Case studies prevent your prospects from getting stuck in the funnel.
That’s probably why almost two-thirds of B2B content marketers use the tactic.
Case studies tell the story the prospective customer wants to know. Do you understand their pain points or need? Do you have a solution? Does it really deliver results? And case studies give those answers in a way that communicates credibility that an intrusive ad designed to sell, sell, sell could never do.
However, case studies can be a challenge to produce. You must talk to the sales and product teams to know which clients have had the best success stories. Then, you must track down the right person at the client company to get permission to tell their story. Plus, you almost always need numbers to prove the case, and they often aren’t easy to find.
But it’s worth the effort. In the 2023 B2B Content Marketing Benchmark, Budgets, and Trends, 36% of marketers cite case studies as effective – that’s more than long articles, podcasts and other audio content, infographics, livestreaming content, and print magazines and books. (And the number 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 from the middle of the funnel and turn them into customers.
1. Tell a story where your client – not your brand – stars
Content marketing should always focus on the audience, not the brand. In case studies, customer-centered 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 sounds too promotional, it will lead the reader to think it’s just another ad where the company positions itself to sound great or, even worse – too good to be true.
By making your client the hero or star of the story, you make the necessary shift in the narrative and indicate to the reader that your brand is all about the clients and customers.
Xerox makes itself a secondary character in both of these case studies. In this PDF compilation of case studies for banking and financial markets, the cover includes the Xerox logo lower right. It also does a nice job of using a high-impact, non-product-related image. Unfortunately, it opted for a boring label-type headline.
On the next page, the case study collection includes a high-level overview and doesn’t mention Xerox or include the logo. The language emphasizes the client’s importance by using “you” throughout the text and opting for first person (our) in only a single reference.
“Customer loyalty is heavily influenced by how effectively you communicate, and that, in turn, depends on how easily you can make information flow …”
After this introduction, it shares eight case studies in a simple format that highlights points readers most likely want to know – the challenge, solution, and results. Xerox explains the solutions from the perspective of the client with no mention of its product names. For example, among the bullets in the solution category: “A single provider with dedicated operators to centrally manage the digitalisation (scanning and indexing) and onward distribution of incoming mail.”
TIP: Xerox doesn’t even name the “stars” of this case study collection. Many companies can’t identify their clients by name, and these case studies illustrate how to convey the need-to-know information to the readers without disclosing who the customer is.
While Xerox did a nice job focusing on the client, not the vendor, it didn’t tell engaging stories. But it did 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 district’s COO (someone likely involved in the decision-making and who uses the product) and a secretary (a frontline user) tell the story of their school system, its multi-language demographics, and the importance of communication. They also go into detail about 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 it also showcases the district, teachers, students, and more.
By having the school district employees tell their story and their experience, Xerox crafts a more interesting story and fosters a more credible case study. (Mysteriously, it chose not to use those interviews in the text version of the case study.
2. Create a familiar structure
Case studies aren’t 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 it? Does that solution work?
They also may be doing 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 tech business, hosts a plethora of case studies across the industries it serves. It follows a familiar structure – challenge, approach, and business outcomes – for each.
In this example, they tell the story of their client, Planned Administrators, Inc., operating a legacy customer service application that didn’t integrate with its core administrative services. The study explains how that was problematic and details the customer’s goals – “reduce time and costs while improving operational efficiency to deliver a modern customer experience and support new lines of businesses.”
Then, it explains how Cognizant provided the solution. But the explanation didn’t stop with the solution’s description; the company also details how it helped Planned Administrators implement the new technology. That’s an important detail for anyone considering Cognizant’s solutions.
Though they don’t label it “business outcomes” in the web version of the case study, they clearly detail the impact in the descriptive concluding text and break out the all-important numbers – 10% reduction in call time, $80,000 saved in annual IT maintenance costs, $138,500 in annual fees eliminated.
Cognizant links to a four-page PDF of the case study for visitors interested in learning the full story. It includes much of the same information but adds quotes from the client and a sidebar box (shown below) that summarizes key details – industry, location, challenges, products and services, and success highlights. That’s especially helpful for skimming readers.
3. Make it visually engaging
Just because the story structure should be standard doesn’t mean the format must be. Readers usually don’t want to read paragraph after paragraph. It doesn’t stimulate their brain. And some readers might learn better through visuals.
So think about how to engage the audience – from videos and images to text design (headers, callout boxes, etc.). Create a design that allows the at-a-glance readers to jump around and get the highlights and gives the whole story to readers who want to consume every bit of information.
Superior Essex, a manufacturer of cables, opted for an interactive case study experience to tell the story of its work for the corporate space of Delos, a wellness real estate firm. (I encourage you to click through the full interactive case study, as describing it can’t adequately capture the experience.)
Superior Essex tells a similar story – explaining the client, its needs/pain points, solutions, results, and a testimonial quote. But it does it in a visually engaging way where readers can opt to move the story along on their own.
For example, this screen allows the reader to click through each solution with the product names identified.
On this page, the reader can learn about the impact on the company (as shown below), then simply click on the tabs (or advance the arrow at the bottom) to learn about the impact on the occupants and the environment.
TIP: Don’t forget the readers who might need to download the PDF to share with their buying teams or executives. Superior Essex condensed the interactive content into a simpler, more traditional three-page PDF.
Create convincing case studies that motivate buyers
Case studies help content marketers achieve some of their most common goals – building/growing credibility/trust, educating audiences, and generating and nurturing leads. But the power of case studies can be maximized if you make your clients the star, give your readers what they want, and throw in a dash of surprise and visual interest.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute