Good public speakers have long known that the best way to draw the audience in is to tell compelling stories. The same principle applies to content marketing.
This is why case studies are one of the most effective content marketing tactics and an integral tool in the content marketer’s toolbox. I have written dozens of B2B case studies over the years for a variety of different clients in different industries.
Here are a few of my top tips for writing, producing and using effective case studies.
What Are Case Studies?
A case study tells the story of how a company used its products and services to help a customer and/or solve their problem. This can be much more effective than simply telling your customers how great your products and services are — because, again, people like reading stories a lot more than they like being “sold” something.
The best case studies don’t get bogged down in technical mumbo-jumbo. The goal isn’t to share all the technical details of a product or service, but instead to show how a real-life customer used it to meet specific objectives.
Case studies are “soft sells” designed to make readers want to know more about your company and your offerings. They tend to be most effective when used at the top of the sales funnel to capture leads that you can qualify, nurture, engage and eventually close.
Because case studies tell a story, readers are more likely to be drawn into them. They give you an opportunity to show, rather than tell, prospects how your products and services work. Case studies are seen by most people as credible third-party endorsements with a high degree of believability. Since the benefits are being described by an actual user, the claims tend to carry more weight.
Organizing Your Case Studies
There’s no set formula for organizing and writing a case study. However, most case studies follow a rough outline similar to this:
- Who is the customer?
- What was the customer’s problem?
- Why did the customer choose your business and your product or service to solve their problem?
- How was the product or service implemented and used?
- What kind of results and benefits did the customer realize?
- Would the customer recommend your business to others, and why?
Writing Your Case Studies
The first step in writing a case study is to identify a satisfied customer who is willing to be featured. Salespeople are often the best source for good case study candidates. Consider offering them some kind of incentive for helping identify good candidates, such as merchandise or a small cash reward.
Once a customer has agreed to be featured, you will conduct a formal interview. It might be with the business owner or with someone who works directly with the product or service, like a manager or engineer. Send the interviewee some questions ahead of time to help him or her prepare. And record the interview (be sure to ask the interviewee for permission) so you’re not distracted trying to take notes and can quote the customer accurately.
Be proactive and engaged as you interview the customer. Listen carefully to the answers and be ready to ask follow-up questions to draw out more detailed information. Good interviewing is an acquired skill — you’ll improve as an interviewer as you gain more experience.
It’s smart to ask customers to sign a release giving you permission before publishing their case study. Keep their signed release on file in case you ever need it for legal reasons. The customer may want to review the case study and make suggestions or edits, especially to quotes. You should allow this as long as their edits don’t substantially change the story.
Using Your Case Studies
OK, now that you have produced a case study, what can you do with it? Here are a few ideas:
- Publish it on your website. Pretty obvious, I know, but give some thought to how and where you position case studies on your site. For example, you could feature case studies prominently on your home page or devote a section of your site to them under a special tab.
- Send it out via email. Case studies make great content for your e-newsletter, or a print newsletter if you publish one of these.
- Create a one-pager. Design a slick one-page document that your salespeople can hand out to prospects on sales calls and at conferences and trade shows. Also create a PDF for electronic distribution.
- Send them out as press releases. You can populate a press release with the content of your case study in order to generate media attention.
- Use them as testimonials. Client quotes can be pulled out of case studies to serve as testimonials you can publish online or elsewhere.
- Pitch them to the trade press. Many trade journals and magazines use case studies as regular features or position them as paid advertorials.