Content Marketing

What Is a Case Study in Marketing?

CopyPress

Published: June 1, 2022

You know what your business can do. You’ve put the time and effort into creating your products and services, and interviewing and hiring a great team. There’s a belief in your vision and hope for the future. But how do you get potential leads and future clients to buy into that vision? What sets your company apart from the competition? Your content marketing can help, specifically, case studies. But what is a case study in marketing? How can one document convince your audience that your business provides everything they need? In this article, we discuss topics like:

What Is a Case Study?

A case study is a content marketing piece that shares how your brand, product, or service affected a client and influenced their success in a big way. It shows how working with your company solved their problems or addressed pain points. The research and organization are a bit like your middle school science project. A case study follows a procedure to set up the problem, explore the “experiment” you did to help your client, and the conclusions you drew from the partnership. The main sections of a case study include:

  • Subject history: This section explains your client’s backstory and the initial pain points they wanted to be addressed.
  • Goals: What goals did your subject want to achieve when they came to you for a solution?
  • Hypothesis: What did you expect to happen when you implemented a strategy for the client?
  • Execution: This section has step-by-step instructions on how you implemented the strategy to help the client.
  • Results: What was the outcome? Explain it in as much detail as possible with data, statistics, and quotes from the client.
  • Conclusion: What did this experience teach you and how can you apply its success to working with other companies?

Are Case Studies Technical Documents?

Just because case studies use somewhat of a scientific format, that doesn’t mean they’re boring. Case studies are not technical documents. They’re like any other content marketing piece you create, but with a different purpose. They tell a story where your client is the protagonist or the good guy. Their problem is the antagonist or the bad guy. Your brand, product, or service empowers the good guy to save the day on their own and become the hero.

While case studies are often their own content documents, you can also use the data and research you put into creating them in other ways. Feature quotes from your case studies on your website, like testimonials. You may also use some case studies not just for marketing, but pass them off to your sales team to use when closing a deal. Case studies are a “right place, right time” type of content. When your audience sees them is just as important as what you write. Focusing on places to create these opportunities makes your case studies even more effective.

Why Do Brands Create Case Studies?

There are plenty of benefits to using case studies as part of your content marketing strategy. They work for your brand by:

Showing Your Differences

Many content marketers follow the strategies most popular in their industry. Why wouldn’t they, especially if they work? It’s not a bad thing to take a lead from your competitors if their efforts are successful. But when too many people do the same thing, it gets boring. And your brand becomes just another drop in the bucket.

Case studies are a way to show what makes working with your company unique. Taking leads on a real journey, one that an actual client experienced, does more than just tell them why working with you is a good idea. It shows them, step by step, with data to back it up. These experiences are something your competitors can’t replicate and that you can’t borrow. They’re unique to your brand.

Want to discover ways to set your case studies and other content marketing pieces apart from the herd? Try CopyPress’s content marketing analysis tool. This report reviews all the content you have available online. Then it compares your pieces to your top three competitors. Reveal gaps in your strategy where you could create fresh content on topics your audience is searching for. You may even have a client and a potential case study to fill the gap.

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Showing Your Expertise in the Field

Case studies show more than just how you differ from your competitors. They also explore how much you know about your industry, field, or niche, and how that knowledge leads to real results for clients. You have the expertise to target those pain points and produce effective results that help your clients reach or exceed their goals.

Anybody can claim to understand the field, but do they have the results to back it up? They may claim to pay attention to customer pain points, but what have they done to provide actionable solutions? Give your audience all the proof they need with a case study.

Building Trust

clipboards on black table with notes about what is a case study

Image via Unsplash by@starteteam

Using client feedback and customer testimonials are two great ways to show prospective clients that your products and solutions really work. But it’s also easy, though wrong, to make that stuff up. But some companies do. They pay for disingenuous feedback and reviews. Sure, it may inflate their ratings and success metrics, but what happens when a lead signs on and finds out they didn’t get what they paid for? That trust factor is gone.

