Everyone loves a good story – so it only makes sense that case studies will help close deals.
Yet many case studies are boring, predictable and poorly executed. They don’t add excitement to the sales process; they put buyers to sleep!
But when they’re done right, case studies are effective: More than two-thirds of marketing sales pros say their case studies were very or quite effective sales content, according to a B2B Marketing’s Content Marketing Benchmark Report.
You want case studies that build intrigue and help buyers relate to the story, salespeople and solutions. Here are 10 ways to make your case studies stand out.
Make the customer the hero
The customer has to be the hero, not just the person or company in the story.
Because buyers need to identify with your customer, the challenges and triumphs before they’ll buy.
Not to mention, every buyer reading your case studies wants to be hero, too. That’s what makes them feel like you’re the person they need to achieve similar success.
You want your solutions’ benefits, achievements and results to be the supporting cast behind the case study hero and what he or she did to reach success.
Create a consistent format
This is critical step in building, improving and maintaining a library of case studies benefits. It’ll make the case study experience better for sellers and buyers.
It’ll help you, first, recognize great cases and then accelerate how quickly your can produce or tweak them. Salespeople and marketers will know the information they need to gather to build more case studies.
Buyers will find a consistent format easier to read and remember.
Almost any format is acceptable, as long as it’s used consistently. You make case studies as simple as a few paragraphs on:
- Problem. What was wrong.
- Solution. What made it right.
- Result. The positive situation now.
Or you might try a more detailed approach such as:
- Introduction: A brief background to set the stage for the story.
- Challenge: The key problem the customer faced.
- Solution: A basic overview of what worked.
- Benefit: A recap of why the solution was the right choice.
- Result: The positive outcome.
Either approach gives you flexibility to home in on what should be most important to your buyers.
Use the hero’s voice
Customers’ real words are more powerful than almost any storytelling, copy writing or data sharing you can do. The best case studies are full of customers’ actual quotes. Even better, the copy is full of words and phrases the hero used when being interviewed.
On that note, it’s always better to have conversations with customers who will be the subject of your case studies than to do it via email. People talk differently – more casual, personable and authentic – than they write. That’s the kind of customer language you want for effective case studies.
Major point: Skip corporate speak at all cost.
Make it easier to read
Buyers won’t likely read case studies that look like research papers or eBooks (they aren’t bad content, they’re just better in different circumstances).
You want to format case studies like a good short story. No huge chunks of text. Lots of space created by:
- Images, photos and graphics
- Bullet points
- Pull quotes, and
- Bold, italicized or otherwise offset text.
These breaks in copy encourage buyers to read because the case study doesn’t look like it’ll take much time to consume. It also helps those who would skim the story – no matter what it looked like – catch the most important details and takeaways (assuming you put those in the headers, bullet points and offset text).
Give headlines extra attention
Regardless of the format you use, give your headlines special attention. Some buyers may only look at them. If you can tell the story – albeit incredibly brief – in headlines, you can gain attention.
Make headlines one-line, actionable summaries of the points that follow. Just look at the headlines in this story – we tell you the subject and the suggested action.
For a case study, you can use the basic format and create headlines with emotion and meaning. Example:
- Problem: VP felt overwhelmed by unmanageable leads
- Solution: VP streamlined lead process and management
- Result: VP cut time-to-close, increased purchase value
Get vivid on details
While case studies shouldn’t be too long (remember – you don’t want to bore readers!), the best include plenty of vivid details and images to help buyers connect with the story. We’re talking about specific, colorful information, not fluff to fill space.
In your story:
- Introduce customers and what they do
- The customers’ goals and needs
- The problems they faced
- The solutions that made a difference
- Tangible results of the project
Then, pepper the basics with vivid details. For instance, this is vague:
“Jamie Kuntz is the VP of Sales at Apex. He looked at a lot of lead generation platforms every morning so his team was ready for the day.”
This creates images:
“Apex VP of Sales Jamie Kuntz turned the key on the employee entrance 90 minutes before anyone else arrived every day. If he didn’t get a jump on lead generation, who would? he thought as he scrolled a half dozen platforms and sipped coffee as dark as mud.”
Be specific with numbers
Case study writers sometimes try to make stories generic so most buyers can identify with them. They mask a lot of the hero’s details and specific results, trying to make the hero an “every person.”
That can backfire, especially when it comes to numbers. When the numbers are too ambiguous, buyers won’t connect at all. For instance, “doubled quality leads” will make readers wonder if that means the case study hero when from 100 to 200 or 10,000 to 20,000 – a significant difference that unnecessarily causes readers to lose focus on the good story.
When possible, be exact with actual numbers and/or percentages. Show tangible results with graphs depicting upward or downward mobility in the case study. Even better, add an arrow, pointing out the most important number or point in the graph.
Highlight two kinds of goals
To up the impact of your case studies, focus on the subjects’ short-term and long-term goals – and how they were able to achieve or surpass them. This way, buyers can relate to one or both goals identified in the case study. Even better, they might recognize a goal they never imagined and can start to see themselves in that winning position.
This is also a good sport in the case study for images or graphics. Introduce the short- and long-term goals to build a view of the strategy, then distinguish the two goals side-by-side in colorful boxes or comparable images.
For instance, “Apex needed to spend less time sorting leads and more time using leads. With better lead management, Apex expected to cut the time-to-close by 10% and increase purchase value by 8%.”
Appeal to all types of buyers
Some buyers will like reading case studies (the most common form of stories). But don’t overlook the opportunity to appeal to all sorts of buyers and kinds of content. Many other buyers will be more inclined to listen to or watch a case study or look at all graphics.
Go ahead and create a printed version of your case study. Then break it down into a infographic that highlights the important numbers and visuals you create.
While you’re gathering the case study, take steps to build it in other formats, such as a podcast or video. Ideally, record the conversation with your case study hero. Then create audio and visual versions for podcasts and YouTube videos, which along with an infographic, are easier to share through social channels.
Let case studies do double or triple duty
One of the greatest things about case studies is they’re adaptable to many formats. One good story can be used in what the experts at EWriteOnline call a bite, a snack and a meal.
From one case study you can create:
- a super short version of highlights (bite)
- a mini-case study that expands a bit (snack), and
- the full-on, in-depth story (meal).
Each will be appropriate for different types of content and mediums. For instance, imagine a bite in tweets on Twitter. Then a Facebook campaign peppered with snacks. Your website and sales content would be full of meals.