Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Benefits of Case Studies

Customer and third party endorsements are invaluable to any organisation and can ultimately help raise the profile of a product or service. With tight constraints on budgets, and organisations apprehensive about investing in new technology or solutions, case studies are extremely useful for companies to showcase their products and services, as they enable prospective customers the opportunity to quickly research the market, find out if another company had a similar problem or need and how it was resolved. According to research, case studies are the second most influential type of marketing collateral (trailing only white papers) and the third most widely consumed type of marketing collateral (behind product brochures and white papers). Salespeople find them extremely useful for attracting new customers, especially when attending events and meetings, as they provide something tangible that clearly shows what they can offer and how they can solve a problem. The media also need case studies to understand what a particular client has done or can achieve, and the marketing team benefits from them as they clearly outline the expertise that a particular organisation has in its market space. A good case study will detail clear specifics, the tangible business benefits of a product or service and how it helped the named organisation commercially. This will provide any prospective customers with information that they can relate to and help differentiate from competitors. The one rule that must be adhered to though, is getting approval from the customer before anything is drafted, published or distributed. Nothing should ever be issued without explicit permission from the customer, and this doesn’t just mean the main point of contact. Usually an organisation will have a corporate communications team which will want to oversee any marketing activity that mentions the company name. Failure to adhere to this process can badly damage a relationship and any future business dealings. After all, it is their reputation as stake as well, so keep them involved and allow them to review before you publish. Customers should always have the final say on any copy and be given the right to change any inaccuracies or comments they feel uncomfortable with. It is also advisable to get this permission right from the start, otherwise all the hard work of researching and writing the case study will ultimately be pointless. Once approval has been given to proceed, a well-written case study should reveal the pain points that an organisation faced, a legitimate problem, establishing a relationship between that product and a real-world application in a production environment. This needs to be achieved by providing details to questions such as: What types of problems do they use it for? How do they use the product or service to solve those problems? What does it look like in use? What were the tangible results? If the case study answers these questions in a clear manner, then it will provide a good insight into what can be achieved. Remember, results are paramount to a good case study, so they should include as much detail of savings and return of investment (ROI) stats as possible. Many organisations like to shout about a brand new client, and for good reason. However, the power of older customers’ testimonials shouldn’t be underestimated, as these can often provide better information and more insightful statistics, as well as indicate an ability to establish a long-term relationship, which may be more convincing to a prospective customer. Increasingly, customers are now looking for a number of different formats to base their decision-making on. Not only do they want the in-depth longer stories, they also want shorter, summarised versions for an at-a-glance understanding of the solution and results. This helps the decision makers, usually the CEO or MD of a company, understand the benefits of the product or service on offer without having to wade through the technical and more detailed analysis. Including infographics can also help this cause, providing a strong visual overview of the product or service. In fact, organisations are increasingly producing video case studies to help promote their products and services. If done right, kept short and to the point, a video case study can include more content and deliver a visually stimulating message that can be more memorable. A combination of human interviews, graphics and site/product footage works best. These can then be uploaded to the main website, and the links distributed via email shots and to the media. A good diversification of customer stories, in a variety of different formats, should provide an organisation with all the ammo it needs to attract new business and to stand out in a competitive market.
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