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How Can My Company Use Case Studies?

Case studies are to your Website what references are to your résumé: customer success stories that demonstrate how you solve real-world problems. water purification case study

Stop and think about three of your happiest customers: Don't you want your other customers and prospects to know the kind of success they've had with your products and services? The best way to tell that story is with case studies, also called "customer success stories" and "customer case studies."

"I Feel a Case Study Coming On..."

The idea for a case study often originates in Sales.

Maybe Sheila, who runs your northwest region, barrels into your office one morning and says, "I made a site visit to Cathartic Telephony yesterday, and they're turning cartwheels over the DX-500 we installed last month. They told me they've cut their power consumption in half and they're saving almost 750 dollars a day."

You, as marketing manager, instinctively know that, when you hear "saving almost x dollars a day," it's your cue to suggest a case study.

Or maybe Ralph, the customer service manager, sees you at lunch and says, "We had three calls from Consolidated Glitch last month, asking about the encryption algorithm on our compressed drive. They're using it for security, not for compression, and we never thought about that application when we designed it."

Again, as marketing manager, you should be on the lookout for customers using your products in unexpected ways, and be prepared to turn these into case studies.

Case Study Guidelines

Be careful, though. It's easy to dream up a case study, but not so easy to get it right. When your writer is unaccustomed to the case study format, you're likely to end up with a worn Problem-Solution-Result structure, which bores people, or a page and a half of chest-thumping, which turns people off.

Here are five guidelines for case study writers:

  1. Your case study should have technical depth. Your readers already know who you are and maybe what your products and services are; the case study tells them how your customers save time and money with them.
  2. The piece should focus on your customer's problems and how the customer solved them with your invention. This is not a brochure, so don't emphasize your prowess and expertise. Try to describe everything from the customer's perspective, because that's the perspective of your readers.
  3. The better the interview, the better the source material for the case study. If you can't get enough from one interviewee, try for a second one. Good interviewees will tell you everything without your asking, but don't depend on that. Come up with relevant questions to flesh out how they used your product or service and how much time/money/anguish it saved them.
  4. A good case study (for purposes of marketing communications) fits into two pages. If your customer's miracle takes more than that to describe, turn it into a technical paper.
  5. As always, it's important to keep your ideal readers in view. What are they looking for when they download your case study? What do they want to learn by reading it? If you respect their time and inform and educate them, you can be sure they'll want more than just a case study from you.

What to Do with Case Studies

  • Use them as sales collateral - Not only does Sales often suggest customer success stories, it loves to hand them out to prospects. Invest in a sharp template (with photographs) and quality printing so that your sales team can distribute them with a straight face and feel good about using them.
  • Place them on your Website - This is obvious, because that's where your prospects will look for them. What may not be obvious, however, is that you should offer them freely, without registration. Better to have a prospect remember you for a good case study than for an annoying form-fill.
  • Shop them to trade press - Trade magazines will take case studies for paid placement, so a two-page piece fits a two-page spread perfectly, especially as an ongoing series over a publication-year. Depending on the magazine's calendar and content need, they may run it as editorial, so be sure it's suitably written.
  • Use them for social media - Case studies are solid stories unto themselves - unlike advertisements or press releases - and work well as blog posts, tweet links, and in other formats that help you build a following.
Case studies belong squarely in your marketing content. As you and your fellow marketing managers build out your content strategy, keep your eye out for ways in which your organization can use them effectively.

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It's dirty work, but somebody has to do it. He also publishes a newsletter with more tips on working with your writers.
Photo credit: U.S. Army