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If you're like most people, you enjoy a good story. The more captivating, the better. Especially if it's relevant and there's something useful you can learn from it.

That holds true not only for paperback novels and Netflix but also for the ways marketers market.

Enter the case study, an often overlooked yet powerful tool that B2B content marketers would benefit from by incorporating it into their strategy.

What Is a Case Study?

At its best, a case study is a story. It's a poignant narrative describing how a business that is struggling in some aspect meets another business that helps it overcome its challenge and achieve—if not exceed—its goal.

A case study is the epitome of the hero's journey, but in the realm of business rather than romance or drama. It's a nonfiction tale of a relationship, expert help, success and transformation, and a customer who in the end is thrilled with the results.

Typically, the featured business enlists the help of a second party to resolve a problem, and it's that second party that crafts the case study to show relevant prospects why they, too, should hire the second party. After all, it's a success story with data and metrics to back up its claims and, best of all, it contains a radiant testimonial.

Why Should You Market With Case Studies?

The use of case studies is most appropriate in the consideration stage of the buyer's journey. It's at the point where the prospect has become aware of the product or service you're promoting and considers it an option.

At that juncture, prospects are usually looking into multiple companies and comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each. Whereas in the awareness stage they aren't willing to invest the time or effort to learn about your offerings, in the consideration stage they're actively seeking reasons to choose or reject you. They now want information, and it's in your best interest to provide them with pertinent content that keeps them engaged, persuades them that you're the solution to their problem, and guides them seamlessly into the conversion stage.

The simplest way to convince potential buyers is to give them exactly what they want. In this instance, they want stats and facts and first-hand reassurances that they should look no further, because they've found their answer.

To top it off, the package should be presented to them as an adventure with a "happily ever after" ending—what we all want.

Six Elements of Highly Effective B2B Case Studies

It takes more than bar graphs and pie charts to make a case study convincing. Everybody tells stories, but just as sensory details and riveting writing lead to Pulitzer-worthy journalism, there are certain components that ensure a case study accomplishes its objective.

Although there are numerous elements to case studies, here are the six absolute must-haves for them to be effective.

1. Empathy

"Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else's position and feeling what they must be feeling," writes Kendra Cherry at Verywell Mind.

As marketers, to the degree that we're able to have empathy, our case studies will speak to the hearts and minds of our target audience.

It's how we answer unasked questions, overcome unvoiced objections, and fully assure the prospect.

2. Problem/Resolution

For a case study to be compelling, the initial problem of the featured company must be clearly stated and the positive resolution—the transformative benefit—spotlighted.

There should be zero ambiguity about who was helped, what was at stake, when it took place, where it occurred, and how the product or service benefitted the heroic company.

3. Readability

Writing a case study is no time to show off your highfalutin' vocabulary or try to impress your audience with an onslaught of mesmerizing metaphors.

Keep it simple: "The average American is considered to have a readability level equivalent to a 7th/8th grader (12 to 14 years old)," according to the Center for Plain Language.

Also, use...

  • Headers
  • Bulleted lists
  • Bold and italicized words
  • Short paragraphs (no more than five lines)

Finally, the subject matter isn't you, so avoid self-indulgence.

4. Data and Graphics

Include precise details with plenty of data supporting your story that the featured company's problem was solved to its delight.

Use visuals when you are able. People respond well to pictures of others smiling. Include at least one with a happy customer as the face of the company.

Also use...

• Exact numbers (e.g., instead of saying "increased growth twofold," say "increased subscriptions from 60 to 125 per month")

  • Percentages
  • Charts
  • Graphs
  • Dates

5. Testimonial

There's nothing better than hearing firsthand that a product or service improved a customer's life and he or she is thrilled with the experience of the intermediary company.

Definitely ask for a positive review and include it in your case study. Positive reviews and testimonials make people trust a business more. Think of how much more likely you are to choose a particular brand simply because you've read positive feedback from customers who've used it before.

6. Call to Action

Case studies are written for various reasons. A medical case study might provide an examination of the effects of a new medication or procedure on a particular disease. In such an instance, the goal is to inform.

When written for marketing purposes, though, case studies have the goal of convincing the prospect to take the next step in the buyer's journey. That means transitioning from the consideration stage to the conversion stage.

With that in mind, craft your call to action around accessing lengthier informative resources, such as comparisons and reviews between the representative company and its competitors, or instructional webinars that are an hour long.

Or simply indicate that if readers would like more information, they can "click here" to talk to a company representative.

Case Studies Are Highly Effective Marketing Tools

A well-crafted case study that speaks to its reader's heart and mind works wonders within the buyer's journey. It can mean the difference between prospects' becoming somewhat aware before trailing off to Never-Never Land, and their becoming interested enough in a company's products or services to consider choosing the company over its competitors.

When written with a clear understanding of their objective and how to use their key elements, case studies are compelling stories that every content marketer should use to their full advantage. The payoff will be worth it.

More Resources on B2B Case Studies

How to Build a B2B Case Study Program to Promote Your Company

The Psychology of Case Studies: Five Ways to Amp Up the Impact of Your Customer Stories

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

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image of John Langenfeld

John Langenfeld is a content marketing specialist in Austin, TX.

LinkedIn: John Langenfeld