Case studies are sort of like table salt. Not always the most exciting tool in your arsenal, but when they’re missing, you definitely notice.
Why is that? Because they’re so necessary. When done right, case studies are the best way to support your marketing claims in a scalable, direct way. Which is why they should always be a point of pride for a product marketer; something we love creating.
Good case studies should always tell a prospect how you’ve alleviated a customer’s pain. But to be great, they should tell the story of your customer, featuring a specific persona, demonstrating the lessons learned, and ultimately making your customer the hero.
Marketers, let’s get excited about case studies. And my first piece of advice? Stop thinking of them as case studies. Tell customer stories. Here are seven tips for doing that better:
- Choose the audience first.
Not all customer stories are equally impactful. The trick is to find the stories that keep your buyer rapt because they see themselves in the narrative from start to (successful) finish. Pinpoint a particular persona and a specific kind of use case or bottleneck for that persona. Then find someone with a story to tell about being in that spot. Tell stories that will answer common questions and speak to real issues.
- Get the questions right.
I have found that the best interviews happen if you engage your customer in a real conversation. But, having a tailored list of talking points handy will help you as a prompt to stay on top of the elements that matter.
Approach this like a journalist. Don’t come in with a generic list of questions. Every story is different, and you should know a customer’s background well enough to spend your time confirming details and pushing for specifics when you get together.
- Let the customer tell their story.
This may sound obvious, but it isn’t always that easy. Know the general narrative you want (see the first point), but don’t come in with everything already written. Let your customer tell you how success happened. The change management, the points of hesitation, the cool use cases that you didn’t know about – these are all things a reader can learn from. It might be a cliche, but it’s all about the journey, right?
- Don’t be afraid of soundbites.
We live in a world where buyer attention is measured in seconds. Whether I’m writing or filming a customer story, I’m never afraid to ask for a soundbite. Customers often make an awesome point in 500 words. Ask them to reduce and reflect – “how would you describe what you just said in a sentence?” Or, “how should I summarize that?” That will preserve their voice, but coach them toward the format you need.
- Get it all on the record.
Again, it might be obvious but record your interviews. On the phone, I use a call recording app (Record My Call works fine), but I want video if I can get it. And spending a few bucks to get them transcribed? That might be the best advice I can give.
Your time and your customer’s time are precious. You want an interview to have shelf life. Transcripts/videos can be reformatted and shared with the rest of your team for tidbits they might find handy. You can also use recordings to pull testimonials. Or, go back and find best practices and supplementary stories that come out of your conversation.
Another upside: if you can listen to recordings of yourself critically, it will make you a better interviewer.
- Ask for numbers with plenty of warning.
You want data in your cases. Set the expectation before the interview that you’d like any numbers the customer feels comfortable sharing. That way, your client can weigh what they can and can’t put out there and you’re not stuck with a great stat on the cutting room floor, or maybe worse, a “can I get back to you on that?”
- Make the final product accessible.
The way you format your cases – video or written, long or short, etc. – should be tested and examined to fit your audience and context. For example, I’ve found that it helps with my audience to keep things fairly short and visually compelling. Another tip: avoid forms or other barriers on customer content, and consider elevating them on your site. While cases are typically later stage content, you never really know when a buyer’s exploration will escalate. You want this stuff to be as easy to get to as possible!
So remember: the best customer stories make the customer the hero, not the solution. Those are the shoes your reader wants to be in – something that they can relate to and will get them excited. And as product marketers, it’s our job to deliver exactly that.
Hally Pinaud is an experienced technology marketer with a passion for helping people discover and champion great products. She is currently a member of the Product Marketing team at PeopleFluent. Prior to this role, she spent time at Harte Hanks/Aberdeen Group and at Boston area start-ups. Hally holds an MBA in Product and Brand Management from Boston College and a BS in Marketing from Bentley University. Follow her on Twitter at @HallyPino
Image courtesy of Flickr Commons.