Case studies prevent your leads from getting stuck in the funnel.
That’s probably why almost two-thirds of B2B content marketers use the tactical.
Case studies tell the story the potential customer wants to know. Do you understand their pain points or their needs? Do you have a solution? Does it really deliver results? And the case studies deliver those answers in a way that communicates credibility that an intrusive ad designed to sell, sell, sell never could.
However, case studies can be difficult to produce. You need to talk to the sales and product teams to find out which customers have had the best success stories. Then you need to find the right person in the client company to get permission to tell their story. Also, you almost always need numbers to prove the case, and they’re often not easy to come by.
But it’s worth it. In the 2023 B2B Content Marketing Benchmark, Budgets and Trends, 36% of marketers cite case studies as effective: it’s more than long articles, podcasts and other audio content, infographics, livestreamed content, and print magazines and books. (And the number of those who cited case studies as effective was the same as those who said video — a rapidly growing tactic — was effective.)
Let these three strategies and four examples help you develop case studies that will shake your prospects out of the middle of the funnel and turn them into customers.
1. Tell a story where your customer – not your brand – plays the main role
Content marketing should always focus on the audience, not the brand. In case studies, customer-centric storytelling is even more important. After all, prospects consume case studies because they want to see what happened with people/companies in similar industries and circumstances engaged with your brand.
If the case study seems overly promotional, it will trick the reader into thinking it’s just another ad in which the company is positioning itself to sound good or, even worse, too good to be true.
By doing your customer the hero or star of the story, you make the necessary shift in the narrative and let the reader know that your brand is customer and customer centric.
Xerox makes itself a supporting character in both of these case studies. In this PDF Compilation of Case Studies for Banking and Capital Markets, the cover includes the Xerox logo on the bottom right. It also does a good job of using a high-impact, non-product related image. Unfortunately, he opted for a boring tag-like title.
On the following page, the collection of case studies includes a high-level overview and does not mention Xerox or include the logo. The language emphasizes the importance of the customer by using “you” throughout the text and opting for the first person (our) in a single reference.
“Customer loyalty is heavily influenced by how effectively you communicate, and that, in turn, depends on how easily you can get information to flow…”
After that introduction, he shares eight case studies in a simple format that highlights the points readers probably want to know: the challenge, the solution, and the results. Xerox explains solutions from the customer’s perspective without mentioning their product names. For example, among the solution category bullets: “A single vendor with dedicated operators to centrally manage the scanning (scanning and indexing) and subsequent delivery of incoming mail.”
ADVICE: Xerox doesn’t even name the “stars” in this collection of case studies. Many businesses cannot identify their customers by name, and these case studies illustrate how to convey the necessary information to readers without disclosing who the customer is.
Although Xerox did a good job of focusing on the customer, not the supplier, it didn’t tell engaging stories. But he did it in the video version of this case study – Buena Park School District: Modernizing Communication and Today’s Classroom with Xerox® Workflow Central.
During the 2.5 minute video, the COO of the district (a person likely involved in decision-making who uses the product) and a secretary (a frontline user) tell the story of their school system, its multilingual demographics and the importance of communication. They also detail how Xerox’s software product enables them to communicate with parents in multiple languages more effectively and efficiently.
The B-roll video includes screenshots of the Xerox product in use, but also features the district, teachers, students, and more.
By asking school district employees to tell their story and experience, Xerox creates a more interesting story and fosters a more credible case study. (Mysteriously, he chose not to use these interviews in the text version of the case study.
2. Create a familiar structure
Case studies are not the place for innovative story structures. All readers consume case studies to find the answers to the same questions: Do you know and understand their problem? Do you have a solution for this? Does this solution work?
They can also do comparison shopping through case studies. If readers have to work harder to figure out what they need to know from a creative story structure, they’re likely to move on to easier-to-read case studies.
Cognizant, a technology company, hosts a plethora of case studies in all the industries it serves. It follows a familiar structure – challenge, approach and business results – for each.
In this example, they tell the story of their client, Planned Administrators, Inc., which operated a legacy customer service application that did not integrate with its core administrative services. The study explains why this was a problem and details the client’s objectives: “to reduce time and costs while improving operational efficiency to deliver a modern customer experience and support new business areas”.
Next, he explains how Cognizant provided the solution. But the explanation did not stop at the description of the solution; the company also details how it helped planned administrators implement new technology. This is an important detail for anyone considering Cognizant solutions.
Although they don’t call it “business results” in the web version of the case study, they clearly detail the impact in the concluding descriptive text and detail the most important numbers: 10% reduction in time call, $80,000 annual savings. IT maintenance costs, $138,500 annual fee eliminated.
Cognizant links to a Four-page PDF of the case study for visitors interested in knowing the whole story. It includes much of the same information, but adds customer quotes and a side box (shown below) that summarizes key details – industry, location, challenges, products and services, and success highlights. This is especially useful for skim readers.
3. Make it visually appealing
Just because the story structure has to be standard doesn’t mean the format has to be. Readers generally don’t want to read paragraph after paragraph. It does not stimulate their brain. And some readers might learn better from the visuals.
So think about how to engage the audience – to videos And pictures For Text formatting (headings, boxes, etc.). Create a design that gets readers at a glance to get around and get the highlights and gives the whole story to readers who want to consume every bit of information.
Superior Essex, a cable manufacturer, opted for an interactive case study experience to tell the story of their work for the corporate space of Delos, a wellness real estate company. (I encourage you to click on the complete interactive case study, because describing it cannot adequately capture the experience.)
Superior Essex tells a similar story – explaining the client, their needs/pain points, solutions, results and a testimonial quote. But he does it in a visually engaging way where readers can choose to advance the story on their own.
For example, this screen allows the reader to click on each solution with the product names identified.
On this page, the reader can read more about business impact (as shown below) and then just click on the tabs (or scroll down the arrow) to read more about the business impact. impact on occupants and the environment.
ADVICE: Don’t forget readers who might need to download the PDF to share with their buying teams or executives. Superior Essex has condensed interactive content into simpler, more Traditional three-page PDF.
Create compelling case studies that motivate buyers
Case studies help content marketers achieve some of their most common goals: building/increasing credibility/trust, educating audiences, and generating and nurturing leads. But the power of case studies can be maximized if you make your customers the star, give your readers what they want, and add a touch of surprise and visual interest.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute