I haven’t written a case study of my own yet. That’s true.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take what I have to say seriously.
I’ve been working in online marketing for a while now, and I can tell you that a case study is hands-down one of the best things you can do for your business.
Let me tell you why:
Product reviews are 12x more trusted than product descriptions when it comes to consumers’ purchasing decisions. And what is a case study, really, other than an in-depth product review?
Nothing has the power to build trust in your brand like an original case study.
In this article, I show you exactly why case studies are the best tool for building brand reputation and generating leads—and I walk you through the steps to create your own.
And if you don’t have a ton of clients yet (or you don’t have ANY clients yet), fear not.
I’ll also talk a little about how you can use other people’s case studies to your own advantage.
Now let’s get started…
What Is a Case Study?
Let’s start simple. I don’t want to assume that just because you’re reading this article, you already know what a case study is.
Like I said in my intro, a case study is just an in-depth product review.
It takes a real client and uses their success story to demonstrate how your product or service can benefit others.
How? It brings numbers to life.
Rather than just saying, “By doing xx you can increase sales by 300%”, you can show how you really did that for someone else.
Framed as a story, it helps prospects visualize themselves in that same situation.
And there is nothing better for credibility than a real-life example.
Now that you know what a case study is, let’s dive in a little deeper.
Why Are Case Studies the Most Valuable Type of Content You Can Offer?
During my research, I saw a lot of articles that started off with something like, “case studies are a marketing staple…”
But you know what? That’s just not true.
Case studies should be a marketing staple, but they’re not.
Sure, the big guys know how important they are. The internet marketing firms and the branding experts you see on the first few pages of Google. The Fortune 100 companies.
Those guys know how important case studies are. But your average Joe Schmo small business owner? He might not be in on the secret.
The thing is, for a regular person, “case study” sounds intimidating. It sounds time consuming and expensive and like something you’re better off not getting involved with.
But guess what? Case studies really aren’t that difficult to produce.
And they’re KILLER marketing material.
In fact, 62.6% of eMarketer survey respondents say that they’re effective in generating leads.
You really want to move people through your sales funnel? SHOW them why you’re the best.
Move beyond testimonials and give them real-world examples of how you were able to meet your customers’ needs and help them achieve goals.
A great case study can make your prospects feel like you are the only solution to their problems.
1. People Love a Good Story
And that’s exactly what a case study allows you to do. Tell a story about your brand.
Robert McKee said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”
OK, sure. You’re not writing Harry Potter.
But people connect with stories.
They draw them in, allowing them to feel like they’re a part of the action.
A case study focuses on the customer’s perspective. It’s more than just another sales page with facts and figures.
Those are a dime a dozen.
Anyone can make any sort of claim they want to about their own product. It doesn’t mean it’s true. That’s why you need a first-hand customer account to back it up.
Let’s say you’re a world-class runner and you’re looking for a new pair of sneakers, for example.
Would you be more likely to buy from Company A who says, “Our shoes are guaranteed to eliminate seconds from your time”
From Company B who says, “This is the story of Alex Jones, whose time improved by 3 seconds after switching to our product”?
I’d go with Company B. And I’d want to read all about Alex and his winning running time.
When you share a story, prospects will react because they can imagine themselves in that same scenario. They want those same results.
Try to keep that in mind while writing your case study. Don’t just share a bunch of statistics and graphs. Make it real.
Craft a story that your ideal customer would love to read. Something they would love to imagine themselves being a part of.
Allow them to feel the pain of the problem and then rejoice over the solution.
I’m not saying you have to write a Pulitzer Prize winner … but keep it engaging.
BTW, If you haven’t already seen it, check out this Matt Hack from a few weeks ago. It talks about how storytelling can increase audience engagement by 5x.
2. They Provide Social Proof
Think of social proof as a “herd mentality.”
Remember when you were a kid and your mom said, “If everyone else was jumping of a bridge, would you do it, too?”
