Marketers often have a love/hate relationship with case studies. Writing case studies can be nothing short of a chore. They are an incredibly time-consuming task and require tons of scheduling. And when you think about it, why would anyone trust your side of a case study story?
Despite that, case studies have their place as a top-performing addition to the content marketing strategy and work wonders in your sales funnel.
According to data from Content Marketing Institute, case studies rank as one of the most popular content marketing tactics with 65% of marketers perceiving them as effective. They’re so effective, in fact, that 82% of B2B marketers report using them as part of their strategy.
That’s all well and good, but let’s be honest about something here:
Case studies are boring… right?
We’ve all read our fair share of case studies that lived and died by the tried and true formula of “challenge > solution > benefit” with little else besides the data to prop them up.
A lot of case studies lack the extra stuff to hook and engage an audience. They are left wanting and do little to inspire creative storytelling.
No wonder some marketers feel like they’re a chore to write.
So why keep creating them if they’re boring and a chore to produce?
Because even the most raw, uncreative case studies can still be effective.
- They provide a boost to customer confidence in your business
- They provide a path to a solution
- They educate prospective customers on how they can solve their problems
- They are solid, social proof that your solutions are viable and you bring value to the table
When you build on those basic things in the right way, you can create a highly sharable, deeply engaging piece of content. Here are a few ways to vastly improve the quality of your case studies.
Don’t get too caught up with finding the perfect format.
A lot of experts will tell you to follow some formula for creating your case study. Don’t stress over this.
A creative story doesn’t lock itself into a formula. You don’t have to block your content into specific modules like some 90’s business plan. The most interesting and compelling stories take a creative approach to flow and format, and they play with perspective.
Avoid the mistake of writing your case study from your own perspective. That’s like creating testimonials for yourself.
Look at how Asana presents their case studies – from the perspective of the customer.
By taking this route, Asana is aligning the personality of their successful customer with that of their prospective audience.
Tell a story.
Like every good story there’s a villain and a protagonist along with a lesson to be learned. With case studies, of course, you’re dealing with fact over fiction.
“Structure it like a story. Make sure there’s a logical flow,” writes Drew McLellan, top dog at McLellan Marketing Group. “Explain the problem (identify the bad guy). Introduce your company/product (bring in the hero). Describe how the challenge was overcome (tell of the battle). Sum it up (give it a happy ending).”
Apptio does an exceptional job with its case studies, highlighting the main story components of who, what, when, where and most importantly – how.
To tell the right kind of story in your case study, and determine which data is most pertinent, you need to ask the right questions.
Lead your customer to help get the information that will make your case study stand out.
Those questions will vary depending on your customer and the product or service, but here are a few examples to point you in the right direction:
- What are/were your goals?
- What are the challenges you experienced prior to purchasing our product/service
- Why did you choose us over other similar products or services?
- What was the implementation and decision making process like
- How has the product or service provided a solution? How did you benefit?
Remember to get the raw data when you can to support the case study. Ask open-ended questions to help reveal other insights that can add more depth to your case study and paint a more vivid picture of success.
Don’t be afraid to edit.
During the course of the interview you’ll get quotable gold from your customers. These testimonials and quotes add serious social proof to your case study.
“It’s best to use short, snappy quotes, dotted throughout the case study that underline or explain one of your bullet points,” says Matthew Stibbe, CEO of Articulate. “It will be clear from your transcript which words are better left as they are.”
If you look closely at the quotes throughout this Groupon case study from Sprinklr, it’s clear that a lot of the quotes are edited or have been cleaned up, and that’s OK!
Be mindful of what you tweak. I’m not encouraging falsehoods or lies. What you put in your case study should be as accurate and factual as possible. However, you can, and absolutely should, edit quotes from your customers to add more impact to statements.
Many customers whom I’ve requested for case studies have even told me, “Yeah, go ahead and edit that to make it say what you want to.”
Just a few minor tweaks to a quote can make it sound more well-rounded, and give stronger support to the overall point of the piece.
Include actionable insights.
Your contact will provide you with great data and a before and after glimpse which paints a nice picture. Unfortunately, that picture isn’t always completely clear for someone on the outside looking in.
It may not be immediately evident how the reader could achieve the same results, or what they could do with your product or solution to tackle their specific challenge.
To help provide a clearer path to the solution, provide actionable insights within your case study. Those insights create a more engaging and valuable piece of content that prospective customers can learn from.
