Let’s suppose, for a moment, that you’re in the market for a new car.
You probably don’t just get up in the morning, head to a dealership, drive one and buy.
Before that, you might spend months – or even years – thinking about what type of car you would like. You look at other cars on the road, you notice car ads, talk with friends, and you go online to learn more about specific makes and models.
Then you head to the automaker’s website and notice they have a link for customer success stories. (Toyota does this nicely.)
You follow the link to see the customer stories and…thud.
The door’s locked. You can’t go any further without providing your name, email and perhaps 5-10 other bits of information about yourself.
It sounds ridiculous when you think about having to provide your information in exchange for seeing customer stories during a major consumer purchase. Then why is it so rampant in business-to-business marketing?
Put Out the Welcome Mat
Organizations invest heavily in getting people to come to their websites and stay. Then they do something that causes a good percentage to stop right where they are and go no further.
In the name of collecting leads, we’re interrupting the sales process and likely ticking off prospects in the process.
Last week I set out, as I occasionally do, to find examples of great customer case studies online. I followed link after link looking for examples of best practices in case studies today.
And site after site I got stopped on the threshold – unable to access content without first filling out a registration form. Not with just a few fields, but 5-10. 10 fields!
I imagine a big door a la Wizard of Oz where a little munchkin appears through a small window and asks, “Who’s there? What do you want?” In the story, Dorothy and her friends have traveled far on their journey to Oz and this is definitely not what they dreamed of.
In their journeys of seeking new solutions and service providers, prospects also don’t expect or want to arrive at a locked door – especially for content that markets a vendor’s solution.
The Sales Process Has Changed
A VP of sales at a software company told me recently that prospects call them, ready to talk, after doing their own research. They raise their hands when they’re ready. That’s the reality of the sales process today, with many of the things we buy.
For major purchases in the B2B world, marketing content helps buyers in their journeys (the sales funnel) by drawing them in with valuable insight and resources.
A couple of years ago, a small software company shared stats with me regarding case study consumption. After requiring registration for case studies, the company experimented by removing the required registration.
The results were pretty shocking. In just one week, the company reported that downloads of its case studies were three times higher than the previous four months combined!
When you interrupt the natural flow of a prospect’s research, you’re taking control of the sales process at a time when buyers may not be ready to give it up. Not to mention, it’s frustrating for buyers.
If you’re just looking at case study consumption, buyers most often look at them in the middle of the sales process when they’re understanding their problems better, identifying solutions and looking at vendors. Many of them are not ready to begin engaging with a sales contact yet.
The problem doesn’t just apply to case studies. White papers are notoriously put behind gates. But most prospects want to review white papers at the start of the sales cycle. They certainly aren’t ready for discussions with specific vendors yet.
Content marketers, if you knew something was preventing your content from being seen, wouldn’t you want to change it?
I understand the need to generate leads, but find other ways and make them fit the way your buyers want to buy. Offer webinars, demos and other opportunities for folks to show interest when they’re ready.
Otherwise, prospects might as well turn on their heels, head back down the road and find another place that’s more welcoming – like a competitor.
Companies, do you make your case studies freely available? If not, then why not?
The written case study still reigns.
I realize that I’m not the most unbiased authority on the supremacy of the written customer case study. I earn my living writing case studies and teach other writers to do the same.
But a recently released survey from Eccolo Media backs me up.
Eccolo Media surveyed more than 500 B2B technology buyers about the types of content they consume, when, and the value of it in their purchase decisions. This year's Eccolo Media 2014 B2B Technology Content Survey Report revealed that more buyers prefer customer case studies in a written format than in other forms. They also like the traditional narrative format over shorter formats.
"In general, buyers overwhelmingly prefer traditional written case studies to those presented as audio, video, one-page summaries, or Microsoft PowerPoint slides," the report states (page 9 sidebar).
It goes on to say...
"Small business buyers show a slight preference for one-page summaries when compared with mid-market and enterprise respondents, but even they prefer traditional written case studies over other formats."
That's good news for companies because high-quality video case studies can be expensive and usually require more logistics to pull off. And it's excellent news for writers looking to help companies create their customer stories.