Yeah, it’s like that.
Sadly, I think the children of today have proven that if everyone else was jumping off a bridge, they would do it, too. Especially if it was a viral YouTube challenge.
But, when it comes to marketing, social proof is important stuff.
Our friends over at CoSchedule explain it like this:
“Relying on social proof is easy in a day full of decisions to make. Are the rest of my co-workers staying late? Then I will. Did they leave early? Then I can, too.”
Social proof provides a shortcut through the thinking process. Others have determined the appropriate action in the given situation, so you don’t have to.
In your case, it means showing prospects that their peers are doing business with you … so they should, too.
Unfortunately, the average modern person sees about 5,000 ads a day. They really don’t want to see any more.
They want the photographer they’ve been seeing all over Instagram or the DJ they know killed it at their brother’s friend’s wedding last week. They don’t want some guy that’s interrupting their browsing time with a sleezy sales pitch.
Simply claiming that your product is the best isn’t going to sway anyone anymore.
That’s where case studies come in.
They show your audience that everyone else is doing business with you. And they should, too.
3. They Demonstrate Success
Case studies are sometimes called “customer success stories.”
There’s a reason for that.
You know those stories we were talking about earlier? I may have forgotten to add that they should always end on an up note.
Not only should they focus on customers, but they should demonstrate how they’ve used your products successfully.
A case study illustrates how actual people have benefited from working with you. It shows prospects how others have implemented your solution and how it’s worked out for them.
In this way, it demonstrates success.
4. They Build Brand Trust
If you’re like me, you might look at case studies with doubt. There are so many companies that push out dubious reports that it’s hard to tell who’s being honest.
And you might be worried that your own audience won’t be convinced, even after you share customer success stories.
It can be daunting jumping into a project like that if you’re not sure it will work.
The key is to always be honest.
Don’t lie about your numbers or your results. Share the not-so-impressive stuff.
Matt does this a lot in his work. He talks about the mistakes he’s made and how he’s fixed them, and it works well.
People trust him because he doesn’t sugarcoat everything.
Another thing he does really well? Shares material that his audience can relate to.
He asks questions, finds out what they’re curious about, and then he talks about it.
When your audience knows that you listen to them, and you’re not going to lie to make a sale, they’ll feel like your legit.
Honesty and integrity go a long way in business.
5. They Position You as an Expert
Fact: few things are trusted more than statistics.
… Except maybe when an actual person is backing up those stats with their own real-life story.
You would think that more business owners would want to harness the power of the case study, but for some reason, they’re not.
A 2017 study from the Content Marketing Institute noted that B2B marketers name their top 3 marketing techniques as social media content, blog posts, and email newsletters. Case studies didn’t even make the list.
What’s that mean for you? Case studies are a virtually untapped resource.
In a recent video, Matt talked about the importance of doing what other people aren’t willing to do.
It not only shows your customers that you’re willing to go above and beyond, but it gives you a competitive edge.
And since case studies are based on statistics and facts, they have the added advantage of positioning your brand as an authority in your industry.
Think about it: when you’re sharing well-researched, fact-laden case studies and your competitor is not, who do you think seems more valid?
Bottom line: a case study (or two) will help elevate your brand above the rest.
6. They’re Inexpensive to Create
Compared to more traditional forms of marketing, case studies are inexpensive to produce.
In fact, your investment is going to be much more time than money.
Depending on the format you go with, a case study might take anywhere from a few days to a few months to produce. But the cost could be literally nothing. Zero.
If you do all the work yourself, and you stick with a simple format (like PDF), you can create your case study with no up-front cost. And if you’re just starting out or you’re bootstrapping, you really can’t beat free!
Of course, the more technical you get, the more costs go up. You may choose to hire a professional writer or videographer, for example, and they come with a fee. But it’s all up to you.
When it comes down to it, a case study allows you to convey a lot of useful information about how your product can be used without a huge price tag.
