Would you agree that we’re in business to provide solutions?
So why are some businesses not using case studies to promote these solutions?
Case studies are the hidden treasure in your marketing toolbox. Yet lots of companies don’t appreciate their power or take advantage of case study marketing to highlight their product success stories.
Clients I’ve spoken to have commented that writing a good case study is hard. Or it’s difficult to get customers to take part and I know that to be true from actual experience. Nevertheless the return on investment (ROI), for the time spent researching and writing an in-depth user profile, far outweighs the hurdles you need to jump in order to achieve this.
Picture this …
Your potential customer is considering investing in the very thing that your company just happens to offer.
What’s the first thing they do?
Yes, that’s right, the same as you and I would do; jump online and start looking for information, product reviews, social media comments and case studies.
Once they’ve found this, they might then ask business contacts for their thoughts and recommendations.
But you’d better believe that by the time your potential customer approaches you, they will already know most of the benefits and features of your product or service.
In other words, they’re already a warm prospect which makes your job or that of your sales team a whole lot easier.
So what better way to help this process along, than to demonstrate your product or service in action using a well written case study.
The Content Marketing Institute surveyed European marketers and found that 63% considered case studies a crucial component in their marketing resources, yet there are dozens of business websites that don’t have a single case study available.
Time to Change
If you’re one of those businesses, let’s change that right now.
I’m going to help you create a winning case study. And if you get stuck, get in touch and I’ll help you finish it.
The Case Study
There are four basic elements to your case study:
- The Challenge
- what was your customer’s problem?
- The Journey
- how did they try to solve it?
- The Solution
- why did they choose your product or service as the answer to their problem?
- The Benefits
- how has it helped and what benefits is your customer enjoying as a result?
You don’t have to use them in this sequence. Let your creative juices flow and find a different way of telling the story. And if individuals use your product or service, write it in the first person as if the customer was narrating their story.
A successful case study creates an emotional connection with your potential customers, but avoids the “hard sell” marketing edge. You want them to be nodding their head in agreement as they read it.
You want them to be thinking, “Eureka, this is me they’re writing about, this is what I need.”
It’s not easy to achieve this level of connection with your potential customer, but you can if you pay laser-sharp attention to what they need help with in their business.
The Who, Why and Because of Case Studies
1 WHO SHOULD CREATE A CASE STUDY
- Any company that provides a complex product or service – a real time example shows how it works
- A start-up or a company offering something new
- Companies offering for example:
- Web developer services
- Services, also
- Non-profits – show how you use funds raised and who benefits from them
2 WHY YOU SHOULD WRITE ONE
- To build trust
- To prove that your product does what it claims to do
- To demonstrate how it works and help people understand it
- To answer potential customers’ questions and banish their doubts:
- Will this work for me or my company?
- Will it meet all my expectations?
- Does it justify the costs?
- How long will it take to see the ROI?
- Is this manufacturer or provider reliable?
3 WHEN TO APPROACH YOUR CASE STUDY SUBJECT
- Approach them a short time after their project has been completed and they’ve happily signed off the contract
- Choose your case study subject carefully – ideally a customer that’s your brand evangelist – not every customer will want to tell the world what they did or bought
- Choose a customer that will appeal to the majority of your business demographic
- Explain clearly what you’re looking for and why you think they’re the best fit for this study. Most customers will be flattered – some will say, “No”
If you get some resistance, emphasize the benefits of being the subject:
- It’s positive exposure for their company
- It demonstrates to their own customer base that they’re continually assessing and improving their business
- They can use the case study as their own form of marketing
- You’ll be circulating it to your large email subscriber list
- It will be featured at your next conference or Trade show
- And highlighted in an industry publication
- You’re sharing it across social media
Create a detailed document explaining what you need from them and what you plan to write e.g.
