By Natalie Boyd
Create content in a silo. Keep your wins to yourself. Promote nothing. This is marketing’s mantra, right? Not even close.
Today’s marketers have a full-time job creating content, generating leads, driving traffic, collaborating across channels, and staying in the know when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of their ideal customer—and a case study can display your success.
Though the type of marketing material can vary from infographics to blogs to videos to e-books, the case study is a piece of content that should be in every organization’s front pocket. It is a valuable tool everywhere from the website to the sales floor that can:
- Boost Your Industry Credibility. Whether you work across industries or you are specialized within a particular niche, experience must be shared. A case study is a perfect avenue to promote your industry know-how. After all, birds of a feather flock together. Showcasing your achievement through a case study within a specific industry will boost your credibility while delivering proof points that may attract similar clients.
- Show Your Success. You have customer wins. Flaunt them. Unlike traditional marketing materials, a case study delivers validation from your customers of your good work. It takes words to a different level by showing the journey from point A to point B in a narrative format, while being authentic enough to share where you were challenged and transparent enough to share your secrets—all while delivering the data to back it.
- Repurpose the Content. A case study gives an in-depth look at your problem-solving skills. With this content in hand, it is easy to create blogs or videos—or let your public relations team use the case study as a talking point with the media. If you repurpose the case study content across formats and channels, you will give your success wings.
The case study is not only the perfect content to arm the sales team with data-driven points, but it is also a document that serves as a testimony from those outside of your organization.
After all, you ask your family and friends to recommend their favorite businesses, you read reviews before booking your vacation hotel, and you see the movies that have won the most awards. (Nearly 90 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.) It’s natural to want to surround yourself with products, services, and companies that have the blessing of those that have gone before you. And that, in a nutshell, is what the case study is.
The case study will give you credibility, flaunt your customer wins, and give you a narrative for additional content. You’ve taken the time to understand your customers. Your products, services, or tactics have blown through their obstacles and there is data to prove your strategies work—now it’s your turn to make a case study work for you.
Tips for Creating High-Performing Case Studies
1. Build Trust
The best case studies leverage the right relationships.
First off, you should establish a plan for selecting candidates. Your participants should have extensive product knowledge and impressive results. If possible, highlight any notable brands you work with.
When reaching out to participants, building trust is important. You want something authentic—so remove the case study verbiage from your initial request. Make your prospective participants feel special, and start by asking them to help tell their story.
As you move forward with the interview process, remember that your customers are busy. So be prepared. Keep questions clear and concise, but also open-ended. Drive the conversation, but allow your participants to openly describe their experience.
2. Tell a Story
Once you gather the facts, it’s time to start writing.
The “hero journey” is a narrative outline in which a hero goes on an adventure, wins a victory, and comes home changed or transformed. And according to marketer Sid Smith, a loose adaptation of Joseph Campbell's literary theory can be applied to your marketing case study:
- Hero suffers a loss or experiences a serious problem …
- Hero attempts to resolve issues through usual means, and fails …
- Hero goes on a journey and discovers an ally or new approach …
- Hero overcomes tremendous odds to resolve the problem …
- Hero returns triumphant and tells all about his conquest.
What does this all mean? That storytelling drives case studies. Identify your sample customers, their goals, their needs, and how your company helped them meet these goals.
3. Pay Close Attention to Formatting
No one enjoys huge chunk of texts. As we’ve blogged about before here at SmartBug Media, too many words might not get your message across, or even worse, scare off readers.
The first rule of thumb? Keep it simple.
Like other inbound content, case studies do not have to be complicated. When it comes to length, I’ve seen several schools of thought. Marketers such as Debbie Weil claim that 500 words works best while Neil Patel touts the benefits of long-form copy.
Worry less about word count and more about telling your story. Also, like other forms of content, employ effective formatting elements, including:
- Bulleted lists
- Bolded text
Most importantly, it’s up to you to find out what’s best for you and what resonates with your end-users.
4. Include the Facts
This may seem like a no-brainer, but a marketing case study without facts is like a car without gas: It will sputter out before you reach your destination. However, as important as it is to include facts, it’s also essential to show real numbers and real proof.
Rather than use ambiguous terms such as “doubled traffic” or “tripled conversions,” display the actual numbers. You want data to be crystal clear.
Ultimately, numbers should contribute to your overall story. They’ll outline tangible results. And when properly portrayed, data can show exactly where your customers began and where they ended up with your help.
5. Talk Strategy
Just as it’s important to include real data, it’s equally important to provide specific strategy. You’ll want to include a conclusion that explicitly proves how your product or service impacted your customer—and how it helped them reach their goals.
Rather than simply say how your services led to your customer’s end results, tell your readers exactly how your services impacted your customer. At this point, you’ve already told your story. Now is the time to finish it.
This post was originally published in March 2017, and it has since been updated.