Use a Little Case Study Psychology to Improve Your Marketing Strategy

March 21, 2017 Jonathan Crowl

case study psychology

Your company’s first manufacturing account has everyone in the office buzzing with excitement. After years of hard work with businesses in other industries, this new client represents a potential foothold in an entirely new space.

Leadership has marked this as a land-and-expand opportunity and they’ve asked you to write a case study that will be used to sell other companies on your services. The hope, of course, is that you can leverage your case study psychology as part of your content strategy to offer a compelling enough argument to win over clients in an industry where you have limited experience.

When the next opportunity rolls around, your sales team trots out your manufacturing case study, hoping it’s enough to close the deal . . and the prospective client goes with someone else.

Your sales team and executives are stunned. They reach out to the company to ask what happened and why they decided to go with an alternative. That company responds that it was nothing against you or your team—it’s just that your competitor offered a case study that blew them away.

This throws everyone for a loop. You were supposed to have the case study that delivered the knockout punch, but other companies are now beating you at your own game. This loss forces you to take a hard look at your current case study strategy.

Image attribution: WoCinTech Chat

Image attribution: WoCinTech Chat

Why Case Studies Fail

Even the term “case study” can be misleading because it suggests an in-depth analysis of a specific business or partnership, which isn’t quite accurate. Brands and their decision-makers look to case studies for basic information. They don’t want to wade through a mess of data or tramp on down a winding path of inquiry.

As Inc. pointed out, this is often the biggest problem holding case studies back. They aren’t effective at answering key questions in a clear, straightforward way. Too many case studies dive deep into the details of how a solution works, instead of focusing on what matters to clients, which are the outcomes of that solution. Forget about the machinery behind the final product. If the end result is incredible sausage, no one needs to know how it’s made.

Tech companies take this approach all the time. While the technology behind innovations like smart watches and in-home digital assistants are complex, these products are marketed by emphasizing their simplicity and highlighting the practical changes they bring to daily life. All content and case studies should follow a similar approach.

In some cases, the marketer writing the study may not have had an adequate understanding of what the company’s customers need. It could be that the case study was written in a manner that was standard practice in the past, which was traditionally more focused on highlighting your company’s capabilities and the details of their most recent solution. Then there’s the problem of putting together a case study that excels at putting its audience to sleep. Yes, it may be business copy, but if it isn’t keeping leadership interested, you shouldn’t be surprised when they go in a different direction.

A Better Model for Proving Value

The aforementioned structure of promoting your company’s credentials and abilities, and offering an in-depth look at the solution, is gradually being replaced by a newer model that accomplishes two things:

1. It streamlines the case study’s focus to eliminate unnecessary information.

If a company has decided to sit down and listen to your sales pitch, they don’t really need to hear more about what a good partner you would be, right? They’re looking for next-level information.

One example of tackling this demand comes from Demandbase, which built an impressive case study around a campaign based on education and in-depth content. By focusing on creating educational resources to help their clients find the tech tools they need to improve their content marketing efforts, the company leveraged a single campaign to generate 1,700 new leads and more than $1 million in business revenue, per Business 2 Community.

2. This newer model inverts the traditional release of information.

The performance of the solution, not a walkthrough of its process (that eventually ends up at the results), should be the primary focus. Does your solution reduce operational expenses by 20 percent? That’s what you lead with. Or maybe frame it as a cautionary tale: brands pay 20 percent more in operational costs by not adopting our product in the workplace.

This newer model, dubbed “same-side selling,” is a more effective framework for your case studies because it analyzes the solution from the perspective of your customers. Instead of hearing you explain why you would be so great for them, present the partnership and related solutions by illustrating how their company could benefit from such a solution. Then you finish with data and measurables to back up your argument, reinforcing what they already understand: by going with your company, their fortunes could be dramatically improved.


The Psychology of Storytelling

A successful case study takes the customer’s psychology and decision-making into account. At every step of its creation, marketers must move over to the position of their target customers and consider how each line speaks directly to their needs and how it might motivate them during the decision-making process.

Business 2 Community reinforces the belief that appearing credible and supplying the desired information are paramount to the success of any case study. But great case study psychology also takes other influences into account. Certain features like color schemes and user-generated content strategy may not directly relate to the problems or solutions at hand, but they affect the state of mind of decision-makers. Think of the psychological strategies you use in marketing. Unless you’re selling to Spock, you should understand how these implicit influences can have a real impact on the reception of your case study.

Building solid case studies is hard work, but dedicated marketers are capable of pulling these projects off. And a successful case study will pay dividends for years as it helps the company win over new clients.

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