Case Studies—10 Tips
People unsure about trying new products and services often wonder how well they worked for others like themselves. Case studies describing your customers’ successes with your products and services respond to this desire and are versatile tools for bringing in new business.
1. Why case studies work. Case studies, also known as success stories and case histories, are influential because people view them as reliable testimonials. Marketing literature without testimonials, such as most ads and brochures, are viewed as more self-serving. Case studies are also influential because people love, remember, and learn from stories in which people find new ways to succeed after struggling to overcome obstacles—a classic case study theme. Especially when choosing between complex products and services requiring substantial investment, people seek reassurance that their decisions are correct. Case studies describing the solutions you provided satisfied customers can go far in convincing prospects that choosing you is the wise thing to do.
2. Case studies have many uses. Case studies should never simply be posted on your website. Reuse is the way to make case studies pay for themselves, and because case studies tend to be short (typically just one or two pages), they are readily reused in numerous ways. An excellent use of case studies is to send them to trade publications and suggest publishing them as articles. Case studies can be reworked into: (1) ads; (2) brochures; (3) press releases; (4) newsletter or e-zine articles; (5) PowerPoint slides for speeches and after-the-speech handouts; (6) giveaway items for sales reps; (7) trade show handouts; and (8) giveaway Information Premiums for email, direct mail, banner ad and other lead-generation campaigns. (If you abridge a case study in adapting it to a new format, be sure to note the availability of a full-length version on your website.) Note also that quotes from case studies may, with customer permission, be included as testimonials in ads and brochures.
3. Follow the case study writing plan. A case study is a true story of how your product or service solved a customer’s important business problem. The story is often written like a newspaper article. The first paragraph introduces the customer (usually a company) and the customer’s problem in a way that grabs the reader’s attention. Also describe what’s at risk for the customer—either a substantial reward if the problem is solved, or serious consequences if it is not.
Next, describe what the customer did to solve the problem before becoming your customer. Why did those efforts fail? What solutions did your customer consider before coming to you? This is a key part of the story because readers identify with people in adversity; your customer’s struggles will remind them of their own. Now it’s time to spotlight your product or service by describing how you solved the customer’s problem. Begin by telling how your customer found out about your company; for instance, was it through a referral? Describe how your solution addressed the customer’s needs. If the solution was implemented in several steps, describe them briefly. How long did it take for the customer to see results? What results were achieved? What was the customer’s reaction? What features and benefits of your solution did your customer like and how did the customer compare them to your competitions’? Which benefits and features did the customer see as unique?
4. Quantify the customer’s results. In describing how you helped your customer, results sound more believable if described numerically. For instance, if your solution increased the customer’s sales, it is better to report that sales increased by 17% than to say vaguely that sales rose markedly. Try also to report numbers appealing to different types of people who may have a say in choosing your company. Scientists and engineers usually like results measuring specific technical benefits or features. Managers tend to care about economic returns: savings of time and money, or climbing revenues and profits.
5. Don’t go overboard with statistics and graphics. Statistics, figures, and tables in your case study are great, as long as they don’t make the story too technical or appear like hard sell marketing. Case studies are soft sell tools, and should be interesting, not dry. Limit statistics and graphics to your best.
6. Headlines and subheadings. Without a good headline your case study may not get read. A headline like “Protein Manufacturing Case Study” is bland and useless. Something like “How ABC Pharma Cut Protein Manufacturing Costs 23%” is much better; it promises to teach something useful. Rewrite the headline until you find one that sums up the major benefit of your product or service. Compelling subheadings may also improve a case study. Again, rewriting helps find the best ones. A subheading like “The Problem,” may be okay, but one like, “Why the Initial Tox Study CRO was Fired,” may attract much more attention.
7. Don’t forget quotes. Direct quotes from satisfied customers are wonderful for letting prospects know what others think of your products and services. Case studies without quotes are simply not as influential. Quotes about the customer’s problem, struggles to solve it, and reaction to your solution are especially valuable.
8. How to handle a weakness. A weakness (for example, that your prices are higher than competitors’) is probably not something you would care to volunteer. But if you feel you must acknowledge a weakness, try to do it in a way that enhances your credibility. One way is to admit the weakness early. This builds trust because it goes against reader expectations that weaknesses are never revealed. After the admission, build trust further by immediately showcasing your strengths. The reverse order — strengths first, weakness last—is not recommended; it risks making readers wonder what else might be hidden. Also, if you offer something to make up for a weakness (such as better customer service, which higher prices make possible) be sure to mention it, so readers realize that behind the dark cloud is a silver lining.
9. If customers desire anonymity… For competitive reasons, many pharmaceutical and biotech companies insist that product and service providers never reveal that they are customers. If this describes your customers, consider creating Application Profiles, which are case studies about solving problems for anonymous customers. In application profiles, unnamed customers are usually called “leading companies” in their industry. Customer employees and quotes, if any, are also anonymous. The success stories are still there, however: customers, their problems, your solutions, and happy endings for all concerned.
10. Getting customer cooperation. Someone in your company who is well regarded within the customer’s organization is probably the best person to ask the customer to be featured in a case study. Contact the customer’s senior managers and lawyers early so they are not surprised later by a case study no one told them about. Offer a legal release form that is brief and clear. Also let your customer read and approve the case study before it is published. Your customer will not be happy about an inaccurate portrait or one that discloses proprietary information. After the case study is published, be sure to send a thank-you note.
Summary. In markets overflowing with sales messages in print and online, case studies are relatively uncommon messages for influencing customers and prospects. This is to your advantage: Things seldom seen attract curiosity. Thus, case studies are a fine way to communicate with existing customers, convert prospects into new customers, and build awareness of new products and services. What’s more, because people’s desire for educational success stories is never-ending, case studies are natural steppingstones to publicity through the trade press. Case studies often serve as material for trade publications to turn into newsworthy articles. With so many ways to reuse them, case studies are a cost-effective means to distinguish your company from competitors and increase the influence of your marketing message.