I wipe my palms against my jeans and check my watch for the hundredth time that day. Did I get the time right? Am I in the right office? Is it too hot in here? I pull on the collar of my shirt, and yet again pick up my recording device to check its battery power.
Am I about to interview the US President? A Pulitzer Prize-winning author? Orlando Bloom? Not even close. I’m conducting a case study interview with one of our company’s clients. I’m nervous because I know getting this case study right will be the difference between prospects choosing us over a competitor.
A case study is a summary of how a real life person uses a product or service. Potential clients can use case studies to see if a product is going to work for them. We interview a client about how they use WorkflowMax, what problems they were experiencing, and how the product has solved those issues. Then, we use the interview transcript to create content - videos, long-form case studies, short testimonials, blog posts, and downloadable reports - that aid potential clients in deciding if our product is right for them.
Case studies take a lot of work to pull together.
You need to find customers willing to commit, then take the time to interview them, then edit and transcribe your interview footage into your chosen format, and from that information distill an important message, which you then need to disseminate to your prospects in several formats. It’s a huge investment in time and resources, and it’s no surprise many companies question the importance of having case studies in the first place.
I’m here to tell you that, sweaty palms or nay, case studies are an essential part not only of your marketing strategy, but of the overall user experience for a product or service. I’ve written more than ten studies for the WorkflowMax website and can provide you with a plan for crafting a case study that engages potential clients and can be a valuable asset to your company for years to come.
Why Are Case Studies Important?
Recently, Eccolo Media conducted a survey of more than 500 B2B technology buyers about the types of content they consume and how this impacts their purchasing decisions. The 2014 report revealed case studies are in the top three consumed content types. That’s huge. When it comes to purchasing decisions, only white papers have more of an impact than case studies in influencing final decisions.
When a user arrives on your website, they may or may not have knowledge of your company and your products or services. They have a problem to solve, and they are hoping you’ll be able to solve it. From this angle, case studies demonstrate the value of your product in a way ordinary sales copy cannot. For us, written case studies explain how different types of businesses use the suite of tools within WorkflowMax. A potential client simply clicks on the type of business he owns and can read how similar businesses use the product.
In this way, case studies are a kind of social proof - the customer sees other companies - his competitors - succeeding thanks to your services, and he wants in on the action.
Case studies have a high ROI. Compared to other types of marketing, they are often very low-cost (costs explained in the section below) for the potential rewards, and they can continue to generate interest in and revenue for your company for many years to come.
Once you’ve conducted the initial case study interview, you can use the material for several different purposes, in different ways. For example, if you need a quick quote for a press article or a blog post on a certain aspect of your services, you can pull the quote from a case study - no need to frantically ring around your customers for a soundbite.
Case Study Elements & Costs
A case study may not have a huge upfront cost, but it is a big commitment in terms of time, so you need to be prepared for what you’re getting into.
- Time to source appropriate clients for the interview
- Time to prepare the questions and conduct the interview
- If creating a video, you will need to hire a company to shoot and edit this video. (And if you’ve ever done video before, you know editing takes a long time).
- Time for some still photography that reflects their brand but still fits with your brand
- Time to transcribe the interview (or a budget to pay for transcription services)
- Time to write the case study content based off the rough transcript.
- Time to polish this content and create an attractive page on your website.
- Time and resources to push out the case study on social media and in EDM campaigns.
- Budget for a thank-you gift for your interviewee.
Phew, that’s quite a list! A case study certainly has a significant time investment compared with many of your other written marketing collateral. However, bear in mind that case studies are some of the most effective marketing collateral you have, they provide an invaluable user experience for someone deciding to invest in your product/services, and a case study only needs to be created once to be used as a marketing tool for years to come.
Are you ready? Let's go through the steps for creating your case study:
Step 1: Find an Appropriate Client to Interview
The first step is to locate a client who’s keen to be in a case study. When thinking about which clients might be good for the job, talk to your sales team or account managers about companies that are enthusiastic about your work, who’ve used you multiple times for big projects, and are on friendly terms with your company. They are doing you a huge favour, so make sure they are a client you’re comfortable asking.
Also, look for clients who have gained impressive results - 300% ROI, massive media exposure, and international acclaim thanks to your work. These are the success stories future prospects will be impressed by, so make sure they’re impressive!
