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In the past, everything about case studies has probably made you run far away. They are often dry, generic, or pretty much just a high school pep rally (minus the cool letterman jackets) cheering on a company, product, or solution. But they don't have to be.

Case studies can play a powerful role in one's content marketing strategy. In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute (PDF), small B2B marketers say case studies are the most effective content marketing tactic they can use.

Good case studies can help to subtly yet persuasively show off products or services. They tell the story of a business problem that your customer had and what you did to help overcome it. Statistics offer tangibility, and quotes from the customer give credibility.

When done right, case studies could win over new customers who are already in the purchase funnel.

It's time to take a different approach to writing case studies so that they're read and shared—and result in more leads.

Here are five things you should keep in mind to create case studies that are less boring and more effective.

1. Build suspense

Imagine that your favorite movie didn't have a set-up, a climax, and an ending. What if Morgan Freeman told the whole story about Andy Dufresne before we were ever introduced to the horrors of "Shawshank?" Or if Kevin Spacey let viewers know he was Keyser Söze during the opening credits of "The Usual Suspects?"

They wouldn't have been very good films, huh?

As readers, storytelling is what draws us in and captures our attention. Case studies need to do the same! Sharing numbers without any sort of story leaves us asking "So what?" So incorporate the who, what, where, when, and why. Build suspense as you do so. Then hit the 777 jackpot (i.e., climax)!

Case studies that tell a compelling story about the subject and the outcome help customers better understand the impact you can have on them and their business.

Ardath Albee, CEO and B2B marketing strategist at Marketing Interactions, stresses the importance of storytelling in case studies, which have been traditionally very numbers-driven:

[Case studies] should tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. In all the interviews I do with customers of my clients, the number-one reason they say they choose a vendor is along the lines of "they just seem to get us" or "they made us feel like a big fish in a small pond." Case studies should help to convey that type of emotional connection.

2. What's in it for them?

Even though you are sharing your success story and trying to make your brand seem like the cool kid on the block, the case study is actually all about the reader—the potential customer. Make sure your focus is on letting potential customers in on the secret, and share how they can reap the same benefits described in the story.

Avoid bragging about how great you are. Instead, focus on the problem so the reader can relate, then hit them with the positive outcome. By putting the emphasis on the customer, the case study will read less of a "rah-rah" fest and it will come across as authentically trying to help the customer solve his/her problem.

Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing Inc., shared his point of view on writing case studies with the reader at the forefront:

Great case studies take the customer's point of view. They talk less about your product, and more about the problem being solved on the customer's end. Further, effective case studies that get shared more often include specifics! What was the problem, how was it resolved, and what were the measurable improvements that demonstrate success.

3. Testimonials are everything

Put yourself in the buyer's shoes for a moment. What would make you want to read a particular case study?

Usually, it's because you share a common interest or you're experiencing the same issue as the subject of the case study. You want to see whether you'll find a solution to your problems.

Incorporating testimonials within your case study adds a level of truth and validity to its claims. Testimonials are also powerful because they give readers insight into what was accomplished and why it was so worthwhile.

This is the one chance for the reader to see a third party's point of view in your case study. Make it count.

Your customers aren't stupid. So when you handcraft a testimonial to include in your case study and it was massaged by a content marketer, copywriter, the CMO, and the office cleaning person... it sounds phony. Fake quotes are ineffective and boring. Instead, maintain original quotes as best as you can. Let it read as if a happy customer said it aloud. It will be much more powerful.

Rachel Foster, CEO and B2B copywriter at Fresh Perspective Copywriting, tells how testimonials make the biggest difference in livening up a case study:

The biggest problem I see with corporate case studies is that they often don't contain customer quotes. This usually occurs when marketing or sales is in a hurry to get a case study out, but they don't have permission from the customer to use the story... [A] case study without customer quotes isn't doing you any favors. People read case studies because they want social proof that a product or service delivers results. Without quotes from satisfied customers, you'll have a hard time delivering this proof.

4. Make it visual

More often than not, in the B2B world, we deal with ultra text-heavy documents that may be technically sound but fail to fully engage the reader.

Visuals can help take that same information but present it in a more aesthetically pleasing way. Now the reader can become more involved in the piece and potentially recall the message more easily at a later date (remember, a case study is just one of several customer touchpoints).

We see all types of visuals on the Web today. Consider including some in your case studies, including...

  • Screenshots
  • Charts and graphs
  • Product images
  • Action photos of customers
  • Quote pictures for your testimonials

The visuals should be professional in appearance, certainly; but, more important, is that they be on point and consistent with the message you are trying to convey. Visuals also help break up text, making it more digestible, and they make for nice social media material for promoting your case studies.

Rick Short, director of marketing communications at Indium Corporation, explains how imagery can take your case study to the next level:

Visuals speak to a different part of our brains—more to our animal. The use of visuals allows us to tap into this raw, emotional consciousness—making the user's experience more visceral. To me, the most impactful visual says one thing succinctly and clearly. The type or style is less important than the crispness.

5. Don't lie

Trust is needed to make a case study believable and meaningful. To establish trust, the piece of content must shout "HONEST." Generic quotes and statements about improvement are lackluster and uninteresting. They are not going to help you win over a customer. Instead, use real company names and numbers. Use actual product shots. Show the face behind a testimonial.

You don't want your case study to be blasé—like all the other ones out there. If you had great success, show it: An inside look into a customer success story will be a much more engaging read—and it will have more impact, at the same time.

Tom Pick, chief analyst at WPO Inc., talks about the importance of specificity, authenticity, and honesty in a case study:

Use real numbers and statistics. A phrase like "saved the company money" or even "saved the company a substantial amount of money" are ho-hum. Everyone says that. But using an actual figure, like "saved the company $4.7 million last year" or "cut IT support costs by 65%" gets attention, and adds credibility. Use quotes—actual quotes—that sound like things people would actually say. Made-up quotes are obvious.

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With these five techniques, you should be better prepared to write case studies that drive engagement and shares, as well as cultivate leads. The content may take some extra time to prepare, but the result will move you closer to your marketing goals.

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Five Tips for Writing Case Studies That Aren't Boring as Hell

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image of Thomas J. Armitage

Thomas J. Armitage is a digital marketer who helps lead content efforts at Site-Seeker Inc. He is also an adjunct professor at Utica College, where he teaches social media and content marketing.

Twitter: @thomasjarmitage

LinkedIn: Thomas J. Armitage