I don’t know about you, but before I buy anything over $50 the first thing I do is slurp up as many online product reviews as possible before letting go of my credit card number. In a study last year by Bright Local, it found 88 percent of consumers read reviews to learn the quality of a local business before visiting. For costly, consumer electronics items, 74 percent of buyers read reviews online before making a purchase decision.
The most interesting finding from the electronics’ study was “Consumers trusted and valued the reviews of actual customers over the reviews by experts and professionals.”
B2B buyers read case studies
You better believe your B2B buyers are taking part in the same due diligence as consumers. B2B buyers are reading reviews and pouring over research. But in the B2B world, most reviews come as comprehensive case studies.
Yes, the venerable case study—a tactic that’s been part of integrated marketing campaigns since David Olgivy was writing copy—is still relevant in the age of digital marketing.
Marketers and businesses rank the case study as one of the most effective content marketing tactics. In a 2014 study from Starfleet Media on B2B Content Marketing and Lead Generation, 69 percent of respondents said case studies and client success stories were their top content marketing tactic (Figure 1). Another survey by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute found 77 percent of B2B companies surveyed are using case studies (Figure 2).
Why case studies are so effective
- Case studies are effective because they’re highly credible and trustworthy. And why not; it’s not your company spouting self platitudes, it’s your customers honestly sharing their experiences with your products and services.
- Buyers and prospects love to read stories and experiences about other companies and competitors. It’s human nature to want to compare your company—or yourself—to others. For instance, in a series of case studies I create for Vistage International, the series is the most popular content on the company’s website. Users spend an average of three–four minutes reading these stories!
- Customers are usually enthusiastic about helping the sponsoring company out with a case study. That’s because your customer’s name—and a link to their website—will appear in the article, and in search results.
- Case studies are cost efficient, particularly for small to midsize companies.
How to write a case study
- Many case studies are written from a rigid construct—perfect for companies that want to build a large portfolio of case studies. I like to write these using a three-point story arc: situation, solution and results. Besides publishing the case study on your website, create a PDF version customers (and your sales team) can download and share. Read this example from ADC. Tip: If you hire a professional writer, plan to pay $750–$1,500 for a case study with 1,000–2,000 words or more. Costs will vary by geographical area. You’ll pay more for writers in Silicon Valley than Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
- Some case studies do not lend themselves to a structured narrative. Try writing these using a feature article approach. Read this example from Vistage International.
- Videos are effective if done well, and web users love video content. These (2–4 minutes) case studies provide less detail than their written counterpart, but make up for it with “punch” and a more visceral connection with your prospects. View this example from EOS Worldwide.
- Case studies can also be presented and packaged in infographic form. Infographics are memorable and perfect for dispensing data and visually interesting information. With the plethora of available online tools, everyone can knock out great infographics with little investment. View this example of an email vs. Tweet case study.
Case study development best practices
Finally, here are a few best practices to follow that will help you create compelling and effective case studies:
- Make your customer the hero of the case study; spend more time talking about your customer and less time talking about your company.
- Interview your customer in person (if possible). People are less guarded when you’re sitting across the table.
- Record the interview and use a reliable transcription service. I recommend Rev for speed, quality and best price.
- Use plenty of customer quotes in your piece for added color and credibility.
- Illustrate your case studies with photographs, diagrams and charts to help tell the story.