- List the data you would like to get from them – this might need some negotiation
- Identify the company employees you want to interview and quote
- Explain you will be outlining the problem they had, and
- Highlighting the outcomes they wanted to produce
- Create a timeline for interviewing and writing
- Ask them to confirm their review and approval process and who will sign off the final case study before publication
- Ask them to nominate someone you can contact at any time to get questions answered or extra information
It’s essential to be absolutely transparent at this stage. If you don’t explain everything in detail, you are going to have a difficult time getting the information you need. Worst case scenario, they might say, “Enough” and back out.
Remember your case study subject is running a business (and running it much more effectively now they’re using your product or service) so time is precious.
4 WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR CASE STUDY
Use the basic elements I highlighted above, Challenge / Solution / Benefits and explain:
- How your customer faced critical business needs
- Why your solution answered their needs
- How the customer used it and why it worked
- The great results they achieved
Include lots of hard data – without giving too much away:
(commercial privacy is a major concern and the main reason why most customers do not want to be the subject of a case study)
- Number of employees
- Years in business
- KPIs (key performance indicators)
- Sales growth figures
- Savings made
- Benefits they’ve experienced
Use quotes but make sure you interview the right person:
- If a potential customer wants to know how your new software will speed up their business processes – they won’t be interested in a quote from a Human Resources Director.
- Quotes can cover any aspect of the project from the initial problem to how easy it was to introduce the solution
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: what would you want to know about your product or service?
- Thinking like this will help you generate questions to ask your case study subject to answer.
Don’t forget to add an About Us paragraph on your company at the end of your study, with a strong call-to-action to persuade your readers to get in touch. And include all your contact details.
Case Study: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Download PDF
The challenge: The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) needed to create a robust online forum for its 182,000 members.
The solution: Abila, a leading provider of software and services to nonprofits and other agencies, provided the solution.
5 HOW TO CREATE IT
Case studies don’t have to follow the traditional format of a written report and they don’t need to be too technical. Shake them up by trying these alternative methods –
- YouTube video – Interview the customer who used your product
- Agree the questions / answers beforehand so there are no surprises to either party
- Create a script format to make sure all the vital information on your customer and your solution is covered
- Choose a relaxed setting – somewhere neutral
- Include clips of the product or solution in action if possible
- At the end give contact information for your subject (unless they decide otherwise) and your company
Video Case Study: The Investor’s Business Daily newspaper
The challenge: To improve their online training.
The solution: Use the GoToMeeting communication platform.
- Do the interview as a podcast if the company doesn’t want its staff on camera
- Use the YouTube video format above
- Create an infographic
- Use the basic elements – Challenge, Solution, Benefits – to tell the story
- Use lots of color to make it eye catching
- Share it on your social media platforms
- Questions & Answers
- This is a simple method for creating your case study
- Build a list of questions you would like to ask your subject
- Submit them and ask them to add their answers
- Get them to add any questions & answers they would like to include
Length is not important as long as you include all the relevant details and no fluff
- 750 – 1,500 words is the average word count in a case study
6 WHERE TO PUBLISH CASE STUDIES ON YOUR WEBSITE
Case studies should be very visible on your web site and easy to find:
- Include a link from your Home page
- Once you have several studies – set up a dedicated page on your site. You can give it a different name; call it your Happy Customer page or Success Stories or Real Life Examples, whatever works for you.
- Highlight them with blog articles and remember to include a link to the study
- Get your sales team to use them in their negotiations and refer customers to them
Additional Ways to Use Your Case Study
Case studies are a powerful way to get media coverage for your business so share them across networks to increase your lead generation and sales potential.
Here are a few more ideas for repurposing your case studies:
- Use them in your PR strategy
- Submit them to online industry magazines
- Print hard copies for your sales team
- Submit them to editors of trade publications
- Convert and publish them as SlideShare presentations
- Link to them in your email campaigns or newsletters
- Add more complex detail and turn them into white papers
- Use them as handouts at trade shows, conferences and workshops
When it’s done, dusted and signed off, send a copy of the final version to your case study subject including the various formats you’ve used.
And don’t forget to add a big thank you for their time, help and cooperation.
PS: Be unique and send an edible thank you in the form of a large box of cupcakes or basket of fruit … that never fails to surprise.
Lauren Mackenzie is a freelance
B2C web content and business