Case studies are one of the most polarizing things you can produce in support of your B2B marketing efforts.
Because you love your case studies, but many of your prospects find them to be boring and irrelevant, not differentiating and not compelling.
All of us in B2B business development find that difficult to accept. We're proud of the work we've done. Our prospects should respect and aspire to the same. I mean, that's why we're in business in the first place, right?
But you must accept at least the possibility that your case studies aren't having the impact you want them to.
It's not because the results you achieved aren't worth talking about. It's that the way you're talking about them isn't connecting with prospects as it should. And that's because you're speaking your language and using it the way that you understand and respond to. You're not speaking their language (that is, the prospects') or giving them what they need to see the case as meaningful.
Do your case studies follow this basic format?
- The Assignment
- The Solution
To quote the song, it's a tale as old as time:
- "Our client needed a new website. Here's the site we developed!"
- "Our client asked us to recommend a new brand name. Here's the brand name we created."
- "Our client needed to reduce its budget. Here's what we cut and what we were left with."
- "Our client needed a tie-in to [this property]. Here's what we did."
It's easy to see why that format is appealing. It's easy. It's truthful. It showcases your solutions, which is work you're proud of.
What it doesn't do is provide relevance for your prospects—reasons for them to believe your solutions would work as well for them as they did for the original client. And it doesn't provide meaningful differentiation: After all, everyone is going to have great cases with great solutions.
There's a better way: a case study format with four parts that takes your work and showcases it much more effectively.
The most effective case studies have these characteristics:
- They show how you solve a problem that your prospect can relate to.
- They provide a replicable process: They provide proof that because you solved that problem for someone else... you can also solve it for the prospect.
- They provide measurable results that matter for the prospect.
Part 1: The Challenge
The most reliable way to grab a prospect's attention and make yourself relevant is to first focus on the problem that your client asked you to solve. That's the real reason a prospect will select a provider: to solve a problem that's not being solved.
Not merely the assignment—but what made the assignment so challenging that only a firm with your expertise could solve it.
"Our client needed a new website. It had to communicate in a way that was true to the brand's heritage, but also advance the brand into its new identity. The client had an urgent need to get the new site up and running before the annual sales meeting, and it had to take into account that its salesforce had expressed really liking the current site."
Part 2: The Insight
The case study addresses a problem you solved. How did you do it? By luck? By some creative wizardry? By following the same processes that everyone else follows?
This is the part that allows the prospect to believe that what you did in the case can be replicated for them. That's because you based your solution on insights that you can uncover also on behalf of the people who will read the case.
"We applied our 'Total Listening' process to better understand our client's market, visitors to the website, and the salesforce. Total Listening revealed several consistencies among those three important sectors, which informed our approach to website design and content. It also helped us prioritize areas that might matter to two of the three or one of the three groups."
Part 3: The Solution
This is the easy part. It's what you had in your case study all along.
Part 4: The Results
Senior-level decision-makers don't pay for solutions. They pay for results. And those results have to be relevant to the decision-makers, not to your organization.
That's why this might be the trickiest element of the case study, and also the most important. Because this section needs to be quantitative and relevant. You should be able to show some numbers. And you should be able to show the impact of those numbers on your client's business.
"The new website generated 15% longer time spent on the site, with 10% more pageviews and, importantly, 20% more requests for information. The salesforce was surveyed about the old and new websites. The new site generated a 12% increase in top two boxes satisfaction. Most importantly, our client reported a flood of positive comments from employees and users."
* * *
The four-part case study format can be applied to nearly any B2B case. You might have to reframe your work because you might not have been cognizant of all the elements required for these cases. That's OK. You should now be much more aware of how you'll turn your current and new projects into compelling four-part cases, which will make it more likely you'll have the information you need.
Ultimately, stronger cases will be differentiating and persuasive. You'll be one of the few in your space with a thorough, resonant, and readable case study. And, in the worst case, if several competitors approach cases the same way, you'll be judged on your content, quality, and results, not on your style and design. And that's the way it should be.
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