Turn case studies into a money-making machine

What if I told you that you could amplify your case study ROI? And that you are going about case-studies all wrong?

We often seek validation before we buy. Do we trust this purchase? Have other people found success using it - more so than the alternatives? Not everyone wants to be the first to use a product. This is the role case studies play in a content strategy. Most people who create case studies have their heart in the right place. What if you could also use your $2,500 investment in a case study to inspire net-new customers to buy? Would you?

When you put storytelling at the core of a case study you can satisfy the "show me proof" question and you can use them to engage more customers.

When I took over Microsoft Dynamics case study production in January of 2015 we were behind target and not on track to achieve our goal for the year. The team had been using the traditional “problem > solution > benefit” approach to case studies. The “problem” section was a short paragraph overview of the challenges the customers face, usually specific to what Microsoft could help with. Microsoft cropped up early and often in the “solution” section and you would see them mentioned constantly thereafter. It was a very dry and very boring. It solved for “prove it”, but little more. It was how everyone was doing case studies. And many still are.

it was a very dry and very boring.

I flipped things on their head, much to the chagrin of some team members. I implemented the following structure.

  1. Why – why was this company in business. Who were the people that made it tick? Why did they need to change?
  2. What – what challenges and issues were they facing? What were they doing about those issues?
  3. How – how did they overcome these challenges?

“How” was where Microsoft showed up, and it was very light. Other things the customer did were also covered. For example: implementing ISO 9001, adding a new fleet of trucks or invented a cure to cancer. If they were a part of the company’s solution then we mentioned it.

For good measure (and SEO) we put in a list of the Microsoft ingredients the company was using. So even though Dynamics was “paying for” the case study other teams like Office and Azure would get some love too.

Here is what it looks like when you lead with people, a challenge and a story.

People do not care about case studies. They care about:

  1. Their problems
  2. People like them, with similar problems
  3. How those other people overcame their problems

These three things are ripe for story: people, challenges, a desire, and a journey to reach said desire.

I have news for you: unless you are making something particularly sexy, people do not care about your product either. And for enterprise software people really do not care about your product. People care about themselves and their own success.

No one wakes up in the morning and say “Mmmmm hmmm I gotta buy me some ____________ <fill in the blank enterprise product>.”

If your product helps, great. Your challenge is to get them to care. Even the sexiest of products (think an iPhone, a Tesla S, lingerie) are not sexy because of what they are but how they make people feel and look. And of course, how they feel because of how they look. But hold on there – I was getting a little bit too meta.

Every piece of content you create is an opportunity to engage with your customer. If you want regular tips and tricks direct to your inbox, click here.

Engage your audience with other people’s struggles. Engage them with inspiring stories

Don’t just answer the question “Which product should I buy to solve my problem?” (yours, obviously). Get them to engage, then act. Put them in the shoes of your existing customers. Tell customer stories like this and you will also add value to your brand because you engaged with them on a fundamental, human level.

If you spend $2,500 on a case study (typical for a very simple, written case study) then you can choose how to apply it from the following:

  1. Get 1,000 words of “proof points” to help 10 customers justify buying your product
  2. Get content you can include in outbound messaging to engage 10 more prospects
  3. Get material you can use to support 10 inbound content conversions
  4. All the above.

What do you choose? Answers in the comments!

And yes, we did hit our target for the year.

P.S. Unfortunately, it seems that since I left [some parts of] Microsoft has fallen back into the old way of doing things… without story. Such as this one.