Case studies are a great way to prove you can add value. In fact, they’re often the best method you have. After all, showing you’ve delivered value before is more persuasive than explaining your process, the number of offices you have or the fact you were “founded in 1922”.
However, case studies are rarely as impactful as they could be. Here’s how to make yours better:
The usual case study format is (1) explain the background (2) explain your approach (3) list the results. But people switch off during communications. So, instead of putting your main point (the results) at the end, when they’ve stopped listening, start with the results you triggered, and then work backwards.
Reinforce the results you delivered by including the best one in your title. After all, which would you rather read “Case study — X plc” or “How we reduced X plc’s costs by £25million”?
Make it easy for people to get in touch, by giving a person’s name/number to contact, plus the benefits of calling. “To discuss how we can reduce your costs, call Jane Doe on [Jane’s contact details]”. This is much better than (1) no Call To Action or (2) just a generic office number or “admin@”email.
When you’re discussing your case study, add context by linking it to the other person’s key need. “We can help you reduce your costs here. In fact, during my recent work with X plc, we saved them over £25million using techniques we could deploy with you. What happened was…”
It’s important you do all four with your case studies. The reason? People buy if they know you can improve their future. If you’re not careful, your case studies can focus on the exact opposite — your past. How can you make yours more compelling?
Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.
When it comes to valuable content, case studies have the potential to punch way above their weight. Like all good content, they can inform, educate and entertain. But they go much further than that — they have the power to persuade and sell (in a very valuable way).
How do they do this?
Put yourself in your clients’ shoes
Consider this scenario. A potential client is looking for the type of service you offer. They go on your website. They find out more about who you are and what you do. But how can they be really certain that your promises will live up to their expectations?
This is the critical point at which a casual browser could be about to become a new client. So how do you ensure they pick up the phone?
Simple — make sure you have some really good case studies on your website that show what you do (not just say it).
Think about how long it can take to woo a new client. The reassurance of a case study can seriously speed up the process. It’s one of the best ways to demonstrate your credentials and bring in more business.
Here are ten ways to ensure your case studies shine:
Using the right tool for the job is important in any business, and it is no different in the world of content.
Valuable content is an essential part of any marketing strategy. From basics like websites through to business books, a portfolio of good content can become a valuable toolkit for your business.
Not every business will need all the tools, it’s about getting the communications mix right for you and your customers. Understand how your customers like you to communicate with them, and talk to them that way.
Website: Pack it full of value. Make it a hub of useful resources for your clients. The answers should all be there. Needs to engage. Keep it up to date.
Articles: Give away some of your hard-earned knowledge and show thought-leadership. Generate interest and understanding in return. A business blog is a fantastic way to publish and share your articles.
Whitepapers: Positioned somewhere in between a magazine article and an academic paper, this powerful form of content can super-charge your thought-leadership efforts.
Newsletters: Keep in touch. Short, sweet, relevant. Should be regular.
Social media: Join the community. Be seen. Social media offers a good way of showing what you know. Interact and make yourself useful. Twitter and LinkedIn are among the best.
Email marketing: The best campaigns are targeted, responsive and useful. Email can be a clever way of carrying on the conversation with potential buyers.
Case studies: The kings of content. Make sure yours show potential clients exactly how you help people like them.
A business book: If case studies are the kings of content, business books are the Masters of the Universe. Sure fire way of positioning yourself as an authority in your field. Big commitment to create, with bigger pay-off if you get it right.
What collection of content tools is right for your business?
By Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton
Case studies are an important part of many company’s marketing activities. If you’re not providing your prospects with case studies to show your past successes, chances are your competitors are. So write some!
If you’re not a competent or confident writer find someone who is. There are plenty of freelance copywriters and journalists around that you can commission to write for you.
But whether you outsource or go down the DIY route, there are a few things worth remembering.
The job of the case study is to tell the story of how you have helped your customer overcome whatever business problem they have been battling with. Whether you’ve provided a CRM system that allows them to capture leads which can be followed up, or your emarketing expertise has generated a 70% boost to their pipeline, the important thing is how their business has benefitted.
You care passionately about what you do and how you do it. And so you should. But no one else will care as much – they want to know what’s in it for them. So show them.
If I'm writing about a client's customer I always stress to my client that their customer needs to be fully briefed about the process. Nothing is going to scupper your case study quite as effectively as the customer getting cold feet about being involved and that usually only happens if they don’t understand the process and/or what’s expected of them.
OK, that’s not strictly true – there is something that will derail it faster... an unhappy customer. Sadly I can recall several occasions when my scheduled phone interview with the customer turned into me doing a tea and sympathy routine while they ranted along the lines of “trust me, if I told you just how awful it’s been you wouldn’t want my comments to ever appear in writing.”
How long a case study needs to be is a moot point. I used to manage the UK case study programme for Microsoft's Business Solutions division. The typical case study length was 1,800 words. Sadly for some stories that was a bit of a stretch.
However, in recent months I have been writing shorter case studies for another client - around 500 words.
Keeping your word count down is a great way to make you focus on what matters in your story, whereas prescribing 1,800 words as the minimum can lead you to pad something out when the fact is some customer stories may be great but they don't always have the legs for a long write-up. If you have strict rules on word length you end up ignoring some potential stories.
By combining longer & shorter case studies with brief testimonials and customer win stories, you can end up with an impressive body of customer evidence.
You could even add video to your portfolio of customer evidence too. It can have a much bigger impact than the written word, but there’s no getting away from the marked difference in cost. One video case study could cost you the same as 100 written ones – maybe more. In which case you might want to be sure you're going to use it effectively before you sign off on the budget.