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Two examples of effective brand communications from the weekend, both seasonal.

The Kohl's Response to Adam Rippon's Instagram Post

Evidence of a social media team that's really paying attention on a Sunday night. The brand's response to Adam Rippon's post is authentic and a little sassy, just like the original post. Your take-away: Constantly monitor social media for mentions of your brand, automating as much of the monitoring as possible so you can focus on effective responses.

Adam Rippon's Kohl's parking lot shot

Grey Muzzle's Donor Valentine

I give to Grey Muzzle annually because I believe in the work it does. It can't be easy to produce all these personalized little Valentine's Day cards, but the effort tells me in a tangible way that the organization appreciates my support. Your take-away: Martech and automation are great, but sometimes the best personalization is the hand-made kind.

Grey Muzzle's hand-made donor Valentine

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What's the best way to compare and contrast complicated ideas?

That's a question many of us brand journalists and content marketers are tasked with answering. A recent post from the NPR Politics team gives us a good example to refer to. 
An example of a good comparison chart from NPR

Click the excerpt to see the full image.

Here's why I think this comparison chart works:

  • Voice: Knowledgeable, calm and approachable -- important when discussing a hot-button topic like immigration
  • Ideas: Concepts distilled, not diluted, with sufficient detail to aid in understanding
  • Word Choice: Clear, descriptive language that makes these concepts easy to understand and contrast
  • Organization: The layout makes it easy to read down each proposal, or read across each aspect of current law
  • Technical Aspects: The chart is responsive, so when viewed on my iPhone 8, for instance, each aspect of the law scrolls vertically. The bolded headers and color-coding make it easy to spot where one aspect of the law ends and the next starts.

Could this have been more visually interesting? Sure. But when the content's complicated, simple is better in my opinion. Keep this example on file so you can reference it the next time you've got some 'splainin' to do (as Desi Arnaz famously never said).

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a pen illustration illustrating Margot Lester's post on bio writingIt's hard to write about ourselves. Even if we're great writers, we aren't quite as confident or eloquent when the sentences we're stringing together are about us.

I ran into this phenomenon again last night, when a friend wrote me struggling with a major overhaul of his professional bio and Linkedin profile. I suggested he try a technique I've used successfully to write about my own self, and to coach other people on writing about their own selves.

How to Write a Linkedin Summary or Professional Bio

Step 1: Capture the Ideas

  • Grab 5 sticky notes.
  • Write one trait or accomplishment on each one – in 5 words or less. Make it a mix of things you’re really proud of and things others have indicated they value about working with you. When in doubt, err on the side of things other people value. Read more on finding your main idea for clearer writing.
  • Stick the notes on the wall and gut check each in a lighting round review. If these were the only 5 things someone could know about you, would you feel good about that? If not, what should be replaced and with what? Make new stickies as necessary, but don't do more than 5 total.
  • Go do something else for a while, maybe even overnight.
  • Review your Big 5. Make changes as needed.

Step 2: Provide the Support

  • Pull 3 stickies for each of your Big 5.
  • Jot down a supporting detail on each note, again in 5 words or less. These are top-level details, so think about evidence (data, research, etc.), explanations (why or how/rationale or process) and examples (of assignments, successes, etc.). You don't necessarily need one of each, but you need details from at least one of these categories. Learn more about the 3 Es for more detailed and descriptive writing.
  • Stick the details under each Big 5 and gut check each in a lighting round review. If these were the only 3 things someone could know about each Big 5 item, would you feel good about that? If not, what should be replaced and what will you replace it with? Maybe you think of an additional relevant details. Make new stickies as necessary, but don't have more than 5 key details for each Big 5 topic.
  • Go do something else for a while, maybe even overnight.
  • Review your details. Make changes as needed, never exceeding  5.

