If you want to build a high-powered content strategy that serves customer needs at every step of the buyer journey, then you need to have at least one – and probably several – good case studies.
Case studies are powerful but underused pieces of sophisticated content.
Today, you’ll learn all about how to make them ... and make the most of them.
What Is a Case Study?
A case study is a special type of thought leadership content that tells a story.
The narrative follows a customer as they define a problem, select a solution, implement it, and reap the benefits.
When prospects read a case study, they enter into the customer’s prospective and can easily imagine being in a similar situation.
Why Are Case Studies Useful?
Case studies are uniquely useful as bottom of the funnel content.
By the time prospects are ready to read case studies, they have a nuanced grasp of the problem in front of them. They also have a good selection of potential solutions and vendors to choose from.
There may be more than one option that’s suitable for a given situation. In fact, there usually is. But there’s just one option that fits the prospect best. The challenge is figuring out which one.
Since B2B decision-makers aren’t mind readers, they need content to bridge the gap between “what they know about your solution” and “what they know about their own business.” The case study does that by showing how a similar customer succeeded.
The more similar the prospect is to the customer in the case study, the more striking it will be.
For that reason, you might want to have a case study for every buyer persona you serve. And naturally, case studies pertain to specific products or services, not your whole brand.
So, you could find yourself with multiple case studies for each buyer type.
However, the effort is worth it, since case studies have a direct impact on sales figures.
How to Make a Good Case Study?
So, what’s the deal with a case study? How can you make one that really stands out?
Once you have the formula down, it’ll only get easier from there.
But you have to start with total attention to detail!
1. Pick a Format That Works for You
Like press releases, case studies often fall into a certain specific format. While it’s not required that you have all of the possible topics in a particular order, picking a consistent format will help you accelerate production down the road. It also makes your content easier to read.
Many B2B firms use the following approach:
- Intro: This section sets the stage by providing context for the situation.
- Challenge: This part discusses the key problem that the customer was facing.
- Solution: This is a basic overview of the product or service the customer used.
- Benefit: This recaps the solution’s top advantages – why it was the right choice.
- Result: This is the positive business outcome arising from the solution and benefits.
This formula gives you enough flexibility to highlight what’s most important about your enterprise, solution, and the customer you’re showcasing.
At the same time, it ensures that your team will know exactly what information they need to compile to design case studies in the future.
It also serves as an intuitive trail of bread crumbs for your intended reader.
2. Use Loads of Graphics
A case study isn’t a whitepaper: You shouldn’t be trudging through page after page of text. In fact, some of the most powerful case studies establish their own vivid, graphics-heavy style – looking a lot more like an infographic, or even a magazine, than traditional B2B marketing collateral.
Color blocks, strong contrasts, skyscraper photography, and hero shots are all on the table when it comes to case studies. The more data you have to convey, the more creative you should be in presenting it so it can be understood at a glance.
To take it from the digital marketing perspective, think of a well-optimized landing page.
A good landing page tells a story, uses graphics strategically, and has tons of cues that help the reader get from start to finish – or find the info they’re most interested in if they skip around.
When designing your case study, take that as your inspiration. But remember, you’ll likely be distributing it as a PDF, so you can also take advantage of the visual language of publishing.
3. Pick Out Sizzling Quotes
For case studies to leap off the page, the featured customer – and, potentially, members of your own team – need to be relatable characters who make a difference in what happens during the “story.”
Especially when you’re establishing the Challenge, you want to get deep into the customer’s mindset so its familiar elements will speak to your reader. Particularly here and in the Result section, always strive to let the customers speak for themselves whenever you can.
When gathering the data you need for your case study, you’ll probably use a client questionnaire. Asking about two questions per section above will help ensure you have plenty of quotes to use.
If you are collecting quotes from clients (rather than, for example, relying on statements they’ve already published) be certain to remind them that you may edit their contributions for clarity and length.
4. Keep It Short
Great case studies should pack a lot of meaning into a small space. In the best examples, your reader can grasp the single main idea of each page in a short paragraph or two.
Each detail should build on the next, so they’ll keep moving forward until the end without getting distracted.
Sure, it’s no Dan Brown novel, but if you do it right, it’ll still be a real page-turner.
5. Don’t Forget Your Call to Action
The weirdest thing about digital marketing is how people who love your message and want what you have to offer sometimes simply walk away if you don’t tell them exactly what to do next. The bottom third (at least!) of the last page of any case study should be a big, unmistakable call to action.
By the time a prospect is looking at case studies, they’re usually ready to talk to the sales team. With that in mind, most case studies will end with a CTA related to setting up a discovery session either by phone or in person.
6. Leverage the (Heck) Out of Analytics
Case studies are unique, since they tell you exactly when someone is giving serious thought to the final stage of a buying decision. If your analytics suite is set up to ping you based on users’ content consumption, this should be the biggest alarm bell of the bunch.
If a user accesses (and reads!) a case study without contacting you, contact them.
Strong case studies make a lasting impression on B2B decision-makers. Despite how impressive they are, though, they can easily become a core part of your content marketing: After all, they’re not too long and should have a consistent visual style.
Figure out what data you need to fuel one and you’ll be halfway to having a new conversion engine in your toolkit.