The other day a client asked me if we had published a case study about case studies. While the question is humorous on its face, the irony is we hadn’t.
So, we set out on a quest to find out which sites on the siteIQ eBusiness Index “get” B2B-class case studies and what makes them work.
What did we find?
That case studies aren’t the most respected weapon in the content arsenal. Although they play a crucial part of the B2B buying process, they aren’t crafted with the same amount of love as product marketing content.
Instead, overwhelmed content teams often write up the customer story using the ubiquitous “Problem > Solution > Outcome” framework, give it a stock image and (marginally useful) title, plop it in a content carousel then move onto the next burning deadline.
So, it comes as no surprise that most sites deliver ho-hum case studies that don’t engage visitors or convert them into prospects.
That said, we did find a few instances where talented teams are using engaging storytelling approaches and smart presentation strategies to craft Best Practice-class case studies that engage visitors and make them want to learn more about the company’s product or services.
The question is how do they do it and what makes them work?
To find out, we examined the case study content and presentation techniques used by the 25 siteIQ Index Websites. Now, we’re sharing our findings in a 2-part case study that covers best practices in case study storytelling, presentation, and positioning.
First up — Storytelling. Once upon a time…
“The challenge for content marketers is to wrap the facts and figures up with a story that’s memorable and relatable, or at the very least, interesting.” — Taylor Holland, 5 Tips on How to Write a Case Study that Tells an Engaging Story
Now, I’m not going to tell you how to use storytelling to write an engaging case study. There are plenty of very smart folks who have fantastic posts that outline how to do that (see resources below).
What I will show you is that there is more than one way to tell a good case study story, and it isn’t always in “Problem > Solution > Outcome” structure (in fact, it rarely is).
Although long-form prose case studies are readers’ preferred format (according to Eccolo Media’s 2014 B2B Technology Content Survey Report), some Website teams are using video, brief summaries, and presentation slides to tell customers’ stories.
The good news is there are a couple of sites that have cracked the code on how to deliver engaging case studies using unconventional storytelling approaches – even a case study that is only six sentences long.
Long-form Case Study
The case studies begin with an engaging customer profile that effortlessly weaves executive quotes and company data into a story. When Salesforce is introduced, it’s presented as a valuable partner in the customer’s pursuit of achieving specific goals. The rest of the tale is a mixture of what the customer’s goals were, how the partnership achieved the goals, the products that were used, and the successful outcome.
While Salesforce.com’s case studies have all the ingredients for a “Problem > Solution > Outcome” recipe, the reader never sees it. That’s because the problems aren’t problems, they’re goals. And the solution is a partnership with Salesforce, not a product. The only part that holds true to the formula is the “Outcome” part of the equation – and even then, Salesforce gives the customer the last word.
Short-form Case Study
The site’s case studies use a sophisticated magazine-style layout that tells the customer’s tale in a glance using bold customer quotes, numbers, and images. The rich content consists of two three sentence paragraphs that bring the customer to life at the top of the page and share their successful conclusion at the bottom.
What’s unique about Netsuite’s approach is how the customer’s story can be told using little more than data and a quote.
Just by scanning the information in the middle of the page, readers can learn that Netsuite products (specifically Advanced Financials and Expense Reporting) can be used by relatively small companies to achieve great results — and that’s before the visitor reads a single word of prose.
Case Study Introduction
The site delivers the meat of its case studies in video and downloadable formats, so it uses its page space to provide an engaging profile about the customer to entice the visitor to learn more.
Symantec.com’s case study approach is strikingly similar to Salesforce.com’s. The content is used to introduce the customer, their environment, and challenges using a story format. Symantec.com also positions itself as the customer’s partner rather than a third party providing helpful products. But that’s where the customer’s story ends on Symantec.com.
Readers that want the nitty-gritty details will need to watch the video or read the downloadable case study.
Although all the best practice case studies above use different formats, they have five things in common:
- The focus is on the customer’s story, not product benefits
- The company is presented as the customer’s partner, not a product provider
- The partnership is the solution, not the products
- The data and quotes help tell the story, not sell the products
- They are written for readers, not for prospects
By using these techniques, these sites effectively – and, in the case of Netsuite.com, efficiently – tell their customer’s story in a way that will appeal to any type of reader at any step in the purchasing process.
More important, they will show that the company is about more than just slinging products. That its goal is to develop an ongoing relationship with its customers to help them achieve their objectives. Who doesn’t want to work with a company like that?
Category: Case Study
Class: Best Practice
Websites Profiled: Salesforce.com, Symantec.com, and Netsuite.com
- Marketing & Storytelling – Writing the Best Case Studies. Ever. — Wedu
- 5 Tips on How to Write a Case Study that Tells an Engaging Story — Taylor Holland, Skyword
- The art of storytelling in 7 content marketing context questions — J-P De Clerck, i-SCOOP