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How Problem-Solving Case Studies Help You Market Your Business Few marketing tools are more effective than an anecdotal case study. Discover how you can create your own and increase sales.

By Robert W. Bly

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The following excerpt is from Robert W. Bly's The Content Marketing Handbook. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Almost any company can profitably market with case studies. And while case studies don't need to adhere to any one formula, there are general guidelines you should follow. The average case study is relatively brief: one or two pages long, or approximately 800 to 1,500 words. More complex or in-depth case studies can run 2,000 to 2,500 words.

An effective case study makes readers want to learn more about the product it features. It's a soft sell designed to lure your prospects into requesting more detailed information. If you've mirrored the reader's problem successfully, the case study will propel them deeper into the sales funnel and closer to buying.

You needn't be overly creative or reinvent the wheel when writing a case study. Most follow some variation on this outline:

  1. Who's the customer?
  2. What was the problem? How was it hurting the customer's business?
  3. What solutions did they consider and ultimately reject, and why?
  4. Why did they choose our product?
  5. Description of how they implemented the product, including any prob­lems and how they were solved.
  6. How and where does the customer use the product?
  7. What results and benefits are they getting?
  8. Would they recommend the product to others? Why?

Because case studies are told as a story, readers are more inclined to take an interest—especially if it holds some sort of benefit for them. Unlike sales presentations, case studies are all about showing, rather than telling, how a product or service works. Instead of presenting a pile of facts and figures, you tell an engaging story that vividly shows your product's effectiveness. And by using a satisfied customer as an example, you can demonstrate how well your product works. Since its benefits are being extolled by an actual user, the claims are more believable.

An equally strong selling point is the level of empathy a case study creates between your prospects and your satisfied customers. Prospects feel far more at ease listening to their peers than to a salesperson. They relate better, because they often share the same issues and problems.

Relating your customers' positive experiences with your product is one of the best ways to establish credibility in the marketplace. Giving your customers confidence in what you're offering dramatically increases the likelihood they'll do business with you.

Writing the Case Study

To prepare to write the case study, the writer interviews the person in the customer organization who's most involved in working with the product. Before the writer calls, the vendor salesperson or account manager handling that customer should contact the customer to make sure they're willing and even eager to participate.

During the interview, get as many good quotes as possible, include them in the case study, and attribute them to your interviewee. Quotes in published case studies can later do double duty as customer testimonials.

Often prospects answer questions vaguely, and it's up to the interviewer/writer to wring the specifics out of them. Whenever possible, get the subject to give you exact numbers so your claims and results can be specific. For instance, if they say the product reduced their energy costs, pin them down: "Did it reduce energy consumption by more than 10 percent? More than 100 percent?" They may give you a guesstimate, which you can use as an approximate figure: "The XYZ system reduced the plant's energy consumption by more than 10 percent."

Before you release the case study, get the person you interviewed to approve and sign off on it. Keep these signed releases on file. If your authorization to use the case study is questioned and you can't produce a signed release, you may have to remove it from your site.

Also, ask subjects of case studies whether they're willing to serve as reference accounts. That way, a prospect with similar needs can speak directly to the product user in a case study.

Using Case Studies in Marketing Campaigns

"Companies [can] usually multiply the value of a good customer story by using it in many different ways," says Casey Hibbard of Compelling Cases, a marketing firm that develops case study materials for technology companies. Here are some of her suggestions:

Treat case studies as fresh news. "Before a case study is republished on your website or distributed to sales reps, pitch it to the trade press," Hibbard advises. "Many publications now have sec­tions called "Case Studies' or "Technology in Action' specifically for this purpose—and many readers regularly troll these publications for real-world business and technology solutions."

Post them on your website. "Websites are an obvious place to post case studies," she notes. "But it pays to put some thought into where and how you present them. The best approach is to feature product-specific cases among other product information on your site, along with white papers and brochures that highlight each product. You can even go a step further by allowing visitors to search for case studies by industry to find one that best matches their situation."

Add a short version to the company newsletter. Case studies are popular content for enewsletters. In fact, Hibbard says one large software company with more than 300 products publishes an entire newsletter filled with customer stories. "Newsletter stories educate customers and prospects about the many ways that other people are using the product successfully," she says.

Create slides for sales presentations. "To punch up sales presen­tations, give the sales team slides with highlights from successful client implementations," says Hibbard.

Enter them in awards events. "One CRM software vendor submitted a particularly compelling case study for Aberdeen Group's annual "Top Ten CRM Implementations' list," she recalls. "The company was honored as one of the top ten and was then mentioned in at least a dozen follow-up stories."

Add testimonial quotes to your sales materials. "Make sure that quotes within the case study can stand by themselves if you choose to pull them as testimonials on your website or in collat­eral materials," she says. "I've also seen sales materials that feature "snapshots' of success stories, and that's very powerful."

Distribute them to prospects and customers. This is a terrific way to keep in touch, raise awareness about a new product or service, and even convert prospects into customers.

Give them to your salespeople. Salespeople like case studies. A case study is often more convincing than a brochure.

Present them. If your executives speak at meetings and conferences, a case study makes an excellent presentation. The content can easily be converted into slide decks, and the printed case study itself can be used as a handout.

Hand them out at trade shows. Case studies are a great way to break through the clutter of fliers and brochures that permeate trade shows. One marketer even had a case study enlarged and printed on a trade show exhibit wall.

Robert W. Bly

Author, Copywriter and Marketing Consultant

Robert W. Bly is an independent copywriter and marketing consultant with more than 35 years of experience in B2B and direct response marketing. He has worked with over 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Embraer Executive Jet, Intuit, Boardroom, Grumman and more. He is the author of 85 books, including The Marketing Plan Handbook (Entrepreneur Press 2015), and he currently writes regular columns for Target Marketing Magazine and The Direct Response Letter.

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