Eccolo also revealed...
- Case studies are in the top three most consumed types of content. White papers again took the lead this year, followed by product brochures/data sheets. Detailed technology guides/implementation scenarios were tied with case studies in the #3 spot.
- In questions about the influence of case studies in the sales process, case studies were the second most influential type of content, behind white papers. Forty-eight percent said case studies are very or extremely influential. White papers and case studies even beat the old product brochure/data sheet!
- 56% of enterprise-level buyers used case studies to evaluate a purchase in the last six months. Twenty-three percent of small business buyers used them.
When are they used in the sales cycle?
- 22% first reviewed case studies during the pre-sales phase when they were not aware of their problems
- 35% reviewed them first during initial sales
- 32% during mid sales
- 11% during final sales
What else do buyers think?
- 71% of buyers consume vendor content on a mobile device. Short, digestible, easy-to-read formats aid in mobile consumption. (Perhaps create more than one version of a case study for easier mobile reading.)
- 62% receive vendor content via social channels. Oddly, Facebook is the top social media channel where buyers receive vendor content but respondents named LinkedIn the "most likely to consume" channel.
- 68% often or very often click links embedded in content for more information.
Whether you’re planning your company’s case study efforts for 2014 or you’re a writer assisting organizations with creating impactful content, check out the survey. It’s packed with valuable insight.
By Casey Hibbard
Before I started writing about technology as a business reporter, I had zero technical background. The closest I'd come to technology was a high school computer science class that I'd barely passed.
But this was different. I was writing about technology in layman's terms, not about the bits and bytes behind it. Still, I eased my way in slowly, like getting into a cold swimming pool.
Turns out, I should have jumped in, but it took time to build confidence that I could, in fact, write about technology. Pretty soon, I was the newspaper's tech columnist.
Now as a freelance marketing writer, 90 percent of my clients for customer case studies are technology companies.
So if you're going to write customer case studies, do you need to be technical? And if so, how technical?
Where’s the Work?
First, there is a market for case studies with companies/clients that are not technical. I recently wrote about what the freelance pie looks like in my December 2013 Tip of the Month.
A big piece of the pie is with tech companies, but a sizable part is not. There's a load of organizations that need to tell their stories through the examples of their happy customers: business-to-business (B2B) companies, business-to-consumer (B2C) organizations, nonprofits and more.
But if you open up your market to tech companies as well, you're nearly doubling the potential pool of clients. Don't be too quick to decide this market isn't for you. I've written for many tech companies over the years and the level of technical depth required varies widely. It comes down to the audience and subject matter.
Here are a few examples to help you sort through the types of technology projects out there...
1. Technology case studies where the audience is NOT technical - I've written quite a few case studies for customer relationship management (CRM) software where the end users are typically sales, marketing and customer service folks. As software, it is a technology product, but the audience doesn't really want to know about the technology. Readers want to know how another customer solves the same problems they are facing.
For these and similar clients, I found I didn't really need much technical knowledge at all. I needed to understand some product and industry lingo, but that was pretty simple.
2. Technology case studies where the audience is technical but it's still not that complex - Probably most of my work falls into this category. It's a technology product and the audience is technical, or it’s made up of business decision-makers AND technical people.
As an example, I've written many, many customer success stories on help desk/IT support software. The software is used by IT people within organizations to support employees or customers with resolving technical issues. It's just an application that IT people use to log an issue and keep track of it. In this case, I need to understand, again, problems and how the software solves them. But I don't need to know how the software works, the code behind it. I definitely need to know some industry lingo.
3. Technology for a super technical audience - This is the toughest and where I sometimes have to say, “no.” I have a few clients where the subject matter is fairly technical and the audience is VERY technical. For example, one client provides business intelligence software that other software companies embed in their products. Because of that, the audience needs to know quite a bit about the technology aspects of deployment, integration, compatibility, etc.
I take on these types of projects with careful consideration to ensure I will be able to interview and write effectively.
