Business to Business Case Studies – Which Format?

This post was written by John White on Thu, 27 Jan 2011 10:06:44 +0000
Posted Under: case studies,marketing manager

Use case studies to show prospects that they’re not the only ones who have the problem. And do it with a good story instead of a datasheet.

b2b case studies telling a storyMarketing managers use B2B case studies so that prospects will think,

Hmm. If this product can do that for them, maybe we can get it to solve our problem, too.

So their real value lies in how quickly and clearly your marketing writer can describe three main things:

  1. the problem
  2. the solution
  3. the resulting benefits

But most business-to-business case studies adhere too closely to that format. The prospect gets a quick, scannable read, and there’s a lot to be said for that in an era of short attention marketing.

But people want to read a story.

Standard format: Problem, solution, results, 800-number

This example from Juniper Networks is the archetypal technology B2B case study. And it’s a lot like this other example from Juniper Networks, so they obviously rely on a format to help them generate case studies quickly. It’s well structured, mentions the product name, includes a hyperbolic quotation, and describes the customer’s business. It probably took the marketing communications writer weeks to get it through the gantlet of approvals. Any salesperson would be tickled to show it to prospects.

But as Jamie Wallace and Stephanie Tilton emphasize, your case studies deserve to tell your story, and these examples don’t tell much of a story.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your B2B case studies all looking similar, as long as they don’t all sound similar. And format has a lot to do with that.

Why does a case study need a story?

Put yourself in the place of the people who read your case studies. They:

  • have a problem to solve
  • can’t take forever to solve it
  • want to read something short before they (have to) dive into your white paper
  • want to read more about your customers’ business and problems than about your products and services
  • want to know how your customers solved their problems
  • are looking for good reasons to select you over your competitors

Here’s Debbie Weil counseling caution when your PR agency writes your case studies. Why? Because they tend to hand readers rose-colored glasses. A real story has some tension and conflict, and those are not usually at the top of the list of things PR agencies will suggest to you.

I’m not kidding you – it’s difficult to find a case study that favors a story over problem-solution-benefit, which means it’s difficult to write one. I think I’ve written a few, but now I’m not so sure.

What do you look for when you’re reading a case study? When you’re writing one?

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Marketing Communications Writer.”

photo credit: hectore

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