Step 3: Produce a Draft

  • Write a 75-word paragraph for each Big 5 item. Aim one or two sentences for each sticky. Set a time limit of 12 minutes for each topic. Keep the language as plain and concise as possible. Make it sound like a conversation, not a lecture or thesis. Your goal is a rough draft that captures the ideas and details even if not in the exactly right words.
  • Do one revision, looking for opportunities to tighten further, choose stronger words, flesh out details and ensure the voice is friendly and knowledgeable, not show-offy or overly formal. Read it out loud and make corrections. See how to use revision for a better Linkedin summary.
  • Share your draft with 3-5 people you trust, asking for specific feedback like: what’s good about it, what would make it better and what’s missing. You’re looking for insights in voice/tone, big ideas/key details, organization, etc. Check out some more questions you can ask to get better feedback.
  • Consider the feedback, choosing to employ the suggestions that feel most right to you.
  • Revise as needed, but keep within your original word count. Don't let the feedback make your writing too wordy or less clear (and believe me, it might!).

Step 4: Publish

  • Use the final version in the about section of your website or a as professional bio. It’s also great fodder for a cover letter.
  • Distill each paragraph of your bio down to its barest bones to meet the Linkedin summary word count requirement. I brought my Linkined Profile back to bullet points to allow me more room. Short descriptive paragraphs also work. Basing your Linkedin profile off the longer, vetted draft ensures you’re using the best ideas and language, so it remains potent even in a shorter form.
  • Make one final pass on each document to find and correct spelling, punctuation, usage and grammar errors (hint: it helps to read out loud). Understand why we save these edits for last.
  • Publish.

Marketo recently put out a list of case study mistakes you may be making. One of them is:

An excerpt from a Marketo post on case studies

The advice on yes or no questions is pretty elementary, so here's my advice based on 40 years' experience as a journalist.

How to ask better marketing case study interview questions

Asking better questions is an art -- but unlike, say, metal sculpture, it's pretty easy to learn. To get started I take a few notes on:

  1. The marketing perspective. Of course you want to ask questions that lead to the story your client or boss wants. I start by asking the project lead and the sales rep/product manager what they think is the most important thing the audience should know. For instance, when I created a case study for Parata, the prescription packaging company, it was important to showcase how their solution helps pharmacies provide more personalized customer care, improve productivity and compete against big-box drug stores. That led to a pile of questions that pointed to key messaging and differentiators for the client. I also make sure to ask for any data points they want included.
  2. The sales perspective. I also ask about common questions, concerns and objections customers commonly have. These are usually how and why questions that add really important context. I also ask the rep for the data points that get the most traction with customers so we can make sure to put those in. The most important question in this category, though, is always "what's in it for me" or "why should I"? If you don't ask and answer that one, the case likely won't hit the mark. This information helps me develop interview questions that address those specific issues and make the case study a more relevant document for readers and a more effective tool for the sales team. (This also makes reps more likely to work with you on these in future, which is something I hear a lot of case study writers complaining about.) Read more about content marketing and the sales cycle.
  3. The reader perspective. Saving the most important for last! With the business side taken care of, I put myself in the shoes of the reader and ask questions I think they'd have. If something in my research or the interview makes me go "huh?", I'll ask about it. If another thing makes me go, "how would you do that?", I'll ask about that, too. For instance, when I created mini case studies on data-driven decision-making for nonprofit boards, I considered the questions I'd like answered, which were mostly how and why questions like how do you do get the data, how do you select KPIs, how do you present it, etc. And because we know that people ready to make a decision want a lot of facts to support their decision, I always ask for specific data points on situation before and after.

This three-step process yields a lot of questions. Make a master list, then, if you have time, run them by the team (or at least your project leader) again asking them to add or delete as necessary. Consider all their feedback, but as the interviewer, you get final say on what you ask or don't (unless you're told otherwise).

After you've got a few interviews under your belt, you'll have a sense of which questions get the best answers, and which aren't as fruitful. The effective ones become your "magic beans", those questions you ask for every case you write for that client. Then you can focus on new questions, or asking "how" and "why" follow-up questions to get more context.

To recap our tips for asking better case study questions:

  1. Ask questions that require at least a short answer.
  2. Ask why and how questions to get additional details and deeper context.
  3. Ask for clarification when something doesn't make sense.
  4. Ask for quantitative data (how much, how many, etc.).

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A quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

Whether you're an individual speaking up or a brand supporting certain movements or values, we must all heed Dr. King's advice.

Here's a strategy we use to capture the power of our ideas and advocate for the people and issues we care about most. It's called the Content-Purpose-Audience™. Check out our Slideshare or download the packet for a worksheet and examples.


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