Your company may not partake in these practices. But if they’ve burned your leads or clients before, it’s going to take more for them to trust you, even if you weren’t the brand at fault. Truth is, it takes a lot more time and effort to fake a case study versus a review. They’re full of client feedback, but also actionable steps and data that prove you know what you’re doing. These elements help build trust with your audience and give them more than just a good word on which to base their opinions.

Making Your Clients Feel Good

Who doesn’t like to be the award winner or the shining star? If you want to make your clients feel good, ask them to be the subject of your case study. Creating this kind of content partnership is good for both businesses, especially with B2B companies. You get a great story to promote your products and services. They get backlinks and brand exposure without putting extra time into their own marketing.

Case studies let you continue a partnership with a client, even after you finish your initial work. It encourages them to come back to you for more products and services. It also reaffirms why they chose your solution in the first place: because you value them as a client and you’re proud of the work you’ve done together. They aren’t just a method of payment for you.

6 Things To Consider Before Creating a Case Study

Think about these elements of case study development before creating your content:

1. Do You Have Permission To Talk About Your Subject?

Not all clients may want you to use their names, logos, or other identifiers in your case studies or marketing materials. For legal reasons, and just to not be a jerk, it’s important to make sure you have the clients’ permission before developing a case study. One option is to alert the client before you work with them that you’d like to use their success story as a case study in the future. Even if you don’t create the piece, you still get the permission first and have the authority if you change your mind.

Even if a client is hesitant at first to be your case study subject, there are five levels of consent, permission, and participation to introduce. These varying levels let you make a case study and still respect the clients’ wishes. Options to present and negotiate include levels:

  • 1: Clients agree to let you use their identifiers and publish the case study in any format or location you want.
  • 2: Clients let you use their identifiers but have restrictions about where you publish the case study, such as allowing it to appear on your website but not on social media.
  • 3: Clients do not let you use their identifiers, but take part in a generic case study that you can share how you want.
  • 4: Clients do not let you use their identifiers, but take part in the case study with restrictions on where and how you share it.
  • 5: Clients refuse to take part in a case study.

The Level 5 option is the least desirable for your brand, but many clients may agree to some negotiations in levels 1 through 4. For example, at CopyPress, we have clients that took part in case studies at different levels. Lands’ End allows us to share a case study at level 1. Another client, a global recruitment website that we can’t mention by name, chose a level 4 case study.

2. What Successes Do Leads Want To See?

Your business is likely successful in many areas. But success alone doesn’t always add up to the right subject for a case study. It’s only beneficial to the audience if it illustrates a problem they’re trying to solve or a pain point they need managed. Think about it, your audience probably doesn’t care if you increase your email newsletter open rates by 70% if your products and services have nothing to do with email marketing. Instead, focus your case study topics on actionable ways you’ve helped your clients.

You also want to create targeted case studies that reach different segments of your audience. For example, CopyPress has a case study about how we helped that global recruitment company increase website traffic by 440% and reach 13.5 million visitors a month. But what if your company isn’t looking to increase website traffic? What if you want to learn about our skills in increasing your return on investment? We solve that problem by creating another case study, the Land’s End one that targets ROI-focused content.

3. Is Your Subject a Typical Client Case?

Is the subject you chose the best representation of a typical brand or client interaction with your company? Or is your subject a unique situation? Both can benefit you, actually, but it’s helpful to identify which situation applies to each case study to map the narrative.

Cases that represent your typical customer experience are good because they’re one of many success stories. They’re just the best example of what you can do. This shows consistency in your work methods and tracks with your other promotional materials, feedback, and content.

Unusual cases aren’t bad content topics just because they don’t represent the everyday client experience. These types of case studies show how your company goes above and beyond the “typical” to meet clients with unconventional needs. These subjects may make for more interesting case studies because the problems are unique and require more attention to detail from your team. Both have a place in your content repository, it just takes strategy and know-how to determine when to present and use each one.