7. They Increase Leads and Sales
Perhaps I should have led with this. It does seem like the most important point, after all.
Everyone wants increased sales.
If you’re still not convinced that case studies are a powerful tool, perhaps this will help get you on board: 73% of consumers say case studies play an important role in their decision-making process.
It’s a fact. Whether they’re hiring a lawyer or buying a new toaster, customers want to see real-world examples of how that product or service works.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in—they just work.
Kerry from Moz wrote a great piece about the effectiveness of their case study page, saying:
“Our case studies portfolio page brings in a lot of traffic – it’s the second most-visited page on our site, aside from our home page. It also brings in a significant volume of organic traffic, being our fourth most-visited page from organic searches. Most importantly, our case studies are highly effective at converting visitors to leads – about half of our leads view at least one of our case studies before contacting us.”
And marketing guru Neil Patel talks about how he used case studies to increase his deal-closing ratio by 70% and overall sales by 185%.
(And, yes, there are actually case studies about toasters.)
Even if you’re not sure it will work for you, is it really not worth taking the chance? You don’t want to say you potentially missed out on an 185% increase in sales, do you?
How To Create Your First Case Study
Now that you understand the benefits of creating a case study, are you ready to jump in and get started?
It’s pretty simple, really.
The folks over at Articulate Marketing say,
“This is the crux of the case study. There has to be a story: a struggle before, a journey to improve, and a benefit in the present. This doesn’t always mean profits: it might be improved employee retention, saved time or a new business model. The focus is on what matters most to the person you interview.”
If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you understand the basic premise.
Most of all, you must consider your audience and think about their point of view. What are their pain points? What media format are they most comfortable interacting with? How can I overcome their objections?
Here’s what I’m going to cover in this section, so you can jump ahead if you want to:
- Determine the problem
- Choose the ideal customer to profile
- Gather data
- Differentiate yourself from the competition
- Use visuals to help explain
- Decide on a format
Determine the Problem
One of the main reasons for creating a case study is to eliminate any sort of doubt your prospects might be feeling.
To do that, you will need to determine what real-world problems they are facing.
At this point in your business, you should already be familiar with your target audience and know what their pain points are. You’ve likely already done the research and that’s how you’ve ended up where you are.
If, however, you are feeling unsure, there are several things you can do:
- Conduct a general survey to find out what questions people have
- Create a small study group of subscribers to gather feedback
- Check out review sites and monitor social media for mentions of your product/service (in particular, be aware of any potential objections)
- Allow commenting on your blog–it’s a great way for the audience to bring up any qualms or requests
Brian Harris of VideoFruit talks about how they made $10,000 in 24 hours by pre-selling a product before they made it.
Different idea, but same overall concept: know what your audience wants, and you’ll sell more stuff.
Doing the research in advance virtually guarantees that your case study will be a success.
Giving your audience what they’re looking for will help them visualize success. When they can visualize success using your product or service, they will buy it.
It’s that simple!
Choose the Ideal Customer to Profile
When you’re choosing the customer you want to profile, you must make sure it’s someone your target audience can relate to. Someone that’s like them.
For example, if your ideal customer is a 40-something small business owner, your case study should be about a 40-something small business owner.
You want the reader to be able to relate to the person in the story. They need to picture themselves in their shoes and feel like those same products or services can work for them as well.
Once you identify the customer you want to profile, you have to convince them to chat with you.
Some business owners tackle this right up front by making it a part of the onboarding process. You might consider adding something to your client agreement about how you may feature them in upcoming case studies or success stories.
If you’re reading this article, though, you probably don’t have a clause like that in your contract.
What to do?
Go to your best customers, the ones that you KNOW had an amazing experience, and ask them if they wouldn’t mind sparing an hour or two so you can ask them some interview questions.
Chances are, they’d love to share their success story with the world.
If they’re not quite on board, tell them what’s in it for them.
A case study highlights their brand and will help introduce it to an entirely new audience. It’s essentially free advertising.
