By Katrina Olson
Credible. Tangible. Specific. Educational. Persuasive. Powerful.
These are just a few of the words marketing and PR professionals use to describe case studies when they’re used as marketing tools.
Case studies are likely one of the most overlooked and underutilized tools in business-to-business marketing. A well-written case study can make customers more confident about your company, educate potential customers about how to address a specific challenge, and prove that your company’s solutions are valuable.
So why don’t more companies use them? Because developing an effective case study is difficult and takes time. The writer has to understand the industry, products and client or be willing to research them. You have to find the right candidate, convince them to cooperate, conduct a thorough interview, write it in a way that gives both companies (yours and theirs) equal billing, and secure their approval of the final story.
Tell a story.
A case study is a success story about a customer or client you’ve worked with to successfully solve a specific problem. Written from the customer’s perspective, the story focuses on how they used your product or service in an everyday situation. It crystallizes for readers the benefits of doing business with you and includes testimonials and comments from the customer.
Because case studies are very specific, each one will speak directly to those customers with similar challenges. So, rather than writing a few case studies and hoping to reach a broad audience, use a targeted approach, writing many case studies addressing a variety of situations.
Follow the format.
Case studies usually follow a problem-solution format. A typical format might be:
Title/headline: Write an intriguing yet descriptive headline or give your case study a title that identifies the customer and indicates what the story is about.
Executive Summary: A few sentences highlighting the customer’s challenge and how you helped them, in general terms. Provide summary metrics to illustrate your success.
Company Background: Include a sidebar with basic information about the company you’re featuring, which you can pull from their LinkedIn page, website or promotional material. Link to their website.
Specific Challenge: Two to four paragraphs describing what the customer did before they had your solution, what challenges they faced, and what goal they were trying to achieve.
Your Solution: Two to three paragraphs about how the customer used your product or service to solve their problem. Link to your company’s product/service pages, perhaps the specific product or service they implemented.
Results and/or ROI: Two to four paragraphs demonstrating how your solution affected your customer’s business and helped them achieve their goals. If possible, use quantifiable metrics. If metrics are not available, get quotes from someone close to the project who can speak to the solution’s success.
Of course, the story is the most important part, but even books have attractive covers. (Because people actually do judge books by their covers.) So here are a few tips for visually enhancing your case study.
Quotes: Use quotes throughout the body of the case study and use pull quotes as graphic elements to draw people in to the story.
Images: Include your client’s logo and photo of key people, ideally at their location. Work in product shots, graphs, charts, action photos of customers, and other images that support your story.
Design/Layout: Think of your case study as an ad or magazine article. You want a dominant graphic, clean layout, maximum two fonts, and only a few different font sizes.
For a free case study template, click here. (http://www.istudiopublisher.com/istudio-templates/case-study-telecoms-company/)
Do the work.
Case studies should be written from the customer’s perspective, in the customer’s voice—they should not be an overly hyperbole-laden pitch for your company’s skills and abilities.
Good case studies can be one of your most effective marketing tools because they tell real stories about real people—people just like your current customers or those you hope to gain. Case studies should be written from the customer’s perspective, in the customer’s voice—they should not be an overly hyperbole-laden pitch for your company’s skills and abilities.
But to develop a case study that works as a marketing tool takes more than slapping some facts, figures, metrics and pictures on a page. It demands that you take the time and effort to select an appropriate and willing candidate, conduct a thorough interview, and tell a compelling story. It also takes a unique set of communication skills to draw out details from your subject and share them in a way that makes both your and your customer’s company look good.
But if you’re willing to commit the effort, the benefit is well worth it.
In next week’s Marketing Momentum, we’ll discuss how to select and approach a potential case study candidate.
Olson is a veteran marketing and public relations consultant. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and emceed the Best of the Best Awards ceremony for a total of seven years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at olsonmarketing.net.