When was the last time you felt something in a B2B case study ?
I mean something other than mild interest or boredom.
I ask because B2B case studies should be exciting stories, at least in theory . Millions of dollars are at stake, people's livelihood and professional reputation are at stake. Each is a three-act story arc in which adversity is overcome and a problem is solved.
That sounds like an exciting read, doesn't it?
Or at least they should be useful stories. You should help someone with a similar problem find a solution. Yes, even a solution that goes beyond “buying our product”.
Here are a few ways that B2B marketers can make their case studies more human, compelling, and ultimately more effective.
Optimizing B2B Case Studies
Granted, case studies exist for business purposes. You should convince people to choose your solution. However, this does not mean that they have to be purely sales-oriented and function-oriented and not customer-oriented and story-oriented. We should treat case studies with the same care that we devote to all of our content.
1: Bring broader context
The traditional structure of a case study is problem-solving results. The “problem” part generally refers to the specific problem your customer had. However, you can make your case study more relevant to similar companies by also addressing an industry-wide problem.
Take this case study for our customer Prophix for example. In this study, we wanted to show the process that we went through with the customer – why we decided to create the content that we did. The content should address an emerging problem in the financial profession. It therefore makes sense to start the study with an overview of this problem.
A look at the broader picture of the industry can help to attract the attention of executives in the financial industry, as well as those who see a similar problem in their respective industries. In other words, it makes the entire study more relevant to potential customers.
2: Added value beyond your solution
TopRank Marketing is a marketing agency. Our processes, strategies and tactics are some of our most valuable assets. For our case studies, it would therefore be easy to say: "The customer hired us and we ran a campaign that achieved these results." We could easily gloss over the details of how we got from point A to point B.
If we did, our case studies would be little more than advertising. It's hard to convince someone to read a 500-word commercial. Instead, we want to give readers practical examples of how we get the results we get.
Could someone read our Tech Unknown case study from customer SAP and run a similar campaign for themselves? Maybe. We have a step-by-step list of the tactics we use. However, we are confident that we can do the job better than our customers do for themselves, so we are not afraid to share our tactics.
When potential customers read the Tech Unknown case study, they have a solid idea of what it takes to create and run a podcast, and see that TopRank Marketing can create good podcasts. This added value increases the credibility and readability of the case study.
3: Bring customer feedback
We often write about companies or brands as if they were people: "Coca-Cola has decided …" or "Siemens has made the difficult decision …". In reality, however, it is the actual people who make these decisions. And these people should show up in your case study.
LinkedIn * Marketing Solutions is good at centering customer voices in their case studies. Take, for example, this from Salesforce . Marissa Kraines, Director of Content & Social Media at Salesforce, is quoted throughout. She talks about why they chose LinkedIn as a platform, how they developed best practices for content – and yes, how satisfied they are with the results.
Most importantly, Marissa gives readers advice that goes beyond “using LinkedIn for marketing”:
"Do you have a game plan that consists of at least five pieces of content that you want to publish," she suggests. "In this way, you can test, compare the results, and really see what works. So after these five sections, you can create something that is based on these findings and is even more important for your audience."
The quotes in this case study help the reader feel connected and invested in the story told. Speaking of …
4: Tell an emotional story
As I said in the introduction, all case studies are based on a simple structure of history. You can hardly help but tell a story: problem / solution / results. However, the trick is to make your story emotionally engaging.
Bringing in the customer voice is a good start. For even better results, swap your corporate voice – with its passive construction and dry, distant tone – for a more journalistic one. Find human interest in the story and write passionately about it.
This ACLU case study from the Pantheon brings drama from the start:
“In 2016, Marco Carbone, ACLU's Deputy IT Director, closely monitored the website because the presidential election had thousands of times more traffic than normal. Even though he expected traffic to increase, it was hard to imagine how big it would be. "
Note how this paragraph:
Placed us at a certain time
Introduces a protagonist
You can see Marco sitting at his computer, staring at the dashboard and hoping that his website will not fail. It clearly shows that Pantheon not only sells web hosting, but also calms down.
Now imagine a typical intro for a case study like this:
“The ACLU needed a solution to ensure that its location was robust enough to withstand the expected traffic peaks during the 2016 elections. The organization had evaluated several services but was not sure whether their planned needs could be met. Your existing solution underperformed. "
The same basic information – and yet a world full of differences in emotional weight.
“The focus of all case studies is a simple story structure. You can hardly help but tell a story. However, the trick is to make your story emotionally engaging. “- Joshua Nite @NiteWrites Click to Tweet
5: Get specific with results (and benchmark!)
The ideal case study ends with two things: customer advice and specific enumerated results. It is not enough to say that your solution has shortened sales cycles or reduced waste. It is better to say: "Our customer reduced the sales cycles to three weeks" or "reduced the waste by four tons".
The best way to get results is to compare them with customer and industry benchmarks. Reducing sales cycles to three weeks is fine if the industry average is four weeks, but phenomenal if the average is three months. If the customer normally produces five tons of waste, the four-ton reduction is an incredible step forward – but far less impressive if they produce 400 tons. By providing these benchmarks, your reader gets a clearer picture of what your results mean and sets expectations for working with your company.
For this reason, our Tech Unknown case study includes industry benchmarks for podcast downloads and brand averages for traffic and views.
"By providing benchmarks, your reader gets a clearer picture of what your results mean and sets expectations for working with your company." – Joshua Nite @NiteWrites Click to tweet
Customer stories don't have to be boring: case closed
Content marketers are empathetic, creative and dynamic authors. I am proud to find a human interest in content for every customer, be it financial services, software-as-a-solution or supply chain logistics. But when it comes to writing case studies, we fall back too often on this calm, bloodless corporate voice.
To keep your case studies convincing, make sure you are writing for a reader, not just a potential sale. Be passionate, tell a human story, and add value beyond just proving the benefits of your product. A journalistic eye and genuine empathy for your readers make your case studies more readable, understandable and ultimately more effective.
* LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing customer.