5 More Tips for Case Studies that Captivate

March 16, 2011 by

Case studies are such a powerful B2B marketing tool that I didn’t want to stop with the five case study tips I gave you last month.  So today, I have five more for you. I hope you'll find them useful.

1. Give your story a compelling title.

If you want your case study to get the attention it deserves, you need to give it an attention-getting title. All too typical are titles like, "How ABC Company Improved Testing Efficiency with XYZ Technologies' MegaWidget". Boring!

A good case study title tells prospects what they most want to know: "What results can I get?" It should emphasize the most important benefit the customer gained from your product or service (without sounding overly enthusiastic). And it should be very specific.

State customer facts and figures in you title. How much did they improve? In what timeframe? At what cost? These specifics make your title more compelling, because they make it more believable.

2. Leave your brand name out of the title.

In last month's article, I emphasized the importance of not introducing your solution until you've talked about your customer, their challenge, and the journey that led them to you. That advice goes for your title, as well.

As I've said many times, your prospect doesn't care about you, or your product or service. Mentioning the name of your company or offering in your case study title just distracts the reader from what he's really interested in: the benefits your customer obtained. And it puts his anti-marketing defenses on high alert for an incoming sales pitch.

But the biggest advantage of leaving your product or service out of the title, is that it leaves you more room to make it truly compelling. One easy way to do that is to add a secondary benefit to the title, linking it to the primary benefit with "while" or "and". Here are two examples:

How ABC Company shortened test cycles by 31%, while reducing testing costs by 24%

How XYZ Technologies slashed development cost and schedule on their new
MegaWidget® by more than a third... while increasing its reliability by 43%

Compare these examples with the one in the previous tip, and I think you'll have to agree that these two are far more specific and compelling.

3. Consider alternative formats.

Most case studies follow the same classic format: Customer / Challenge / Solution / Results – four headings with a block of text under each.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that formula. But with some added creativity, you can attract wider readership.

Consider your audience. Some may not be in the habit of downloading case studies, for example, but may be avid readers of industry trade journals. And if you publish a lot of case studies, you may simply want to give your readers some variety.

Here are a few alternative formats for B2B case studies...

The Feature Story. Adapting your case study to a feature article format is a good way to get you customer stories published in trade journals. This format doesn't divide the story into the classic case study blocks, but uses journalistic techniques – like an attention-getting headline, strong lead paragraph, descriptive subheads and illustrations with captions – to draw readers in, and move the story along.

The Press Release. This is just an abbreviated version of the feature story, presented in classic press release format. Be sure to mention there's a feature-length version of the story available: trade journal editors will be more likely to pick it up.

The Q&A. This is a more personal format that focuses on a single individual, rather than an organization as a whole. It tends to work well with hard-core technical audiences, who are often distrustful of anyone but their peers. Straight-forward and low maintenance, the Q&A uses interview questions and responses verbatim or with minimal editing. The success of this format depends on the question sequence used to structure the story, and the interviewer's skill in drawing out good answers.

4. Use descriptive subheads and other “scanner-friendly” devices.

If a story is engaging and relevant to them, some prospects will read every word. But others will scan for the highlights, only stopping to read if something really grabs their attention. Like most other marketing materials, case studies should be written for both readers and scanners.

Even if you use the classic case study format, don't limit yourself to the standard one-word section headings (Customer, Challenge, etc.). Make your subheadings descriptive.

Descriptive subheads help scanners get the gist of your story, and also help draw them into it, so they'll read more. Create one-line synopses of each section. Add some drama. Give your prospect a hint of why she should read on, why she should care. You'll make your story more memorable.

Make sure to add other scanner-friendly elements, as well:

Descriptive captions under photos and illustrations get high readership.

Pull quotes – customer quotes highlighted in the page margin or a text box – draw scanners attention to the most important parts of your story.

Sidebars can be used to present an overview of the story, a customer profile, or a summary of results.

5. Flesh out an angle.

What makes a story interesting and compelling to its reader is its angle – its unique theme or focus.

"If every customer success story or case study sounds exactly the same, then it won't support sales, marketing and PR objectives as effectively," says case study writer Casey Hibbard, author of Stories that Sell.

"Customers have different needs and challenges, buy products and services for various reasons, and use those solutions in differing ways," she adds. "The best stories identify each customer's unique situation and then detail how the solution helped them arrive at positive results." [1]

Sales reps want an arsenal of customer stories told from a variety of angles. When faced with a particular prospect's challenge, they want to be able to quickly lay their hands on a success story of a customer who’s faced a similar challenge.

The problem is, for any product or customer story there will be multiple angles to choose from. And it’s tempting to talk about as many as possible. But trying to cover all your bases will make your story generic, hard to follow, and too much like a sales pitch.

So how do you choose your angle?

The best angle will become clear during the customer interview. You’ll normally find it in the one or two main benefits that were most important to the customer. But it may not be what you expected. Bear in mind that the angle you want may not be what's best for this particular story. There may not be enough substance to support the angle you'd hoped for. Take what works best for the story at hand.

Then, once you have that unique angle, be sure to feature it prominently in your title, sidebars, pull quotes, and throughout your case study.

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Footnotes:

[1] Hibbard, Casey, The 10 Biggest Mistakes Case Study Writers Make, Compelling Cases Inc., 2008.

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Need an expert to write your next case study for you? Call me at (+39) 011 569 4951 to discuss your project and receive a free quote, at no obligation. Or email me at info@CopyEngineer.com.

2 Comments

  1. [...] my last two posts (here and here), we talked about techniques for writing case studies that capture prospects' attention. Today, I'm [...]

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