The Ingredients of a Killer B2B Case Study

  • AvatarMarco

 

Case studies are an essential part of your content marketing arsenal, especially if you are navigating the world of B2B where products and services are usually tailored. Case studies are empathic content that effectively conveys your capabilities as a solutions provider. That’s because the use of your client’s voice lends credence to the authenticity and viability of your content. Marketers today are well aware of how powerful case studies can be and they are very much keen on using it to fuel their marketing campaigns.

Crafting case studies on the other hand is a completely different matter. Time and again, some marketers tend to get over-zealous regarding their cause and eventually oversell themselves and their clients. They also tend to inundate their content with too much marketing speak. Yes, the world of B2B is certainly no stranger to business jargon but there’s a big difference between speaking in a proper corporate tone and spouting out marketing fluff.

Marketers must be adept at highlighting their client’s success stories without becoming overtly self-serving.

So without further ado, here are a couple of quick tips and best practices which marketers can use to “cook” their case studies into perfection.

Preparation is Everything

This is no understatement. The best case studies are always the ones that are thoroughly researched and well-conceptualized. Put a considerable amount of time and effort on organizing how your story will flow so that you can isolate the salient points that you need to ask during the interview. Craft your interview questions in such a way that they will clearly address the three main ingredients of your case study:

  • the Business Challenge
  • the Implemented Solution
  • the Business Results

Prepare a list of questions and send it to your clients in advance so that they have ample time to ready themselves. Whenever applicable, conduct the interview in a conversational manner. Your client’s comfort level will most certainly translate to an authentic and palpable testimonial. This would also help you in your search for quotable statements which you will use later while writing the copy.

Structure Matters

Effective case studies tell compelling stories with a distinct beginning, middle and end. The beginning is where you can discuss a brief backgrounder on the client, why it made sense for them to work with you and the pain points that they needed to address. The middle part would be comprised mainly by how you address your client’s needs through the implemented solutions. Then you can wrap up everything by illustrating how your clients have benefited from your efforts.

Don’t be fooled though by the simplicity of this three-tiered structure because this type of chronology has been proven time and again. Case studies, even high-level or highly technical B2B variants, need not be convoluted in order to be engaging. It’s to the contrary actually. If you stick with this flow religiously, you have one less reason to go wrong.

Cooking Up Your Story

Focus on the content per se and not on selling it. It is vital that you keep true to your client’s story, not yours. The best thing about case studies is that when you execute if perfectly, readers will most certainly associate your client’s success with your company’s ability to give people what they need. When writing the content, the best practice is to assume your client’s perspective. Underscore key facts and takeaways that directly relate to the challenge, solution and results.

It is always prudent, especially for B2B case studies, to filter your content through a business context. You can achieve this by highlighting quantitative results and concrete benefits. Examples of these can be the amount of money saved because of an implemented solution, the boost in productivity resulting from a change in workflows, etc.  Also, be the judge of your own copy. If you are undecided if certain parts of your story are working, chances are that they don’t and you either need to revise it or scrap it completely.

One trait of a case study that sets it apart from other kinds of marketing content (like a whitepaper for example) is the liberal use of quotes. It’s only natural for you to use actual client statements because they give the much needed weight and personality to your case study. It’s also a fact that people would rather hear from peers who have actually experienced similar pain points rather than from people who just claim to have the solution that they need. For B2B case studies, high-level executives and top brass would provide you with the best kind of quotable snippets that would render your case study with a unique and engaging voice.

Short and Sweet Works

It is wise to be mindful of the length of the copy. Case studies typically run for two to three pages for the printed ones and a ceiling of around 400-500 words for the online versions. Business types immensely value their time. The moment that you go beyond the thin line between great story and un-focused epic, they will most certainly stop reading. But in spite of this, your writing will still depend on the kind of audience that your case study will be aimed at.

Some people do like to consume specific details while others just prefer to skim through summaries. It would be best for marketers to straddle the middle-ground to get the best results. One thing you can do is to craft a summary paragraph at the start of each main section. This, combined with the “Executive Summary”, can satiate even the most discerning of tastes if done properly.

It Boils Down to Presentation

Now that you have written your case study, it’s time to present them in an interesting, compact and easily digestible format. More and more B2B companies are starting to embrace the convenience that the internet provides. Since they are heavily leveraged for content marketing, most B2B case studies today are readily available as .PDF downloads or online entries. But they are still crafted in the same old school way. Aside from the fact that the content must be spot-on, case studies should at least be visually appealing.

Keep in mind though that visual in this case do not necessarily translate to cluttered and distracted graphic design. High-level executives couldn’t care less if your case study is a heavily designed glossy masterpiece or a bulleted story written in ordinary white paper. What they are most interested about is the business context of the case study: how your company addressed your client’s problems and how the client benefited.

So in this case, layout would be the most important design element. Limit the use of images to just a single high-impact graphic that would serve as the masthead. Make sure though that the image is relevant to the case study. Pictures that look more like stock library photos would reduce the opinion that your readers have regarding the quality of your content.

Arrange the layout in such a way that the “Executive Summary” is clearly defined at side of the document. The left side would be best since most readers read from left to right, but this rule of course is not set in stone.

Lastly, a great tactic would be to highlight quotes as well as relevant points along the way so that your reader can easily take out what matters even if they just casually browse through everything.

Well Done

Case studies are a great way of showcasing your capabilities, experience and methodology. They give a perfect snapshot of how you can address certain pain points which other companies may also have. It is also a not-so-blatant endorsement of your company which you can use to help accelerate your business. Having the ability to craft a killer B2B case study is surely a great thing to have in today’s content-riddled times.

Do you have other essential case study ingredients in mind? Please let us know what you think!

 

Read more: Case studies and other content marketing solutions from GetIT Comms

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3 COMMENTS

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September 1, 2011

Marco

Hi Mark,First of all, thank you very much for the wonderful shout out. To hear that from someone with such a distinguished professional background is really something.Indeed, we also feel the same about the B2B case study 'magic trio' as well as the sometimes under-appreciated art of conducting great interviews. Though you can't blame them, many people get quite enamored with the actual execution rather than focus on the aspect of establishing the foundation first and gathering the building blocks needed to craft compelling content.The best thing about a case study is that the story is already in there. We just have to work on the rough edges to uncover the gem underneath.Again, much thanks Mark and have a great day. Cheers!

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September 1, 2011

Marco

Hi Mark,nnFirst of all, thanks for the wonderful shout out. To hear that from someone with such a distinguished professional background is really something.nnIndeed, we also feel the same way about the B2B case study 'magic trio' as well as the sometimes under-appreciated aspect of conducting great interviews.u00a0Though you can't blame them, many people get reallyu00a0enamoredu00a0and wrapped up on the actual execution rather than focusing first on getting the essential building blocks needed to create fantastic and compelling content.nnThe great thing about a case study is that the story is already there. One just needs to really work on the rough edges to uncover the gem underneath.nnAgain, much thanks Mark and have a great day! Cheers!

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August 31, 2011

samuraiwriter

I think you nailed it with 'results, quotes and storytelling' - the magic trio for a great b2b (tech) case study.nnWhat often makes the case study a really compelling read (for your target audience) is the extent to which the interview allows your client's customer to 'open up' and tell their story, sometimes warts and all!u00a0nnOf course, the writer's art is to then skillfully highlight the successful nature of this experience in a b2b context that others can relate to.nnGreat post!