It doesn’t hurt to offer them an incentive, either. Extend a discount on future products or share a complimentary service.
If they still won’t concede, offer to “white label” them. Simply, that means that you won’t share their name or any identifying features about their company.
You can still share the story and highlight the benefits received from your product or service, but without compromising the relationship.
A case study without data is just a story.
Don’t just talk about your product’s benefits—prove them with numbers. And be as specific as possible.
For example, don’t just say “our product greatly increased the client’s click-through rate.” Say, “Our products increased the client’s click-through rate by over 75%.”
Neil Patel says,
“If there’s a standard metric for your industry, like ‘organic traffic’ for internet marketers, then use it to share your past customer’s results. It’ll paint a quantifiable and specific picture in the reader’s mind.
Sometimes, the results of your users aren’t measurable with numbers. But, you can still share the amazing success story of a customer with an anecdote.”
When you find the customer(s) you want to profile, ask very targeted questions. Explain the entire process to them in advance and stress the importance of sharing precise numbers.
The more accurately they can demonstrate how your product improved their business, the better!
Differentiate Yourself from the Competition
There are likely hundreds, or even thousands, of other businesses selling the same product or service as you.
So, how is your company different? Why do your products help generate results better than the other guy’s?
Without naming your competitors directly, case studies are a great opportunity to demonstrate how your product is superior to similar options in the same niche.
Figure out how to showcase why your business is the better option without attacking the other guy (because that’s just tacky).
Is it your exceptional customer service? Your dedication to results? Your ability to work through a problem and keep going?
There is a reason that your loyal customers have chosen to work with you instead of the competitor—talk about that. Move beyond just the numbers and add a human touch.
Use Visuals to Help Explain
People don’t read online. They skim.
The likelihood that they’ll get through your entire case study is slim to none. Large chunks of text without anything to break them up are going to be ignored.
Why not jazz it up a little with some fun and informative visuals?
They’ll add a little interest to what could honestly be an otherwise boring document, and they’ll create some great touch points for those who really don’t want to read through the whole thing.
Here are some ideas:
- Add quote boxes. Break up the text by pulling out key phrases or important points you’d like to get noticed.
- Include images of the actual customer using your product.
- Share statistical graphs or charts that demonstrate results.
- Add multimedia content. Interview customers on video and share snippets within the text or include video demos of how your product can be used.
Decide on a Format
Now that you know the benefits of case studies, let’s talk about the different types of case studies you can consider.
Some people enjoy reading, but it’s silly to believe that a written case study will appeal to your entire audience. These days, they’re being released in many different formats.
Here are some of the most popular:
- Blog posts: If you already have a popular blog, this is a no-brainer. Just write up the case study as a post, and then hit publish.
It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s completely free … and you already have a built-in audience.
Siobhan McGinty from Hubspot says,
“The trick is to write about the case study in a way that identifies with your audience’s needs. It’s important not to center the blog post around your company, product or service — instead the customer’s challenges and how they were overcome.”
For example, Matt published one on Autogrow.co titled “[Case Study] Does A Personalized Signature Drive More Email?”
Here’s what you should include (hint: it’s exactly what you would include in any other sort of case study!):
- Basic information about your client (who are they, what they do, number of years in business).
- What problems or issues do they face on a regular basis?
- How did you help them overcome their challenges?
- How did their business improve after working with you?
Shoot for at least 1,000 words and don’t skimp on the details.
Publishing your case study as a blog post is not an excuse for poor writing.
- PDFs: Ah, PDFs. The gold standard of business documents.
People love them. They’re simple to create, easy to share, and they look professional.
You can make a PDF as simple or complex as you like–and it’s easy to include special informational sections, callouts, or compelling visuals.
- Infographics: Before doing my research, I never would have thought about publishing a case study as an infographic.
It just doesn’t seem to contain enough information, you know?
