What does your company do well? You probably try to promote your expertise through messages on your website, ads, or social media, but are your claims convincing? Instead of shouting about what makes you better, make a strong case for it by using what’s known as a case study.
In simple terms, a case study is a communications tool that tells the world what you did for someone, how you did it, why you did it that way, and what the results were. Case studies can be one of the most effective weapons in your marketing arsenal. They’re compelling, powerful – and surprisingly versatile. Explaining how your expertise or products helped someone else achieve goals or reduce stress connects with your audience more immediately and memorably than merely sharing capabilities. They don’t have to be long or fancy, and all you have to do is share the facts.
What makes case studies so effective? First, they’re factual, so the reader doesn’t have to wade through hype or puffery to learn what it is you do how well or you do it. Second, case studies are a form of storytelling, and telling stories will capture your audience’s attention in a way that few other forms of persuasive communication can do. People like to read about the challenges others face, because it deepens their knowledge about the industry and strengthens their own problem-solving skills.
Case studies allow people to project someone else’s real-world experience upon their own organization and needs. If they see that you offered a solution that helped someone double their production or cut defects by 82 percent, they’ll do the mental arithmetic to see what similar results will mean to their own bottom line.
Advertising and other traditional marketing tactics typically rely upon grabbing someone’s attention and immediately serving up a strong sales pitch. Because humans are inherently distrustful of sales pitches, aggressive approaches may backfire.
For instance, your competitor’s advertising may insist their veeblefetzers increase profits by allowing customers to core more radishes. That’s a sales claim, so a potential customer is likely to be suspicious. Then that prospect sees your case study, in which Joe Schmoe at Perky Produce describes how your veeblefetzers helped his company core 42 percent more radishes per hour with a 16 percent lower labor cost. Instead of hype, Joe’s experience provides positive, believable proof.
More than that, the case study becomes something of an endorsement. Perky Produce has an excellent reputation in the radish production industry, so when other companies see they’ve decided to use your product, it sends an impressive message.
As I mentioned, case studies are versatile. How can you use them? They work well in advertising, mailings, in email newsletters, on your website, on social media, as articles in trade magazines, in brochures — no matter how you communicate with your audiences, there are ways to incorporate case studies. Video case studies can be even more influential than printed ones when used on your website or social media channels.
If you’re concerned that your customers or clients won’t want to share their stories, don’t be. Most companies will be complimented that you asked, because a case study can enhance their reputation, too. If someone hesitates, ask them why. If it’s because they fear release of proprietary information, you don’t need to disclose the company’s name or critical information. Saying “a $50 million radish processor” may not deliver as much impact as mentioning Perky Produce’s name, but it will help the reader frame the story and know how the company that’s profiled compares with his or hers.
However, I’ve learned that the biggest impediment to creating successful case studies isn’t hesitant customers. It’s a lack of time. Asking staff members whose plates are already full to create case studies is a recipe for inaction. When your team is being expected to do more work in less time, identifying customers, clients, and projects that would make excellent case studies isn’t going to be at the top of their agendas.
That’s one reason that developing case studies is well-suited to outsourcing to a PR firm or a professional writer. Another advantage of that approach is that someone outside your organization will bring objectivity to the process, and a willingness to point out that a particular story may not be as compelling to the outside world as those within the organization may believe.
Whether you choose to look outside for your case studies or have someone within your organization develop them, be sure to set them up as an ongoing program that’s built upon a schedule with firm due dates. Experience has taught me that’s the most effective way to ensure that your stories gain the impact they deserve.
Scott Flood creates effective copy for companies and other organizations.