Editor’s note: This is Casey Hibbards first guest post.
In an age of buyer skepticism, customer case studies – like white papers – provide the essential credibility, education and validation that buyers need to make purchase decisions. As a growing marketing communications tool, case studies are also a major opportunity for copywriters.
But stories have to deliver results…
To produce stories that resonate with readers – and impress your organization or clients – avoid some of these common case study mistakes.
Making Customers Look Bad
Customer stories innately have a “before-and-after” format. They identify the needs and challenges the customer wanted to address, and then how the solution brought about a successful outcome.
It’s natural to mention some of the pains or problems the customer experienced before. But in a story showcasing a customer’s success, too many negative details can make your customer look bad—and possibly interfere with the customer’s approval of the story. Writers have to balance details about the customer’s previous situation with creating a story that shows the organization in a favorable light.
Ignoring the Audience
As with any marketing communications piece, a customer story has to match the audience or it won’t do its job. In case studies, different audiences want to see different types of information.
For a recent case study highlighting sales and marketing software, my client directed me to the technical contact for an interview. However, because sales and marketing people will be the decision-makers and users of the product, I requested that I have the chance to interview the sales manager in order to collect the details that are important to the audience.
As much as possible, feature customers and customer contacts that are similar to the intended audience. People and organizations want to know what people and organizations just like them are doing.
Not Catering to Readers and Skimmers
There are two types of audiences: readers and skimmers. Always try to write customer case studies for both audiences. Build in ways for skimmers to glean the main points of the story without reading it word-for-word.
The key pieces of your skimmable document:
- The headline – Include the number one idea you want to reinforce.
- Subheads – Tell the main points of your story in subheads throughout.
- Pull quote – Preferably highlight a quote (pulled out and enlarged in the final designed format) that reinforces the main benefit.
- Sidebar summary – Summarize key points in a sidebar. What you choose to feature in a sidebar completely depends on the featured solutions. It’s nice to show a short summary of who the customer is, like industry and number of employees, and then highlights of the customer’s needs and results related to your solutions. If customers read nothing else, they know the customer is in their industry and what the business achieved.
Learn More: For more tips on creating case studies that deliver results, check out the no-cost report from Compelling Cases, The 10 Biggest Mistakes Case Study Writers Make.
What are your thoughts about case studies?
About the author: Casey Hibbard of Compelling Cases has written and managed more than 400 customer stories. She is the author of the forthcoming book (coming out in mid-2008), Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset.Receive email updates when new articles are posted.