But after reading up on it, it just makes sense. Especially in our day and age, where
people have the attention span of goldfish.
An infographic boils your study down to just the essential information.
Sure, it may not include all the juicy details–but the important bits are there. And that’s what people want.
- Videos: For those who don’t even have the willpower to scan an infographic, there is video.
In all seriousness, video is where it’s at. It keeps rising in popularity and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
If you’re not already taking advantage, you should be. And sharing a case study is a great way to start.
Written case studies might be the traditional route to go, but videos are humanizing and they engage more senses.
They allow your prospects to actually hear success stories straight from the customers that have used your product. In their own words.
Nothing is better for building credibility!
Why not publish your case study in several different formats? There’s no reason you need to pick just one.
Creating a variety of materials will help you reach a larger audience, and you want as many eyes on your work as possible.
How to Use Your Case Study in Your Sales Funnel (for Maximum Results)
Case studies and testimonials are often considered “bottom of the funnel” content. A tool used to convert leads into paying customers.
Don’t listen to the bunk. Of course case studies are useful for converting leads into customers, but that’s not all.
You can use case studies throughout your sales funnel.
Use them to draw in new customers. Use them to sign people up for your mailing list. Use them to keep people interested.
What shouldn’t you do? Publish your study and then just sit on it.
Make sure every single person possible sees it and reads it.
I mean, what’s the point in putting in all that work if you’re just going to stick it on your webpage and never doing anything else with it?
Here are some great ways to get your study out there and start luring in prospects, converting leads, or whatever it is you want to do:
- Incorporate it into Email Marketing
A great way to get more mileage out of your case studies is to make them a part of your email newsletter.
A 2016 study from Campaign Monitor determined that email marketing has an ROI of 4400%. That’s HUGE.
And what does it mean for you?
Contrary to popular belief, email is not dead. In fact, it still has the highest return of all of the marketing channels.
It’s the perfect place to get the word out there about your brand-new study.
Share quotes, statistics, tips, or examples from your study, and then include a link so prospects can go to your website and read the whole thing.
- Share Snippets on Your Blog
I already discussed publishing your case study as a blog post. But what if you don’t want to do that?
You don’t have to share your entire study on your blog to reap the benefits.
Just like an email newsletter, you can include tips, stats, and quotes from your case study without giving everything away.
Provide a call-to-action button at the bottom inviting readers to read it in full.
Tip: Once you have a few case studies under your belt, consider dedicating an entire page on your website to them. And make sure to optimize it for search engines!
“When we switched from a generic URL housing our case studies page to “frac.tl/content-marketing-case-studies,” they jumped from page 2 to the top #1–3 positions for a specific phrase we wanted to rank for (“content marketing case studies”), which attracts highly relevant search traffic.”
- Include it in White Papers
Let’s face it–white papers can be a snooze fest.
Despite their importance in marketing, they’re boring. It’s a fact.
I’ve never met anyone who loves reading white papers.
You know how you can make yours more interesting? Include customer success stories.
It will give your audience something to relate to and make it just a little bit less like reading stereo instructions.
Highlight customer quotes or statistics throughout the white paper to help demonstrate your point.
- Create a Webinar
Webinars have long been a marketing staple. Used as part of a sales funnel, they can help bring in new prospects and even convert leads into customers.
For most businesses, the average number of webinar attendees is 148. That’s nothing to shake a stick at!
Anytime you have 148 prospective customers listening to you attentively, you need take advantage of it.
Scoop Studios says, “Injecting customer case studies into your webinars helps bring what you’re teaching to life and ensures your content isn’t only relevant but timely.”
Use stories from your study as examples during your webinar, or even have your customers join is as co-presenters or guest speakers.
This approach can add legitimacy to your claims and help push people further down your funnel.
- Use Specific Quotes as Testimonials
You don’t have to share your entire case study for it to be effective.
Testimonials provide amazing social proof and including them in your content can help increase sales by over 62%. In fact, 82% of consumers say they trust an online review as much as they trust a friend.
