Part 1: The art to an effective case study

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The art to an effective case studyAs documents that are part of wider content marketing programmes, case studies have a great role to play in convincing a prospect to buy. They are there to provide potential customers with insight into how a product or service solved a particular problem for another company. However, it’s not all about getting customers, it’s about telling a story. Sadly, there are case studies out there which are dull to read, or don’t provide the right information that should be valuable to the reader.

Recently featured in B2B Marketing, our Head of Content, Mark Kember, shares his words of wisdom. Starting with the reasons why poor case studies exist, Mark advises, “There may be many reasons for this: companies don’t want to sign off on releasing information that is commercially sensitive, or they worry about perception if they admit to any big problems.”

So, how can you create an effective case study that is both enjoyable to read and provides the right information? Here is Mark’s advice in full.

Human Impact

At the moment, when writing a conventional case study, there can be too much focus on the traditional “problem-solution-outcome” approach. However, this can mean that the wider context doesn’t come through. Aside from metrics, it’s important to consider what the ‘human impact’ that an implementation has.

For example, a new IT solution might help a company process something better – what does that look like to the company’s customers? Does the cost saved lead to lower prices for those customers, or offer a fundamentally new way of doing things that means better service? These are all questions your case study should look to answer, as they are what potential customers will want to know the answer to.

Pulling out a more “human interest” angle is one of the best ways to make any document believable and interesting to the people that will be targeted with it. This can be something that is removed from the formal body of the case study as a quote; alternatively, it can be used in a ‘product in action’ section if clients want to retain their traditional case study formula. However you structure your case studies, thinking about the human impact will help the case study stand out, wherever the customer is in the buying cycle.

Make your argument with data

It helps to have a convincing argument, and the best way to demonstrate this is to have experienced customers. This means that they should be at least six months to a year after implementation.

Many companies will seize on the fact they have a customer willing to speak about their experience with them right from the word go, but more often than not, new customers will have little experience with the business and won’t be able to provide you with any Return on Investment figures. Getting a year’s experience means that the customer has had time to see the real benefits from their purchase and will therefore provide more hard truths to base the study on.

Results, Results, Results

Be quantitative, and show as many results as possible. If you are to convince customers to buy from your business, they will want to see evidence of how well other customers are performing in figures as well as positive quotes.

Are there two sides to the story? Not every project is completed perfectly and there can be challenges that were part of the implementation. For readers, this kind of information can be vital as part of their decision-making. However, it’s important not to gloss over these challenges – instead this can be an opportunity to go into how requirements changed and how the business responded in partnership with the customer to overcome these issues.

For some providers, this may seem counter-intuitive. However, being honest and discussing challenges can make a case study more realistic for the reader. Taking this approach can help build up trust that the vendor or partner will be there whatever happens, and that the focus is on helping the customer make the most of their investment in a real world environment. This is particularly useful for journalists that might be looking for customer stories to feature.

Check out part 2 where we will be looking at the process behind creating a great case study.

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