Content marketing lets you educate your target audience by creating online content that addresses the problems the face. This helps you generate traffic to your website that you can then convert into leads.
But to ensure that leads keep moving through the conversion funnel, you have to show them that your business has the perfect solution to their problem. That usually means you need to let them know loud and clear that you are the best! But what if you took a more subtle approach and highlighted one of your customer success stories instead? In the post below, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to write a successful case study.
What is a case study?
A case study highlights the experience one of your customers has had using your company’s product or service. Also called a use case or success story, it’s a very popular B2B content format because it lets you show the benefits of using your product or service in a more subtle way.
A case study can be either written content or take the form of a video. It typically presents a problem faced by the customer, their experience of using your solution, and the (great!) results obtained.
Highly effective B2B content
B2B case studies typically perform significantly better than other content formats.
That’s because B2B buyers are great fans of case studies. A study by the Content Marketing Institute in 2018 found that 79% of B2B buyers had read at least one customer case study in the past year.
And your potential customers don’t only actively search for case studies, they also take the time to study them. So, a good customer case study both captures a lead’s attention and is actively read. A Harvard Business Review study found that customer case studies had an average completion rate of 83%.
According to a 2018 report by Demand Gen, 64% of B2B professionals also share case studies with their colleagues.
These figures give you an idea of the potential of case studies to engage leads. But to better understand this performance, let’s take a look at how they achieve this.
The power of reassurance
B2B buyers respond to case studies because they make use of some pretty powerful psychological triggers.
Making a complex decision is not easy at the best of times. All the more so in a B2B environment where the choice can have implications for the entire company. As a result, B2B buyers often need to be reassured.
We like to think that we’re rational creatures, carefully weighing up the pros and cons of each decision. But studies on how the brain works show that most of our decisions are made in the emotional part of the brain. In other words, we’re more likely to be persuaded by a great story than by a list of rational arguments.
The real strength of a case study lies in its ability to combine rational arguments and emotional appeal. The advantages of a solution are presented in the form of a story. This has a hero you can identify with (the customer), a villain (the problem to be solved), and a plot (how the customer solved their problem using a product or service).
In a case study, the emotional appeal of the story triggers the impulse to buy. And this is supported by rational arguments.
A lead sees that some of your existing customers facing the same problem have made the decision to buy your product or service and have been satisfied with the results. The case study therefore helps reassure leads, especially in the purchase stage of the marketing funnel.
Good case studies are highly effective, but marketers don’t always know how to go about writing this type of content.
So, now we’ll show you how to write an effective case study in just 5 steps.
1. Make sure leads will identify with your case study
Decide on a strategy
If you want your case study to reassure leads and help them to make a decision, you first need to do your research and think about the goal of your case study, its target audience, and how you will use it.
Writing a case study takes time and resources. So, before you get started, you need to do some preparation and ask yourself the right questions.
What is the goal of your case study?
A case study can serve different purposes. Marketers can use them to launch a new product or service and demonstrate how it can solve the problems of potential customers using a specific example. They can be used to promote a particular offer. And they can also be the ideal content format to build credibility with a specific target audience.
Whatever your goal, defining this ahead of time will prevent you from getting off to a false start. This is important because the arguments you present in a case study and the story you tell will change according to your goal.
Who is the target audience of the case study?
As with every piece of content that you create, you need to define the type of buyers your case study is aimed at. What business sector are they in? What type of business? What is their position? What tasks do they need to perform and what problems do they face?
Deciding on the correct target audience is vital because a case study should enable the reader to identify with the customer presented in it. And the customer presented in the case study should resemble the customers you are trying to attract.
How will the case study be used?
At what point in the marketing funnel will this case study be offered to leads? We’ve already seen that case studies can be very useful at the purchasing stage to encourage leads to take action.
But how will they actually be presented? How will they be included in a lead nurturing programme? These questions will have an impact on what information you include in a case study and how you present it to potential customers.
Choose a customer as the subject
Once you’ve decided on the goal of the case study, its target audience, and how you will use it, you need to choose the ideal customer to focus on.
How can you find an existing customer who meets all your criteria and will agree to be the subject of a case study?
Obviously, you need to start by looking at customers who have a strong relationship with your company. This can be done in several ways:
- Conduct a survey: The Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures how likely a customer is to recommend your product or service on a scale of 1 to 10. By finding out which customers are more likely to recommend your company to others, you’ll have a list of potential subjects for your future cases.
- Search for reviews from existing customers: some customers will leave positive reviews of your company on dedicated review sites, on your website, or on social networks. This data will let you identify your most fervent supporters and make contact with them.
- Conduct a customer satisfaction study: this will take more time, but you can also use existing customer satisfaction studies if they are still recent enough. The upside is that this analysis will provide you with much more information about how customers use your product or service and what they think about it.
- Ask customer service / customer success: this is what we do at Plezi. With our customer success managers, we identify what customers would be willing to be the subject of a case study as well as the problems to highlight. This qualitative research lets us put in place an editorial calendar to create case studies throughout the year.
Remove potential obstacles
Once you’ve found the perfect subject for your case study, you just have to convince them to take part. But there still might be a few obstacles you need to overcome.
Firstly, the customer may be uncertain about taking part.
In practice, they might say something like “Are you sure I’m the best person to ask?” If that’s the case, you’ll need to explain how their company meets all of your criteria and is a good fit for the goal of the case study.
Their uncertainty might also involve how you will use and present the information they give you. You’ll need to assure the customer that they can review the content and make any corrections before the case study is published. It can also help to show them other case studies you have already created.
There might also be practical reasons why a customer is reluctant to be the subject of a case study. They are professionals whose time is valuable. You’ll probably need to explain the process for creating the case study and specify that the interview to obtain information won’t take more than an hour of their time.
Lastly, a customer might simply not see what’s in it for them. If that’s the case, you’ll need to show them the advantages of doing so. You might talk about the target audience for the case study or emphasize the fact that the case study will include a link to their website. If the customer needs to convince their executive team, you might explain that the case study helps to promote their business. And on an individual level, the case study will highlight the customer’s own expertise.
2. Gather the information you need to write your case study
Now that you’ve found the perfect customer as a subject and they’ve agreed to take part, it’s time to start preparing for the interview.
The first thing to do is establish how the interview with the customer will take place. They need to know when you will contact them and how the interview will take place (e.g., by phone, video call, face-to-face).
You’re obviously a marketer and not a journalist, but you still need to do things right. And an interview needs some preparation. Here’s what you need to think about before the interview takes place.
Prepare your questions
You can’t just make an interview up as you go along. It’s important to prepare a basic outline for the interview with the main questions you want to ask. This will let you avoid digressing too much or discussing details that aren’t relevant to the case study. This doesn’t mean that these are the only questions you can ask. But your outline should contain all the questions that are required to get the information you want.
To work out which questions need to be included here, you need to think about the goals of the case study and how it will be used. The strategy that you decided on earlier should serve as a guide when planning the interview.
A case study typically showcases how a customer used your product or service to solve a problem. So, you might list your questions in chronological order:
- The situation before purchase: what was the problem or problems? How were they resolved? What were the results?
- The buying experience: what prompted the customer to choose your product or service? What were the criteria for selecting a solution? What was the decision-making process?
- Their user/customer experience: what results have they seen? How is their relationship with the customer service/success team?
If you feel that the customer is uncomfortable with being interviewed, it might be a good idea to send them the questions ahead of time. This gives them time to prepare their responses and avoids any possible unpleasant surprises.
Case studies are also a great way to get quotes from customers singing the praises of your product or service that you can then use on your website. But if you want them to sound natural, you’ll sometimes have to give your customers a little help. To do this, you can ask them questions that are likely to generate good quotes, like:
- In one sentence, can you summarize what our product or service has delivered for you?
- What is your favourite feature of our product or service?
- How would you react if our product or service suddenly wasn’t available?
Conduct the interview
Preparing for the interview before it happens will help prevent it getting off track. And using some common sense rules will make the interview go more smoothly on the day.
It’s a good idea to start with some general questions. For example, ask for a quick presentation of the company, or the role of the customer you are interviewing. These introductory questions are always useful in getting basic information for your case study. But above all, these are easy questions for the customer to answer. They help to reassure them and put them at ease.
You also shouldn’t be too rigid during the interview. The goal is to get your customer to speak and give you information. If they go slightly off track, it’s better to let them finish what they are saying and then refocus the discussion with the next question.
The interview outline that you prepared earlier will help you with this. But you also have to be able to adapt to the person in front of you. For example, you can let them finish what they are saying and ask an additional unplanned question if you need to clarify a specific point. By doing so, you can often find that you get a more spontaneous response which will make the writing of your case study more engaging.
3. Write your case study
Once you’ve conducted the interview, you have everything you need to write your case study. The typical framework is pretty fixed: a catchy title, a problem to solve, a solution, results, and a call to action.
Let’s look at how you can leverage each element of your case study to help convince leads.
The different parts of a case study
The title gives a reader their first impression of a case study. It should make them want to read the content and already help them to identify with the customer featured in the case study.
You should avoid using lacklustre titles like “Smith & Smith case study: a satisfied customer”. Instead, use a clear, meaningful title to generate engagement, like “How Smith & Smith doubled their sales revenue in 6 months with our solution”.
The presentation of the company featured in the case study should again help the target reader to identify with it. They should feel like the case study could be about them because it deals with a company of a similar size to their own, which has a similar turnover, or in a similar business sector.
A short outline is generally enough. You’ll be able to go into greater depth about the problems faced by the customer further on in the case study. In terms of design, the presentation can be included in a separate box early on in the study or as a sidebar to other content.
This is where you introduce the problem faced by the customer featured in the case study.
This is very important from a storytelling point of view. To help draw a reader in, the case study needs to present them with a hero (the customer) struggling to overcome their pain points (the problem). By doing so, you can create dramatic tension.
These pain points must be described in a way that helps the reader identify with the customers problem (“I face the same issues”) and makes them want to know the rest of the story (“how will this problem be solved?”).
Here you describe how the customer’s problem was solved.
The aim is to present the solution in such a way that the reader experiences similar feelings as the customer featured in the case study. It should reassure them and generate trust.
You can’t just say that your solution addresses a problem. You need to explain why and how your solution was appropriate in this particular context.
This is like the “happily ever after” ending of the story. It lets you show the results obtained using your solution and above all why they’re so valuable for the customer.
This section makes use of key figures and KPIs that must show a real gain for the featured customer when compared to their initial situation. You need to bring the story to a close by showing the customer’s journey between their initial situation (faced with a problem) and the situation now (having solved their problem by using your solution).
You can even go further and look at the next steps for this customer or what the near future holds for them.
The call to action
Earlier, we said that an effective case study combines both reasoned arguments and emotional appeal. This makes it a powerful way to convince leads to take action. So, it’s a good idea to capitalize on the momentum created by the storytelling aspect of the case study by integrating a call to action (CTA).
The specific CTA that you choose obviously depends on how you intend to use the case study. It should follow on naturally from the content contained in the case study. For example, it might direct the reader to a specific offer, invite them to take part in a webinar, or request a product demonstration.
Apart from these specific elements, the format of a customer case study isn’t set in stone. Keep in mind that some of your readers will have a more visual memory. Think about adding visual diagrams, graphics, and tables to your case study to create interest. Similarly, why not give your customer testimonials more impact by making use of video?
Also consider highlighting a few key quotes in your case study so that readers can hear the featured customer speak to them directly.
Outsourcing the creation of a case study
If you outsource content creation, how should you adapt the guidelines for writing a case study?
Outsourcing the writing of a case study tends to raise more questions than for other types of content. In particular, how will the interview be handled? Should the copywriter be left to do this themselves, or should it remain the marketer’s responsibility?
At Plezi, we prefer our marketers to do this for several reasons. First, the process of asking a customer to take part in a case study is based on a relationship with that customer which an external copywriter doesn’t have. This means a member of your marketing team will be able to pick up on certain points and respond appropriately. In addition, the interview helps to both strengthen the existing relationship with the customer and gather additional information. This might lead to new content ideas or improve your knowledge of the customer.
If you decide to do the interview yourself, you still need to decide if the copywriter will be present when this takes place.
At Plezi, external copywriters aren’t involved in the interviews we conduct with customers. After this takes place, we provide them with a detailed brief and a summary of the interview.
4. Have your customer validate the case study
Before publishing your customer case study, it’s vital that you have the OK of the customer featured in it. They might want to change certain information or make sure that you haven’t disclosed any information that might be confidential.
You can also ask the customer to sign a written agreement to make sure you have their consent to use the case study, the name of their company, and logo.
5. Using your case study
Of course, you haven’t gone to all this trouble to see your case study languish in some dusty corner of the internet.
Your case studies should be clearly visible on your website and visitors should be able to find them easily.
Use the case study at every stage of the funnel
Case studies are typically used to encourage leads to take action in the purchase stage. This is certainly the first thing that springs to mind if we think of an in-depth case study.
But this in-depth case study can also be used to create more condensed content formats targeted at other stages of the funnel.
For example, you can take customer quotes from the case study and turn them into customer testimonials.
You can also provide leads with a shorter version of the case study during the consideration stage.
The in-depth case study can be used as premium content for leads who are closer to purchase. But you can use shorter versions of this much earlier in the sales cycle.
You can use a targeted email campaign to share these with potential customers facing similar problems to the one addressed by your case study. You can also repurpose a case study as a blog post to give it more visibility or turn it into a downloadable PDF to make it easier for sales to send and to generate leads.
Advertising on social networks can also be a good way to promote your case study. Here’s an example of a social media ad we ran at Plezi:
Distribute the case study internally
A number of your employees interact with leads, especially by email. So, it’s a good idea to encourage internal teams to share your case study with them.
At Plezi, we have a shared Google Sheets document where we list case studies according to different criteria, e.g., by need, business sector, solutions of competitors previously used, features used. You can find a template for our in-house case study library here, which you can copy and adapt to your business.
This makes it easy for our sales team to browse the different case studies and send the most appropriate one to their contacts based on their situation.
Case studies are an essential part of your inbound marketing strategy. That’s because the best way to convince leads in the decision stage is to demonstrate your expertise using examples.
Creating an effective case study requires some making some careful choices and having a great content creation process. You first need to choose a customer to feature in your case study whom your personas can identify with. Then, you need to gather all the information necessary from them to write it. And once you’ve structured this information in way that will convince leads to take action, you need to promote your finished case study. What do you think makes a successful customer case study? Why not tell us in the comments below?