That’s why you should choose the most exciting, persuasive quotes from your case study and share them as testimonials. You can share them on your homepage, your blog, your social media, and even in your newsletters.
Just don’t forget to link back to the full report!
- Promote on Social Media
In Matt’s “Complete Guide to Social Media,” he refers to social media as “low hanging fruit.”
What’s that mean, exactly?
The leads are right there for the taking—you just need to reach out and grab them.
The entire point of these networks is to generate and share content that appeals to your audience, and then engage with them to drive leads.
And since it’s likely that your company is already likely active on social media and constantly needs fresh content, sharing case studies might just spice things up a bit.
Let’s be real—sharing the same old blog posts, lead magnets, and promotional materials again and again gets old.
Every case study has endless potential for social media. You can share customer quotes, visuals like graphs and charts, infographics, and even video snippets.
The only limit is your imagination.
But What if I Can’t Create My Own Case Study Yet?
There are several reasons you may not be able to create a case study.
The most obvious, of course, is that you’re new to business and you haven’t had enough time to actually see any results yet.
Or maybe you work in an industry where you can’t legally share details, or your clients just won’t agree to you sharing their information.
Whatever the reason, there are ways around it. And there are always other options.
My first suggestion? Use someone else’s case study.
Before you go accusing me of being unethical, I am not advocating stealing someone else’s study and putting your name on it.
What I am saying is that you can find someone in the same industry, with a story that will appeal to your clients, and share their work.
You should 100% attribute it to them.
But you should also swing it to your advantage.
Share their great results, and then explain why your results will be even better.
Talk about how you’re going to improve upon their process to deliver greater results.
And then make it happen!
Here a few more things you can do in the absence of customer success stories:
- Ask for reviews
If you don’t have enough data to create a full case study, you still may have happy enough customers who are willing to share a review.
A Demand Gen Report B2B Buyer Behaviour Survey found that 53% of business buyers rely on peer recommendations when they make a purchase.
A review can serve you just as well as a case study when it comes to boosting your credibility. After all, word of mouth is word of mouth.
- Provide other valuable content
In the same Demand Gen B2B Buyer Behavior Survey, 61% of respondents said they choose the vendor who offers the best mix of content for each stage of their buying process.
What’s that mean for you?
When it comes to content, buyers look at the overall picture.
While case studies are highly valuable, your prospects likely won’t miss them too much if you have offer other valuable materials.
- Regular blog posts
- White papers
- Original infographics
- Video tutorials
- Live Q&As with the audience
- … and this list could keep going on and on. If you can imagine it, you can do it!
- Publish a “use case”
A “use case” is term typically used in software development.
It’s a written description of how the end user will use a system to achieve a certain goal.
If you’re like me, you see the business value here.
Forget software—why can’t a use case be utilized in any situation where you want to forecast how people will use your product?
In theory, a use case will run through the steps of a process, predict where errors might occur, and determine the steps to reach a successful conclusion.
There are 3 steps needed to produce a use case:
- Actor – user interacting with the process
- System – process that is required to meet the final outcome
- Goal – success outcome
In the absence of the data required to create a case study, a use case can provide a handy way to demonstrate your product in action.
Ultimately, it should get customers to envision themselves using your product to solve a problem (just like a case study would).
Just be clear that your use case is an example, not a real customer story.
Customers are far less trusting of sales copy than they used to be.
What they are interested in is product reviews and factual findings.
A case study offers the best of both worlds–data and peer testimonials, all rolled up into one.
If you’re not interested in my pitch and only want the facts, I’ll throw you one more statistic before I sign off:
Once buyers start researching their options, 72% of them will turn to Google to get started.
And do you know what they’re looking for?
Educational materials, customer reviews, and testimonials.
You don’t want to miss out on all those prospects because you’re not giving them what they need.
So, is there a case study in your future? I know I’m going to get started on one as soon as I can!