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I recently read an article in which the author suggested focusing on reviews instead of case studies. The author cited research that indicated that 73% of marketers use case studies, and 65% feel they are an effective tactic.

He also cited Demand Gen Report's 2013 B2B Content Preferences Survey that stated 92.6% of the respondents said they were willing to consider vendor-created content as trustworthy, even though a much smaller 30.4% strongly agreed with the statement. And 71.6% of the respondents said they now "place a higher emphasis on the trustworthiness" of the content they view. He went on to say that the case study may no longer be viable because...

  • Case studies have limited shelf lives.
  • Case studies are vendor-generated, so they may not be perceived as trustworthy.

I agree that today's buyers have become much smarter and more self-informed in the decisions they make. They expect vendors to earn their trust, and they no longer take vendor-generated content for granted. However, I don't think we should throw out case studies.

Vendor-generated content can come off as trite when it appears in an advertorial or a paid study offered by an analyst firm—but so can a product review if that review looks to be generated by the vendor, either on its own site or on an independent product review site.

I argue that the case study and the product review are alive and well, and still very much viable pieces of "owned" and "earned" content.

Why Case Studies Still Matter

Case studies can be viable content, provided that vendors offer relevant, thoughtful, and engaging information in their case studies.

The content in the case study must make a connection. Vendors must create content that resonates with buyers. The content must prove that vendors not only understand what buyers are going through but also want to take the journey with buyers to help them be successful. That happens when vendors continually listen to their target market, deliver the content buyers want, test the content to ensure it resonates with buyers, and make the necessary changes so buyers have an enjoyable experience when exposed to the content.

The case study is the perfect place to:

  • Earn buyers' trust by understanding their pains, needs, goals, and what constitutes success in their eyes.
  • Identify the "pain" in a way that potential buyers can emotionally relate to the story and form a bond with you and your content.
  • Introduce the example customer and show how you solved their pain.
  • Provide the short-term and long-term benefits the example company achieved as a result of implementing your solution.

That's the owned part. What about the earned part?

For that to happen, your content needs to have legs. Having content solely at your website can only do so much. The reach of your content is a very powerful thing, and that's where influencers, the media, and analysts can help push your content to places your potential customers frequent. And when your content is distributed, it casts a wider net and has a better chance to earn its badge of trust.

For influencers, the media, and industry analysts to do their part to push your content out to the masses, they need to buy into the value of it. Vendors can help that process by understanding their needs, listening to them, engaging with them, and helping them. Vendors must develop relationships with those groups to earn trust. Then, when the time is right, those groups may pass your content onto their respective audiences.

Why Product Reviews Matter

Typically, the owned-earned process is in reverse.

There are two types of product reviews: the expert review and the online review.

I consider the expert review as reviews conducted by influencers, media outlets, bloggers, and industry analysts. I consider online reviews as reviews conducted at independent product review sites; local review sites, such as Yelp, Google Places, Citysearch, and Insider Pages; and reviews on your website.

Both types of product reviews start with the product.

You must have a solid product before you should consider any type of product review activity. Having a solid product means that through effective research, competitive analysis, product development, marketing, and a strong beta test program, you have created and launched a product that delivers on your promise and is what customers want.

Next, vendors can help influencers, the media, bloggers, and industry analysts with the product review by sharing the vision of the product—the pain you were trying to solve, the genesis of the product, its benefits, and its features. Then, influencers, the media, and industry analysts hopefully give you a positive review.

In the case of online reviews, you want to encourage as many of your customers as you can to leave positive product reviews on independent product review sites, local review sites, and your website. Make doing so easy for them by emailing them the links of where to review and instructions of how to post their reviews.

Not all of your reviews are going to be stellar. But once the positive reviews are in, you can incorporate the reviews into content of your own and post it on your website and push it out to your distribution channels.

* * *

In the B2B world, we don't have much time for people to get to know about us, so we have to use any type of content we can that provides value—and that includes the case study and product review.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Sue Duris

Sue Duris is president of M4 Communications Inc., a Palo Alto, CA-based marketing strategy and communications firmthat helps technology, entertainment and nonprofit organizations build and extend their brands. Reach her via sduris@m4comm.com.

Twitter: @M4_Comm
LinkedIn: Sue Duris