Case studies are among the most high-impact pieces of content a B2B marketer can produce. Unlike many other forms of marketing content — for example blogs, ebooks, white papers or reports — case studies give you an opportunity to directly demonstrate the real-life value your solutions are providing to customers.
It’s an opportunity to “show, not tell,” and a way to engage prospects by introducing them to people just like them, who share the same challenges and goals, and who used your product or service to solve them.
But case studies are also a lot more labor-intensive than most other forms of written content. Even after finding an appropriate, willing customer, you need sign off from various stakeholders and account owners, and to incorporate plenty of feedback from them before publishing. So it’s important to get it right and make sure your case studies provide impactful, engaging testimonials of the value of your offering.
Here are a few useful tips to follow for creating powerful case studies:
1. Choose Strategically
Sometimes you won’t get much of a choice of who to choose for a case study, particularly when dealing with enterprise or other large companies. Not all customers will be open to participating in a case study in the first place, while others may have long, arduous approval processes before you can even get started.
But assuming that you do have some selection, it’s very important to choose your case study subjects strategically.
Of course, you want to select customers with the most impressive results, and with customer stories that closely mirror your messaging. But there’s often more to it than that — particularly if you already have a few solid case studies under your belt and can afford to be a bit more picky.
In particular, never take your eye off your wider marketing strategy. For example, if you’re trying to target the pharmaceuticals industry, doing a case study on a manufacturing company who happen to be using your product too probably isn’t the best use of your resources, even if they have great results (that’s not to say you can’t use them another time). Similarly, if you’re aiming for enterprise-size customers, gathering customer stories from smaller existing clients isn’t ideal either. The reverse is also true: if your main customer base and target audience is SMBs, you should go after SMBs for case studies, even if you have a handful of bigger customers. Touting “bigger” brands might be tempting, but there’s also a risk it could send the wrong message to your target audience.
You should also be thinking about the kinds of people within the account you wish to interview — again, assuming you have a choice. Who are your buyer personas? If your main persona is Head of IT for example, make sure you interview someone of corresponding seniority from that department. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also interview people from other departments who benefited as well, but your case study should always revolve around, or at least prominently feature, someone who resembles your target audience.
2. Plan Your Interview in Advance
Don’t wing it. Take some time to decide what it is you want to find out: e.g. what their business problem was, how they solved it with your solution, why they chose you over competitors, etc. There’s nothing worse than finishing an interview only to realize you didn’t actually get what you came for.
And of course, always make sure to ask for solid facts and figures. Your interviewee might not be able to get hold of those in time for the interview; that’s fine — you can always insert the numbers later on. But you should still make sure in advance that they actually have solid results they are willing and able to share, and if possible get some kind of idea of what those are. Otherwise you’ll be left struggling to cobble together a convincing story after putting in all the work. Or worse: being forced to abandon the case study altogether.
When I plan my case study interviews, after doing some basic customer research on my own, I always try to talk with the account owner in Sales and the relevant Customer Success Manager to get a feel for the customer and their story. People within your company who have regular contact with the customers can also help you select and formulate your interview questions.
3. Think Like a Journalist
Creating a case study is very similar to writing a news article. You need to do as much background research before the interview, so you know the story beforehand and subsequently how you want to direct your discussion.
The effectiveness of your case study relies on your ability to clearly articulate the narrative, having a clear lede, and not leaving too many unanswered questions for the reader.
4. Use a Recording App
In the same vein, as any good journalist knows, it’s always useful to record your interviews. For a start, it gives you an opportunity to review your interviews to potentially pick up on forgotten tidbits of information, errors, or quotes you may have missed the first or second time round.
But recording isn’t just important for the editing process; having a recording leaves you free to properly and smoothly engage with the interviewee, rather than stopping and starting as you scramble to note down everything they’re saying. During the interview itself, you should be focusing on having a constructive conversation which teases out the story you want to portray.
Most phones today come with recording apps, both for in-person and phone conversations. There are plenty of other great free recording apps out there too — just remember to check it’s activated before you start your interview. Back in my journalism days, I once conducted an hour-long phone interview for a story — only to discover after hanging up that my call recording app hadn’t been recording!
5. Presentation is Everything
It doesn’t matter how great your case study is, if it isn’t readable or easily accessible — or suitable for the channel you’re using — it won’t get seen.
Before creating a final draft, consider where your case study will be featured, and how you will be using it.
Naturally, you’ll want it on your website and to promote it on social media and other digital channels for marketing. That means it needs to be visually attractive, easily accessible and created with those channels in mind. We use Uberflip to host most of our content, including our case studies, as it’s a really effective platform for hosting and creating interactive, visual content readers can engage with. But when we first migrated to Uberflip it also required us to rethink how we designed and even wrote our case studies, which used to be more text-heavy.
Still, that kind of content won’t be suitable for everyone, or for every channel. For example, we typically create two different versions of our case studies: one digital version, and another print-friendly version we can provide at events or which Sales can use in their discussions with prospects and customers. These often require slightly different copy, to fit their respective formats.
If you’re looking for inspiration, check out this case study on how Leadspace helped Tipalti increase conversion rates by 20%:
Image credit: iStock