Effective marketing doesn’t always need to be complicated – it just needs to tell a story. And one of the best ways to do this in business is by creating case studies for potential customers to read.
Essentially, a case study describes how you and a client worked together to overcome a problem they had. It’s about sharing insights from the client’s point of view (i.e. why they chose you/what they liked about working with you), along with how the problem was solved and the results delivered. Its purpose is to help someone understand how you may be able to assist them, by providing real-life insights into what it’s like to work with you and your business.
Case studies are the bee’s knees
I love case studies. When they are put together in just the right way, they are so powerful, because it’s not something any business can just ‘get’, they have to be earned. I remember seeing a Linkedin post recently which said ‘I’m not looking for another client, I’m looking for a future case study’. Boom. What a statement! They are set on doing such a great job for someone, that an amazing story will be able to be told at the end of it.
Case studies are perfect for service-based businesses, where they are great for eliminating any objections or barriers a potential customer may have – all without your sales team having to say a word! They are also ideal for businesses that may be classified as ‘boring’. (Please know I most certainly don’t think you are boring, but I do come across many businesses like engineers, accountants, lawyers etc. who – because they can’t do interesting posts on Instagram – label themselves as ‘boring’.)
And here’s a tip – make sure you get someone slightly removed from the client to help write your case studies. Whether that’s a dedicated content person in your business, or someone you outsource to, it’s important that they are able to capture all the right information and understand how to put together a compelling story that the end user will find interesting. When you’re ‘too close to the story’, it is difficult to remain objective. I have written case studies for other businesses, but never do my own. That’s because I often downplay positive feedback (it’s a Kiwi thing, right?) and sometimes the client may actually feel a little awkward being completely open and honest right to your face.
Case studies help your business to improve
This week on my MAP IT Marketing podcast, I spoke to the amazing Lizzie Davidson. She is a writer and case studies are one of her core writing offers for her clients. And one of the interesting things Lizzie mentioned was that case studies can also help you improve what you do and the way you work.
“I’m almost like a quasi therapist coming in, asking them to revisit the project. And that’s not a bad thing, because if they talk about something that did go wrong, it’s a gift. You know they wouldn’t have agreed to be a case study if they hated you, so you know it’s coming from the best of intentions.”
Of course that constructive feedback doesn’t usually make it into the final draft, but should still be seen as a little bonus to come from the case study process – because if you can further refine what you do well, that’s only a good thing!
Lizzie also agrees on the importance of using outsourced help, as it gives you the opportunity to get a fresh perspective on the story you’re looking to tell. “When you are very close to the project, it can be hard to identify the interesting angles, what the valuable learnings were and where others will find it fascinating.”
Where to begin with a case study
You should always start a case study at the end. What I mean is, knowing exactly what you want to get out of it. Yes, it’s important to create trust and credibility, but you also need to focus on where you may be able to add value for the reader.
You obviously can’t control which direction the client will take it, so make sure you brief the writer on the specific points and/or lessons you want to get across. Then the writer can use these ideas as a guideline when speaking to the client. Lizzie doesn’t recommend leading questions, because they don’t tend to get the best insights.
“But it’s still good to know what you are looking for as the business owner,” she explains.
Lizzie’s process involves interviewing both the business owner and the client to uncover a good story, collecting glowing testimonials, identifying stats and proof of the work that was beneficial, and also if possible some sort of visual representation that the reader can quickly scan and understand.
If you’re able to combine all of these aspects in one case study, people will be able to read and absorb all the relevant points effectively. Lizzie says that if you’ve nailed your niche, there’s nothing that business owners and potential clients like more than stories of someone solving the sort of problems they are experiencing.
How to take your case study to the next level
Lizzie says that a good case study is made up of the following elements:
- The customer explaining what they expected and what was delivered, in their own voice.
- A couple of impactful quotes that give a sense of what you are like are to work with and the benefits of working with you
- An easily-scannable list of clear outcomes and results
- A summary of the key parts of the project, including a highlight of some of the challenges encountered and overcome
- Visual representation of the results – facts presented via an infographic, a graph or an image
Repurpose your case study for maximum exposure
I’ve seen first hand how great case studies can help to grow a business, and here at Identify, we’ve actually only just started scraping the surface of how we could be using them. Like most people, we’ve just been popping them up on our website, and in the blog section. But Lizzie recommends having four versions of your case study:
- In a long copy for your website
- A shorter version (500-600 words) to include in tenders, proposals or email marketing.
- A case study ‘opera’. A delightful name for breaking the case study up to use in posts over a week on social media.
- Selecting some of the best quotes you can use everywhere, from your website to your email signature and social media posts (and ads).
Case studies can be powerful marketing tools, if they are used in the right way for maximum exposure. Otherwise, they are just a story on your website that you hope people find their way to. I’ll put my hand up and say we have case studies that I often forget to share, so take this as ‘doing as I say’ and ‘not as I do’!
Another suggestion from Lizzie is that you create a portfolio section on your website where you can send prospective clients to.
“Your portfolio section should include stories of great stuff you’ve done with your clients as they help a potential future client see what it might be like to go on a journey with you too.”
After you have done this ‘showcase’ of sorts, you could turn it into a PDF, choose snippets for social media posts, create a short video, put together an infographic, and use all of these on your social media pages, in proposals, as part of a lead nurturing email – or just about anywhere else you can think of!
At the end of the day, case studies are about helping prospective customers to build trust in your business, by getting to know you and understanding the ways in which you can assist them.
So if they aren’t in your marketing plan – they should be.