Forget Testimonials: 5 Tactics for a Killer Case Study

by: | November 12, 2012

Testimonials get all of the attention. They help increase conversion rates on landing pages and direct mail. You cannot read a marketing guide without hearing about testimonials—but what about case studies?

Case studies are powerful tools for sales and marketing. A testimonial gives the prospective customer a single quote or comment, but a case study gives the whole story—the challenge, the steps, and the results. It does more than show an example of a happy customer. It demonstrates how you helped a customer solve a problem and reap tremendous rewards.

Case studies and testimonials are effective for the same reason: social proof. Customers expect marketers to say wonderful things about our own clients or businesses. We’re trying to sell them something. They have a much easier time believing a person like themselves.

Research from Nielsen demonstrates a shift away from ads and toward what it calls “earned media.” A few stats:

  • 92 percent of consumers around the world trust recommendations from friends and family
  • 70 percent trust consumer opinions posted online (reviews)
  • 58 percent trust editorial content, such as newspaper articles

These percentages drop below 50 percent for paid media, such as ads for television, magazines, newspaper, and radio.

What does this mean? Online, the average person does not trust ads—they trust recommendations from third parties.

This is why case studies and testimonials are effective. They are based on third-party information. But how can you make a case study even more effective?

5 Tactics to Get More Conversions With Case Studies

Tactic #1: Start with a basic outline

There is no need to “think outside the box” for your first case study. Start with a simple and effective outline. There are three essential parts:

1. Challenge – describe the problem your customer faced, or describe the opportunity she needed to seize.

2. Action – Quickly mention how the customer found your company, then dive into the steps you took to solve the challenge. Be specific and demonstrate your expertise and ability to work hand-in-hand with the client.

3. Results – Demonstrate how you eliminated the challenge and brought benefits to the customer.

If your case study lacks one of these points, then it will fail like a two-legged stool.

Tactic #2. Target customer profiles

The best case study is one written about a person or company that is exactly like the reader. This emphasizes the element of “social proof.” It tells the prospect, “Look—these people are just like you! They came to us, and we made their lives fantastic.”

If the prospect is an e-commerce shop, then the best case study will describe how you helped another e-commerce company. If the reader is a mother of four children, then your case study should come from the mother of a large or growing family.

This is also true of identifying the case study’s challenge. People want to know how you solved the same problem they face. You will increase conversion rates when you align the profile and challenge of the case study with those of the reader.

Not every small business owner can publish a dozen case studies to target a list of personas. If you can only publish two or three, then start with your ideal customer. Target the profile of your best prospect and the core challenge your company solves for that customer.

Tactic #3. Describe the pain

A good case study is specific and descriptive. Instead of explaining, “The customer needed a new furnace and came to XYZ Heating,” describe why the customer needed a new furnace.

  • Was it the middle of winter?
  • Did he want to be more energy efficient?
  • Was the old furnace too loud?

These are all reasons someone may want to buy a new furnace. But don’t just say them—demonstrate them with a quote. Show the pain:

  • “I woke up in bed and could see my breath.”
  • “Our electric bill was outrageous.”
  • “The darn thing woke me up every night.”

When you can give a prospect a case study about a client who had the same problem they had, it provides a remarkable amount of reassurance that you can help solve their problems, too.

Tactic #4. Publish and deliver

There are two ways to deliver your case study to the world. The first is to simply publish it on your website. Include it in a “resources” section. Or you can use a quote from the case study as a testimonial and link it to the full story. Be sure to mention it in your social media channels and emphasize the problem you solved or the results you achieved.

The second way is to include your case study as part of the lead-nurturing process. This can really boost conversion rates.

For example, if you need an excuse to get back in touch with prospects or if you want to give them something to take away from a meeting, give them the case study. This is where it will shine. It is a fantastic way to demonstrate the value and expertise you provide.

Tactic #5. Show metrics (and what they mean)

Every sale includes metrics. There are metrics on price, performance, and reliability. Find a way to include metrics in your case study, because people love numbers. Put them in the headline. Here’s an example:

“53 Percent Lower Gas Bill From New ABC Lawnmower”

When you use this approach, focus the challenge of the case study on the customer’s fuel costs. Describe how they were a burden. Then show the steps you took to get them the right mower and teach them how to use it efficiently. When you get to the results, lead with the 53 percent metric and include a happy quote from the customer about what it means. For example:

“We saved enough money on our gas bill to install a new patio.”

Describe—Do Not Sell

A marketer’s natural instinct is to sell. It’s what we were born to do. But sometimes, we need to turn back the dial on “promotion” and crank up the “info.”

You will be tempted to describe your products and services with many superlatives. You’ll want to show off your “industry-leading methodologies” and “cutting-edge designs.” Resist this urge. A little bit of marketing fluff goes a long way in a case study.

Realize that the entire case study is a sales piece. It demonstrates why a customer thinks you are awesome. You only have to describe the client and her challenge, show how you solved her problem, and demonstrate how her life is better. Write clear copy, include details, and you’ll have a great selling tool. No hype required.

Posted in: B2B, B2C, Content, E-Commerce, Lead Generation

About the Writer:

Adam Sutton left the newspaper industry in 2007 and began to research what works in online marketing. He has since interviewed hundreds of experts on everything from B2B content marketing to mobile e-commerce. Hundreds have seen him speak at MarketingSherpa Email Summit and ExactTarget Connections, and he has taught marketing workshops across the U.S. Adam’s passion is to research and write copy that earns a powerful result for your team.

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