“If only we had some compelling case histories—then we’d have no trouble convincing prospects to buy our solution.”
I’ve yet to meet a B2B marketer—or leadership team—who doesn’t yen for a killer case study; one that gets every prospect nodding and wanting the same for their business.
Is this popular delusion or a realistic aspiration?
If your company has been in business long enough to have successfully delivered value to a few customers then, yes, it’s realistic.
The challenge lies not in writing the case study, but in making it compelling enough for your audience to take notice and take action
The challenge lies not in writing the case study, but in making it compelling enough for your audience to take notice and take action.
Let’s explore some important attributes that make for a compelling and believable client case study, and how to deliver them.
If you can check all the boxes on this list, you’ll be well on your way to living that case history dream.
The single biggest mistake I see companies making—one that leads to widespread disappointment—is publishing case histories about which nobody cares.
To be compelling, your case study must be relevant to the target audience.
It must address a specific challenge that they are facing and demonstrate how your solution can benefit them.
This ensures that your readers will directly relate to the featured client's experience.
To achieve relevance, you’ll need to thoroughly understand your target audience's needs and pain points. Here’s a quick guide to understanding and mapping their buyer’s journey.
Select a client whose challenges align closely with those of your target audience so that readers can see themselves in the story you tell.
Then, tailor the case study to highlight how your solution specifically and effectively addressed those challenges.
Next on the list of pitfalls to avoid: the BS trap.
Your case study must be believable, otherwise you’ll quickly lose the trust of your audience.
Believable case studies establish credibility by showcasing real-world results, tangible outcomes, and objective data—stuff that an expert reader can immediately judge to be real and reliable.
Use whatever means possible to help your reader trust the authenticity of the client's success story and your ability to deliver the same value to them.
To enhance credibility, use direct metrics, such as cost savings or performance improvements, and show how the data was collected.
Analyze and present the information in a clear and transparent manner, from the client's perspective. No unlabeled chart axes or fudge factor math, please.
Use before-and-after photographs whenever they will help readers to visualize and validate the outcome, resisting any temptation to Photoshop them for enhanced effect.
Finally, although they are often difficult to secure, incorporating testimonials or quotes from key stakeholders adds a human element that’s hard to beat from a credibility standpoint.
Select quotes that highlight the positive impact of your solution, emphasizing specific benefits or results. And always obtain permission from the client to include their testimonials in your case study.
The more specific you are about the client's situation, challenges, and the solutions you have implemented, the easier it will be for your readers to visualize how your offering addressed the client's needs and how it might do the same for them.
This means including as many details, specifications, sizes, and contextual information as possible.
You might think a reader will counter with “ah, that’s not quite the same as my situation” but, paradoxically, they’re even more likely to say “ah, it’s probably not the same as my situation” if you leave the details out.
To get to the specifics, conduct interviews with the client to gather information about their initial pain points, goals, and the precise features or strategies that led to success.
Ask them to give concrete examples, actual numbers, and specific anecdotes to help clearly illustrate the impact of your solution.
Before we even get to the meat of your case study, you need an engaging headline to grab readers' attention and entice them to delve in deeper.
A compelling headline should succinctly convey the key benefit or outcome achieved by the client that’s of relevance to your audience.
To write strong headlines, focus on the client's most significant result or transformation and use action verbs to convey the value proposition.
Since headline writing is more of an art than a science, you should experiment with different variations and A/B test them to see which is more effective.
Nothing will disappoint your readers more than reading a catchy headline only to find themselves lost in a disjointed, difficult-to-follow article.
A well-organized case study is easy to follow and understand. It has a clear structure that helps readers navigate the content, ensuring that key information is presented logically.
Figure out the structure before you start writing the main text.
Divide your case study into sections that address the client's challenge, the implemented solution, and the achieved results. Then, use headings, subheadings, and bullet points to guide readers through the story.
If a section is longer than about 200 words, consider breaking it up.
Revisit the structure and flow once you’ve completed the first draft. Read the piece out loud, since this can often help you spot awkward phrasing and opportunities to reorganize or simplify the material.
Give it to someone unfamiliar with the story being told and ask for feedback on clarity and flow. It doesn’t matter whether the value proposition makes sense to them—in fact, they will probably notice structural issues more easily if they aren’t distracted by the amazing results you’re reporting.
The power of storytelling to captivate readers has been written about widely – not least in Donald Miller’s classic, Building a Story Brand.
Storytelling helps your audience connect emotionally with the client's journey
Storytelling helps your audience connect emotionally with the client's journey.
It brings the case study to life and makes it more memorable and relatable.
To create a compelling story, structure the case study as a narrative. Highlight the client's challenges, their journey with your solution, and the positive transformation they experienced.
Use vivid language, anecdotes, and quotes to engage readers and evoke emotions.
Lastly, unless you or a team member has a background in something like journalism, consider hiring a professional copywriter and editor to take your case study to the next level.
Professional storytellers can take an apparently banal situation and turn it into something that’s engaging, without making it sound like a soap opera.
Incorporating visual elements can dramatically enhance the readability and impact of your case study.
Let’s face it, who wants to read paragraphs and paragraphs of uninterrupted text?
Charts, graphs, images, and infographics can simplify complex information and make it easier for readers to understand and remember.
Gather relevant data and create a visual representation that complements the narrative. Which format you choose will depend on the type and quantity of data you’re trying to display and the message you want the visual element to convey.
While charts and graphs are great for displaying large sets of quantitative results, you should prefer before-and-after images for demonstrating visual transformations, and infographics to summarize the key points of a multi-step process.
For your reader to find the case study compelling, it should convince them that the success achieved by your featured client is replicable for other customers.
Ideally, you should showcase how your solution can deliver consistent results across different scenarios. This might mean combining multiple clients’ experiences into one report or referencing similar client situations alongside your primary story.
Analyze the commonalities between the featured client's situation and others in your target audience and highlight key success factors that are transferable.
If applicable, you should also emphasize how your solution can be customized to suit a particular situation.
While a case study should highlight the positive outcomes of implementing your solution, it's important to maintain a balanced perspective.
Readers’ suspicions are easily aroused when a story sounds “too good to be true”.
By acknowledging any challenges or limitations your solution faces, you demonstrate transparency and authenticity.
Consider including a section that discusses any obstacles or hurdles faced by the client, false starts, or things that had to be adapted along the way.
Perfect implementation stories are less relatable than ones with a few missteps included
Perfect implementation stories are less relatable than ones with a few missteps included.
Explain how your team overcame those challenges, how your solution was flexible enough to address unanticipated issues, and any lessons learned.
This type of holistic view of the client's journey adds significant credibility and realism.
Each of the attributes we’ve discussed contributes to making a compelling and believable case study.
In combination, they will help you create case studies that resonate with your target audience and are effective at engaging prospects.
Remember to include a clear call to action. It would be a pity to get prospects nodding in agreement but then fail to turn that into a conversation about next steps and how you can help them.
Lastly, if you’ve written an effective case study, don’t rest on your laurels. Too many companies trot out the same story time aftertime, until the audience begins to roll its eyes.
This can make you sound like a one-trick pony, leaving the audience to wonder whether your reported success was the only time that your solution worked.
Add new case studies on a regular basis—highlighting new product features or clever ways clients have found to take advantage of your solutions—and refresh or remove older ones as they become stale.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock