Compelling case studies invite prospects to place themselves in the story and imagine the rewards of their own successful outcome. Case studies thus become a marketer's secret weapon for creating an emotional link with valuable prospects.
A well-told case study, complete with a high-stakes problem and a high-value solution, makes "getting to yes" easier.
My friend Gail Martin has mastered this art. Here is her proven recipe for success:
The Problem with Case Studies
Most of the cast studies we see are neither compelling nor creative. Many are created for clinical or academic audiences and are tedious works filled with statistical comparisons. Others come from the information technology or engineering world, and get lost in the details of the process.
Case studies can be powerful public relations and marketing tools—when created with the reader in mind.
The majority of case studies fail as marketing tools because they are not told from the perspective of the user's urgent need. We as readers don't have a chance to identify with the user because we don't get to know him or her. Often, case studies don't even follow a person with a name through the process!
When a client is named, we're told the superficial problem but not the underlying need. If the stated problem is a system slowdown, what does it cost in stress, worry, money, lost opportunities? If it's a product failure, what's the potential impact on the company for revenue, regulatory problems, failure to meet shipping commitments?
Most case studies are bloodless. There's no main character for us to care about or identify with. The problem is stated so clinically that we can't grasp what it really means to the user. Remember that to seek help, people must overcome ego (the "if we try hard enough we can fix it ourselves" syndrome) and commit to spend money. Neither is undertaken lightly. Your case study has to motivate people into taking action.
Think about it this way. In Case A, John Smith is told that he has had a myocardial infarction. The reader is told about a series of statistical indicators. Medical science saves the day and John Smith is cured. Do you care?
Now imagine Case B:
Jon Smythe crumples to the ground with a heart attack while walking his dog. As he is wheeled into surgery, all kinds of questions go through his mind. What if I can't go back to work? Who will take care of my family if I die? Can I ever play racquetball again? Am I going to be OK? Jon's doctor explains to his wife that because of Procedure Z, Jon will be all right without the need for major surgery. Not only that, but he will cut two weeks off his recuperation time and have less pain, getting him back to all the things he loves doing—including work—in no time. Which case made you care?
The Secret to Compelling Case Studies
To make a case study compelling, you have to tell a story about people. For us to care about people we've never met, we need to understand their problem in a way that lets us identify with them, imagining ourselves in the same situation.
We need to understand what's at stake in an emotional way, and we need to be able to visualize in an equally emotional way how good it will be when the problem is solved. Charts, graphs and jargon don't do that.
A case study becomes compelling when you think about it as an adventure. Your company/product/service is the hero. The looming problem is the dragon. If we don't have a clear picture of how big and awful the dragon is, we won't care about the rest of the story. Make sure we can feel the fear. Your client is the damsel in distress. The client needs to be enough of a person to us and in enough trouble that we care and identify.
Your expertise and adaptability are shown in their best light when you share some plot twists; in other words, you tell us about some of the things that didn't work when you tried to solve the problem. Anyone can solve an easy problem. It takes resourcefulness to solve one without an obvious solution. Show us your blind alleys and your flashes of inspiration.
Finally, there's happily ever after. Help us get an emotional feel for just how good life is without the looming problem. If you do it right, at that point your reader is saying, "I've got to get some of that for myself."
Which problem you choose and how the pain is felt will depend on the role of the reader. The same case study would be different depending on whether the reader is the end user of the solution, the gatekeeper looking for good solutions to recommend, the decision-maker who wants the problem to go away, or the check-signer, who must make sure that neither problem nor solution compromises earnings and productivity.
Case studies become powerful public relations tools when you use them to suggest feature articles or examples in industry articles. They can be part of your press kit, your Web site, your media pitches, and your product materials. They're also a great way for prospective clients and partners to check out you before they make contact.
Avoiding Case Study Pitfalls
Case studies won't work if readers can't find them. Avoid the urge to lock them behind registrations that require an intimidating amount of data. Post them where they are easy to find on the Web. Keep them short—one to two pages. Focus on the user benefits in tangible, emotional terms, not on a list of product features. Avoid self-congratulatory or promotional language, as well as jargon and "sales speak." Always get permission from clients before using their names, company names, or stories.
Think twice about making readers download the case study as a PDF. In other words, make it as easy as possible for readers to find your success stories and put themselves into the picture.
Every case study should include contact information for your company so that readers can get in touch while they're still excited about what they've read.
Case studies can connect with prospects unlike any other type of marketing material. Tell a compelling story that draws your reader into the action, and put the marketing power of case studies to work for your company.
And have a GREAT day.
“We don't want to miss this one the way we did when
we said Google AdWords has nothing to do with us.”
~~ Steve Hayden, Vice chairman- Ogilvy & Mather ..............................................................................
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