Every PR person knows that strong customer case studies are powerful additions to the B2B PR toolkit. They also work well for sales and marketing. A great case study can actually help move prospects down the sales funnel to the point where they’re ready to buy. Ideally, it serves as a third-party testimonial for a company or its product, building credibility and demonstrating key product attributes.
Most customer success stories are written to generate earned media coverage, or to run as bylined pieces in trade or business media. They’re also an asset for industry award submissions. But what makes for a stellar piece of case study content that will win awards and attract media attention? A big part of my job is writing award entries for our various ad tech, martech, AI, and cybersecurity clients. Their customer success stories make up the substance of almost all our submissions. Here are a few fundamentals I’ve gleaned by crafting award entries for our B2B technology clients.
Anatomy of a successful B2B case study
Virtually every case study contains the same basic structure, and the order should be logical to guide the reader. As Digiday explains, “using our prompts to prove how X client was able to achieve Y through the use of your platform.” That sums it up nicely.
First, state the problem that the customer needed to solve with the use of your company’s technology. Second, outline the objective of the campaign. Next, detail the strategy used to achieve campaign goals, followed by a description of the actual execution of the campaign, which is where the tech solution gets the spotlight. Finally, summarize the success of the campaign in both qualitative and quantitative terms, citing as many success metrics as possible. Additionally, every great case study includes one or more testimonial quotes from the user.
Quantifiable success beats anecdotal info
The most important case study ingredient is its demonstrable success. Even the most well-written and compelling story won’t succeed if the results aren’t evident. The case must show the customer’s success in the language of hard metrics. Anecdotal descriptions along the lines of “campaign achieved a great increase in inbound leads and awareness” will not bring home the trophy. It’s not likely to attract the attention of reporters, either. For most major industry awards, the ‘tangible results’ portion represents 40% of the judges’ criteria. The KPIs can vary depending on the the technology spotlighted. In martech and ad tech, metrics such as CPM, impressions, CPA, lift, clicks, and cost-per-lead are common. While these are all excellent measures of a solution’s effectiveness, judges tend to value metrics like ROI and ROAS (return on ad spend) the most. While it can be challenging for solutions providers to get customers to agree to go public with ROI and revenue numbers, they should make every effort to capture such proof points.
Tell a compelling story for the win!
The above elements of a case study may appear coldly methodical, but they’re not the only key ingredient. To make the content live and breathe for journalists, prospects, and judges, package them in a story format with a beginning, middle, and end. Especially in the B2B tech world, where software and data solutions are festooned with esoteric, highly technical jargon, the PR writer must translate abstract concepts and algorithmic technology into easy-to-understand language. Even in high tech, a case study is simply people trying to solve a problem and finding a way to success against obstacles. An award submission should be tough to write, so that it’s easy to read. Judges see hundreds of entries, so the narrative must keep them engaged. Poor storytelling will make an entry dead on arrival.
Get creative with solutions
Although 40% of award criteria are judged on the hard numbers, the other important factor to a winning case is the creativity of the campaign. Again, judges in major media and tech awards like The Drum and Digiday read lots of entries that may sound similar. If the approach was truly innovative, the case has a greater chance of making the shortlist. Case study writers should accentuate any creativity or innovation used to achieve the user’s goals. We can’t control the innovation quotient, but it should be a key factor when considering whether to submit for an award.
Big brands use cases are often winners
If a well-known brand has used your solution in an interesting way to meet business objectives, you should prioritize getting approvals on a public case study with them.
When it comes to both winning awards and generating media opportunities, the marquee brand names attract attention from media and awards judges. Asking for a customer’s permission to brag about their solution can be daunting for a B2B marketing or PR team. Yet awards can be an easier sell, since the brand will earn exposure if they win. So, customer success teams that are adept at gaining approvals for public case studies set their brands up for greater success in PR. Plus, awards wins and glowing mentions in the press can improve client relationships, so it’s worth the ask.
Robust public-facing case studies are critical to a B2B company’s success, especially in competitive sectors that feature a lengthy buyer’s journey. Case studies are absolutely compulsory when it comes to competing for tech industry product awards. While early-stage companies and startups may not have the customer track record to produce such success stories, they should be proactive in setting the stage to create them down the road, building client relationships that will make it natural to ask for approvals when the time comes.