Last Updated Nov 27, 2007 6:52 PM EST
Case studies build confidence in both customers and prospects. They demonstrate a company's products and services in action and help explain benefits. Case studies should include background, objectives, achievements, and measurable results. In addition to published items, they can be used as the basis for press articles and advertorials.
Case studies are a very effective promotional tool. Like white papers, they are extremely popular as a medium to demonstrate the benefits of a product or service. Case studies help to build credibility by enabling prospects and customers to see for themselves how your product or service solves real-world problems. If the case study is unbiased, it will generally gain the attention of readers. In many business magazines, a significant proportion of the articles will be based on case-study material.
Technical or product specialists within a company may produce source content for a case study, but it is often useful for a marketing writer to produce the final draft. Marketing writers understand the reader's perspective and level of knowledge and can produce a version which is meaningful to a nontechnical audience.
If you are producing case studies for the first time, you need to find suitable content. The sales team or your technical specialists can provide information on customer stories that could form the basis of a case study. These could include stories about overcoming difficult technical problems, discovering new applications, saving customers money, or improving customer products.
Your case study should address issues and problems that your customers and prospects face. By demonstrating how your product or service resolved the issue for another company, you imply that you can resolve the same issues for others. If you are targeting a particular market sector—small businesses or large corporations—or specific industries, make sure that the subject of the case study matches the profile of your target audience. For example, if your product or service features an information network service aimed at small businesses, do not describe an application in a large corporation.
Ideally, you should use an actual customer name in your case study, but, for commercial reasons, this may not always be possible. Your customer may believe that your solution gives them a competitive advantage and they may be reluctant to disclose that. In that case, you will need to use a general example—"a well-known company" or "a market-leading company." In either case, you must obtain approval for the content before publishing the case study.
If you can support your case study with appropriate statistics, figures, and tables, you can add greater credibility.
- Better return-on-investment: You can explain how an investment in your product/service pays for itself, for example, by increasing productivity by 25% in the first year.
- Reduced costs: Demonstrate how your service helps control or reduce costs and include figures if possible, for example, savings of more than $20,000 in just six months.
- Improved performance: You can show how your component helped a manufacturer to improve the performance of its own product, for example, by reducing weight by 30% or extending service life by 10%.
There is no standard format for writing a case study. They can be as short as a single paragraph, or as long as a four-page document with photographs, diagrams, charts, and other supporting material. The recommended length for a case study is between 300 and 500 words.
In general, there are four main sections to a case study:
- Problem: You should focus on the customer or subject of the case study, not on your product or company. Explain what your customer was trying to achieve or improve.
- Solution: Here you should describe the steps the customer took to solve the problem. Where possible, you can mention the other products or services that the customer tried. You can then explain why your product or service offered a better solution.
- Implementation: How did the customer implement the solution? What was the time frame and did it have any impact on the business? If your company made a special effort or provided additional resources to speed up implementation, mention this.
- Results: How well did your product or service solve your customer's problem? Where possible, use hard numbers such as savings, revenue gains, sales growth, and return on investment. This is another good spot to include a customer quotation—and a great place to summarize and close your story.
Once you have produced your case study, you should use it throughout your marketing communications. It can be used as an integral element in press relations, direct marketing, advertising, online marketing and sales support, and training programs. Case studies also form an important part of thought leadership programs, helping to build credibility for your company.
You can summarize the main points of the case study in a press release. Make sure you send the press release to publications that are relevant. If the publication covers different market sectors, you should modify the press release so that the content is relevant. If you also send editors a complete version of the case, they may decide to use that as a feature article. Some publications offer opportunities for an advertorial, where you pay for placing an editorial item. A case study would provide ideal content. You should also use the cases in your own company magazine or newsletter.
If your case study is carefully targeted, it will form a valuable mailing piece to customers and prospects. Mailing it to customers keeps them up to date with developments in your company. You can also send the case to prospects in the same market sector to demonstrate your credibility. The case study can help to raise awareness of your company and your products in a more compelling way than advertising.
A case study can be a useful sales tool. The sales team can use it during a presentation or leave it behind after a call. It can also be used as a reference if a sales representative is preparing a new business proposal. Case studies can form a valuable sales training tool, helping representatives understand customer requirements and product benefits.
If you are running an advertising or direct mail campaign, a case study makes a valuable and measurable call to action. Ask readers who request the case study to provide contact details or complete a short questionnaire, giving you useful data for later follow-up by the sales team.
Putting a series of case studies on your Web Site can improve traffic, particularly if you add new topics on a regular basis. If the featured customers are agreeable, you can add links to their own Web Sites, strengthening customer relationships even further. You should also add links to relevant products and services on your own Web Site, as well as other information on similar topics.
Case studies can form the basis of conference papers, giving you good speaking opportunities. As well as providing content, a printed copy can be used as a handout or mailed to customers and prospects who did not attend the event.
Case studies can make a useful display feature on an exhibition stand, or they can be available as handouts to exhibition visitors.
A good case study is not just interesting to read. It should encourage the reader to take action and request further information. In that sense, it is a tool for generating leads that should ultimately end in sales. Make sure that you include a call to action at the end of the case—this could take the form of a telephone number or e-mail address to request further information or a Web Site address.
If you are targeting a particular group of readers, make sure that the subject of the case study is relevant to their business. A reader running a small business would not be interested in a service aimed at large corporations, while a product that had solved a problem in the automotive industry might not be relevant to the aerospace sector.
Stelzner, Michael A.,
Writing White Papers: www.writingwhitepapers.com