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Seven Things That Make a Great Case Study

Case Study

A case study is only good if people actually read it.  It’s great when they follow through and contact you for more information.  Here are seven attributes that contribute to a strong case study.

  1. It’s about the customer, not your product.  Studies are showing that much of the content on the Internet isn’t interesting, largely because it focuses on the product, not the customer and their problem.
  2. It’s about an issue potential customers are grappling with today or tomorrow. For the story to be relevant and of interest, it must talk about issues companies are currently facing, or know they will face in the near term.
  3. It’s about someone your potential customer can relate to.  Potential customers must be able to relate to the hero of your story in an emotional way – it will help make the story believable. If your target readers are CIOs, then the story should focus on a CIO’s journey to success.
  4. The story is told from start to finish. This can be tougher than it sounds – you’ve got to have the patience to wait until your solution is fully implemented and operational before the story has real teeth.  Anything before then is unproven and will come across as sales information.
  5. It clearly identifies the customer challenges, what your solution was, and how you helped the customer. Provide the kind of detail that allows readers to clearly understand what your solution is and why it helped solve the customer problems – this allows readers to draw parallels to their own situation and understand the value you offer them.
  6. It talks about real results.  Quote results in terms that readers care about:  % improvement in revenues, % decrease in costs, or % improvement in efficiencies.  Whatever the key performance indicators are, find that information and share as much as you can.
  7. It’s easy and enjoyable to read. Case studies should be formatted for scanning – use bullets, callout boxes, sidebars and headings, and make sure the important information is easy to find in the story. They should be written in a conversational tone that doesn’t talk down to readers.  Quote your customer and allow the story to be told in their words. It should be a good story – it’s about people, so try to evoke emotion, which makes the situation more real to readers.

Did you notice?

Only point #7 actually talks about how to write the story.  Most of the success of a case study comes from the careful planning and strategy that happens even before the writer is involved.  Want to learn more?  Sign up and I’ll forward you my Case Study Planning Guide, scheduled for release in May 2015!


Do you get your money’s worth from marcom projects?

Dollar signThe need for due diligence

When I’m commissioned to write some marketing projects – like case studies or white papers – I often find there’s a lack of linkage with marketing strategy.  That’s a bit surprising, especially in these days of more stringent accountability throughout the organization.

Is it that businesses don’t need to justify these projects? Are marketers just moving too fast for due diligence? Or is ROI at that level not needed?

Justifying marcom projects

I’d love to get your opinion.  Do you spend any time planning & analyzing a marcom project before you send it to the writer?  Would you find value in a tool that helped you thoroughly analyze and justify marcom projects?

Here’s an example of potential planning outcomes for a customer success story – are any of them interesting?

  • Identify at least 3 benefits of a customer success story.
  • Articulate key drivers and outcomes for a customer success story (aka case study).
  • Identify the steps in to a successful customer story project.
  • Identify at least 5 key questions that will determine whether the story will be good or not.
  • Identify the one thing that will make your story a success.
  • Identify at least 9 attributes of the target market for your story.
  • Define how to identify story candidates from existing customers.
  • Identify what point in the buyer’s process success stories are most valuable.
  • Identify at least 20 ways the success story can be used.
  • Understand the process of creating a success story, and be able to communicate this to your customer.
  • Create a story brief for an internal or external writer.
  • Identify at least 4 ways to measure the success of the success story.

Let me know what you think – your opinions matter to me.  You can comment on this post, or send me an email at

I’m investigating whether there’s any interest in an eBook discussing how to define an outstanding case study – not how to write it, but how to plan it, use it and measure it. But like all marketers, we have to be sure we have a market for our product – even if it’s to be a complimentary “call to action” guide.

Email marketing: getting the content right.

Halloween photoHappy Friday!  Today, I’ve got some tips and resources for  email marketing for technology solutions.

First the tips:

  • Keep the subject lines short – You’ve got 35 to 50 characters at most before you’re cut off.
  • Keep the message short. You should be able to say almost anything in 100 words or less.
  • Keep the language clear – reduce the jargon and speak plainly. Your email could be forwarded…
  • Talk about your reader’s issues, not your solution. How can you help make their life easier, save money, improve revenue, improve efficiency, reduce workload…
  • Remove the sidebar. They’re not made for mobile devices.

Now the resources:

Spiceworks You’ve Got Email on-demand webinar and companion workbook Five Tips for Creating Email Campaigns that Don’t Suck (PDF).

