The universal human instinct to seek out the opinions of others explains why case studies continue to be one of the most effective content marketing tactics—when assembled the right way. People want to know why others purchase a product or service, and validation from a happy customer goes a long way toward leading prospects down the funnel.

And if you don’t think people look to others for validation, you may not have heard of Yelp, Angie’s List, or an obscure social media platform run by some guy named Zuckerberg.

Case studies make superb sales tools, particularly for persuading prospects with specific problems or needs. Often, working a success story in at the right time can help close deals. If automated email touches are part of your outbound campaigns, you can incorporate case studies into follow-ups to show real-world examples of the benefits customers can gain from using your product or service.

The first step for creating a success story is to find willing—and successful—participants. Start by assembling a list of your best customers and focusing on those who might be willing to vouch for your product or service. (A good rule is to identify 10 customers, as it’s likely only one will fully complete the case study process.) Once you have a customer or two on board, you’re ready to begin content development. Adhering to the six best practices below can help maximize the return on your efforts.

Step 1: Follow a defined structure
A case study is really an exercise in storytelling. Like any good story, a customer success story should have a logical flow. You start by introducing your customer, and then explain the challenges encountered, describe the solution and why it was chosen, and conclude with the resolution, which should be full of happily-ever-after benefits. A typical structure might be made up of the following components:

  • Headline: Summarizes the primary idea you want to convey. Make sure it captures the reader’s attention.
  • Stage setting: Presents an overview of the customer’s situation, tells who they are and what they do, and gives details about the industry or environment in which they operate.
  • Challenge: Introduces the specific challenge the customer was having and establishes the context and the business problem.
  • Solution: Describes how the challenge or issue was resolved by your product or service. Rather than a sales pitch, the story should rely on facts and firsthand examples.
  • Results: Shows results in the form of metrics and return on investment, where possible. For maximum impact, present customer results through direct quotes, graphs, or pictures.

Step 2: Maximize the interview
Gather as much background research as possible before the interview and prepare an interview guide. This helps ensure the interview questions are focused to make the best use of the time allotted—but also be ready to dive deeper if a good data point comes up that you weren’t expecting. Get the customer’s feedback on how your product or service helped, what specific challenges you helped them overcome, and the results they achieved.

Conduct the interview as an informal, interactive conversation. This will help put the subject-matter expert at ease and result in more candid, authentic responses. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What are the challenges that led you to the solution? How did you manage those pain points before?
  • Why did you select our product or service over other options?
  • What were some of the deployment challenges that had to be overcome?
  • Describe the results you were able to achieve with the solution. Are they measurable?
  • What were some lessons you learned during the implementation—and afterward?

Step 3: Make it compelling
Whether it’s a movie, a novel, or a conversation with a friend, the interest level and overall impact of any story hinges on how compelling you can make it. Choose your customer and subject matter carefully. Were the challenges the customer encountered unique or significant? Was the outcome impressive or motivating? Is it a story worthy of telling? What did the customer learn? Start with a hook, and then make the reader want to find out what happens next. You don’t need to sell or use marketing hype. Simply tell the story, show the facts, and reveal the quantifiable metrics. The results will speak for themselves.

Step 4: Incorporate good quotes
Make sure you include good customer quotes. Ideally, these comments will address a particular benefit or positive result. When focused and specific, these quotes can be sprinkled throughout your text, and highlighted to jump out at the reader in stand-alone pullouts. What’s more, quotes can be used in social marketing outreach to drive engagement and lead readers to the longer case study.

Step 5: Package for delivery
Make sure your headline is strong and compelling. It’s what draws people in and can help boost readership and distribution. Have someone design your case study so it’s visually attractive and reflects your company’s branding. The format should be the right fit for the audience, as well as the devices they use to read information. Case study content can be packaged as HTML5 smart papers, PDFs, videos, social tiles, and infographics.

Step 6: Get expert assistance
Case studies deliver value because they provide proof that your business can deliver the results prospects seek. Crafting success stories takes time and diligence, but the investment will pay dividends far beyond the original effort, as we’ve seen for our clients who rely on our expertise.

Let’s discuss how we can best tell your story. Contact me at [email protected].