It’s early spring down by the lake. A group of youngsters is gathered on the bank wearing their swimsuits, but the water looks pretty darn cold. They’re all looking to each other to see who’s going to be the first one in. Eventually one of the kids — let’s call him Brave Billy — give in to the peer pressure and plunges in. As soon as the others see Billy having a great time in the water, they pile right in behind him. That’s just human nature.
Now imagine that same group of youngsters all grown up and making buying decisions for their companies. They’re surrounded by throngs of vendors, each claiming their product is just what the doctor ordered. Which should they pick? What if they make the wrong choice? They look around — figuratively — at their peers on the lakeside and ask, “Where’s Billy?”
That’s where case studies come in. I think every marketer should have “Case Studies” or “Customer Success Stories” at their disposal to use in their content marketing programs.
Why? Because prospective customers want to know that what you’re offering really works. That your offering is going to be good for them. Nearly everyone wants to see proof points in the form of validation from others like them.
Telling a compelling story about someone just like them achieving great results by using your solution may not make the sale, but it can keep the momentum moving forward.
I’ve seen case studies that are pages and pages long. I don’t recommend going that route for a customer success story. I like to get the whole thing to fit into one or two pages when laid out in a PDF. More than that and you’ll probably find your readers dropping off before they get through it. If you can be concise and tell a convincing story, you will have a great case study to use in your content marketing programs.
Anatomy of a Case Study
A typical case study has three sections: The Challenge, The Solution, The Results. That’s all you need.
1 — The Challenge
Describe the challenge (‘challenge’ sounds nicer than ‘problem’) the customer was facing that led them to pursue your solution. It’s usually best to express the problem — er, challenge — in business terms rather than technical terms. Make it clear that by successfully answering the challenge, the company will reap real, tangible benefits.
2 — The Solution
Describe the solution that the customer found. It’s often helpful to describe some of the alternative solutions the customer explored and abandoned, and explaining why those didn’t work out. It helps the readers by taking them through the pathways they may also be considering. They may still follow those avenues to see for themselves, but will appreciate having the heads-up on potential problems from you.
Make sure to include details about the final solution, and how it addressed the challenge. The idea is to make it easy for the reader to draw parallels to their own challenge, and envision how the solution would work for them.
3 — The Results
Explain the benefits the customer saw once they implemented the solution, and relate them directly to the challenges described in part 1. This is where you paint a picture of a happy customer, satisfied that they’ve solved their problem and are reaping real benefits in business terms from their solution.
Give it a try
And that’s all there is to it. Don’t feel you need to include every detail of every step taken along the way. Like any story, it’s best to highlight the most compelling parts, and eliminate those that don’t advance the plot.
The next time you create a user story, I urge you to give this format a try. Let me know how it works for you.