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Case Studies Have Real Value: Seven Tips for Writing a Success Story That Succeeds

by Steve Hoffman  |  
July 28, 2015

Most enterprises understand the value of effective corporate and product brochures and a compelling website, but many enterprises underestimate the value of success stories—also known as case studies.

"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example," Mark Twain once quipped. In a business context, managers and technical professionals alike respond to the power of example, which is the essence of a business success story.

Today, business customers are demanding; they require that vendors deliver success stories tailored to the customer's particular industry. To justify their investment in the solution, they need real-world proof that your company's solution has been successfully implemented at another company.

Accordingly, enterprises face a critical challenge: They must produce case studies in each of their core target verticals.

Success Story Value: Seven Points to Consider

The following are the top reasons that success stories are such a crucial part of the marketing process, especially when complex business issues and solutions are involved:

  1. Examples aid understanding. Complex business issues and solutions can be better understood through examples. Most people have struggled with a difficult concept, only to grasp it when someone explains it by saying "for example..."
  2. Success stories generate empathy. Properly written success stories enable the reader to empathize with the problem or challenge that the customer in the success story faced—in many cases, because they face a similar problem.
  3. Success stories are credible. Marketing success stories seem more credible to readers than marketing brochures—because success stories relate a factual situation rather than marketing claims.
  4. Success stories tell a tale. People love a story. The success story writer weaves a tale that can help readers take the first step toward solving a complex, and potentially expensive, business challenge.
  5. Success stories address a specific audience. Your potential customers want to feel that their specific needs are being addressed. If the customer is in the healthcare industry and the success story describes an application at a telecom, it's hard for the customer to identify with the story. That's why most enterprises that adopt success stories as a key marketing vehicle tailor at least one success story to each main audience they target.
  6. Success stories can demonstrate ROI. In some success stories, the benefits of the solution can be quantified. A return on investment that can be documented can help form a compelling case for the adoption of the solution.
  7. Success stories promote client satisfaction. As a form of closure to a successful client project, success stories can increase client satisfaction. Some enterprises provide a PDF file, printed copies, or even a framed hard copy of the final success story to their clients as a form of thanks. A framed copy that hangs on the wall of the customer's office is a symbol of the successful relationship between the customer and the solution provider.

For many enterprises, expanding the role of success stories in their marketing and sales strategy can provide the missing piece to the puzzle. Effective success stories can be posted on the website, handed out at conferences, packaged and tailored to particular audiences for client meetings, and sent in direct mail packages.

In highly competitive businesses, success stories can provide the competitive advantage that enterprises need.

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Steve Hoffman is CEO and founder of Hoffman Marketing Communications.

LinkedIn: Steve Hoffman

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  • by Tue Jul 28, 2015 via web

    It never occurred to me that I can "optimize" my success story to get the most out of it! Of course now I look like stupid (to myself) for not thinking about it...

    I bookmarked this, and will use it as reference very soon!

    Thanks Steve!

  • by Denis Hitchens Tue Jul 28, 2015 via web

    While you may feel that 'the problem-solution-benefit ' sequence is good, when I was the first international Field Marketing Manager ever appointed by HP (as long ago as 1981), I attended a copy writing work shop with a simpler and I believe more effective mantra -- State the benefit, Prove the benefit, which has served me and my clients well

    The customer is interested in benefits

    then the story line becomes benefits gained, eg $1M saved; the problem and the solution using your product/service

    Especially powerful if with the referee's photo and title (authority) and the benefit quoted as the headline

  • by Heather Wed Jul 29, 2015 via web

    Great article! Very solid structure to follow.

    Having read (and written) quite a few case studies, I'm often drawn to the ones that include future plans. It leaves me wanting more - to hear how it played out. For technology solutions especially, it illustrates the larger value of the investment and how it can grow with you over time. And as a marketer, it's a kind of built-in reminder to go back and interview them again. :-)

    When getting permission from the client, make sure they run it by legal. More than once I've had an enthusiastic participant, only to have the publishing halted because legal wouldn't approve it and my contact didn't know to ask. You can sometimes salvage the work by making it anonymous, but it's not as compelling.

  • by Jacqueline Wed Jul 29, 2015 via web

    Insightful, spot on! Especially appreciate you highlighting how a case study should address ROI, point 6. I was planning to write something like this for our case study creation workflow, thanks for doing it for me!

  • by Mike Sat Aug 15, 2015 via web

    A well-written piece, Steve.
    I'm hoping you can clear up some confusion.

    You wrote:
    "Properly written success stories enable the reader to empathize with the problem or challenge that the customer in the success story facedóin many cases, because they face a similar problem."

    ...and later:

    "To help convince customers to agree to sign their name to a success story... remind them that they can show the completed success story to senior management or boardódemonstrating that they are innovative, solution-oriented, and focused on business benefits."

    It seems to me like the more the case study articulates the problem (which build readers' empathy and interest), the less likely it is that senior management will approve. In my experience, decision makers at case-study-subject-companies are reluctant to be vulnerable publicly and admit -through the case study- that they had a problem, even if that problem has been resolved, as described in the case study.

    I would love to hear how you walk that delicate line in your work.
    Thank you, sir!

  • by Mon Jan 30, 2017 via web

    Responding to Mike's comment re. management at case study subject companies being reluctant to admit to having a "problem" and appearing "vulnerable". A skilled writer can render such concerns moot, by writing the case study as more of a customer success story, which frames the customer organization's impetus to adopt a vendor's solution as resulting from a desire to improve something -- rather than solve a problem. So for example: XYZ corporation sought to increase productivity and profitability, by implementing an innovative technology solution offered by ABC company. Working synergistically during the implementation phase, XYZ corp.'s IT and ABC company's technical teams achieved... (the customer's goal).

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