Case studies have always been a powerful sales tool for marketers. Case studies are one of the most effective ways for you to showcase your work while providing potential customers with examples of the types of results they should expect from using your products or services. There are a lot of different templates for writing case studies, but the most common format includes the following information:
- Background/Overview: present background information on the organizations and individuals involved, any relevant timing and the major issues at hand.
- Problem/Challenge: the customer most likely had an issue that led them to selecting your product or service; what got the process started? Was it a strategic decision, or did they have no other option but to fix the problem?
- Solution: what solution did you provide for the customer? What were the parameters and cost of your solution? What factors did the customer have to consider? What other options did the customer consider? Why did they ultimately select your product or service?
- Outcome: did you solve the problem or not? Tell your outcome story with numbers. Provide specific examples of the results generated. This may be a dollar amount of cost savings or revenue generated, or it may be a percentage increase or decrease. Numbers will always tell your story better than text alone.
Case studies are often developed as marketing collateral, but if done right, can be just as effective as publicity tools. Case studies are particularly useful for securing publicity in trade publications for business-to-business companies. There are some things you’ll want to do differently when using case studies for publicity. Here are some tips off the top of my head:
- Pick the Right Outlet: before you start writing, find an outlet that features case studies on a regular basis. Review the outlet’s editorial calendar if possible, to see if there is an upcoming issue that might be a good fit for your case study.
- Tell a Good Story: when writing case studies for PR, it’s better to tell a good story than to sell the reader. The journalist doesn’t care about your products or services, they care about the problem your customer was facing. What real problems was the customer facing? What other options did the customer consider before selecting you? Why did they ultimately select you? How did you help them? What challenges did you need to overcome? Did anything go wrong? What was the outcome? The closer your case study is to an article, the more likely it will be to appeal to a journalist.
- Be Honest and Transparent: a journalist is more likely to be interested in your case study if it represents real world situations readers are facing today. It’s important to share the good with the bad in your case study. If your project took longer than expected, explain why. If the product costs were higher, share the info. Provided the outcome is powerful, sharing the honest story about how things really went down will give you more credibility with the journalist. They don’t want to read a brochure about how great you are.
- Don’t Pitch Everyone: select one outlet you think would be most interested in writing about your case study. Only one. Start with that publication and determine interest before moving to plan B. Be clear in your pitch that you’re only offering the case study for consideration to that one journalist. Journalists don’t want to write about something their competitor is writing about. If you give them some exclusivity, you’ll be more likely to generate interest (and at least get a response from the journalist).
- Offer Up Spokespeople: few journalists will be interested in copying your case study verbatim. They’re going to want to get the story from the source. Be prepared to offer up a customer executive and your own internal experts to discuss the project in detail. They will often be more interested in your customer source, and many times don’t want to talk to your resource. As long as you have a well-written case study as background, this is not a big deal. It’s their call.
- The Bigger, The Better: who is your best-known customer? That’s the case study you want to start with. While you’d think the most impressive results would be the better case study, big name companies in your customer’s industry is more attractive to journalists. If you don’t have any big-name customers, choose the case study with the strongest results and hope for the best.
- Offer Up Competitors: if you want to be part of a bigger story, suggest other organizations that have faced similar challenges and used competing offerings. This provides the journalist with more objective information they can use to write a better story, while positioning you as a stronger resource for the journalist (which may lead to long-term opportunities for you).
- Keep It Short and Sweet: a good length for the case study would be 800-1,000 words. Don’t send the case study to your journalist with your first email. Provide them with a single paragraph pitch that highlights your case study, offering to send them the complete info if they’re interested.
- Be Timely and Relevant: if you’re an IT company offering solutions for mobile application development or cloud computing, now is a good time to offer up a case study. If you have some good examples of how marketers are generating ROI through Twitter, likewise. A case study about helping a customer launch a website is not as interesting (though it may be to some outlets).
- Genuine Quotes: forget over-the-top testimonial quotes in your case study. Rather, provide genuine, straight-from-the-gut sound bites that will provide the journalist with some insight into what they can expect from interviews with your sources. Don’t manufacture quotes for your spokespeople; use their actual words.
- Offer Third-Party Validation: if you have access to market research that provides a benchmark or comparison to the results you generated for your customer, share it. If you reduced downtime by 10% and the industry average is 20% reduction, that’s useful information.
If you work for an organization that is struggling to generate mainstream business or trade publicity, case studies can be a great way to improve your results. Readers of business and trade publications want to know how other organizations have solved the problems they’re facing.
If you’re fortunate enough to secure publicity for your case study, the article will be a far more effective sales tool than the case study itself. Decision-makers continue to trust media for vendor recommendations.