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A case for case studies

By McElroy Translation,
Austin, Texas 78701 USA


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Shelly Priebe

Who is not familiar with the Business Case Study? At first mention the topic sounds less than riveting, and you may even be reminded of a mandatory and grueling undergraduate business class devoted to the topic. I do. So why is this the subject to which I was drawn when writing an article for this month’s E-Buzz publication?

Today’s case study has moved well beyond the business text book and into the arena of marketing and brand creation. In parallel to the ad slogan “This is NOT your father’s Mustang,” a new age has dawned in which the relevance of the case study scintillates at an entirely new level. Case study creation is storytelling, and in today’s marketing scheme it is one of the most powerful tools available for presenting truths about your service, product, or brand. We all love a good story!

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”

Robert McAfee Brown

Research strategies for corporate purchasing decision makers are changing. Instead of consulting neutral reviews, decision makers are relying more heavily on their own insights gleaned directly from vendor content on websites. I would wager that anyone reading this article can attest to this trend by acknowledging a personal or business purchase decision that was assisted in some way by a web search. In doing so, prospects and buyers distinguish factual content from sales hype. The specificity of case studies has the ability to cut through the clutter of sales rhetoric. Facts distill most clearly from fluff via the meaningful content that a well presented case can offer. Framed in the context of a case study the facts become more compelling with the truth of how they affect lives. With focus on real stories that take place in the daily lives of customers, your marketing is wired for more relevance. The package is delivered with emotional impact.

“Facts don’t persuade, feelings do. And stories are the best way to get at those feelings.”

Tom Asacker

Source: www.acleareye.com: Truth Six - From Fact Telling to Storytelling

Increased interest and relevance are not the only reason case studies work. The credibility of what a customer has to say surpasses any claim that an organization makes on its own behalf. The practical experience of a case study is a natural and neutral endorsement. A cross between a business article and a testimonial, it is the most powerful way to communicate a value proposition.

“Google actually relies on our users to help with our marketing. We have a very high percentage of our users who often tell others about our search engine. ”
Sergey Brin

A great case study is like a condensed action film with engaging characters, plot, and conflict. It is structured with a beginning, middle, and end designed to hold the reader’s interest through the tension of conflict and the anticipation of resolution. The climax of resolution specifically demonstrates how a product or service benefited a client. Brevity is part of the beauty of a good case study. Get to the point and sacrifice corporate ego for objectivity, internal process detail for customer focus. Avoid too many internal details about the solution and focus on what captivates – insight and the customer experience.

“A recent government publication on the marketing of cabbage contains, according to one report, 26,941 words. It is noteworthy in this regard that the Gettysburg Address contains a mere 279 words while the Lord’s Prayer comprises but 67.”
- Norman R. Augustine

Where to begin? You need a good story to tell and a customer who understands the benefits of sharing the spotlight with you and is willing to provide information. Flesh out the story in three parts:

1) The challenge: Set the scene, introduce the characters, and present the problem.

2) The solution: Enter protagonist.

3) The result: How did the solution work? What change did it bring?

The case study should be straightforward and factual. A supporting metric which establishes return on investment is optimal. How long did it take the solution to pay for itself and how did it do it?

Your client will help you define the end user. Who in their business setting is the ultimate user of your service or product? They will also help you articulate the business problem and elaborate on the results of your solution.

“You have to understand, my dears, that the shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story.”

Anthony de Mello, from One Minute Wisdom

If case studies can be created in the framework of these three simple steps why are so few organizations prolific in this domain? With no need to point outward I can readily attest that support for case study initiatives has been the #1 challenge for McElroy’s Marketing Manager Lisa Siciliani. The Marketing Department relies on information and data from two sets of very busy people, internal McElroy employees and external McElroy clients.

Writing a case study is the easy part; collecting the information and understanding the full story is the challenge. It is a process which requires the cooperation of an organization’s most prized asset, its customers. In McElroy’s case the delivery of the translated or localized product usually marks only the beginning of a lengthy process client-side that will later determine the value of the puzzle piece that McElroy provided. Our translations may support litigation efforts than can continue at length before parties mediate or go to trial. They may be compiled into an FDA submission for which approvals take time. Or, they may support a global product launch or training effort for which specific results take time to quantify.

The challenge is not telling the story, but knowing the story. In our case we must

l) learn of its potential to solve problems despite the fact that we, McElroy and client, work aggressively in the moment focused on delivering quality and meeting deadlines, then

2) follow the story through to its ultimate conclusion.

“It can seem incredibly daunting to be faced with the process of ferreting out the best stories for case studies, but once they are unearthed and brought to light, both vendor and client have pure PR gold on their hands.”

Lisa Siciliani, Marketing Manager at McElroy Translation

Lisa’s ongoing encouragement to work diligently on case studies has recently gained momentum under the directive of McElroy’s newly retained PR firm Petras and Associates. An abundance of research on buying trends indicates that overcoming the inherent challenges of documenting case studies must be a corporate priority. If this also applies to your business, what strategies are available to make this happen?

Assume the Attitude!

Case studies aside, when client facing contacts see their role as problem solvers and business consultants they do more than “take orders.” They will learn about a client’s specific situation and needs in the process of everday client communication. This information may signal the foundation of a good story.

Respect Your Client’s Time!

Take as little of your client’s time as possible! Rely on internal employees to document process solutions and do your own research on support information if necessary. Write the bulk of the study and only approach the client with a brief telephone or email interview to add local flavor and possibly insert a quote. Get a sign off on the final product and do not expect the client to participate in the draft and revision process. Submit only a finished product for approval.

Speaking of Approvals…

Include corporate communications early in the process. These are the people in the client’s organization who fully understand how the resulting case study can be a tool for their own public relations. Plus, there will be no surprises at the approval stage.

Future Chapters

Create a storytelling workplace. Gather and tell stories now for specific marketing use. But share these stories as much as possible internally and promote inquisitiveness. At McElroy I know that our line staff members feel more vested in the work that they process when they understand how it fits in to our clients’ business scenarios. Think long term and stay tuned to client side plots that continue to unfold, creating new chapters and spin-offs for years to come.

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. ”
Peter Drucker

“And thereby hangs a tale.”

William Shakespeare, in As You Like It

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