According to research from the Content Marketing Institute, case studies are the highest performing content marketing for B2B technology marketers. They are useful to both the vendor, and they are sought out by buyers, industry influencers, and analysts.
However, many fall short of the mark, being empty stories that fail to deliver the insight the buyer is looking for, and a lost opportunity for the vendor as the permission to do a case study is often hard-won. In this article, we share some tips for great vendor case studies.
A good case study creates trust and credibility for the vendor as their value and proposition are expressed in the authentic voice of a buyer, demonstrating tangible outcomes specific to their industry or use case. And, are incredibly useful for buyers looking to align their problem with a solution, reassuring them they are moving in the right direction.
Aside from the buyer, every influencer, blogger, or industry analyst is looking for statistics and quotes to support their point of view. Case studies are not only a fantastic asset in the closing stages of a buyer’s journey, but what you discover in a well-run case study process could be gold for boosting awareness of your client solution amongst analysts and industry influencers.
However, merely being ”a case study” does not make it useful, some miss the mark. It’s easy to lose your content marketing discipline and get distracted in the joy of a client agreeing to say lovely things about your product and tell a long meandering story of their 900-year history, beautiful panned shots of their HQ or their differentiation in their marketplace. Your intended audience will sadly care less about this, and it won’t help you.
Here are a few tips from our experience, and of course, if you’d like help pulling together a case study program – please get in touch.
#1 Pack for the long road
The process of getting the case study is likely to be a long one, gated with several approvals, and it’s’s often hard to go back through these gates once something is approved. So plan for the journey
Therefore, it’s essential that from the start you have a clear plan of what you need from the client, what does the case study look like in your mind, how do you intend to use it, what would make it useful to your audience?
Once approval comes, the temptation to “just get something going” will be strong, but this is the opportunity to get agreement on the whole plan and set the expectation with the client of what you would like to achieve, and you’ll get a much better content asset.
For example, videos are the gold standard of case studies; I’ve done a bunch of them from very short interviews for YouTube to full-blown produced stories. Get this in the plan and approved early, however daunting all this approval and the logistics may seem.
#2 – Plan the story
A case study is a story of partnership, with two protagonists, the hero (the client) and their sidekick (your product or service).
Give some thought to the story; you probably know the end, the hero disappearing into the sunset, with a successful project behind them, offering to give you a case study. What were the start and the middle? What was the catalyst for change, what happened along the way, what could other clients learn from that journey?
Also, bear in mind that the hero of the story could be a real person, the executive you are hoping to provide the quote. A quote for a case study is a nervous leap of faith for some executives, or an opportunity to enhance a personal brand for others, be very tuned into this.
#3 – Data is the daddy
The story ends with an outcome, this needs to be clear, but not just the sunset and we were all jolly happy. By what metric did your solution help this client? The most important thing to capture in a case study is the numbers. Numbers are easy to consume and are nectar to our audience of busy, busy bees, and what will interest your next client or industry influencer.
Numbers are also easy to repurpose, not just by you in your next infographic, but by your audience, as they make the internal case for your solution. Plus, the industry influencers are always on the hunt for data that supports their point of view on the market or category to include in a blog post, research article, or next book.
If you can’t get numbers, while it’s’s lovely that this client wants to talk about you in non-specific terms, maybe consider moving, as nicely as you can onto the next client that has a firmer story – case studies take a lot of effort, and you should invest that effort wisely.
#4 – Prepare for the slice and dice
Ensure that every element of the case study is authorized to be used separately from the combined deliverable. Especially the numbers to the previous point, but also quotes are deliciously snackable, reusable content that will live long after you’ve told the case study story, and your sales folks will love them and slip them into the conversation and their slides.
Get the use of quotes approved early, get a few versions approved based on the context you would like to use them, and ensure they are approved independently of the overall case study that you can use them in other marketing materials.
But, not just quotes, ensure all the images, copy, logos, facts, figures, summary text, whatever slices and dices you can think of are approved to be used, independent of the whole. Trust me, your future self will thank you. Going back to get approval is frankly a nightmare. People change jobs, new people join legal, policies get altered, or maybe at the moment you need the change, the project just isn’t going as well as it was.
#5 – Managing no
Sometimes they say no, and this is not one of those “ask forgiveness later” type deals. A poorly used reference or logo, with the wrong audience, can embarrass your client stakeholder, ruin a client relationship, and kill credibility with a prospective client or analyst.
However, approval can come in subtly different forms, for example, some clients will agree that you can talk about them in a closed meeting but won’t allow you to put their logo on your website. While as a marketer, you might be disappointed, it can still be useful to your sales team and valuable to do as long as everyone understands this.
So, start the process with a sliding scale of what you would like from the client. Have a list from the top end of a video interview, through the use of the logo on the website to an anecdote for a closed room – or whatever else you need. And then, ensure that what can be shared, with whom is clearly understood, by everyone who comes into contact with the case study material.
Those are a few insider tips. A strong case study will take time and needs some planning and persistence. Still, with great numbers, shareable quotes, a tight story, proper approval, and a set of snippets that you can sprinkle into other marketing and sales activities and you too will have a useful, high performing content marketing asset.
Let us know if we can help – get in touch.