Throughout my marketing career, I’ve found there are essentially three goals that a case study can help you meet:
- Close a deal.
- Increase awareness.
- Make miracles for you.
Similar to sourcing guest speakers for events, you don’t always need a brand name in order for your case study to be effective. I go into more detail, ranking the case study types as easy, medium, and hard, and I explain how to accomplish that most difficult case study.
Easy Case Study: Close a deal
Who this is about: Your ride-or-die customer
I don’t mean to cheapen this one by making it sound so simple. It’s my personal favorite type of case study. In this type, you shine a light on a customer who’s your biggest fan. It’s the customer who’s most willing to speak to press on your behalf or provide a reference to a prospect.
Plus, this quick-win case study is the one that you can complete the fastest. Maybe their account was easy to implement in large part because it was just that great of a mutual fit.
Or their account is so straightforward, you won’t need a lengthy interview. And maybe you even became such good friends with the business contact that you’re on texting terms.
This is the one where, when a reporter on deadline reaches out to you for a customer quote, you frantically text Julie, “Hey! Can you hop on a call with X media outlet today?” Or you fire off an email to Michael, “Y prospect is looking for a reference before signing on. Got 20 minutes?”
Medium Case Study: Increase awareness
Who this is about: Your brand name customer
This is the one that is usually hardest to finagle because many well-known brands don’t like to publicly list their vendors.
How to get them to agree? Be super specific with terms and usage.
Example of terms: Make it clear you’ll state the users are, say, the corporate employees of a sports team vs. implying it’s the athletes themselves. You can still benefit from the brand halo.
Example of usage: Agree not to publish the case study. Instead, use it only for closed-door meetings with prospects. Even if it’s not publicly listed, it can still raise your profile in your niche.
Some brands won’t allow their logo to be used on your site — but they’ll agree to a case study.
Remember: You don’t need logos to benefit from social proof.
Hard Case Study: Make miracles
Who this is about: Your white whale
This is the gem you’re able to uncover once a year. The perfect case study that hits all the markers of success for your business. Usually more than one of these stars align:
- Known or relatable brand name
- Enormous ROI (e.g. millions of dollars)
- Significant outcomes (e.g. hours of work saved; measurable health improvements; poignant personal stories)
This is your VIP customer. The one you save for an interview when the New York Times calls for an exclusive.
To achieve your white whale case study, you need all of these:
A solid relationship with your customer
This sounds obvious, but it’s one I emphasize because when you’re aiming to have this case study drive major results for you, you’re going to refer to it often. And it’s the one that will get the most scrutiny. Can you count on your business contact to speak to reporters on relatively short notice? Even if you help them with media training, do you trust they can handle tough questions?
Your customer’s KPIs (or success metrics that they measure)
There’s certainly data that you can pull — especially if you’re a SaaS company. But are there additional data that only your customer can verify?
That’s the secret sauce.
Your customer’s owned data is proof of effectiveness to the skeptics. You might brag that users sent 100,000 messages through your app in less than a week. Or that your PR services garnered 50 million impressions for your client. Or that your survey tool yields a 25% faster completion rate. But that doesn’t offer much context to the skeptic. Your data alone doesn’t tell the full story.
You need your customer’s data to bring the outcomes full circle. It’s only your customer who can say that your blog strategy earned them over $1,000 per month without any advertising.
Plus, this is where your customer has a vested interest in telling your story with you. Your customer doesn’t want to talk about how fantastic your solution is — they want to talk about how they were successful with your solution.
A personal story
It’s not just that everyone loves a good story. When people are new to your solution, a personal story will help them more easily understand your value.
Can you imagine how a bunch of Fitbit trackers helped a bunch of people at an office get healthier? Maybe, on a vague, impersonal level.
Here’s a story about a woman who was wheelchair-bound:
She was in a wheelchair because she had a condition called spina bifida. She wore a Fitbit to track her arm workouts on a burn machine. Eventually, she got strong enough to lift herself out of her wheelchair and onto another surface, like a toilet or bed. And within several months, she was able to take a solo vacation for the first time in her life. She was almost 30 years old.
This woman got her Fitbit from her employer, and her benefits manager coached her on her fitness goals. That’s Fitbit’s corporate wellness program at its finest.
And it’s a story that everyone can appreciate, regardless of their prior knowledge of fitness or human resources & benefits. It’s relatable and unlike the business KPIs, it’s human-focused.
It appeals to the head and the heart.
A pressure test
The final element to a white whale case study is that it holds up to a pressure test. You’ll work with your most critical stakeholders in your company and in partnership with your Legal team.
This is where you’ll dig into the customer’s data — how do you know they actually saved X amount of hours or Y amount of money? Aside from your success metrics, how did they track progress over time?
And this is where you’ll verify the personal stories. Did that person really achieve the outcomes they said? Are they still using your solution, even months or years later?
Once all the information is out there, your potential customers might ask tough questions. And if your PR team pitches it to media, it will be those reporters’ job to be skeptical. So poke holes in that case study before it’s published.
You need all three…
Ultimately, there isn’t any right kind of case study — because you need all of these kinds to support your sales and marketing goals.
It’s your job as a marketer to produce a good mix, and of course, to keep chasing your next white whale.