Hubspot’s Anatomy of a Five Star Email

MarketingProf’s 10 Email Best Practices Infographic

Emma’s 10-Step Tutorial to Memorable Subject Lines

If you need help crafting the perfect email marketing message, I’d be happy to help.  Contact me at 905-439-9340 or

The Curse of Knowledge

Anyone who markets a technology solution probably suffers from the “curse of knowledge.”  Wikipedia defines it as “a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties.”   Ok, and a cognitive bias is a tendency to think in a certain way.

In other words, we can’t remember what it’s like to not know something.

For instance, I bet most of us would be hard pressed to explain a computer to someone who’d never seen one.  That knowledge is so ingrained in our lives, that it’s hard to imagine that anyone could not understand it.

But I think anyone with specialized knowledge – engineer, software developer, insurance or financial specialist – gets very deeply immersed in their specific knowledge.  And in the IT industry, we also get immersed in jargon and acronyms.

I see a lot of web sites that discuss their product or solution in very technical terms, even on their home page.  Some people say that’s ok – as long as your target market understands what you’re saying, it doesn’t matter if there’s no simple interpretation for the rest of us.

But isn’t it often the point in the early days of a sales cycle that prospects are researching because of a problem they’re experiencing?  They might not know what the solution should be.  And if there’s nothing on your home page that identifies what their problem is, they may not be able to extract the solution value from the technical “stuff”.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Revisit your customer profiles (or personas), and make sure that you know how much each persona will understand about your solution, then craft messaging to suit each persona.  Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath has lots of great information about overcoming the curse of knowledge.  (And if “persona” is jargon you’re not familiar with, Hubspot has a good definition.)
  • Ensure that your home page has a description of your key value in a language suited for the least technical visitor.  If it’s targeted for people with little or no technical knowledge (i.e. business decision makers), then everyone up the technical food chain should be ok.
  • Make sure that you spend time explaining your solution value in terms targeted to both IT professionals and business decision makers:  most technical solution decisions are made by teams that contain both.  Many companies will have technical datasheets that work in tandem with a more business oriented solution brochure.


Need help in crafting marketing messages without the curse of knowledge?  I can help – I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years, helping technology organizations articulate the business value of their products and solutions.  Feel free to call me at 905-439-9340, or email me at



Case Studies: Are they part of your sales & marketing playlist?

Are you using case studies as part of your sales and marketing playlist?  If not, perhaps you should…

Almost everyone looks for recommendations before they make a decision:  what restaurant to try, what car to purchase, what kind of firewall to meet your unique security needs.

I.T. buyers are no different.  A recent study by Eccolo Media[i] found that 36% of buyers use case studies when researching solutions, third behind white papers (49%) and brochures/data sheets (46%).  What was also interesting in the same study was that “in general, buyers overwhelmingly prefer traditional written case studies to those presented as audio, video, one-page summaries, or Microsoft PowerPoint slides.”

Content types by frequency of consumption

TechTarget’s research[ii] identifies that Case Studies are used in all phases of the sales process, including Awareness, Consideration and Decision.  Ecolo Media research agrees, and identifies that use is highest when a company is trying to understand the problem, identify solutions and consider vendors.

Content Consumption in the Sales Cycle




A case study is a customer success story.  It should outline the problem a customer had, why they chose your solution, and the results they’ve achieved since implementation.  It should speak to the problems prospective customers are experiencing, so they can see how other companies like theirs solved a similar problem.

If you’re not using case studies, why not?

We don’t have the resources. Why not hire a freelance writer who works on a project basis.  And if you work with one who understands technology, your solution and your customers, then there’s not a lot of prep work needed.  Professional writers are experienced in interviewing people, and can often get customers to open up more than you might, which can result in a compelling story.

We use customer testimonials instead.  Testimonials are ubiquitous these days, and sometimes can be overlooked because of that.  They won’t provide the level of detail a prospect needs when they’re researching solutions, such as the problem the customer experienced, why they chose your solution, and the net improvements they’ve achieved as a result.

Our solution isn’t that complex.  While your solution might be straightforward, the problems and business issues that customers face are often complex.  And it would be folly to assume that prospects automatically understand how your solution solves a problem and generates positive results.

