Case studies are among the most powerful tools in your B2B marketing shed. They allow you to put your reader into the shoes of your most successful customers – and prove (rather than just claiming) how fantastic your product or service really is.
So when case studies were requested as a topic in our B2B Content Tuesday Q&A webinar series, we were excited to talk about them.
In this blog, we’ve unpacked four tips from that session, to help you create a compelling, informative and customer-focused case study: from subject matter to narrative and formatting. We’ve even suggested a few questions to ask your customer, so they give you the most human, relatable quotes possible.
We’ve also put together some questions and answers from the live discussion. If you’d like to see the session in full, there’s a video at the bottom of this post.
1. Don’t make your brand the hero
Your customer should always be the hero of your story. You don’t want your potential customers to identify with you; you want them to identify with the customer whose problems you’ve solved.
Instead, present yourself as a trusted guide or friend who helps the hero find their way and complete the quest. Basically, you’re Obi-Wan Kenobi. Maybe even Piglet.
Sharing how you helped the customer achieve the result is important. But remember: it’s “they achieved x by using product y“, not “product y achieved x for them”.
2. Help your reader to learn something of value
Give your readers a strong reason to read by providing clear value. Has the company you’re writing about achieved something that your next customer might want to achieve themselves? Tell the reader how, what the challenges were, or what the journey looked like.
A strong headline will make it obvious to the reader that your case study is helpful. “How this company achieved that” is always a great way to start – it promises value from the off and gives them a clear reason to read.
Boxouts can highlight key lessons from the story and provide them to the reader in easy, bitesize pieces that draw the eye if they’re not going to read in full. This could be something as simple as “Three key lessons this company learned along the way”.
3. Give the reader a figure to identify with
You want your reader to look at the customer at the centre of your case study and think “they’re just like me”. And that reader won’t be a company; they’ll be a human with thoughts and concerns.
The best way to appeal to that human is to talk about individual decision-makers – the real people whose working lives have been changed by your product or service.
But you’ll need to ask them right questions, to draw out the moments, feelings and images the reader can identify with. Here are some of our favourites:
- Why is this outcome important to your business?
- Was there a moment when you knew something had to change?
- Could you tell me a little about your team?
- When, and why, did you make the decision to buy this product in particular?
- How much cheaper, faster or more reliable is this product?
- What was the experience of working with us like?
- What difference does this make to your job?
4. Make sure your reader can understand in five seconds flat
Ensure your case study is scannable. However well it’s written, most people simply won’t have the time or inclination to sit and read from top to bottom.
The company, challenges, solutions and results all need to be obvious. Use subheadings, bullet points and a standfirst to summarise these points before discussing in detail. And using customer quotes for subheadings is a nice touch – that way you’re summarising the point in your customer’s voice.
And once you’re finished, do the five second test. Give yourself (or a friend/colleague/random person from the street) five or ten seconds to read the story, and see if the critical points are clear.
Q&A: B2B case study questions, answered
Q: Is there a danger in making a case study too simple?
David: “Case studies shouldn’t be difficult to read, but you absolutely do have to speak the language your customers actually use. In the real world, your prospects likely use language that’s technically specific, but in a context that’s easy to understand. If you can do likewise, you can write something with real technical authority without overdoing the cognitive load. Headings should be clear and succinct, to set out the story and information clearly and effectively.”
Q: What do you do when you can’t use a company’s name or quotation?
David: “If you’re not using a company’s name, using their quotation probably won’t be a problem. You won’t be attributing it to them – although do always ask first. It’s also best to be as specific as you can, without giving their identity away or presenting any half-truths, to make it clear the story is obviously true. A case study is always better with all the names included – but the really important part is to help your reader recognise the situation the customer found themselves in at the start of the story.”
Q: Are there any ways to speed up the case study approval process?
David: “Getting in contact with your Account Managers can sometimes give you insight into the client’s internal marketing personnel, and if it’s appropriate you can approach them directly. From a writer’s perspective, it can make the process cleaner if we handle signoff on the customer’s behalf. It’ll save them time, and also gives a chance to build rapport and make any small changes that could help to secure agreement. It’s a good idea for the writer to include an introduction or rationale that explains the approach, choices, and language in the copy. That way, getting it signed off is more likely, because what you’ve written is more contextualised so they’re less likely to disagree.”
Thanks again to everyone who attended the webinar, and took part in the Q&A. Here’s the full discussion: