Case studies continue to be a critical demand generation tool, both for high-growth and enterprise-scale companies. They serve a range of purposes from driving deal close rates and brand equity, to building trust in new markets. But given the unique nature of case studies as a customer storytelling tool, even sophisticated marketers run into issues when it comes to their strategy, production, and distribution. Most issues ladder up to these four mistakes:
- Talking About Yourself
- Missing the Story
- Settling for Mediocre Design
- Not Optimizing for Access
We’ll walk through why these mistakes occur, how to mitigate them and offer alternatives that will help maximize their value. If you’re working on a marketing case study now, bookmark this blog and revisit it as you move through your production stages.
1. Talking About Yourself
While it’s easy to focus your marketing case studies on your product or business, readers are more interested in the problem you solved and the results you delivered for customers. They’re evaluating the cost/benefit of your offering, which means marketers should write about outcomes — preferably in the form of real-world data — to ROI, efficiency, and any other metrics your customers care about.
When it comes to talking about your product capabilities in detail, leave it to your website, sales collateral, or your product itself if your revenue model is product-led.
Marketers also run the risk of packing case studies full of jargon. To be sure, there’s a fine line between using and overusing vocabulary that gives you industry credibility. Some terms and acronyms will ‘click’ with case study readers, while others may alienate them.
There’s no silver bullet, but the best way to get this right is to stay true to your target audience and buyer persona profiles. If you are selling complex technology into a highly specialized vertical, write your case studies (and most of your content, for that matter) in the dialect spoken by your customers. If you are selling a simpler app to a large total addressable market (or TAM), make fewer assumptions about what your readers know and simplify your language accordingly.
2. Missing the Story
Too often, marketers treat case studies like the ‘stenography’ of a customer relationship, documenting everything that happened in chronological order, not considering which moments and outcomes are the most important to impress on their readers.
But ultimately, good case studies are stories. They have protagonists (always — we mean always — the customer), antagonists (the problem), journeys (the process) and guides to help them on that journey (that’s you). How can marketers create a powerful story instead of just a running document of what happened?
- By asking “what are case study readers trying to evaluate about us?”
- By focusing on which moments and outcomes from the story will build trust with your readers.
- By omitting details from along the journey that don't contribute to those moments and outcomes.
One way not to ‘miss the story is to simply sketch out the customer’s journey with your company before you move into case study production. What were the circumstances that brought you together? Why were you the right partner at the time? What were the key moments, and what are the measurable results?
When writing about your results, remember that data, though a powerful and necessary feature for marketing case studies, can also cause this mistake when not used in support of a clear story. Case study data should always be contextualized and carefully selected to back up your narrative.
3. Settling for Mediocre Design
When it comes to telling a powerful story of customer success, the medium really is the message. By treating layout and UX as an afterthought in your case study development, you not only miss the chance to create a positive impression with readers at a critical juncture of trust-building; you risk altogether failing to communicate your impact on this customer’s success — literally the number one job for any case study.
Intentional design is perhaps your most effective tool to create a trusting, emotional response from readers. In addition to honoring the customer relationship contained in the case study itself, it lets you:
- Control the pace and sequence with which readers move through the story
- Focus their attention on the most important moments and emotions
- Make lasting impressions about your outcomes with data visualization
Strong design is also table stakes for your brand. According to Design Management Institute, companies with strong design outperform companies with weak design by 228% on the S&P Index over 10 years. Plus. customer expectations for visuals and digital fidelity are astronomical, and your readers will draw conclusions about how sophisticated you are just by scanning your case studies. Don’t make the mistake of resting on strong customer outcomes alone.
4. Not Optimizing for Access
Depending on your sales motion, case studies have various use cases and can fit into your customer journey in different ways. Whether it’s your prospects browsing your website for case studies or a sales rep looking for a specific one to help close a deal, marketers often miss the crucial steps that make these assets more accessible.
If you want customers to find case studies on their own, reduce the friction on your website or asset management system. Make sure they are prominently featured in your site navigation and on any relevant solution- or decision-stage touchpoints (like ‘Demo’ and ‘Talk to Sales’ landing pages) where trust is key.
If you want members of your marketing and sales teams to find case studies on their own, bring the assets to them. In addition to storing your case studies in a clearly organized, well-documented Knowledge Base (like the one included in HubSpot Service Hub), consider linking them directly to other relevant sales assets, like pitch decks, pricing sheets, and contracts. Velocity is key here; a few links and storage shortcuts can play a big role in accelerating sales velocity.
In a B2B environment where customers continually expect try-before-they-buy, marketers can build and deploy case studies to tell a compelling story of success that encourages readers to take action and put their trust in your offering. There are myriad ‘right’ ways to plan, create and socialize your marketing case studies, from PDFs to video interviews to digital web experiences. The pitfalls above apply to any format or business model, and avoiding them is one sure way to see greater returns on these critical assets.
Think of this article as a strategic checklist. Review it at the beginning of a case study project, reference it as you craft your customer narrative, and return to it as you finish. If you'd like to dig into more insights that drive demand for your product or service, read our full guide below!
Nick is New Breed's Brand Manager. He drives our creative strategy and brand positioning across channels. When not in strategy mode, he's neck-deep in design and storytelling, crosswords and cooking.