Whatever you prefer to call them: ‘customer story’, ‘application story’, ‘Use case’ etc., a case study can be a highly effective sales tool. It’s a shame then that so many SMEs still don’t integrate them into their marketing communications (marcom) plans. It’s time for a reset.
For any business (particularly B2B) selling a product or service that’s tailored, and not simply ‘off-the-shelf’, objective story-telling that describes how a real customer successfully used it and got real benefits and advantages from doing so just has to be good right?
Which make’s it all the harder to accept the age-old reasons for not doing case studies. ‘We don’t want to reveal who our customers are to competitors’; ‘customers just don’t want to do them’; ‘they take far too long to do’ – I do understand – I’ve used them all myself along the way 😉
But when you sit back and think about all the attributes they have, which say adverts, brochures and press releases simply don’t have, then surely you’ve just got to give them a go.
I see a lot of hurdles thrown up regarding case study length. My response is always the same, it needs to be long enough to tell your own compelling story, so it might be 500 words, it might be 1,000 words – it really doesn’t matter. The story chooses what’s right for you.
Of course with any more substantial, long-form content, readability is key and creating a standard case study structure with sub-headings that best suits your type of business is an important consideration. Again I see a lot of obstacles thrown up in this regard – and it’s unnecessary.
As long as a case study is following a ‘problem – solution –result’ approach you can’t go too far wrong. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s ‘Summary-Background-Problem-Solution-Outcome-Reflections’; ‘Situation-Problem-Solution-Evaluation’ or ‘Background-Objectives-What we did-Benefits’…
Develop a custom structure that neatly suits your own line of business and stick with it. As long as it gently eases a reader into the story, from the big picture through to the nuts and bolts, it’s fine.
And because a case study is objectively reporting and evidencing what a customer has really achieved by using your product or service, it’s instantly more believable than the claims made using more subjective adverts, product flyers etc.
Containing less marketing and sales speak than other marcom tools, it surrounds a product with warm credibility and provides the reassurance that’s needed to help customers take the right purchase decision.
Plus, compared to other marcom tools, there’s probably nothing else as versatile – in-print or online. Just consider the potential uses of a case study:
- As a permanent page or blog post on your website
- As sales collateral for the sales force and channel partners
- As a mailing piece, something to include with quotations
- As a feature in your regular newsletter
- As a literature give-away at trade exhibitions
And that’s not to say that it can’t also be re-written and re-purposed to create a press release, added content for a feature article placement or a powerpoint slideshow.
Remember too that the customer involved might be only too pleased to have you publish a story about what he’s achieved using your product or services. Just think about the kudos it can deliver, how it can help elevate his standing. It can only be good for long-term customer relations.
And what about your own staff, their families and friends, your suppliers and distribution partners they all know a little or a lot about you, but how many of them understand the real value of what you provide? A case study helps fill in the blanks, turning supporters into advocates.
So it might take more effort than other marcom materials, and yes it’s certainly a softer selling device, but it’s worth bringing case studies higher up the food chain. And they’re simply not just the realm of the large corporate, they’re equally useful to SMEs.
Many will say that after a full blown technical white paper, a case study is the second most effective means of explaining the real benefits of using a product or service – I tend to agree. To coin a fine English phrase, ‘it’s the proof of the pudding’.