Anatomy of a Case Study: Wooing Prospects With Surgical Precision

Case Study noun

  1. the act or an instance of analyzing one or more particular cases or case histories with a view to making generalizations

  2. a detailed analysis of a person or group, especially as a model of medical, psychiatric, psychological, or social phenomena.

  3. an exemplary or cautionary model; an instructive example.

You’d never be able to tell from reading these boring definitions how critical case studies are to your collateral arsenal when you’re marketing financial technology – or really when you’re marketing any B2B product, for that matter. The reason these definitions don’t do case studies justice is that all three of them ignore the most essential component of an effective case study: human emotion.

Perhaps surprisingly if you’ve seen some of the convoluted case studies floating around out there, the formula for eliciting this outpouring of human emotion is actually quite simple and quite repeatable.

Act 1: The Problem

Start any case study by identifying the problem – or ideally, the set of problems – with which the subject of the case study was faced. You need to be careful here, though. Your solution may solve a boatload of problems, and you certainly can’t dig into all of them in 900 words.

The perfect problem for a case study is one that is a) significant and b) common. But what if you have to choose? What if one problem is more significant and the other is more common? You might be tempted to focus on the more significant problem. Don’t. What’s the value in touting how you solved a problem that nobody else has?

A common problem lets you establish a bond with the reader – which is the whole point of the case study. By the time you’ve laid out the entire situation, the reader should be thinking, I can totally relate to that. In fact, I’m experiencing that problem right now.

Act 2: The Solution

Here you simply tell the reader in very straightforward terms how the subject used your product to address the problem. There’s a big temptation at this point to add marketing words to the story. Marketing words are bad in case studies.

What are marketing words? Here’s an example: Last National Bank used the incredibly mind-blowing power and flexibility of Product X to solve the problem. In a case study, this next version will do just fine: Last National Bank used Product X to solve the problem. At this point, the reader will fully understand and appreciate the significance of Product X solving the problem without you adding any fluffy marketing words.

Act 3: The Results

Now the question you need to answer is: So what? What’s the big deal? Show me the money!

Exactly how you showcase the results will vary from product to product. For example, if you market an IT automation product, you might be able to show results in terms of hours saved. If you market home banking software, you might be able to talk about increased customer/member adoption. You get the picture.

The problem is, not every products lends itself well to measurable, empirical results. For example, suppose you’re marketing a fraud-prevention product. It’s pretty much impossible to measure how much of something didn’t happen. But maybe you got high marks from your auditor for deploying Product X. That’s a result a lot of people would like to achieve.

Don’t Blow It

There are a few common mistakes that seem to creep into a lot of case studies. The biggie, as I mentioned earlier, is the use of marketing words. Your role in a case study is to step back, get out of the way, and let the customer tell their story. Sure, you guide the story, but the customer still tells it. When you start using marketing words, you essentially steal the story away from your customer. Shame on you.

I’ve seen some “case studies” that were nothing more than question-and-answer interview pieces. Maybe this would work if you had a couple of thousand words to play with, but there’s no way you can tell a complete and compelling story in 900 words by simply typing out customer answers to four or five questions.

Lastly, don’t get too clever with document features, e.g. charts, graphs and grids. I’m not saying to never use them; just don’t feel like you’re required to use them. Remember, you’re telling a story – or more accurately, your customer is telling a story. Anything you add that doesn’t contribute directly to the telling of that story is a waste of your time and, more significantly, a waste of your prospect’s time.

That is all.

#casestudies #contentmarketing

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© 2015 by John F. San Filippo

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