Start your free trial now” CTA.
  • If you know your target persona to be curious and discovery-oriented,
    then give them a “See how it works” CTA.

Click here to dive deeper into these and 14 other call-to-action formulas that make people want to click.

Now, are you going to compel everyone?

You won’t. Not even close. But don’t let that bother you. Copywriting, like any craft, is honed over time. So keep failing. Keep stubbing your toes on the hurdles. That’s natural.

What isn’t natural is writing effective copy that converts. That’s where these tips and techniques can help. Practice them and, over time, you’ll steadily compel more people to take action more often. Until one day, these techniques will become part of you, engrained in your skillset.

And then you’ll be dangerous on cue.

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