The Ultimate Guide to Boosting Your Marketing with Effective Case Studies
The Case For Case Studies
Surely you’ve heard it. B2B salespeople are about to become a dying breed. Forrester, a research and advisory firm with a focus on developing customer strategies, predicts that one million U.S., B2B salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service eCommerce by 2020. This paradigm shift will be felt across every industry. Even logistically-complex building material and architectural products purchases are no exception.
Specifiers, like most B2B and B2C consumers, are living in a tech-forward, digital world but many building material companies have failed to evolve their sales approach to match—we’re still living in a 1965, salesman-first world.
While this prediction is meant to be shocking, it also tells another story. The true point of purchase for building materials and architectural products is shifting online—meaning regardless of how and when money is exchanged, the decision to specify a product is often before any outreach to a sales rep. And while most specifiers will still need samples and sales reps to complete the transaction, they won’t need a rep to sell them on a product. Increasingly, specifiers “sell” products and materials to themselves using tools provided to them online.
When specifiers are in research mode, they aren’t just looking for a product - they are looking for proven solutions. This is where case studies shine as marketing and sales tools.
According to the NBS 2017 Specification Report, 71% of respondents said case studies about a product’s use gave [them] inspiration for design. This shouldn’t be surprising. The human brain is a story processor. We are hardwired to engage, create and live in a world defined by narratives. And for specifiers seeking a new products, a case study is the ultimate story. Your customer is the well-deserving hero faced with an overwhelming challenge. And just when things look bleak, your company provides exactly what they need to succeed. It’s the classic movie plot—situation, challenge, heroic solution. Case studies can be gritty, intriguing, reassuring and inspirational. But more than that, they should be memorable.
The easy part—defining your format and approach.
Developing an effective case study requires two things—a clear format and the ability to get out of your own way. I’ll outline the former below; the latter is up to you. Can you see your products objectively and really listen to your customers to find out what they value?
Who are you talking to?
Define your personas—and make them personal. What makes your customer tick? What’s on their mind? How are your company and products relevant to them? How do they talk about them? No matter who you are or what you sell, it’s very difficult to develop an objective view of a company when you’re a part of it. Have an outsider interview your customers—they tend to be more frank when they are speaking to a neutral third party. If the interviewer is not inside the company, they tend to “hear” things that those on the inside don’t.
What are you promoting?
Which product or service are you promoting through the case study? This seemingly obvious question can be misleading. Several of our clients sell “standard” products that are often customized for a project. The customization becomes as relevant to the prospect as the product is. Or maybe the product is a commodity, but your company offers better support than the competition. In that case, support is what you are promoting.
What information is relevant to prospective customers?
Be sure to understand what meant the most to your target on a project. It’s easy to assume the benefit is all about the pricing and specifications. We recently interviewed an architect for a case study on behalf of a client. Sure enough, the most important part of the project wasn’t the product (which is amazing, btw); it was how the company handled itself when the wrong parts showed up for the installation. In this case, the recovery shot took precedence over everything. The architect was frank, recognizing that many product installations face challenges in the field. The real value was how the company came back to deliver the right part and oversee the install in a timely manner.
Demonstrate the value.
It would be great if the success of each project was as easy to measure as a Google Analytics report. Sometimes, we have to look at the project from a bird’s eye view to find measurable results. Is it lower operating costs over the lifetime of the building? Lower labor costs due to easy install? Higher occupancy rates? Each project is different, yes, but there is a measurable result if you take the time to find it.
Case study format:
- Headline: Yes. You need one. And it should be big, engaging and draw the reader in. This is your opportunity to share your brand voice, be it factual, cheeky, or somewhere in between. Here are two headlines for the same case study. Which one would prompt you to read further? “Campus installs high security lighting to promote student safety.” Or “High security lighting reduces college campus crime by 30% while helping parents sleep better at night.”
- Overview: This is your opportunity to set the stage for your story. Think about how your prospects talk about similar projects. What’s the underlying tension? Time? Money? Is there a power struggle? Every project has something going on just beneath the surface that is creating urgency. Maybe there are multiple owners and no one can agree on the best approach, or maybe there is a labor shortage, and the project is coming in well above the projected budget. Whatever the case may be, a concise overview of the project should include some drama to pull readers in.
- Challenge: Articulate the unique set of challenges that defined this project in 4–5 concise sentences. This is where you can make the case study very personal and, therefore, very relevant to your target. If the case study is for a developer, you can frame it in terms of getting the various teams to work together, meeting the budget, preserving the design intent, etc. Use your target’s perspective to guide how you set up the challenge.
- Solution: YES! Now it’s your turn to tell the story about how your product/service played a crucial role in solving the client’s challenge. You can include a background story about what it took to modify the fittings or what it took to meet a high-pressure deadline. Here’s where your product and company can shine. Again, frame this section in terms of benefits, rather than features, of the product.
- Quotes: Use a real life quote from one of your clients—they are your best salespeople. Testimonials or “social proof” (formerly known as “street cred”) allows your current customers to share their experience and, often, highlight their initial objections or concerns about specifying your product. Prospects share these same doubts and fears. Having another peer come forward to alleviate concerns and reassure their decision to specify gives them confidence, and your company credibility.
- Conclusion: Wrap up your case study in very concise terms using any supporting data points. I like to think of this as a great place for you to tell the story in 3–4 headlines.
• Make it beautiful—specifiers don’t speak ugly
• Cite supporting research
• Include infographics
• Show before and after
• Use keywords
• Enhance with video
Make your case studies work hard.
While we don’t like to include a CTA (call to action) in a digital case study because it erodes credibility, Case studies can be used as a CTA on a homepage or in a blog post. They offer the proof points to make an article relevant. Determine where your case studies will live on your website. Include a PDF downloadable version in case a prospect wants to print it out to read later. Add video case studies to allow visitors to select the best media for their learning style. Create low res PDFs for sales folks to include in email outreach or follow ups. Post them as a story on LinkedIn.
The marketplace is evolving at an ever-increasing rate. The architectural product and building material companies that will survive and thrive will be those willing to change with it. Specifiers today are looking for companies that not only provide them with superior products and services, but also with the right information in the right format. This begins with taking the time to understand your customers—who they are, how they work, what information they need, and how they access it.
Want to grow your sales by increasing specifications by architects and designers? Click here to download our guide: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO GETTING SPECIFIED: HOW ARCHITECTS AND INTERIOR DESIGNERS SPECIFY ARCHITECTURAL PRODUCTS AND BUILDING MATERIALS. If you have a question that hasn’t been answered or would like find out more about how Epiphany can help you get specified, give me a call – 804.377.0106.