Your website is your storefront to the world. Like any store owner you try to make the decor attractive and stock up with appealing content with the aim of making that sale. However, as with any store, you are trying to meet a broad and at times difficult to measure range of expectations. Some customers know what they want; some know what they don’t want; and most haven’t arrived at either conclusion.
Providing the content/context to meet these diverse needs is typically a combination of evolution and experience; developing a clear definition of your identity – which goes hand-in-hand with delivering an equally well-rounded content marketing strategy. Whatever your priorities, your aim should not involve trying to be all things to all people.
Each content element – from your seriously-honed brand one-liners, news, product descriptions, linking copy, blogs and videos; to the case studies and white papers – should reference, reinforce, support, and echo the core messages that you are using to define your unique difference in the market place.
Every piece of this content has its own distinctive role to play in your strategy. Many of your customers will come to each with their responses already fixed. These have been fueled over time by style and copy length conventions. Similarly, the impact of the generally accepted structural elements of website user-journeys that guide, while appearing to reward the readers who scroll down, click-through and dive deep toward your case studies. These reside in what often appears as the ghetto of self-consciously ‘serious’ stuff tucked away at the bottom of the home page, or at the end of a drop-down menu.
Those who follow this journey to the heavyweight solutions with the minimum of prompt and push are the golden leads everyone craves.
However, if like some zealot you can’t avoid pushing the hard sell at every level, you risk quickly alienating these and other potential customers.
How often have you read B2B content that if not fake is certainly deceitful? What you expect and the hard sell you actually get feels like an affront, and as a result your engagement lasts only a few seconds. There is no hard and fast rule; no defined time and space. Nevertheless, the constant hard sell dulls reactions.
With a case study the concept of added value is clear enough, even from those who couldn’t articulate it but know what they like. Although just a different part of your overall content strategy, a case study has a pedigree and a status – partly bestowed by our expectations of its length – of being more invested, organic content.
Why are success stories important? Client success stories are the one aspect of your content that shouts added value. Case studies are an excellent lead generation tool. Yes, there is an initial cost but it should be viewed as a long-term investment: an opportunity to build that precious trust with your prospective customers in ways that the most brilliant selling copy can’t. All the hyperbole in the world can’t match the impact of your products and services working as you have claimed for what your customers identify as – people like us.
A case study is both an explanation and a celebration. Your sophisticated sales copy gets customers to your case studies in an established and ordered journey/sales funnel but the case study is the sober reality – the serious show and tell. Customers don’t just want to take your word for it. They want to hear it from the horse’s mouth; to specifically hear the ‘voice’ of your existing customers.
Detail of problems overcome are powerful. Despite this, the typical B2B aversion to admitting to problems on the way to a successful conclusion continues unabated, making so many case studies a cut and dried vision of an unconvincingly perfect painless process. A little mea culpa goes a long way. It is after all a human story you are portraying. A reliance on sales copy superlatives and dry features and benefits lists only serve to dull the senses and weaken the engagement.
Audience trust is built, and buy-in created, when something is clearly explained in steps that address pain points and common problems. Buy-in can be meant literally if for a moment you consider making your case studies – like some white paper research – a paid for resource. This infers a value beyond your other content but given the average ratios of interest to action scarcely justifiable. However, at the very least, ‘payment’ for gated content should require some form of customer contact details and a statement of relevant interests.
A case study offers thought leadership straight from the lip; it’s not some vague and hypothetical exercise of your ego intellectual power. It’s your company; and your customers; and the shared success of your solutions in action. It’s an explicit and hopefully involving summary of what you can offer: that you’ve been there and done it and got the hard knocks to prove it. Your product/solution is displayed in its best light, while incorporating a combination of results and data that wins hearts and minds.
Everyone is looking for the solution that saves time, saves money, and makes their lives easier. Answering the key questions in a specific sector makes you an authority, and not just because you say so another ten times elsewhere – here is the real proof. Case studies are typically more likely to be read by the decision-makers and these are your key targets. In a busy, pressured job, they are looking for your offering to be spelt out in clear terms rather than insinuated. This makes a case study an ideal vehicle, and more likely to be a takeaway used in meetings to convince colleagues and win the budget.
Like that essay you wrote at college, the gold star is yours because of a linear narrative that progresses from a beginning, to a middle, to an end – a shift from problem, to solution to conclusive positive results. Consequently a case study is one of the least creative tools at your disposal which makes the quality of writing an even more important element. Ideally, you clearly present the advantages of how a business relationship with you will meet your customer’s needs.
A case study is an excellent tool for identifying the difference between a customer and a prospect. Once you have engaged readers to the point that they feel as if they know what your company is all about and what to expect, you are closer to sealing the deal and creating an ongoing close business relationship.
In another context of added value, a case study can provide ROI across all platforms: the very clear cut linear explanations (college essay again) provide messaging that can be easily accessed for use in formats of different length by everyone, without too much requirement to understand a creative concept. You can exploit your success across every channel, including traditional print media, in the likes of by-lined articles, ads, tweets. The structure also means that a case study can easily show up well in search engines and social campaigns awash with the usual generic fluff; also in email lead generation, and for CRM.
Case studies are undoubtedly good value for money. They are what your customers are looking for. As a result, case studies just might be the best pound for pound, upfront investment you can make. Ensure your case studies are the crown jewels of your content. Make them more accessible to everyone, while resisting the urge to lock them away again in the stock room.
Sharing customer stories is key to showcasing how your products and services help organizations overcome challenges. How do you write a customer success story? Contact us to learn how written and video case studies take your business-to-business marketing to the next level.
Michael White is the Head of Copy at Mulberry Marketing Communications, an award-winning full-service B2B communications agency based in Chicago, London and Australia. He has many years of experience writing and editing short- and long-form content for B2B and B2C audiences.