Case studies are marketing gold, in a world seemingly more and more cynical of sales and marketing, the authentic voice of a someone “like them” using your product builds the trust that is the vital link between awareness and revenue. In this article Ian Truscott shares his experience on how to smelt this marketing gold.
I talk a lot about the three objectives for marketing, that I call ART, we need to raise Awareness, increase Revenue and create Trust (you can read more about this here). Without trust, your ability to create awareness and revenue is kinda screwed and there is no better way to engender trust than with case studies and their development should be top of the list for any marketer.
If you study marketing, what separates the great marketing books from the mediocre is always the case studies. The alignment of the author with these practitioners and brands, building trust that we should keep reading and pay attention. It’s exactly the same with your brand story.
In addition, what influencer, blogger or industry analyst is NOT looking for statistics and quotes to support their point of view? Case studies are a not only a fantastic asset in the closing stages of a buyer’s journey, but what you discover in a well-run case study process could be gold for the market makers and boost awareness of your client solution amongst analysts and industry influencers.
However, simply being ‘a case study’ does not make it marketing gold, some are way better than others. It’s easy to lose your content marketing discipline and get distracted in the joy of a client agreeing to say lovely things about your product and be compromised into telling a long meandering story of their 900-year history, beautiful panned shots of their HQ or their differentiation in their marketplace. The stuff your intended audience will sadly care less about.
Yes, a case study is a partnership, the story has two protagonists and yes, the client should give some context to the challenge and (let’s be honest) this could be a vehicle supporting the client executives’ personal brand. So, this needs to be handled sensitively and the story needs to be carefully crafted, but the normal content marketing rules apply to ensure you engage your time poor, easily distracted audience that is looking for a useful asset.
Pack for the long road
The first consideration is that the process of getting the case study is likely to be a long one, gated with a number of approvals and it’s often hard to go back through these gates once something is approved.
Aside from the data and the quotes, my favorite medium for case studies is video, I’ve done a bunch of them from very short interviews at events to full blown produced stories. Try and get this in the plan, however daunting all this approval and the logistics may seem and the temptation to “just get something going” will be strong, but hang in for the long haul and you’ll get the gold.
Therefore, it’s essential that from the start you have a clear plan of what you need from the client, what does the case study look like in your mind, how do you intend to use it, what would make it useful to your audience?
Data is the daddy
The most important thing to get from a case study are the numbers, by what metric did your solution help this client? It may not matter what the metric is, or how precise it is, a number is top line, headline gold. It is what your next client or industry influencer will be DEEPLY interested in.
Numbers are easy to consume. There is a reason why vacuous posts and click bait that starts with “X Reasons why” perform so well – they are nectar to our audience of busy, busy bees.
Numbers are also very easy to repurpose, not just by you in your next infographic, but by your audience as they make the internal case for your solution. Plus, the industry influencers that are writing the articles, blog posts or books are always on the hunt for data that supports their point of view on why the market or category you are in is so bloody amazing.
If you can’t get numbers, while it’s lovely that this client wants to talk about you in non-specific terms, seriously consider moving onto the next client that has a firmer story – case studies take a lot of effort and you should invest that effort wisely.
Second to the headline numbers, quotes are the deliciously snackable, reusable content that will live long after you’ve told the case study story, plus your sales folks will love you and slip them into conversation and their slides.
Get a commitment to provide quotes, get the use of quotes approved early, get a few versions approved based on the context you would like to use them and ensure they are approved independently of the overall case study.
The slices and dices
As I already mentioned, getting the numbers and the quotes approved independently of the body of the case study is important, but it is also important that every element of the case study is approved not just the combined deliverable.
Sounds simple, but your future self will thank you. Going back to get approval is frankly a nightmare. People change jobs, new people join legal, policies change or maybe the project just isn’t going as well as it was.
Ensure all the images, copy, logos, summary text, whatever slices and dices you can think of are approved to be used, independent of the whole.
No means no
In one marketing leadership role, I confess I spent two years not entirely sure if I should refer to one of our clients as “the large Swedish furniture maker” or use the name of the brand that provides an Allen key with its flat pack furniture. Legal said no and CEO said yes – and writing this paragraph I am clearly still reluctant to write “IKEA” to this day.
Approval can come in subtly different forms, for example some clients will agree that you can talk about them in a closed meeting but won’t allow you to put their logo on your website. While as a marketer, you might be disappointed, it will still be super useful to your sales team and valuable to do as long as everyone understands this.
It is REALLY important, for you and your client champion that you don’t screw this up, don’t embarrass yourself or your client. As an organization you need to show discretion and class if you want any other client to share with you.
So, ensure that what can be shared, with whom is clearly understood, by everyone who comes into contact with the case study material.
There you have it, a strong case study will take time, but with great numbers, shareable quotes, a tight story, proper approval and a bunch of snippets you can sprinkle into other content marketing and sales activities to give them a lift, you’ll have marketing gold.