These are just three examples of types of tech projects. To evaluate a prospective client’s technology depth, here are a few steps:
• Review product/service information on the company's website and pay particular attention to previous case studies.
• Ask your contact who the audience is and what types of information prospects need to know.
• Ask your contact how technical the case studies should be. Perhaps the client only wants to focus on business results and leave more technical information for datasheets and white papers.
Every client is different. Take your time and scope it out. Don't assume you're not the right writer for a gig without conducting a little research.
But if you do decide to pass, don't beat yourself up about it. I have certainly referred potential clients to other writers when the subject matter wasn't a fit. Move on and focus on finding clients that are a better fit.
What's your experience of writing/not writing for tech clients?
Never doubt the power of a single case study or the positive impact for the featured customer.
Last year, United Airlines racked up five major awards - and countless resulting PR - for its CRM and direct marketing efforts for the MileagePlus loyalty program:
• 2012 Gartner and 1to1 Media CRM Excellence Awards – Silver
• 2012 DMA – Marketer of the Year
• 2012 1to1 Media Customer Champion
• 2012 DMA Innovation Award
• 2012 Travel Weekly Magellan Silver for Loyalty
What fueled every application for the award entries was a single case study, initiated by United's data partner, Acxiom Corp. United teamed with Acxiom for data integration, enhancement and segmentation, helping bring together 90 million records for the United and Continental Airlines merger, as well as for United’s companywide CRM initiative.
I worked with Acxiom to help the company and United document the story. From there, we used the case study to populate the dozens of questions throughout the award entry forms.
When awards were announced, and press releases drafted, I saw that same copy appear again and again in various publications. Best of all, it was in language that United and Acxiom had approved, giving all positive exposure in the perfect pitch they desired. The internal champion for the project at United also got recognition within the company for his efforts.
It's a powerful but often-overlooked way to get more mileage out of a customer case study.
Companies build goodwill with their clients by submitting case studies for relevant industry awards. In this case, Acxiom took on the award submissions so United didn't have to. It's a big benefit for customers. You can even put awards in the list of benefits when approaching a customer about participating in a case study.
Over the years, I've helped several clients use case studies to apply for and win awards, but this is the most successful outcome ever.
How about you? Have you used a case study to apply for awards?
A glowing customer success story is a coveted piece of marketing collateral, but case studies are not always easy to create. If you manage case studies, or write them, you know the challenges: getting a customer to agree, conducting interviews, writing and editing the story, and getting customer signoff.
After all that work, how do you use the heck out of a case study to engage prospects and customers?
Nearly every organization posts a completed case study on their website. But how do you get traffic to it?
Companies today are using case studies in multiple ways to pull prospects to their websites, from traditional print media to social media to digital advertising.
Here are some fresh examples of success stories in action:
I recently caught a Dell tweet about the success of one of its customers, with a link to the full version of the case study. It was engaging and specific, encouraging prospects to click.
LinkedIn and Facebook
Last year, I featured PostcardMania.com for its extensive use of case studies. The company helps organizations market effectively with postcards. I also learned the company mentions its customer successes on LinkedIn and Facebook.
In the course of a conversation on LinkedIn, the company's social media manager might point a dentist, for example, to a gallery of visual examples of other postcard campaigns or to a video and/or written case study showing how another dentist brought in new business with postcard marketing.
For marketing to existing fans, PostcardMania posts teasers to its success stories on Facebook. But it's critical to be specific:
"Find out how this landscaping company, ABC Lawn, brought in $15,000 from just one postcard mailing."
While perusing Wired magazine this week, I came across a full-page ad from HP featuring its customer, NASCAR. NASCAR and HP teamed to create a way to measure NASCAR's impressions and success across its media channels.
After a brief summary of the story, the ad then shares the URL to find the full, engaging customer case study with all the momentum worthy of NASCAR.
Digital Display Advertising
EarthLink runs digital display ads that link back to a landing page featuring a specific case study. The landing pages include engaging images, a summary of the story, a link to read more, and a call to action.
These are just a few examples of how companies use case studies to bring eyeballs to their websites. Seen any great examples lately? Share them here!