Looking at surveys of the content that most influences business buyers in their purchasing decisions, it’s clear that case studies have been towards the top of the polls, year upon year.
So in this post I’m going to look at what makes a persuasive case study.
Pick a problem that most of your customers will have
You should approach the choice of project for a case study strategically – don’t just pick the easiest to write up. To be as effective as possible, a case study should solve a problem that most of your potential customers face and can relate to. The more they have in common with the issues – the more likely they are to not only read the study, but be influenced by it.
Use a well-known customer
If possible, the case study should feature a well-known customer within your target market. A business that is well respected and typical of your audience. However, if given a choice between writing up a case study of a well-known customer with an atypical problem, or a lesser-known customer with a typical problem; then go for the latter, as relating to the problem is the more important factor.
Summarise at the beginning
If you’ve read this far, then I thank you, for it is true that many readers will not read past the few sentences of any written piece. So it is absolutely essential that at the very beginning of your case study you outline what the problem is you are solving and what the benefit is to them to carry on reading. Explain the problem and the advantages of your solution and strongly imply that it could benefit them too.
Tell it in the customer’s words
It is crucially important to get the customer to tell as much of the story as possible. Interview key staff and use their own words with minimal editing. This will make the case study more believable and more powerful. Honest words will add trust and credibility to the study.
If it’s not possible to get the majority of the study in the client’s own words, make sure you at least get some key quotes – preferably on video. However, the more input you have from your customer, the more effective the case study will be. With no input from the customer, you might as well be writing the blurb for a company brochure.
Did they have doubts about the project?
Most customers would admit to having doubts or concerns going into a project – detailing these will help your readers identify with the featured customer. It also helps with the next point…
Use storytelling and build in some suspense
A case study should be a story – the hero/heroine sees a problem, tries an approach, struggles to overcome and with the right help - triumphs and gets the girl/boy. Okay, so maybe not the last bit, but a case study should be a classic tale nonetheless.
Try to build in some suspense so readers are caught up in the emotions of the unfolding story. Explain the scenario and lay out the required outcome. Detail the problems, explain the issues, lay out the doubts – then show how these were overcome, how your help produced the desired result and how good triumphed over evil (oops, sorry – got carried away again). It is not necessary to make it all sound easy – but it is necessary to show your support for the customer every step of the way, your approach and, despite the customer’s fears, your steady, reliable, inevitable success.
Use the case study to explain your working method
As well as telling the story of the project, use the case study to explain how you work with a customer, your approach, your philosophy. Highlight points in the story where you guided the customer.
Use infographics and diagrams where possible
“A diagram is worth a thousand words” is almost a popular quote – but it is certainly true that a diagram or infographic can help illustrate a case study and break up an otherwise wordy epistle. Use a graphic to explain your working method, or highlight the problem, or better still, to graphically and dramatically illustrate the benefits of your solution.
Use video and images
Likewise images and videos can help break up lots of text and attract the eye. Pictures of happy customers, or customers involved in the process, customers with your people working on the project – all lend credibility to the case study. People tend to believe images more than the written word. And if that is true of images it is ten times truer for videos. Seeing a video of a customer singing your praises is a powerful persuader. The more videos the better – and the more customer staff featured, the better.
Make sure you have a before and after
Many businesses only think about doing a case study after the event, and write about the issues retrospectively. Make sure you have some solid evidence (again, videos are incredibly powerful) of the Before situation as well as the After solution.
Describe the issues clearly in terms that the customers will understand
When writing the case study, use language and terms that all of your customers will understand. Relate particular problems back to generic problems that they all might face. Try and make the approach and methods as universal as possible, without detracting from the inherent details of the particular project that makes it real and true.
Facts and figures along with personal tales of achievements
Whilst it is definitely important to have data-driven facts and figures to back up the success of the project, it is also good to have personal stories from the customer staff involved. It is these personal stories that engage the reader and allow them to connect with the case study on an emotional level, whilst the data will attract their logical mind.
Get the bosses opinion
There are several reasons why getting a quote from the boss is important – it adds to case study credibility for a start, but a more subtle reason is that many B2B buyers have their own bosses to please at the end of the day. Getting a positive quote from the case study customer’s boss should make them think that using you may help them to impress their boss.
Get a third party view
Where possible get a third party to comment on your solution – this may be the customer’s customer, or it could be an independent assessor of some sort. This will add to the credibility and persuasiveness of the case study.
Detail any unexpected or side benefits
Don’t be afraid to include any unexpected positive outcomes or side benefits.
Little quirky tales that arise during the project or during interviews of customer staff are always good. They give the case study personality, memorability and lighten the mood. I can’t give you any specific examples here, but always be on the look out for short tales that amuse or make you feel warm inside.
Look to the future
Towards the end of the case study include a few lines about the future, what the customer’s next goals are and how you are going help them achieve them.
How has this helped you as a supplier?
What have you learned as a result of this case study? How has it helped you improve your service/product? A few lines on this will subtly illustrate that you are a learning, adaptive company, always striving to do better for your clients.
Summarise at the end with a call to action
The case study should finish with another summary – again outline the issues facing the customer, how you helped them and the benefits gained as a result. Point out how the same concepts, methods and solutions could help many more customers.
Of course, the whole point of a case study is, ultimately, to win more sales, so a call to action at the end is essential. But it should be in keeping with the character of a case study – it should be simple, straightforward and to the point.
Now here’s an extra tip that could revolutionise your business:
Work on every project as if it were going to be a case study
By approaching every project as if it were going to become a case study you will improve not only your working methods, but your working relationship with your customers. Getting them to state the problems they face, outlining their doubts, you are laying out your approach to solving them (with diagrams), documenting the progress of the project, getting the input of a third party – all these things should have a beneficial affect on the very way you carry out the project.
And then you might find that producing effective case studies will not only win you more business, but may actually improve your business too.