They’re too expensive.  Generally, a case study can cost as little as $500 if you work with a freelance writer and do the layout internally.  Of course, if you work with an agency and have the case study professionally laid out, then the costs will increase, but compared to other marketing initiatives, a case study is still very cost effective. And given the variety of ways you can use a case study, it can provide a pretty substantial return on investment:

  • Sales leave behind – the classic use.
  • Post on your web site – often this is the first thing prospects will look at when researching your solution.
  • Direct marketing program:  You can either highlight a customer success story in a campaign, or use the case study as a fulfillment piece.
  • Post on your blog.
  • In an advertisement – whether print, online ezine, or even pay-per-click advertising.
  • Feature in a webinar.
  • Highlight the customer success at an industry conference.
  • Use as part of new sales training materials, and new employee orientation.
  • Use as a conversation for inside sales people.
  • Leave a few details on voice mail when telephone prospecting.
  • Add to a proposal, especially if you’re proposing a similar solution for a similar issue.
  • Re-work as a press release.
  • Add to your annual report.
  • 6 other things you can do with case studies.


When offer a technology solution, both your marketing and sales playlists need case studies.  Rather than just highlighting your solution, case studies provide credibility, and help prospects understand that your solution can solve their problem.  They’re relatively inexpensive, and can be re-purposed in a variety of ways.  Why not review some case studies I’ve done.  I’d love to help you create a compelling customer story:  contact me at 905-439-9340 or




[i] Eccolo Media 2014 B2BTechnology Content Survey Report, Eccolo Media Inc., December 2013.

[ii] 2013/2014 TechTarget Media Consumption Research Brief ,Content essentials for technology buying teams worldwide


Justifying your white paper

Before you start on a white paper project, do you justify it?  It’s going to cost you some money, so it might be a good idea to do a justification, both to identify its need, and also think about how you will measure its success.  Here are a few things to consider:

Why do you want a white paper? 

  • Fulfillment piece for a direct marketing campaign
  • Handout for sales team to use
  • Handout after conference or webinar presentations
  • Gated web content to obtain signups to your distribution list
  • Build brand awareness

Who’s this white paper targeted to? 

  • Existing customers
  • Prospects at a specific stage in the sales funnel (be specific, it might impact the content)
  • People who don’t know your company
  • Media such as industry publications

What’s the purpose of the paper?

  • To generate sales leads
  • To educate on your technology or solution
  • To develop credibility and build mind share
  • To establish thought leadership
  • To create brand preference
  • To keep up with your competition
  • To influence selection committees (via “best practices” guides)

Who are the readers of your paper?

  • Technical audience:  IT practitioners or management? Define seniority level and decision-making power.
  • Business audience:  which departments, what seniority level, what decision-making responsibility.

How much are you willing to spend?

White papers are often about 5 to 10 pages in length, although they can be more or less.  And they often have a research component, so there might be a significant investment. If you’ve got a firm budget, that gives your writer an understanding of how much research, and even how many pages.  But experienced writers can also give you some budget guidance based on the type of paper you’re looking for.

How are you going to use the white paper?  I’ve written a post on multiple ways you can use a white paper, to ensure you effectively leverage your investment.

How do you know if your white paper is working?

  • # of downloads
  • Comments from sales reps
  • Comments from customers
  • Interest from media
  • Post-download survey – was it what they were looking for?  Did it help?
  • Comments on social media like Twitter, or discussion group on LinkedIn, etc.

Even if you’ve got lots of marketing funds, it’s always a good idea to go through a justification process.  It helps ensure you’re clear about what you want out of your white paper, and it will help your writer create a document that suits your purposes.

Interested in creating a white paper?  I’d love to help you out:  feel free to contact me at or 905-439-9340 (Toronto, Canada area). For more information on me and my services, visit

Nurturing leads in a technology sales cycle

According to Marketing Sherpa, 79% of marketing leads never convert into sales. Lack of lead nurturing is the common cause of this poor performance.

Regardless of whether you use an Excel spreadsheet or an automated system, lead nurturing is all about maintaining an active relationship with a lead until he or she is ready to speak with sales.

So how can you do this?  Regular communication goes a long way, especially if it’s information that leads will find useful.Lead Nurturing

Marketing Sherpa’s research has identified that email newsletters prove to be the most valuable method of nurturing leads, with white papers and thought leadership articles coming in behind.

Regardless of what method you use, the key is to maintain consistent communication over the long term.

Do you send out a regular email newsletter?  I can help, from creating an editorial calendar to writing articles.  For more information, contact me at 905-439-9340 or  And please sign up for my newsletter.


