Case studies: do people know how smart you really are?

What is it that makes you and your company the very best at what you do? How well do your prospects and current customers understand your expertise and capabilities? Do they seem to grasp just how good you are and what separates you from the rest?

Most organizations try to convince customers and prospects of that by rolling out tired language about their “world-class service,” “dedication to quality,” “superior excellence,” “industry-leading knowledge,” and all those other phrases that we’ve seen so often that all they provoke is yawns.

Think of yourself. When a company that you’re considering tells you that they’re dedicated to quality, do you jump up and down and cheer? Probably not. In fact, your reaction is probably more along the lines of “Yeah, yeah. Got that. Now tell me why I should hire you.” So, if you react that way to those now-trite phrases, what are they doing in your own marketing channels?

There’s a better way to let people know how good you are and the kind of thinking that you’ll bring to their needs. It’s a way that proves what you can do by sharing what you’ve already done. It’s called the case study, and it can be one of the most powerful weapons in your marketing arsenal.

In the most basic terms, a case study is a description of what you did for someone, how you did it, why you did it that way, and what the results were. It’s really that simple. They don’t have to be long or fancy – and all you have to do is share the facts.

What is it that makes case studies so effective? There are a number of things. First, they’re factual, so the reader or viewer doesn’t have to sift through hype or puffery to get a sense of what you do and how you do it.

Second, case studies are a form of storytelling, and telling stories will capture your audience’s attention in a way that few other forms of persuasive communication can do. People like to read about the challenges others face, because it deepens their knowledge about the industry and strengthens their own problem-solving skills.

Case studies allow readers to project someone else’s real-world experience upon their own organization and needs. If they see that you offered a solution that helped someone double their production or cut defects by 82 percent, they’ll do the mental arithmetic to see what similar results will mean to their own bottom line.

They’re also a very solid endorsement from the customer or client that you’re profiling in the case study. That’s especially important when the case study is about a well-known or well-respected firm in your target’s industry. (They also tell the customer or client that’s being profiled that you appreciate their business and are proud of your relationship.)

Case studies are a public expression of pride and confidence without the empty boasting that tends to be at the center of hype and puffery. They don’t tell your audience that you think you’re great; instead, they clearly demonstrate why you’re great.

Finally, case studies are amazingly versatile. You can use them, in email or printed newsletters, on your website, as articles in trade magazines— anywhere you communicate!

Over the years, I’ve learned that the biggest impediment to creating successful case studies isn’t a lack of ideas or hesitant customers. It’s time. When your staff members are being expected to do more work in less time, identifying customers, clients, and projects that would make excellent case studies isn’t going to be at the top of their agendas.

That’s one reason that developing case studies is well-suited to outsourcing to a PR firm or a professional writer who has experience in creating them. Another is that someone outside your organization will bring objectivity to the process, and a willingness to point out that a particular story may not be as compelling to the outside world as those within the organization may believe.

And whether you choose to look outside for your case studies or have someone within your organization develop them, be sure to set them up as an ongoing program that’s built upon a schedule with firm due dates. Experience has taught me that’s the most effective way to ensure that your stories are told.