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Businesses are starting to blur the lines between case studies - compelling customer stories that focus on the customer’s experience – and sales collateral, says Sarah Dillingham, of CaseStudyNinja.com

The pressure to consistently deliver key messages about a business in every piece of content, and the relentless drive for fast SEO, has unfortunately meant that some businesses are starting to blur the lines between case studies - compelling customer stories that focus on the customer’s experience – and sales collateral, which by their very nature are much more self-serving.

If you want to get your case study published in a target publication, then it is important to remember that a good editorially-appealing case study is, first and foremost, not about your product or service from your point of view, but is tightly focused on the customer’s experience of your business, in their own voice, backed up by factual and impartial evidence.

Case studies provide an excellent way to show cold hard proof of your product’s success or your skills and experience. They highlight a real-world scenario of how you have helped your customer achieve their objectives. No one can sell your product or services better than your customer, so by adding unnecessary sales jargon or squeezing in that must-have sales message, you are not only in danger of gilding the lily, but are potentially alienating your audience at the same time. Every superlative description your customer mentions about you is worth fifty that you say about yourself. So it is important that you enable your customers to tell their stories in an authentic way, with fact-based reporting to support what they are saying.

A recent survey we conducted with 77 influential UK journalists from the national newspapers and trade press, about what they thought made a great case study, revealed some interesting insights, that should hopefully help businesses write better case studies for editorial buy-in.

In the survey, the highest percentage of journalists said that a good case study should always mention the involvement of a named organisation or individual. Journalists are clearly showing here that they do not want to receive a case study about ‘a leading bank’ or ‘top three UK retailer’ – but want named people or businesses every time. It is perhaps understandable why journalists scored the second highest factor in a good case study as being a “Hot Topic’ since most journalists are required to be agile in their response to current issues and newsworthy events. In third place, unsurprisingly, journalists also ranked highly the importance of having ‘An Authentic Voice’ within a case study. This substantiates that journalists insist on genuine thoughts and feelings about the way a project has gone, and do not like language that is littered with sales or technical jargon and industry buzz words.

So what makes a good case study and what mistakes should you avoid? Firstly, a really good business case study always contains three basic elements: the business challenge faced; the solution found; and, most importantly, the benefits gained as a result of a product or service implementation. Try to engage your audience with an interesting angle and a strong headline that encapsulates the story, such as Acme Co increases productivity by 75 per cent with ‘your business.’

Journalists clearly do not like self-promotion, so only use one or two direct references to the product in your case study. Pep it up with authentic quotes from the customer and add a human interest element if you can, such as how your product/service has specifically impacted real people in and out of your customer’s workplace.

Use strong statistics to show the difference your product has made as well as the benefits gained. Avoid jargon such as ‘market-leading’ and ‘unique,’ and write out acronyms in full the first time, followed by the abbreviation in brackets. Try and keep your case studies clear and concise and under 1000 words – ideally between 500 and 700 words, if possible.

Case studies and marketing material both play an important role in educating target audiences about your business. Make sure your marketing materials are product-orientated, and perhaps contain a few customer testimonials, if required. Case studies, on-the-other-hand, must always solely focus on the customer’s story, with only one or two product references at most. Knowing the difference will ultimately help you become more transparent in your content marketing efforts and audiences will reward you with their trust.

By Sarah Dillingham, Founder, CaseStudyNinja.com

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