When was the last time a B2B case study made you feel something?
I mean, something besides mild interest or boredom.
I ask because, in theory at least, B2B case studies should be exciting stories. There are millions of dollars at stake, people’s livelihoods and professional reputations hanging in the balance. Each one is a three-act story arc of overcoming adversity and solving a problem.
That sounds like a riveting read, right?
Or at the very least, they should be useful stories. They should help someone with a similar problem be able to find a solution. Yes, even a solution above and beyond “buy our product.”
Here are a few ways that B2B marketers can make their case studies more human, more compelling, and ultimately more effective.
How to Optimize B2B Case Studies
Granted, case studies exist for a business purpose. They’re meant to persuade people to choose your solution. But that doesn’t mean they have to be purely sales-minded and feature-driven, rather than customer-minded and story-driven. We should be treating case studies with the same care that we give to all of our content.
1: Bring in the Broader Context
The traditional structure of a case study is Problem-Solution-Results. The “problem” part generally refers to the specific problem your customer was having. But you can make your case study more relevant to similar companies by bringing in an industry-wide problem as well.
Take this case study for our client Prophix, for example. In this study, we wanted to show the process we went through with the customer — why we chose to create the content we did. The content was meant to address an emerging problem in the finance profession. So it makes sense to start the study with an overview of that problem.
Looking at the broader industry picture can help grab the attention of executives in the finance industry, but also those who are seeing a similar problem in their particular vertical. In other words, it makes the whole study more relevant to potential customers.
2: Add Value Beyond Your Solution
TopRank Marketing is a marketing agency. Our processes, strategies and tactics are some of our most valuable assets. So, it would be easy for our case studies to say, “client hired us and we ran a campaign that got these results.” We could easily gloss over the details of how we got from point A to point B.
If we did that, though, our case studies would be little more than commercials. It’s hard to convince someone they should read a 500-word commercial. Instead, we like to give readers practical examples of how we get the results we do.
Could someone read our Tech Unknown case study from client SAP and run a similar campaign for themselves? Perhaps. We have a step-by-step list of the tactics we used. But we’re confident that we can do the work better than our clients could do for themselves, so we’re not shy about sharing our tactics.
When prospects finish reading the Tech Unknown case study, they will have a solid idea of what it takes to create and execute a podcast, in addition to seeing that TopRank Marketing is good at creating successful podcasts. That extra value adds credibility and readability to the case study.
3: Bring in the Customer Voice
We often write about businesses or brands as though they are people: “Coca-Cola decided to…” or “Siemens made the difficult decision to…” But in reality, it’s actual people who make these decisions. And these people should show up in your case study.
LinkedIn* Marketing Solutions is good at centering the customer voice in their case studies. Take this one from Salesforce, for example. Salesforce’s Director of Content & Social Media, Marissa Kraines, is quoted throughout. She talks about why they chose LinkedIn as a platform, how they developed best practices for the content — and, yes, how happy they are with the results.
Most importantly, Marissa offers advice to the reader that goes beyond “Use LinkedIn for marketing”:
“Have a game plan that consists of at least five pieces of content that you plan on putting out,” she suggests. “That way you can test, look at results against each other, and really see what’s working. And so after those five segments, you can create something based on those learnings that’s even more meaningful for your audience.”
The quotes throughout this case study help the reader feel connected and invested in the story being told. Speaking of which…
4: Tell an Emotional Story
As I said in the introduction, there’s a simple story structure at the heart of all case studies. You almost can’t help but tell a story: Problem/Solution/Results. The trick, though, is to make your narrative emotionally engaging.
Bringing in the customer voice is a good start. For even better results, trade your corporate voice — with its passive construction and dry, detached tone — for a more journalistic one. Find the human interest in the story and write about it with passion.
This ACLU case study from Pantheon brings in drama from the beginning:
“In 2016, Marco Carbone, Associate Director of IT at ACLU, monitored the website intently as presidential elections drew thousands of times more traffic than normal. Although he had anticipated a surge in traffic, it was hard to imagine just how big it would be.”
Notice how this paragraph:
- Places us at a moment in time
- Introduces a protagonist
- Creates tension
You can see Marco sitting at his computer, staring at the dashboard, hoping his site isn’t about to go down. It vividly illustrates that Pantheon doesn’t just sell web hosting — they sell peace of mind, too.
Now imagine a typical intro for a case study like this:
“The ACLU needed a solution to make sure their site was robust enough to endure anticipated traffic spikes during the 2016 election. The organization had evaluated several services but was uncertain that their projected needs could be met. Their existing solution was underperforming.”
The same basic information — yet a world of difference in its emotional heft.“There’s a simple story structure at the heart of all case studies. You almost can’t help but tell a story. The trick, though, is to make your narrative emotionally engaging.” — Joshua Nite @NiteWrites Click To Tweet
5: Get Specific with Results (And Benchmark!)
The ideal case study ends with two things: Advice from the customer, and specific enumerated results. It’s not enough to say your solution shortened sales cycles, or reduced waste. It’s better to say, “Our customer shortened sales cycles to three weeks” or “reduced waste by four tons.”
But the best way to give results is with customer and industry benchmarks to compare to. Shortening sales cycles to 3 weeks is okay if the industry average is four weeks, but phenomenal if the average is three months. If the customer usually generates five tons of waste, reducing it by four tons is unbelievable progress — but far less impressive if they generate 400 tons. Providing these benchmarks gives your reader a clearer picture of what your results mean, and sets expectations for working with your company.
That’s why in our Tech Unknown case study we include industry benchmarks for podcast downloads, as well as brand averages for traffic and views.“Providing benchmarks gives your reader a clearer picture of what your results mean, and sets expectations for working with your company.” — Joshua Nite @NiteWrites Click To Tweet
Customer Stories Don’t Have to Be Boring: Case Closed
Content marketers are empathetic, creative, dynamic writers. I pride myself on being able to find human interest in content for any client, whether its financial services, software-as-a-solution, or supply chain logistics. But when it comes to writing case studies, too often we fall back on that staid, bloodless corporate voice.
To keep your case studies compelling, make sure you’re writing for a reader, not just a potential sale. Be passionate, tell a human story, and offer value beyond just proving your product’s benefits. A journalistic eye and genuine empathy for your reader will make your case studies more readable, relatable, and ultimately more effective.
* LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client.