Case studies are a must-have in any business’s content marketing library. They provide proof to potential customers that your company can help solve their problems.
The format you choose and the content you include in a case study could make or break its success. In this post, we cover the basics of a case study and then provide a template to help you create a case study that will win over prospects.
A case study (as it relates to the marketing industry) is a piece of content — typically formatted as a webpage on a B2B company’s website or downloadable PDF — that tells a story of a customer that used your product or service to solve a challenge. It also shows how your company worked with a customer and goes into detail about the process and the results.
A case study is usually presented in the third person, meaning it is written in the voice and viewpoint of an independent reporter. Facts and figures are essential. Think of it as a news story, not a feature.
Unlike other content in the middle of the funnel, which aims to educate or entertain your audience with few or no mentions of your brand, case studies are all about your brand.
But not so fast! Before you get carried away with bragging about your company’s best qualities, take caution to not embellish or over-hype your brand.
The focus should be about how your product or service solves an issue while portraying what it’s like to work with you. Any praise about your brand should be in quotes, coming from clients and people you have worked with.
When it comes to the sales funnel, case studies are best suited in the middle during the appraisal stage. At that point, your prospects have already become aware of your product or service. And now they are referencing case studies to help with the decision-making process before reaching acquisition (bottom of the funnel), which looks like this:
MIDDLE: Appraisal and case studies
All of these fall under the umbrella of things people say about your company. But their differences can steer your decision for how you want to communicate your company’s work to prospects. Here’s how each of these terms are different from a case study:
Customer Success Story: A success story is used by marketers to highlight the high-level results of a project, whereas a case study will go into more detail about the process. However, case studies still incorporate elements of a success story, which is why the terms are often used interchangeably.
Reviews: Other people share their experience with your company on a public platform (Google Reviews, Facebook, Yelp, G2Crowd, etc.). While your marketing team can encourage and incentivize customers to leave reviews on these platforms, what they say about your company is out of your control. Fortunately, you have complete control over your case studies — from the client you highlight, to the presentation of the content, to the promotion strategy.
Testimonials: These tend to be less detailed than case studies and do not cover the process of working with a company, nor do they include specific results. Most commonly, testimonials are quotes from happy customers that provide more general, but positive feedback about a company. B2C companies tend to use testimonials more than case studies. Here are some testimonial examples.
Setting the foundation: What to do before creating a case study
Publishing just one case study on your website probably won’t be relevant to every single one of your prospects, but using documented buyer personas can help you develop more personalized case studies for different types of prospects.
Buyer personas are fictional characters that represent the traits and needs of your ideal customers, supported by several methods of research. When complete, this information is organized into a profile that could look like a baseball card. Learn the step-by-step process for developing buyer personas here.
Each persona may need its own case study that demonstrates, for example:
- Each of your products, services, brands
- Customers in various industries or types of companies (small business vs. corporate)
- A specific type of challenge and/or result
The main goal of your case studies is to convince prospects that you can deliver the best solution(s) in a process that works for them. The case study helps them imagine themselves working with you, so the more case studies you publish that match the prospect’s characteristics, the more effective the case study will be for winning their business.
After identifying the case studies you’d like to create for each persona, find the clients that best fit those personas to collect information for the case study.
This is where a strong sales/marketing team alignment comes into play. Sales teams and customer service reps — anyone who communicates with customers on a regular basis — will know who has a compelling story about working with you.
Instead of asking your sales team for case study candidates when you need them to meet a due date, keep an ongoing log to document customer feedback and experiences.
Assign who will keep track of the progress and record the entire journey. Make note of these factors throughout the journey:
- Buyer persona characteristics (company size, industry, demographic, etc.)
- The solution provided by your company
- The process to get to the solution
- The results — make sure to record specific improvement metrics
- Positive quotes provided by client throughout the process
If this is documented as your company works with your customer, it will be much easier for the marketing team to gather the details. You’ll also prevent having to scramble to put all the pieces together months, or even years, later.
Documenting the process as it happens will also make it easier for the marketing team to get access to customers for an interview. They will already be in regular communication with your sales or customer service teams, so they are likely to get back to you for an interview in a timelier manner.
A phone interview is the best way to gather a customer’s genuine feelings about working with your company and the results you delivered. You’re also more likely to get quotes that show off the customer’s personality to make your case study original and more interesting.
While you want to capture the customer’s genuine reaction, help them prepare by sending a list of questions before the interview. This will help them reflect on their experience and prepare better answers that illustrate the process.
Here are sample questions to ask:
Beginning: The challenge and decision-making process
- What was the main issue/challenge you were experiencing that led you to find our company?
- What was most important factor you considered when choosing a company to work with?
- How did you find our company?
- Why did you choose to work with us?
- In your perspective, how we are different from competitors?
Middle: The process of working with your company
- What were your goals in working with us?
- Describe the process of working with us.
- What were the highlights of working with us?
- Were there any pleasant surprises you experienced during the process?
End: Results and overall impressions
- What were the results? (Include a general interview as well as specific metric)
- Did these results solve your initial challenge?
- How did working with our company change and improve your business?
- Why would you work with us again?
- What would you tell others about our company if they have never heard of us before?
These interviews will give you the meat of your content. Best yet, you’ll also gather information you can use in other ways.
Perhaps they perceive your company in a way you never thought of before — it may give you ideas on how to tweak your brand voice and personality. Or they might give you new blog post topics, or even suggestions about your product or service that you can bring up to the leadership team.
Use this time with customers to collect as much information as you can to better understand the people you’re marketing to.
Creation: How to put together a case study
Most often, case studies are thought of as a copy-heavy web page. However, they can take on multiple formats to better resonate with your audience.
Here are a few examples of the various formats of a case study and why you might want to use each type.
Copy-heavy case studies
Highly technical industries often publish case studies that are heavy with copy to outline every detail of a complex process, using industry jargon. While this may show off a company’s expertise on the topic, make sure your audience understands the jargon and won’t feel overwhelmed by the details. Using section headers can help break up the copy and make it easier to read.
Video case studies
It’s so much more powerful if your prospect can hear and see your clients tell their stories of working with your company, rather than read a quote off a piece of paper or webpage. While videos perform well on social media, they can be resource-intensive to make. It requires filming a client in-person — the logistics of this alone can be challenging. You may also need to outsource the filming and editing or buy the proper equipment to publish a professional-quality video.
Visual case studies
A case study can also be something in-between a copy-heavy piece or a video. Depending on your industry, it might be most helpful to keep the story short and sweet, highlighting only the numbers that prove results. That’s the goal for our case studies at Brandpoint. With the help of our web developers, our case studies are highly visual to call attention to the most important parts of working with a client. It’s easy for our time-strapped prospects to read, and this format also works well across the different buyer personas that we work with.
Case studies may be published as a PDF, web page, printed document and more. But every company should consider publishing a case study as a web page for a few reasons:
- SEO opportunity: Optimize your case study page(s) to appear near the top of search engine results so your company can be found for organic keywords related to your business. Also consider paid search, like Google AdWords, and bid for similar keywords that your competitors are using.
- Homepage highlights: Make it easy for prospects to find your case studies by making them easily accessible from the main page. Or, include quotes from clients throughout your website with links to the full case studies. This way, users will see positive reviews throughout their entire experience on your website.
- Easily shareable: When case studies are published as a webpage, it’s easy for others in your company to access and share these case studies with prospects. You can also regularly post the case studies on social media, link to them in blog content, or include in emails.
When formatted as a webpage, there are seemingly endless ways you can promote and use case studies to promote the expertise of your company’s product or services.
No matter the type of format that your brand decides to use, there are key elements to include in the meat of a case study.
Here’s the template Brandpoint recommends for organizing your case study and ensuring the important details are covered. As with most topics related to good content marketing, you’ll find that the best plans and approaches are the simplest ones. Consider each of these elements as subheads or sections in your (ideally) one-page report or short 1-2 minute video.
State the problem the client or customer is trying to solve. Use quotes (their words) as appropriate, as well as an interpretation or summary of the issues and needs.
This is also a good area to provide a brief one- or two-sentence description about who the client is so your reader can identify themselves in the story.
In three to five short and crisp bullet point sentences, summarize the client’s goals in using your product or service. What exactly did they want to accomplish?
Ideally these goals will include measurables that can be quantified with numbers. Example: “Increase website traffic by 30 percent.” But many clients will only have “subjective” goals (to start). Example: “Increase awareness of our brand.”
In a paragraph, describe the solution your company provided. How did your product or service address the challenge and tackle the goals outlined? Remember: The writing here isn’t, “We did this and that for the client.” Rather, it is reporting: “Company name did this and that …” This is also a good place for relevant customer quotes.
Look at the goals outlined above, and map out the results to match up, point by point. If the first goal was to increase the client’s website traffic by 30 percent with your service, or save them 25 percent on seed corn costs for their crop, then state the analytics in support.
Use positive-sounding action words throughout this section. Think about starting each result with positive words like these: Grew, increased, saved, solved, produced, generated, drove, delivered, developed, boosted and expanded.
As you’ve seen, including direct, attributed quotes from the client or customer is essential for credibility throughout. At Brandpoint, we also like to add a summary box — two to four sentences — of the client talking directly about working with us. Keep this subjective commentary separate (sidebar or box) from the objective section about Challenge, Goals, Solution and Results.
Once the case study is finalized, it’s time to publish and promote it. Where is its main home? As a webpage? On YouTube? Does your sales team know where all case studies are stored and when/how to share them?
Promotion for your case studies might be similar to how you promote other content assets. This includes things like paid media options (Google AdWords, sponsored social posts, etc.), incorporating links to case studies in blog posts, capturing pieces of it throughout the website (like a slide-in CTA), sending in email campaigns and newsletters, encouraging the sales team to share them and much more.
Implementing a strategy for how your case studies will be used ensures that they just don’t sit on the server or on your website without getting any views or love. Case studies are a critical content piece to converting customers, so don’t let them go unused.
Making the case
One of the biggest draws of content marketing is its ability to establish trust between a company and its customers. While expertly researched and written blogs prove a company’s expertise, case studies prove a company’s ability to get the job done and do it well. It’s a critical component in content marketing to turn a prospect’s doubt into confidence while they’re researching solutions. And it’s in your marketing team’s power to tell the most compelling stories and help win business.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2015 and has been updated for relevancy and comprehensiveness.