4. How Can You Map the Story?

Though you structure a case study like a science presentation, it shouldn’t read like a technical manual. Stats are good. Facts are great. Data is superb. But those things can be dry and boring to read if you don’t weave them into a bigger narrative. To help map your story, first settle on an overall theme or thread that guides the reader through the case study. A good “template” to use may be: “How one X got Y from Z,” with each variable standing for:

  • X: The client or brand subject of the article
  • Y: The return X got from working with your company, which typically includes a number, percentage, or other data point
  • Z: The product or solution used to get the Y return

These three points help guide you on what the reader really wants to know. What is the case study about? What returns did they get? How did they get that result? For example, one of our CopyPress case study headlines reads: “How SearchLab Digital Rapidly Scaled Content Creation with CopyPress and Onboarded 233% More Clients.” It doesn’t follow the formula exactly but uses the same elements, just rearranged to make them more readable.

Related: How Storytelling Can Improve Your Content Marketing

5. Are The Results Eye-Catching?

Is your case study subject remarkable enough to make people want to click on it? Case studies are data-driven, and while data helps you track progress and meet goals, it’s not exactly entertainment unless there’s something eye-catching about it. Like what? Usually big numbers.

For example, if your email newsletter software helped a client increase their open rate by 5%, that’s probably not going to get clicks. You may have helped that client. Those results could actually be a significant improvement for their specific business. But that won’t wow your audience, even though we know in marketing that an increase to the open rate of 5% is actually very extraordinary. Now, if that percentage equals 200 new subscribers a week, that could be a more significant figure that appeals to your audience even more.

Case studies often advertise the results in the headline with the XYZ formula. Look over your client success stories and see which ones are the most impressive. Another option is to pick ones that seem almost unbelievable. So much that people may think you’re lying about the results and they have to click to find out. But don’t inflate your statistics or make a false claim to dupe people and gain clicks. Then your case study becomes clickbait and can reduce audience trust rather than build it.

6. Do You Have a Feedback Structure in Place?

Where are you sharing your case studies? Are you using them as gated content or as lead magnets in email newsletters? Or are they always available on your website? Do you plan to share the content on social media or as part of a drip campaign? No matter where or how you choose to host your content, it’s important to make sure your leads can provide feedback, and take the next steps in the buyer journey right from your case study.

This turns your content from a passive tool into an interactive one. Open up the comments section or ask for replies. The responses you receive let you know what people think of the case study. It also gives room for leads to ask questions and you the chance to respond. By providing a call to action (CTA) within the case study and then making the follow-through process clear and simple, you encourage not just feedback, but conversions. These may increase not only your qualified inquiries but your sales, too.

Is a Case Study Your Best Content Choice?

Case studies are a helpful addition to your content marketing catalog. But they’re not your only option. They serve their purpose, but without the right story, time, and data, they might not be the best use of your resources. Case studies are not press releases, advertisements, or a podium to talk about how wonderful your company is. You don’t need to state that outright. People will make that conclusion from the way you write the narrative and when they see how your company provides value to its clients through actual work, not just words.

Consider if the information you’re trying to share benefits from telling a personal story. Is your audience going to get the most out of your content if you walk them step-by-step through a client journey? Or are there other, better pieces of content that take less time and resources to explain the same information? Audience value is always the top priority. If your audience doesn’t care, it’s not worth writing the piece. But that doesn’t mean you have to ditch the idea completely. Instead, consider another content avenue for the topic, like an eBook or white paper.

That’s where CopyPress can help. Our creative and strategy teams work with you to discover the key points about your clients’ experiences that your audience will love. The things that make them want to learn more about what becoming your client can do for them. Ready to see how we take your case study ideas and develop new content from them? Schedule your free 30-minute introductory call with our team today.

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