Are case studies important? Rediscover the value of this under rated marketing resource
Attending a recent industry conference had me wondering, “Are case studies important?”.
It’s been a long time since I’ve attended an event like this and it seemed to me things have really changed. As industries and businesses are influenced and pressured to follow a certain way of doing things, the pressure to communicate following written and unwritten rules is changing too.
After listening to presentations from ‘the experts’, you too may have been led to doubt the merits of what I consider a highly useful marketing tool: the traditional case study.
In the context of growing demands from all quarters of society, these industry experts diminished the value of case studies, eschewing them in favour of data in all its forms.
The jury was well and truly out.
Data good. Case studies? Well, not so much.
The judgement was clear: A case study was lightweight marketing gloss of little or no value.
Now before you decide to jump on the bandwagon too, let’s look at case studies in more detail.
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What is a case study?
In very simple terms, a case study is a story. And the purpose of stories is connection.
Ideally, your case study is a story that highlights the success your business has achieved for a customer or client.
At the same time, it should also showcase your business’ knowledge, skills, experience, and expertise. A case study is a way of sharing what you do without making a sales pitch. It’s a way of saying, “Here’s something I prepared earlier.” It’s selling without the hard sell.
Back in my engineering consulting days, I was tasked with writing profiles for the projects the company worked on.
When I approached the project manager for input, they’d almost invariably produce a list of equipment used on the project. They didn’t quite get that to produce a quality project profile, we needed to get under the hood of the job and tease out what really happened.
Interesting stuff like what didn’t go to plan.
How the team overcame challenges.
Where did we innovate?
What goals did we kick? Did we come in under budget, beat the schedule, or solve a big problem?
I found there was always more to the job than a list of equipment, just as there is more to project success and business performance than data.
The use of one to tell a story should not preclude the use of the other.
Why have case studies in your marketing arsenal?
In my book 7 Day Book Blueprint, I discuss the value of stories in business marketing.
Because I’m a raving fan and believe in the value of stories for business so much I expand on the ideas in the Business Content + Communication Guide.
If we work from the premise that the purpose of stories is to connect with your audience, then why wouldn’t you have a whole swag of them ready to share with potential customers.
Whether you’re dealing with hard-nosed engineering types who’ve built tall buildings, or fancy professional services types who grace inner city boardrooms, a well-written, thoughtfully constructed case study goes a very long way.
But more than this, stories, regardless of how they’re shared, are the way that humans connect with each other. This is true even in business.
Stories help convey what your business stands for in ways that dry facts and figures can’t, which is why it’s important to have crafted a handful or two of compelling stories that define your business brand.
Apart from providing a point of connection with your audience, stories give depth and relevance to what can be otherwise staid and one dimensional communication.
And if you’re operating a business in a sector that’s under intense scrutiny – and let’s face it – that’s just about every business today – then your motivation for producing some quality content in the way of case studies, project profiles, or client/customer success should be right up there with oxygen.
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Okay, so I get that case studies are important. Where do I start?
At this point you might be convinced the return on investment in case studies is warranted but feeling concerned that perhaps they require a level of creativity you simply don’t have.
Fortunately, for every problem there’s a solution.
A question I ask many clients is, “Where do you sit on the content creation spectrum?”
They often respond with a question, “Well, Macushla, what is the content creation spectrum?”
It’s a thing I made up to explain the degrees of willingness and skill that any business owner has to plan, organise, and create their own content. The spectrum spans from avoidance to ‘I’ve got this’ and the outputs (or lack of) at each level are commensurate with the enthusiasm and skill of that level.
The reality is many business owners are not the right people to be producing the content, and thus the case studies and marketing stories, for their business. Often they dive too far into the technical detail, making the case study unrelatable for the audience. And this is why an honest answer to the question, “Who should really be writing our case studies?” is a good place to start.
Once you have the answer to that question, you can:
- Identify your top five successes and share these. I work with one business that captures not only the data for each project (such as volume and percentage of materials recycled), but also captures the challenges and innovations that made the project a success.
- Map your customer journey and document stories at each stage to help other customer understand what happens when. If your business has clear entry points and ongoing touchpoints, stories can help nurture customers along the way.
- Identify internal stories that profile your team and business values. Because people like doing business with people they like and relate to, sharing the face of your business (that would be your team) is just one way to communicate your business values.
You may be thinking, that all sounds great, even easy, but I’ve honestly answered the question about where I sit on the content creation spectrum and I’m never going to write a case study.
Fine. You need to find and work with someone who can write them for you.
Thankfully, there’s a whole world of freelance digital content creators and marketing agencies (and everything in between) just waiting for you to reach out. The trick is finding the right person/people to work with; someone who’ll take the time to understand your business and help share your stories in ways that make sense to your audience while maintaining the technical integrity of your message and business.
Now I’m an advocate of the written-content-comes-first approach, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. Instead you may choose to work with a videographer and create visual case studies, or a photographic library, however in my experience, these elements work together, along with some excellent graphic design.
9 surprising reasons case studies are still important for business marketing
Industry experts may tell you that case studies and stories are marketing dinosaurs but I disagree. Here are nine reasons case studies remain valid and important marketing tools for businesses that want to connect with their customers and clients.
- They build confidence and pride in your team when they reflect back on previous successes.
- Preparing the case studies is a wonderful opportunity to build connection across your business as different departments work together to tell and share important stories.
- Case studies demonstrate depth of capability in your business and team’s skills and experience.
- As an essential resource in your content library, case studies can be repurposed multiple ways (in video, photos, standalone profiles, social media posts, and wall art). In many ways, they’re a content marketing gift that keeps on giving.
- Case studies raise brand awareness.
- Looking for inexpensive ways to educate your audience about ways their challenges can be overcome? A case study can do that for you.
- Case studies document your business’ track record. In the busy-ness of the day-to-day, how quickly we forget our success because we’ve already moved onto the next big thing. Your case studies capture the good news along the way.
- Your case studies allow your business to forge connection with your ideal audience, as it ‘speaks’ for you without you needing to be present.
- A thoughtfully written case study is a sales tool without the hard sell.
So, there you go. The take-away for you is this: Creating content marketing assets like case studies requires an investment, just like any other asset for business, so if mastering the ‘whole content thing’ is important to you, it would be wise to start creating useful tools like case studies that do the talking for you.
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