KISS – Explaining your solution in clear language

It’s always been an issue in the Information Technology industry to explain your solution in layperson’s terms.  Some companies can do it, others can’t or don’t bother.  Even if you think your target market can understand your definition, there is always someone in the information stream or purchase cycle who can’t relate the technology to business benefits without a clear explanation of your solution.  That could be the financial decision maker in your prospect’s company.  Or it could be one of your warehouse workers who happens to know the owner of a company looking for a solution like yours.

In my opinion, everyone in your firm should be able to tell outsiders what you do, in a way that’s simple and easy to understand.  If you can get simplistic with your messaging, you can then modify it to suit the appropriate audience.

It’s also a good exercise to try several variations, and test them on employees or even good customers.  It really makes you think about what you do, and how much of it people do understand.

Let’s take Software as a Service (SaaS) for example.  Many companies are now offering their solution over the cloud.  There are two elements to the offering:  the cloud itself, and your solution.  So let’s try to define Cloud Computing.

IBM defines it as “Cloud computing, often referred to as simply “the cloud,” is the delivery of on-demand computing resources—everything from applications to data centers—over the Internet on a pay-for-use basis.”

There’s a good description of it at How Stuff Works, but it’s certainly not one sentence.

In one sentence, here’s what I’ve come up with:

With Cloud Computing, a company (and its employees or customers) use a PC (or tablet, smartphone, terminal etc.) and the Internet to rent hardware and software applications they would otherwise need to buy and install in their facility.

Put another way…

Cloud Computing is a pay for use service that allows customers to access the technology tools they need to run their business over the Internet, instead of buying, installing and maintaining the computer hardware and software themselves.

Next, we’d need to establish what the benefit of this is:

Cloud Computing means the costs and risks associated with owning and maintaining computer hardware and software is moved to the owner of the cloud service, which results in lower capital and operating costs for the customer.

Do you agree or disagree with these definitions?  Could they be a bit simpler? Definitely.  Do they need to?  Depends on the recipient of the information.

My point is this:  you need to spend some serious time to ensure that you clearly define what your solution is, and what the benefits are.  And you need to do it in language that’s suited to the person you’re speaking to.

Want me to take a crack at your solution?  Challenge me!  I can be reached at 905-439-9340, or

Content and The Sales Cycle

In my last post, I suggested a set of questions you might consider before creating any content, for instance, before commissioning a white paper or case study, or writing a blog post.

But a big part of using your content creation dollars wisely is to know what kind of information you need, and when.

We could map content to your sales funnel…

Steve Patrizi has created a new marketing & sales funnel based in part on a study that identified that 60% of a purchase decision is made before a prospect even engages with your sales rep.

New marketing sales funnel

We could map content to the Buyer’s Journey

The Buyers Journey

(Based on a map created by TechTarget)

It could be simple…

Maybe, though, it’s enough to just create a simple spreadsheet and identify what the prospect’s need is, and what kind of information you can provide that will help.  Here’s my example – what would you do differently?

Content table

This might be a bit simplistic:  no doubt you will have more detailed buyer persona’s, and there may be far more than three stages to their purchase journey – not to mention that you must also consider what your customers need after the sale and on an ongoing basis.  The keys are to ensure you know who your customers are, what information they need, when they need it, and where they want to go to get it.

Interested in more?  Follow this blog, or sign up for my newsletter.

Need help creating any of these information tools? Feel free to contact me at 905-439-9340; visit my web site at; or email me at


Content Marketing for Technology Businesses Part 2

In my last post, I talked a bit about Content Marketing, and why technology businesses should care about it.

For all companies – but especially those with limited marketing budgets – it’s important to get maximum value out of any content you invest in. Whenever you create new information, you should be asking questions like:

  • What do our prospects and customers care about – what can we create that will provide them with valuable information, and generate loyalty?
  • Where else can we use this information? Which channels can we post this information on (social networks, blogs, etc.).  Can this information be used in other types of documents?
  • Which of our prospects or customers will care about it, and where would they want to read it?
  • Does the information need to be modified to fit a specific channel?
  • How soon will it need to be replaced or refreshed?
  • How can we use it to drive readers back to our web site, or to a special offer?
  • How can we use it to drive readers to give us their information and consent to being on our email list?
  • Can we use it to start a conversation with prospects or customers?  If yes, where will that conversation take place?

Asking these questions, creating strategies, and posting the information to the right channels is what Content Marketing is about.

Here’s a great post by Pam Didner, Global Integrated Marketing Manager for Intel; on How to Repurpose, Refresh and Reuse Content.