How B2B Marketers Sabotage the Power of Case Studies to Generate Demand

People are often bored or put off by facts, but they never tire of hearing stories” — Jay Conrad Levinson, Author “Guerilla Marketing” series of books

Reading case studyCase studies are bursting with promise for use in B2B lead generation and sales. I contend, however, that only a minority achieve their full potential. Why? Most are mind-numbingly dull.

So, let’s talk about their role in content marketing, how they frequently miss the mark, and what to do about it.

Why Case Studies?

Why do marketers at B2B companies write case studies? As reported in the research findings highlighted in the 2016 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report, the most important goals of content marketing are lead generation and sales.

content marketing goals

And if content is king, case studies are the crown jewels. They serve as third-party validation—real word proof of the performance of a product, service or solution. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the same report showed 82% of B2B Marketers use them.

content tactics

Finally, 65% of respondents say case studies are effective. Only webinars and in-person events rank higher.

Effectiveness of tactics

4 Ways Case Studies Fail

Clearly, case studies are important and one of the most effective forms of content marketing. But they could be so much more powerful if they did not cause readers to fog over mentally, click the mouse and leave. Here are four flaws I frequently see in B2B case studies.

1. They Use an Unappetizing Cookie-Cutter Approach

cookie cutter case studiesYou probably know the case study formula: four sections with subheads preceding each one:  “background,” “challenge,” “solution” and “results.” Just fill in the blanks. It’s easy to write, but is it designed to be read?

Can you imagine a David Baldacci thriller written this way? If it was, would it engage you? Even though the underlying structure might be essential to a good novel, it’s not presented in such a bare bones manner.

Also, people skim articles, especially on the web. The generic subheads do little to draw them in. They need to be more descriptive.

2. The People Have Vanished

The most powerful way to engage your readers is through the characters’ emotions. In many case studies, however, people are plucked out and discarded. One monolithic company works with another to resolve a problem. It’s as if the companies operate with no input from human beings. And without the human element, there are no emotions, no one for the reader to empathize with and root for.

3. They Gloss Over the Decision-Making Process

Often, we hear little about what was involved in the decision to use a company’s services. But many of the most interesting human feelings lie slap dab in the middle of the decision-making process. Given that your prospect is reading a case study, it’s likely they’re in the midst of deciding whether to consider your offering further or make a purchase. Empathy with another individual can help him or her take the next step. So why do case studies portray the situation as if making a purchase was a foregone conclusion?

PORSCHEIn one case study I wrote for a client, the main character, John, was considering buying a 3D laser scanner to increase efficiencies and opportunities for his surveying business. John was excited about the advantages the equipment offered, but he had to overcome the hurdle of the $130,000 price tag. He was moping around in his hotel room on a business trip, wondering if such an investment would pay off. His wife asked him what was wrong. John explained he wanted the technology, but also needed to know it would pay off. His wife said, “My car cost almost that amount, and it doesn’t make you any money.” She was, by the way, driving a Porsche. With that in mind, John ordered the laser scanner and it has opened up business opportunities left and right. This is a story within a story. And even if your family members don’t drive Porsches, you can relate to it.

Since people, not companies make business decisions, we have to recognize they are not entirely rational. What matters to your prospects are the emotions and the stories behind the choices of case studies’ heroes. Oh…just to clarify, case studies’ heroes are your customers, not your product.

4. They Do a Lot of Chest Thumping

Case studies tend to be told from the seller’s point of view, telling how they saved the day with their magnificent performance. Few want to hear from a braggart, and stories told from this perspective tend to lack credibility. The bottom line? Your audience wishes to hear the real story from their peers. Of course, you can stick to the positive elements, but include a little drama where it exists.

People write case studies (or anything for that matter) with the intention that people will read them. This begs the question, why do they write them in ways that force readers to plod through a tough trip. It minimizes the chance they’ll conquer the first paragraph let alone reach the finish line.

Perhaps it’s because they don’t know the alternative. Here are some tips that can enliven your case studies, so they engage and persuade.

5 Tips for Writing Success Stories that Generate Leads and Sales

1. Think Success STORY

The very words “case study,” which conjure up images slogging over business school homework, may be part of the problem. Think instead of success stories, perhaps an article you might see featured in an industry magazine.  Here are some examples in Lidar Magazine, Rock to Road and Industrial Weigh and Measure.

2. Include People

Emotions sell. Without people, there are no emotions and case studies fall flat. Because your readers want a third-party opinion on how your company helped, tell the story from the buyer’s point of view. It’s more likely to be credible, compelling and to show your value proposition rather than merely stating it.

3. Forget the Formulas

Your story should have a beginning, middle and end and should demonstrate how people confronted and overcame a business problem. But favor a journalistic approach over a cookie-cutter one.

4. Add a Quote or Two

Quotes add spice to your story. To boost trust, however, they must be real. It’s okay to get a quote from a customer and edit it for clarity, but don’t make them up. Fake testimonials are only effective in piercing the balloon of trust your success story is designed to fill.

5. Interview Your Customers

You’ve probably surmised by now that none of this storytelling is possible without engaging in conversations with your clients to hear their side of the story. So, talk with them to learn about their experiences. Because your customer will feel more comfortable opening up to a third party, you’ll likely get better results if you have someone outside of your organization do the interviews. Also, since a third-party interviewer is not intimately involved in the story themselves, they are more likely to ask questions that reveal fascinating insights.

Resolve to create success stories that stoke your prospects enthusiasm in 2016. Contact us to get started.

About Paul Mosenson

NuSpark Marketing Founder, Chief Lead Generation Strategist and Online Media Director An experienced B2B and B2C marketer, Paul has been helping clients generate leads and grow their businesses for over 25 years. Paul helps plan and optimize marketing and lead generation programs.

1 Comment

  1. Ginny Simon

    Great piece Carolyn. And a great new perspective!