For example, when we select candidates for our case studies, we’re looking for clients who use the full range of WorkflowMax tools. Our software has quite a few different features, and some clients only use one or two. We’re looking for clients who are enthusiastic about the product and who have used it to dramatically improve their company’s efficiency and bottom-line:
Your potential interview candidate:
- is genuinely excited about your product/services.
- has referred your company to their peers in the past.
- is extroverted and outgoing. These tend to be the people who have no issue talking up your company.
- is keen to partner with you for ongoing projects. It’s fantastic to have customers on tap who are interested in talking to local or national media, helping you to present at conferences, or taking calls from prospects.
When you choose a client, explain to them exactly what the case study involves, how they’ll be featured, and if they have opportunities to use the study for promotional purposes. Many clients will be keen to be featured, especially if the case study might appear in media outlets - any exposure is good exposure!
Step 2: Mastering the Case Study Interview
Now it’s time for the hardest part - conducting the interview. The most difficult part of the interview process is figuring out which questions to ask.
Avoid closed questions that elicit a yes/no answer. Instead, ask leading questions that inspire your client to elaborate. Ask for specific examples. One thing we like to ask is if they can put a number on things to make what they’re talking about quantifiable, measurable and relevant to other readers. Ask them for specifics, especially in terms of project results. Many clients won’t divulge actual numbers initially, so press them to give you a number. Actual examples make for more impressive case studies.
Don’t be afraid to freestyle it a bit and deviate from your plan but it always helps to have a list of questions prepared beforehand. Include questions like:
- What was the problem you came to the agency/consultancy/business with?
- How did we solve the problem?
- Give us some examples of features of your project you were particularly excited about.
- What was your favorite part of working with us?
Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions and draw out interesting stories from the client. You never know what might come in handy.
Identify the metrics that matter most to your prospects. It’s important that you craft your interview questions to generate these metrics. If it comes to it, outright ask - many interview subjects will be hesitant to state actual numbers but when outright asked, will produce a number that you will love.
At the end of the interview, finish by asking “is there anything you’d like to discuss that we haven’t talked about yet?” Often, this will glean some additional nuggets!
Step 3: Writing a Powerful Case Study
A good case study is written as a story, with a beginning, middle and end. When I’m writing a case study I first read through the transcript and pull out any particularly compelling quotes. I’m looking for examples of the problem the company had, and how the agency solved it.
Prospects need to be able to visualise the specific value your agency can deliver. Numbers really help - if a client says they increased leads by 300% after a campaign your agency did, then that’s a tangible, measurable result. The prospect reads that and thinks, “Ooooh, I would like 300% more leads.”
Figuring out how to present these metrics is just as important as getting them in the first place. Remember that for some businesses, a $10,000 saving over a year is a huge deal, whereas for others, that’s nothing. Sometimes transferring monetary savings into percentages or hours saved, or vice versa, can result in a more meaningful metric for potential clients.
Pull out important quotes and highlight these, too. Think of the quotes like little soundbites - you want a short, snappy sentence that will have a prospect thinking, “I’d like a bit of that!”
Step 4: Increasing the ROI of case studies
These tips are “extra for advanced case study creators” - they will help you improve the ROI of your case studies:
- Place your case studies in a prominent position on your website. Add a relevant CTA at the end of the study – for example, directing them to start a free trial. If someone is reading your case studies, they are interested in your company and keen to take the next step.
- Use visual elements to pull out interesting quotes or awesome metrics. In our case studies, we use boxes, speech bubbles and short lists to make the right information pop.
- When a customer talks about one of your services, or a feature of your product, during the case study, link to the page on your website. This helps your prospects quickly gather more information about features or services that directly interest them. You can also track these links to see which case studies are generating interest.
- Repurpose the content into other collateral. You’ve taken the effort to gather all the details from the interview, not all of which will make their way into the case study. We use information gathered in case studies as jumping-off points for other content. You can add quotes to blog posts, create white papers, customer videos, brochures, and more.
Are you using case studies to demonstrate your company's value to potential clients? Could your case studies do with a little work? With a short time investment you could soon have a valuable resource available for your website, social media, and media engagements. A good case study will be an asset your company can use for many years to come.