Think back to the past few years: Have you made a major purchase without reading a few reviews or checking a company or product’s star rating? Probably not.
Consumers crave to see what others are saying about a brand before they do business with them. They’re going to trust and value a peer’s feedback way more than they will any ad or content you put out on your own.
So how can you harness the power of consumer feedback, while still highlighting your product or service? Enter case studies.
Case studies originated in clinical settings with the case history (background, medical history) of a patient. They’ve since evolved and become a way for companies to show how a product or effort has brought results to customers. This type of content also helps set companies apart as thought leaders in their industries and build trust with consumers.
Case studies allow you to use data, customer interviews, and other findings to highlight a win for your company — and hopefully convert potential customers in the process. In a survey, 44 percent of marketers said case studies were the most effective content marketing tactic for lead generation. And 71 percent of B2B buyers in the awareness stage and 77 percent in the evaluation stage said testimonials and case studies were the most influential types of content.
Key components of a case study
If a case study was a puzzle, it would be made up of three main pieces:
- A problem
- A solution
- A result
Let’s break down each of those sections a bit more so you have a better idea of what to cover.
Think about a real issue or challenge one of your customers has had that your company helped solve. Let’s take use a fitness company as an example. Their goal is to help customers become healthier, so a problem a customer might have is losing weight. They could include information about a customer’s background: what led to their weight gain, hurdles they’ve faced trying to lose weight in the past, and why they want to lose weight now.
Now’s the time to explain how your product or service that saved the day. Keeping with the original example, the company might have offered them personal trainers that worked with them five days a week, a detailed meal plan, and/or vitamins to help them achieve their goals. Remember to be specific with all of your case study information and give as much information and examples as possible. There’s no room for vagueness.
Here’s where you’ll want to give exact numbers, data, or other stats that show what your product or service was able to achieve. Percentages are great, like if your program helped your customer lose 10 percent of their body fat. But be sure to include specific numbers too, like the person losing 25 pounds or dropping from 250 to 225 pounds.
Find a topic
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what a case study is, it’s time to map out a plan to create one that your audience will want to read. A good starting point is figuring out who and what you want to feature. You can either choose a product or service you want to feature and then find a customer who uses that, or you can start with a pleased customer and their experience.
One way to identify a standout customer is by taking a look at your reviews. Do you have a customer who left rave reviews for your business, and do they fit within your target audience? If you have several who fit this criteria, you can narrow down the list by isolating those who use the product/service you’re interested in highlighting — or use them all for several case studies.
Beyond asking about their experience with your product or services, you should also ask the customer to send you a headshot and some general information (ex. location, years they’ve been a customer, their company info if applicable, etc.). You could use this image and information within the case study or as a pullout bio section.
Questions to answer
Whether you’re conducting an interview to write the case study or pulling data from another source, identify the type of information you’ll need to write a complete case study. It’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of what you want to cover going into the case study — like which product or service you’re featuring.
Here are the core questions you should ask your source as you compile notes:
- Tell me about yourself/your company.
- What problem or challenge were you facing?
- Why did you decide to use our company to solve this issue? What stood out about our offerings?
- How did we help you solve the problem?
- What type of results did you see (be specific)?
- Was there anything about the results, product, or service that positively surprised you?
- What would you want others to know about our company/product/service?
It can be helpful to share your questions (or at least the main ones) with the customer beforehand so they have a chance to really think about their experience and prepare — especially if they aren’t used to be interviewed.
Case study examples
Before you start the interview process, it’s good practice to know what format you plan to use. That will help you gather all of the information you need the first time around to make it work.
Here are three examples of different types of case studies to give you ideas for putting one together.
With a pretty standard layout, this case study from Optimizely has all of the basics covered. We like the bulleted section on the right that gives the highpoints — because face it, most people aren’t going to read the whole case study unless something catches their attention (like pull quotes, an infographic, or headline). In that section, they give basic info on Optimizely, their goals, approach, and results.
Do you want your case study to sound more conversational? You could try the Q&A approach like Groupon did in their case study. Someone from Google interviewed Groupon’s CMO and CEO for the study and then transcribed their conversation. They also used a few pull-quotes to break up the interview text.
No one said all case studies have to be delivered in written format, like with this one on Suncorp. They recorded their case study in an 8-minute video, which features a speaker and his PowerPoint presentation. In addition to recording someone to talk through a case study or as a presentation, you could also include video from your interview with the customer or B roll of the customer or their business.
Time to start sharing
Once your case study is ready to go, put it on your website where it’s easy to find (like under a “Case Study” tab or with your other original content). Also, be sure to email it to your subscribers and share it on social media to get it the most views.
You can also send out your case study to new leads as part of the sales funnel, especially when they are in the evaluation/consideration stage. There are several different uses for case studies, so you just need to find the one(s) that work best for your company.
Lauren Dowdle is an award-winning writer based in Birmingham, Alabama. She writes about marketing trends, best practices, local features, and the landscape industry for a variety of companies and magazines.