10 tips to make your marketing case studies open doors and close deals
10 top tips for making marketing case studies that stand out. Jacqueline (Jaci) Burns provides her insight.
A number of factors distinguish business-to-business marketing from the consumer kind.
Firstly, there are typically multiple buyers and influencers involved in the B2B decision-making. These individuals will have varying interests and perspectives: financial, functional, operational. And they won’t necessarily all work for the company you’re trying to land as a client – they could be third parties whose opinions matter, or who have sway with the client organisation.
Secondly, the B2B sales cycle is generally long, largely due to the products and services being more complex.
Thirdly, B2B buyers are more informed. They must be because the consequences of making a poor decision can be severe. And they can be because everything a B2B buyer needs to know is literally at their fingertips.
B2B buyers are empowered. According to Forrester, 59% of B2B buyers would rather conduct their research online than interact with a salesperson. Yet, 74% of B2B buyers will appoint the first supplier that helps them define the solution to their problem and shows them how to turn it into reality.
For marketers, this presents a real dilemma. How do you market to a warm lead that doesn’t wish to be marketed to?
The answer is to be visible and relevant online - at the right place at the right time and with the right content - so that potential clients can educate and inform themselves until they’re ready to start a conversation.
Case studies are one of the most effective ways of educating and informing B2B buyers. Case studies are perceived as having more credibility than other sales or marketing tactics and, in environments where the credentials of competing businesses are relatively similar, case studies provide testimony of an organisation's prior experience – they evidence what you've actually done, not what you might be capable of doing.
What’s the key to producing high-quality, highly effective marketing case studies? Here are 10 tips to get you started.
1. Know your audience
Before writing up a case study make sure you identify your target audience. Who are the buyers and influencers of your services or products? What do these individuals need and want to know? What’s relevant to their purchase decision and, most importantly, what’s not?
Identify your target audience and then write for them.
2. Choose wisely
Nobody needs or wants to read a case study about a mundane project or routine exercise. Find a case worth sharing by virtue of its complexity, peculiarity, importance, profile, challenges and, of course, outcomes.
Remember, while a case study is not a sales piece, it’s an opportunity to showcase your organisation’s expertise, ability to think outside the box, superior outcomes, distinguishing features, and exceptional client service.
3. Design a marketing case study template
A case study template will help you to maintain consistency across your organisation. Your case studies will have a common look and feel; and will share the same structure and sections.
When designing your case study template, anticipate the need to incorporate graphics, illustrations, callout boxes, direct quotes and imagery to illuminate key points and bring your case studies to life. Don’t obstruct your organisation’s ability to use visuals – make them possible in a brand-compliant way.
4. Permission and approval
If the case study is for external use (as most will be), be sure to secure your client’s written approval before you publish. This approval should be stored on your system and linked to the case study so it can be located long after you have left your organisation, or your client approver has left theirs.
Also, secure permission and copyright for the use or reuse of any photographs, imagery or illustrations.
5. Make them accessible
Consider where, when, how and by whom your case studies will be used.
Make it easy for your colleagues to access them – upload them to your intranet or house them in a shared directory or database. Your colleagues should not be held hostage to marketing every time they need basic marketing collateral.
Similarly, make it easy for your clients, prospects and other stakeholders to find, print, download and share your case studies. Categorise or tag your case studies – for example, by industry and issue – and ideally make them keyword-searchable.
6. Show, don’t tell
Case studies are highly effective at building awareness and driving consideration. But while the desired outcome is to sell more of your services to existing clients, and attract new ones, case studies aren’t sales pieces.
A case study is a fairly modest, factual record of what was. Don’t be vague. Don’t generalise. Don’t speculate. Be specific. Stick to the facts. Tell the story (see below) and let the outcome speak for itself.
7. Tell a story
Case studies should not be dull and boring. Tell a story: this was the challenge; this was the solution; these were the results.
Write in the narrative. Be efficient with your words and focus only on what is relevant. Relay events in chronological order so it is easy for your target audience to grasp the pertinent details and appreciate the outcomes that you achieved for your client.
8. Provide context
Without context, your case study will lack meaning and impact. Include a situation analysis that describes the client, the challenges it faced, relevant environmental factors (for example, political climate, established or pending legislation or regulations, economic factors, competitor activity and so on).
Many B2B organisations are reluctant to name their clients. And just as many clients choose not to be named. That doesn’t mean you can’t create a case study – it simply means the identity of the client must be veiled. If that’s the case, help your readers relate to the situation by describing the client as much as possible – for example, its industry, headcount, turnover, ownership structure and key markets.
9. Build a library
B2B buyers rely on content such as case studies to make or justify their purchasing decisions. In fact, 2016 Demand Gen research indicates 47% of B2B buyers consult three to five pieces of relevant content before engaging with someone from a supplier. Make sure you have a reasonable volume and variety of case studies available. Keep your case studies up-to-date and add new ones to your library whenever you can.
10. Lessons learned
Have the courage to address lessons learned. Your existing and potential clients will take comfort from knowing your business is committed to capturing knowledge, adapting to change, and sharing best practice. It’s not about showing weakness; it’s about showing humility. Talk to what went really well, what was unexpected and, when appropriate, what you’d do differently next time.