I wonder if you can answer a very simple question about your business. Do you do a good job? By that, I mean do you accomplish what you set out to do for your customers and clients? Do you provide more value than your competitors offer? Are your customers better off because they work with you? Are you genuinely proud of what you do?
I’ve encountered few business owners and executives that would respond with anything short of an enthusiastic “Yes!” to every one of those questions. In fact, many would even bristle at being asked. Of course they do well – why else would they be in business?
“About responding to every need by adding value. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.”
Then I read their brochures and their ads and their websites and find myself puzzled. If they’re so convinced that they’re the best around – so confident that nobody offers more value – so certain that their competitors lag miles behind them, why are those brochures and ads and websites crammed full of empty, meaningless platitudes?
You know the kind. All those trite phrases about commitments to quality and dedications to excellence. About partnering with customers and creating new paradigms. About responding to every need by adding value. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.
I’ll bet you don’t fall for them. When you see them in someone else’s materials, you probably regard them as the southbound product of a northbound steer. So what are they doing in yours?
Look, if your company is the real deal, prove it. And one of the most effective ways to do that is through a ridiculously simple yet remarkably powerful tool called the case study.
What is a case study? A top-dollar marketing consultant or a tenured academic could give you a much more elaborate answer, but in simple terms, a case study is a matter of telling the world what you did for someone, how you did it, why you did it that way, and what the results were.
When it comes to explaining what sets you apart, few tactics are as effective as real-world examples of what you’ve done. Explaining how your expertise or products helped someone else achieve goals or reduce stress connects with your audience more immediately and memorably than merely sharing capabilities. And if the company being profiled in the case study is widely known or well-respected in your customer’s industry, you’ll bask in the glow of their reputation. It can foster pride among your team, too.
Case studies are compelling, powerful – and surprisingly versatile. How can you use them? For starters, there’s advertising. You can make some vague promise that your veeblefetzers increase profits by allowing customers to core more radishes. Or, Joe Schmoe at Perky Produce can describe how your veeblefetzers helped his company core 42 percent more radishes per hour with a 16 percent lower labor cost. Joe’s experience provides positive, believable proof rather than a statement that’s likely to be ignored as hype.
What about your brochures and website? Including case studies reinforces your sales message. Newsletters are a great place for case studies, too. People like to read about the challenges others face. Even if they don’t find the solution to their problem, they learn more about their industry. Case studies in email newsletters can even include links to the company’s website, which is a nice way of telling customers that you’re proud to do business with them.
One of the best ways to use case studies is in trade magazine articles. Most editors hunger for meaningful stories that will help readers. If you can provide an article describing how a major radish processor boosted profitability, you’ve helped fill their pages at no cost to them. Plus, by publishing your story, the publication lends third-party credibility to your message. Once the story appears, you can use reprints in your marketing efforts.
Worried that customers or clients won’t want to share their stories? Don’t be, because most will be complimented. But if they hesitate, ask why. If it’s because they fear release of proprietary information, you don’t need to disclose the company’s name or critical information. Saying “a $50 million radish processor” may not deliver as much impact as mentioning Perky Produce’s name, but it will help the reader frame the story and know how the company that’s profiled compares with his or hers. On the other hand, if they don’t want to be quoted because they’re unhappy with your company, you’ve detected a bigger challenge.
The biggest impediment to creating successful case studies isn’t hesitant customers. It’s time. Asking staff members whose plates are already full to create case studies is a recipe for inaction. Even if people do have time to handle the work, it’s easy for case studies to get shoved farther down the to-do list. That’s why it pays to set up an ongoing program that’s built upon a schedule with firm due dates – and why you may want to consider outsourcing your program to a PR firm or a writer.
So you really do a good job? Prove it, and you just might find that the case you already have will grow into even bigger ones.