Case studies powerfully demonstrate claims made through a sales funnel.
It’s nitty gritty time and prospects want proof.
Keyword-rich webpages did their work. The sales team made their pitch. You might have what they need. But one critical step remains. Proof.
That edge between interested, convinced, and purchase order is one-sided. Your side. And it begs for proof.
Proof your prospect will get what they think they will.
Proof that others got what they thought they would.
Proof that you’ve really addressed and solved similar problems.
Proof they aren’t about to waste their money.
Proof to convince their boss your solution is worth the investment.
Proof they won’t look like an idiot for not doing their homework.
And they don’t want to hear it from you.
Show. Don’t Tell.
Nine out of 10 people look at online reviews, posts, and social media before making a decision. It’s often the piece that swings their next action of purchase or pass.
For B2B companies, where the buying cycle and potential relationship is much more complex than a one-click e-commerce transaction, simple product or company ratings won’t hold much value. Your prospects need to know who you’ve helped and how.
On the brink of a decision, case studies are invaluable for telling your stories, building feature awareness, proving your value, and offering proof that you are and will be the real deal.
What is a case study?
Case studies document the development of a situation over a period of time.
Educators have used case studies for years to present real life applications of theory. Instead of just talking about ideas, case studies show them in action, helping readers make connections between opening scenarios and the process of moving toward outcomes.
Early B2B case study adopters used the same situation/process/outcome model to record, remind and train internal teams of company successes.
Marketers recognized the power of those stories and, coupled with the explosion of digital marketing channels offering instant distribution and access, made them a key ingredient to content marketing strategies. In fact, case studies are the fifth most important element of B2B content marketing strategies for small business marketers. Fully 76% of small business marketers include case studies as a tactic.
What do case studies look like?
Case studies can range from a few simple sentences to technical and in-depth but good ones include:
- Some context regarding the company and industry.
- A brief outline of the problem that needed to be solved.
- How your company specifically addressed the challenge.
- A statement regarding the experience or value. Was it the product itself or the implementation process or meticulous follow-up?
Case studies can be short and simple.
Brief testimonial quotes are powerful when used alongside corresponding website pages. The good news is that short customer testimonies are the most informal and easiest to get.
Case studies can look like feature articles.
Instead of presenting a case study as a mere business proposition, write it as a narrative story, similar to a feature article in a magazine.
- Feature article case studies entertain while informing and position your brand as more personable as they depart from industry-speak and employ a more informal tone.
- Feature article case studies work well for weekly or monthly newsletters and custom publications.
Case studies can be in-depth and technical.
If your product, service and buying cycle is complex, it may make sense to write more in-depth case studies. Be sure to develop a template so all case studies follow the same format. For instance:
- Benefit-specific title
- Company and scenario introduction
- Key features (or value propositions) used in solution
- Outcomes or results
Getting case studies written
The biggest hurdle to having case studies is getting them written. We hesitate to ask for them because:
- It seems like a burden — we look at our own to-do list and figure, who has time?
- We’re not sure who to ask — do we ask the CEO, whom we suspect barely writes emails?
- We fear the answer — will they say something nice?
- We think customers might not want others to know what they are doing.
Any of these could be valid hurdles but none are so detrimental as to avoid asking, but be sure to make your ask as simple and easy as possible.
Send a follow up email thanking customers for their business and ask if they would take just a minute to write two to three sentences about their experience with you.
Develop a simple template prompting the answers you need. For instance, We sought out your company because we needed _________; Your company helped us by __1) 2) 3)__; What we most appreciated about the experience was ___________; We would recommend your company because ___________.
Assign an internal customer experience representative to contact customers and ask for a verbal testimony (using a similar pre-scripted template as above).
Hire a contract writer to serve as a brand journalist. A copywriter can be more objective and is often better received by a customer who may feel more comfortable offering their experience opinions to an outside party. A copywriter will write professionally and should be able to deliver your case study in any format — short, feature narrative, or longer form.
Plan case studies around business objectives
No matter who writes your case studies, be sure to have a plan or you’ll end up with vague case studies that will not meet your brand or sales objectives. Here are three strategies for making case studies more powerful:
Highlight specific value propositions. Which aspect of your brand, product or service do you need to build awareness for? Who has benefitted from that aspect? Approach them for stories.
Write case studies for key industry verticals. Companies want to read about companies like theirs. Produce a library of case studies highlighting different problems within one industry.
Build case studies around particular pain points. If you solve the same few problems over and over, write case studies around those. Case studies will highlight the different ways you’ve approached a similar problem for different sized companies or industries.
Once you have a pile of case studies, use them! Produce an email campaign introducing one company or problem per email. Add a call to action click-through to the story on your website or blog. Add a case studies tab to your website and use key quotes on appropriate pages. Post teasers to case studies on social media and be sure to print them in a one-page format for sales teams.
Case studies can powerfully demonstrate your claims by offering proof you are who you say. Take your cue from 76% of SMB marketers and make them a critical piece of your content arsenal.