Case studies can be an effective way to build credibility and persuade potential customers to work with you, particularly in the B2B world where products and services can be complex and not necessarily ‘sexy’.
But many case studies are filled with meaningless marketing fluff. They spend more time gushing about how great the business is than actually providing useful information that will help people make a purchasing decision.
In this post I’m going to discuss what I think is the most effective template for B2B case studies.
This template doesn’t focus too much on aesthetics, but rather provides a simple structure for the order in which you deliver information.
In very basic terms, the template is as follows:
You could argue this is the most important element, so as with a blog post or article headline it’s worth spending time getting it right.
But unlike a blog post, case study headline should always focus on a specific result, i.e. ‘Company X increases revenue by Y% by doing Z.’
You can see a few examples of this in the image below:
“Quote from customer”
Including a quote early on makes the case study instantly more credible, so I always try to include one right beneath the headline.
Preferably the quote should summarise the specific benefit that came out of the work rather than just giving generic praise.
You can either list these as bullet points or do something more creative, but keep it brief and stick to the most attractive results that came out of the work.
By this point you have given everything away within just a few seconds of reading, which is the idea.
Now potential customers can either make a decision based on that information or go into further detail if they’re interested.
Describe the aim/challenges in general terms, followed by what this specific customer was trying to achieve/overcome.
Talk about what you did specifically for this customer, followed by how this work could be applied generally to other businesses.
Use solid numbers where possible and try to present the results in an easily digestible format such as a bulleted list.
General –> specific –> specific –> general
You might have noticed that under the brief and work sections the format follows the above structure.
No doubt you’ll already have heard about this structure at some point. You don’t have to stick to it religiously, but it does help when trying to build a coherent story.
Let’s go into this structure in a bit more detail.
Presenting the problem: general –> specific
When discussing why you did the work, start by describing the general problem faced by companies.
This could be something like, ‘For businesses trying to personalise their marketing campaigns, volume of data is often a challenge.’
Then talk about the specific issues your customer was having, for example: ‘Company X had limited resource and was spending too much time sifting through masses of data with inconsistent results.’
Discussing the work: specific –> general
Then when you talk about the work, start with what you did specifically for this customer, i.e. ‘For company X we provided data analysis and in-house training to help people focus on useful data and make more efficient use of their time.’
Finally, talk generally about how this kind of work could benefit other businesses going through the same kinds of problems.
For example: ‘Analysis and training of this type would be beneficial to any companies struggling with huge volumes of data but limited resource to process it.’
Avoid pointless and irritating business jargon such as ‘solution’, ‘add value’, ‘innovative’, ‘groundbreaking’, ‘outside the box’, ‘impactful’, and so on.
You wouldn’t talk to friends and family like that so why inflict it on your lovely customers?
Follow the same formatting rules as you would for any piece of online written content: Plenty of white space, short paragraphs, descriptive subheadings, etc.
Use plenty of quotes from the client if you can, but make sure they actually add something to the story. Don’t just insert generic praise for the sake of it.
Keep it brief: Get the key points across in as few words as possible. Case studies aren’t for gushing about how brilliant you are. They’re for telling people about a specific piece of work: What you did, why you did it, how it helped your customer.
Use different media types. Words are great, but if you can tell some of your story through pictures and video that’s even better.
‘If you build it they will come’ does not apply here. As with all types of content marketing, if you’ve spent time creating a great case study then you need to work hard to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.
A good starting point
I’m not by any means suggesting this is the perfect template, but it’s one I’ve used in previous marketing roles and I’ve always found it really helps to get things started in terms of structure.
Once you get going you can be as creative as you want in terms of the look and feel of the case study, but anything to get you through the ‘staring at the blank page of doom’ phase is always helpful.