Recently, as I was writing a case study about the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce (GPCC), I started to wonder just how many case studies I’ve written over the years. (Too many to count, it turns out.) I’ve written them about everything from large software companies to small scuba diving schools, global snowmobile manufacturers to local literacy programs. And I’ve enjoyed writing every one of them, because they always provide a wonderful opportunity to tell a story. (I never had a chance to write one about pink ponies, but maybe someday I will. I can always hope.)
Really, it’s not too surprising that as a marketing copywriter, case studies have been a big part of the job description. They’re a fantastic business-to-business marketing tool, and people depend on them to attract new prospects and encourage those prospects to buy. They can be powerful testimonials that clearly demonstrate the value of your brand.
They also help reassure any company considering doing business with another company that they’re looking at a vendor that can actually handle their business and specific industry challenges. For one example, if any business networking, chamber of commerce, or public policy organization goes shopping for a marketing automation solution, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce case study will show them exactly how Act-On solutions can help solve the unique challenges they face. For another example in a completely different vertical market, the Bradley Corporation case study shows how a manufacturer uses Act-On to shorten the sales cycle and improve email open rates. Case studies are essentially detailed third-party testimonials, and that’s pretty powerful stuff.
However, writing a good case study can be difficult. Just asking your customers to participate can be a big hurdle – your customers are busy people, and it’s tough to say, “Please take some time out of your hectic day to tell us nice things about our organization.” Getting reviews and sign-offs from multiple stakeholders, sometimes including the legal department, can be time-consuming too. And getting organizations to disclose specific business results and revenue numbers isn’t easy.
But when you’ve gone through the process of developing a strong case study, you have something truly valuable: a real-world example of how your business can help someone. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years when it comes to creating a good case study. (I’m sure I’ve missed some, since I’m not done learning yet. Please share your own insights and tips in the comments.)
Remember that this is a story.
Sometimes it’s tempting to jump right to the fantastic results – “700% increase in sales! Costs reduced by a million dollars!” And that’s fine. You can pull those amazing statistics out in a short summary at the beginning, or highlight them in a call-out box. But to write a story that really grabs people’s attention, you need to set up the drama of the situation.
In the case of the GPCC, I brought up the fact, right at the start, that this organization has been around for over 200 years. That’s a lot of history, and it’s something that they should be very proud of. But it’s also part of the challenge they face – that marketing automation is a big change for their sales and marketing teams, and for a traditional organization, change can be a long process. The number of inbound leads was going down, and traditional sales approaches weren’t fixing the issue. These are problems that quite a lot of people can relate to very quickly.
- Sales teams weren’t receiving enough leads.
- Traditional sales strategies weren’t working anymore.
- Change was a long process.
- Competition was heating up.
Once you’ve established the challenges, you can talk about the solutions.
- Marketing automation strategies like drip marketing and lead nurturing help more leads progress through the sales funnel faster.
- Warmer leads make it easier for sales teams to focus, prioritize, and convert.
- Automated campaigns make it easier to do more than less and gain a competitive advantage.
After that, all you have to do is make sure you get specific when you highlight the results. Everyone might not live happily ever after, but at least they’ll have a clear return on investment.
More case study success strategies.
Once you’ve identified the ideal customer for a case study, do your research ahead of the interview. Look at the data, talk to the sales team as well as customer support, professional services, and anyone else who has insights into these people and their business. Create a list of questions in advance of the interview and send it to the customer ahead of time so they can prepare.
If possible, have someone else conduct the interview so you can concentrate of what the customer is actually saying, rather than what you’re planning to say next. You can always interject additional questions and requests for clarification, but I find that having more than one person at the table (or on the phone) is extremely helpful. Record the conversation if the customer is amenable to that. This helps you quote people accurately, and may let you notice a small but important comment that didn’t stand out in the conversation.
When you’ve got all the information you need and it’s time to get down to the business of writing, here are a few tips to help you along:
- Keep the headline short and snappy. Who is the customer, what did they do, and what was the result? It doesn’t have to exactly match the “who-what-results” formula, but it’s best to include those facts in your title.
- Include a short executive summary or abstract of the case study at the top.
- Make sure you have one quote (at the very least) from a named source, but preferably more. This increases credibility and it makes it possible to let other people tell the story of your business for you.
- Include pull quotes, a few statistics, and a visual. Try to make the graphic something from the real world instead of the land of stock photography.
- Break the copy into short paragraphs, include subheads, and add bulleted or numbered lists where possible.
- Be very specific about what it was your product or service did to make a difference.
- Keep it short. Depending on the topic, 1,200 words should be enough to tell the tale.
- Consider including a brief video of a customer testimonial.
According to B2B research from CMI and Marketing Profs, 73% of marketers use case studies, and 65% consider them to be an effective marketing tactic. So in addition to featuring your case study on your website, you may want to repurpose it into a variety of formats like an infographic, video, podcast, or webinar.
Read the case study about the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and see if I followed my own best practices. I’m sure I probably missed a few, but as I said … I’m not finished learning yet.