Case studies are much loved by brand marketers and their target audiences. There are two reasons for this, and both are very important. One reason why case studies are so compelling is that they are a form of storytelling, and usually stories with happy triumphant endings are satisfying emotionally to read and get inspired by. The second reason is that when readers read these case studies they get the feeling of “vicarious product trial”. That means, even if they are not able to try out the product on offer themselves, or are not ready to do so, they have the satisfaction that someone did try it out and had good results.
Among all Content Types & Formats, case studies are considered to be excellent “social proof”. In most cases, the time when case studies work best is during the penultimate stages of wooing customer purchase … when the proof of someone else having purchased a similar product and service can become a tipping point. People at that advanced stage of buying, generally like to see some “validation” of purchase before they decide to buy. If you use case studies too early in a customer’s buying journey, chances are they are not yet ready to decide one way or the other yet, and the value of seeing a “validation” of purchase is much less. However, a few pertinent case studies injected just before a final purchase by a customer, works to nudge the customer over that last threshold of resistance – because he feels there is safety in numbers!
Are case studies usually believed? What is the marketing benefit?
While case studies do offer excellent content-fodder for the brand marketer, and are received with gusto by target audiences as well, there is always one question that dogs most case-studies. What does a brand marketer do if, for some genuine reason, he is not able to include the real names and testimonials of his clients or customers, because of confidentiality contracts with the customer?
Case studies are more often included in B2B marketing, because that is where potential target audiences most need the validation of others before they sign contracts with vendors or suppliers or consultants or coaches. But again, in a lot of B2B marketing, vendors aren’t always able to cite the names of their clients openly – because the clients or customers may not want to “air their strategy” and tip off the competition.
If a consultant can, for example, include contact names and email ids of his successful clients in his case study it would be awesome … but 9 times out of 10, these days, B2B clients frown on disclosure by vendors. So what is a marketer to do … for a “nameless case study” could actually attract disbelief or even skepticism!
Again, there are certain areas of B2C selling also, where case studies are great to offer and read … for example, in fitness products, where a “before-and-after body shot” of a successful therapeutic program can work powerfully (and usually does). Here again, though, people may not want to reveal their true identities even if they are proud of their achievements. So what does the brand owner do to make people believe his product does work and real people have had strong success with it?
The argument that works in such cases is that, while belief does get strained by “name-suppressed” case studies, on the other hand the question arises as to what is more vital to the potential reader – the name of the customer and his credentials, or the thinking process and conceptual and strategic strengths of the brand marketer?
And again, even if the marketer has included the names and email contacts of his past customer as proof, what is to say it is not a “fake testimonial” from his own cooperative brother-in-law? There have been cases of vendors even buying testimonials from “collaborative” SME companies, although I have not heard of this with large well-known organizations and brands.
So then the argument goes this way … if the reader places more value on who has used the product and believes that person, he may get skeptical of the marketer or the brand that purveys a “name-suppressed case study”. But if the reader were to use the case study more as an example of the way the marketer thinks and strategizes (and what the marketer values as “success” criteria in his work), then regardless of whoever validates the brand or service, the reader would at least get a judgement of the marketer’s success measures and processes.
In cases where the marketer is unable to offer “named” case studies, he may do well to offer a free trial to a potential customer, so that instead of relying on someone else’s testimony, the target customer can be coaxed to rely on his own free experience with the product.
What format or template should we use for case studies? And how much depth of story to include?
The typical format of most case studies is to demonstrate a business problem that a reader may also face, and show how the brand, product or service concerned found a solution to the problem and what the results were. To add to the richness of the case, the problem needs to be well-defined in all its contours so that its complexity becomes apparent to the reader.
Then the process by which the solution was applied step by step needs to be detailed so that the strategic quality of the solution-seeking process says great things about the brand or service. And finally, the results can be both quantitative or qualitative.
Some people believe that case studies without “numbers” don’t really add credibility, but I would be tempted to ask: Do we really think that a website that claims to get gazillion subscribers in a couple of months using a secret SEO sauce makes sense to us? Very huge numbers are unbelievable too.
And what if the success of the case study was really about wiping out competition, for instance, and not really about what the brand achieved for itself? Is that not success of a great magnitude too? To set store by numbers is a double-edged sword, both for the marketer as well as the reader.
Some things though are important to making the case study compelling, interesting, valuable and meaningful. The confidence of the tone of voice of the case study, the factualness in the reporting of the problem and solution, the easy scan-ability of the case study for the speed-reader, the use of great supporting media such as images, video or Slideshare presentations and maybe quotes from the Project Team that worked on different aspects of the solution … these are great things to add to your case study.
Don’t make it sound like a case study by a PhD scholar, let a marketing case study be about strategic smartness, and not about pedantic issues.
The ideal length depends on what you assess to be your target audience’s attention span and interest level. Some brand marketers employ a teaser approach, using a sign-up form to let interested readers read the rest of the case study after subscribing. I would ideally recommend a Call-To-Action after a case-study is read, rather than providing a teaser and making someone subscribe and then read the case study.
I have personally found that just after reading a case study a prospect is most often well-warmed-up to try out the free trial himself, and it generally works outstandingly well for conversions.
Examples of successful case studies that make people stop and read!
There are very short breezy case studies or long serious ones. Both have their place in content marketing. It depends on the target audience and whether a short case study will satisfy their appetite for a quick bite, or whether only a long and detailed case study will make the audience feel that it adds authority to the brand.
First, look at this graph of why a case study – any type of case study – is so important in content marketing. See how high it is on the reader’s agenda as a substantiating factor for a brand, especially a B2B brand.
Image courtesy: Eccolo Media
One of my favorite examples of great consumer case studies comes from Microsoft … they have a dedicated consumer cases site. Check it out here below!
Image courtesy: Microsoft
If you want to see the type of shorter and more succinct and breezy case study formats I use, see the one below. This one focuses on the Big Brand Audit Discovery that helps make the Content Marketing of a brand smarter.
Case studies are a great way to increase the loyalty, repurchase and advocacy of past customers!
A last word on case studies … remember, it’s a great way to massage the ego of a past customer to encourage loyalty, re-purchase, and advocacy! Even if you don’t mention names in your case study, customers are generally happy to get “indirect exposure”, and be upheld as examples of great strategic decision-making.
I remember one of my clients (a Marketing Manager) saying to me “Don’t mention our brand and company names in our testimonial, as it’s against our company policy … but be sure to include a discreet photograph, if you can, of our Marketing Team in discussion or something.”
I got the message loud and clear. You bet, I saw to it that I hunted down a photograph, with my prized client in the foreground, holding forth to his crowd in a “strong leadership stance”. I used that in my case study … and earned a second assignment pronto!
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of aspiring digital solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content Types & Formats”:
- 9 Types Of Content To Master To Be A Content Marketing Crackerjack!
- 6 Terrific Inspirations To Make Your Own Engaging Instructographics!
- Want To Create Ebooks? Follow This 4-Step Plan For Content Marketers!
- Make Money Blogging: The 3-Step Way To Monetize Your Mind!