Written for Storylift by Brad Shorr of Straight North. See his bio below.
A B2B case study is not easy to put together. Case studies involve research, interviews, on-location photography, graphic design, content creation, heavy editing, and in many cases a slew of in-house and customer reviews that require further editing. Then, once the case study is created, more time (and money) gets poured into marketing the content to potential online and print publications — and printing the case study so it can be used with other sales collateral or for direct mail campaigns.
Whew, a lot of work. Is a case study worth it? Not unless prospects read it and draw closer to becoming a customer as a result. Here, then, are three tips for creating case studies that interest and motivate prospects.
1. Choose Prospect-Centric Story Angles
A case study is a story, and every story needs an angle. Companies have a tendency to make themselves the angle — look at what a great job we did, look at what a cool, innovative product we have, etc.
Inwardly focused themes may cause excitement in-house, but hold little interest to prospects. Prospects have their own problems and goals, and are looking for ways to solve those problems and reach those goals. Consequently, they want to read case studies that demonstrate how your product or service solves one of those problems or enables them to reach an important goal.
For example, suppose a packaging equipment company wants to create a case study touting a new model’s insanely innovative, patented drive system.
- Instead of an inwardly focused title such as “ABC Corporation’s New Drive System Takes Industry by Storm,” title it, “XYZ Company Increases Throughput 40% with ABC Corporation’s Redesigned Model M.” Increasing throughput figures to be of interest to just about every prospect; reading about a new drive system may interest a mere handful, and then only if they have some time on their hands.
- An inwardly focused case study might devote the lion’s share of the content to the technical features of the drive system and the backstory of how the design concept originated and was developed — offering only a few scraps of information on how the system benefited the customer. A prospect-focused story angle would devote the lion’s share of the content to the prospect’s story:
- Overview of the customer’s problem, slow throughput, and the other problems cascading from it. Highlight problems and issues to which other prospects could relate.
- Deep discussion of what improved after Model M was brought online: Here’s what throughput looked like before and after, and here’s what the associated issues looked like before and after.
- Include several quotes from the customer, but not quotes focused on Model M’s features. Instead, highlight how great ABC Corporation performed in terms of service, quality, reliability and understanding of XYZ’s problems. These are the “features” prospects want to be sold on before pursuing a business relationship.
- Touch on the uniqueness of the drive system.
The point of this case study is to make prospects feel like they are the buyer, XYZ Company, when they read it. Make readers feel the pain of slow throughput and the joy of fast throughput. This is a much stronger approach than trying to make prospects feel like they are the seller, ABC Corporation.
2. Use Great Images, and More
For print and online purposes, professional photographs and images are worth their weight in gold. First, poor-quality imagery — or none at all — cheapens the presentation, and could even raise doubt in the prospect’s mind about your competence. More importantly, high-quality imagery captures attention, conveys key selling points, and simplifies complex ideas common in B2B case studies. Thus, whenever possible, use images that highlight specific benefits of the product/service. The idea is to have prospects think, “I want something that looks just like that” when they see the photo, graph, pie chart, etc.
For online purposes, consider adding video and embedding slideshows in the case study. For online viewing — especially mobile viewing — videos and slide presentations are extremely effective ways of drawing prospects into your story and bringing it to life. By merely using these elements, you create the impression that your company is innovative. Of course, this works only if the video and slideshows are well executed, so be prepared to invest a bit of time and money to get it right.
3. Lay It Out Like a Pro
Whether the case study is 500 or 5,000 words, it must be readable. Readability hinges on following a number of best practices. Important techniques include:
- Selecting easy-to-read fonts
- Making fonts large enough to read easily (consider the age of your readers)
- Maintaining high contrast between dark text and light background
- Keeping paragraphs short (roughly 3-8 lines)
- Captioning images and photos
- Using bold and italic text selectively to highlight key points
- Writing headlines and subheads that grab interest and highlight key points
- Providing an executive summary at the top of the case study (lots of people will look at a summary and never read the entire study)
- Including a strong call to action and contact information at the close. Remember, the goal of a case study is to generate a lead!
Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, a leading Internet marketing service provider in Chicago that specializes in SEO, PPC and web design services. With more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Brad has been featured in leading online publications including Entrepreneur, Moz and Forbes.