It doesn’t have to be lengthy; just enough to educate and drive action in the right direction.
This case study from SimpleReach provides a glimpse into the strategy intel used to improve content marketing.
Consider these questions to help create some actionable tips:
- What are things someone could learn from the process?
- What do customers need to know before taking this approach?
- What are the steps to implementing your solution in a similar process?
- What are key things to consider before moving forward with purchasing the solution?
Try asking these and similar questions to your customer during the interview process for some additional insight that can be shared.
This is where you can really hit on the strategy behind the case study, using those actionable insights to help sell your product or service.
Create a mix of media.
It’s no secret that people learn and remember information differently from reading to watching or listening. Using a variety of media in your case study not only helps people remember and absorb that content better, it makes it more engaging.
- Use relevant (not stock) images to support the storytelling aspect of the case study – such as images from your customers
- Include video showing the product or solution at work
- Add video testimonials
- Add charts and graphs to create visual data representation
- Use infographics to provide punchy data points that are visually attractive
DoubleDutch uses video to turn their case studies and success stories into exemplary content experiences.
Visuals are key to supporting case studies; when images are paired with information, people retained as much as 65% of the information several days later compared to just 10% of text-based information.
Your case study is more likely to get shared as well when it includes quality, relevant images like infographics. By themselves, infographics are shared 3x more than any other type of content. That can vastly improve the reach of your case study.
Emphasize problem and solution.
Storytelling and images aside, you still need to include the key components of a case study. Make sure you’re emphasizing the original problem or challenge that the customer faced.
It should also include their goals, or what they hoped to achieve by buying into the product or service you’re offering.
Follow that up with appropriate emphasis on how your product or service provided the best solution to their problem and how it helped them meet their goals.
This featured case study on HubSpot leads with those key points, providing a summary of pertinent info right from the start.
Back it up with data!
Back up everything in the case study with data for authenticity and help demonstrate the success of what your product or service has done for others.
It’s simply not enough to say something like “customer saw X% lift in conversions.” Without raw numbers and data that shows the starting point and ending point, a % lift doesn’t really say much at all.
If I were telling someone about a road trip I took, I wouldn’t tell them it took me 8 hours. I’d tell them the start and end points, the distance traveled, what I saw along the way, and the life-altering experience of my own National Lampoon’s journey.
Brightedge brings clear data showing how keyword rank increased along with revenue over the course of a migration.
Mix your storytelling with key metrics, and use clearly annotated charts and graphs like these to make data easy to read.
Make it easily digestible.
Whatever format and length you choose, make it easy to skim through the case study content. If your target audience can’t get the gist of it by skimming the content, then you’ve failed. Even long-form copy and deep-dive case studies can be made skimmable with the right formatting and mixed media elements.
Get the flow perfect.
While I encourage some creativity in creating the flow and structure of your case study, I can’t deny that certain approaches are highly effective.
Case in point; Steve Slaunwhite has developed and refined what he calls the “case study sequence” to building an engaging and – most importantly – credible case study.
His approach puts all the emphasis on the happy customer, using storytelling to persuade the reader and capture their attention.
Check out his recommended sequence:
- The Customer: Put the spotlight on the customer – don’t waste time focusing on your product
- The Challenge: “What condition was your customer trying to change or improve?” This is an ideal spot to use a customer quote and let them share their story
- The Journey: Share the steps the customer took to try and solve their problem, including other things they investigated
- The Discovery: How the customer found you, which sets the case study up for you and your product solved the customer’s challenge
- The Solution: Here’s your opportunity to pitch your product without the fear of sound like a used car salesman.
- The Implementation: How was the product implemented, what problems arose, what challenges were overcome?
- The Results: Here’s where you can show off the data, hard numbers, revenue gains and the return on the investment. Showcase how well your product solved the customer’s problems.
Leverage and promote your case study.
Once you have your case study completed, don’t leave it to die in a dark corner of your website. It’s a powerful component of your content marketing strategy, and should be promoted like every other piece of content you produce.
- Share the case study directly with prospects
- Highlight it as part of an autoresponder series
- Post it as a customer success story to social channels
- Feature the testimonials on your site with links to the full case study
- Create a dedicated page for case studies
Google has a great example of this with it’s Think with Google case study page.
Case studies are a ridiculously effective way to make people fall in love with your business.
They work, plain and simple.
But in order for you to make them work for you, you’ll need to give it some effort, and sprinkle in some strategy. These tips should help you do just that.