The Art of the Technology Marketing Case Study

Hugh Taylor

President

case study image
Case Study image via Shutterstock

Case studies can be a pain. But they are essential for marketing technology products to business customers and should be essential to your overall content marketing strategy. Yet, they are really hard to get.  Why? Major clients typically don’t like having their names used as public references. Then, even if you get permission, it can be difficult to craft a written case that accomplishes the necessary sales and marketing objectives. It’s a bit like landing a dream date with the Homecoming Queen but then having nothing to say to her when you finally go out for a milkshake. A lot of case studies tend to be dull and generic, articulating the familiar problem-solution pattern that crushes with its sameness. It does not have to be this way. There is an art to creating a great case study. A great case study is one that makes both you and your client look good. A great case study is an interesting read. A great case study gets the reader nodding his or her head, thinking, yes, I have this problem and this vendor can solve it.

So, how can we make our case studies sing like this?

A good case study paints a compelling portrait of your client

A case study is essentially a portrait of the client. What makes a portrait good? Consider the difference between a $9.99 portrait from a big box store and Holbein’s portrait of King Henry VIII. The big box portrait involves pointing a camera at someone and pushing the button. The picture will show the subjects face in broad, flat lighting, but that’s about it. Holbein, in contrast, was able to identify a subtle but profound set of nuances in Henry VIII’s face that made the portrait cry out, “This is one of the most powerful and important men in history.”

 

case study blog Henry VIII portrait

Case Study Blog Target Portrait
Source: Target

Your client is Henry VIII and you are Holbein. What is special about your client, in business terms? That is what you must highlight to make the case study compelling.

Once, I was asked to write a case study about process monitoring software at a German manufacturer of copper wire. I wondered to myself, what is so interesting about copper wire? Not much, until I learned how much wire this company produced and how they approached quality. They produced 140,000 miles of wire a day and had a zero defect policy. Got that? They spun enough wire to go 6 times around the world every day and accepted absolutely zero manufacturing defects. The software helped them achieve this goal. I could correctly position my client as a key enabling technology in a remarkable feat of manufacturing quality process engineering. That was a differentiator. It made the client look interesting and it made the software vendor look like an agent of serious business transformation.

Think Movies When Creating Case Studies

Case study blog movie example
Source: IMDB

My old job as a script executive in television was great preparation for writing case studies. Writing about cloud infrastructure software enabling a company to cut its IT budget isn’t that different from producing a TV movie where Kate Jackson saves New York City from an outbreak of the bubonic plague. (I’m not making this up. I really did work on that project.) Movies have a three act structure. Act I presents a problem that the hero has to solve, such as New York getting infected with the Black Death. Act II has the hero fighting the battles that will solve the problem. Act III is the final resolution. A case study, with its problem-solution-benefits structure, is no different. The challenge is to make the case study as engaging as a movie. Making the problem-solution-benefits structure interesting involves casting a hero in the leading role. Who is the hero of your case study? Is it the IT manager who believes that cloud infrastructure will save her company money? What are the obstacles that the hero must overcome to save the day? If you approach the case study like a thriller, you can find its hidden, compelling narrative.

Turning yourself into the Holbein or Steven Spielberg of case studies can take some work, but there is a secret to making even the most routine of cases turn into reliable vehicles of trust and credibility: It all happens in the interview. The questions you ask of your client will determine the content of the case study. If you ask, “What was your problem and how did we solve it?” you will get a big box portrait case study. If you go deeper, and ask probing questions about the specific ways that the client runs his or her business, what makes it successful, and how your product enhanced that success, you will start to get more nuanced, selling detail. Some suggested case study interview questions are shown below. Go ahead… find your inner Holbein and turn your case study into a portrait of the king.

Essential Interview Questions Technology Marketers Must Ask When Building Successful Case Studies

  • What does your company/organization do?
  • What would you say are your company’s key success factors?
  • In what area/department of the business do you work?
  • What are your department’s goals and responsibilities?
  • What is your role?
  • What was it that initiated interest in our product? E.g., was there a specific business or IT problem you needed to address?
  • If there was a problem, can you describe it?
  • What were your requirements for the project/upgrade/acquisition?
  • What factors were important to you in selecting a vendor?
  • What influenced you to decide to work with us?
  • What specifically will we be providing to you?
  • What are your expectations for how the product/solution will work?
  • What is the status of the implementation of our product/solution?
  • In business terms, how would you assess how our product/solution is addressing your needs?
  • In IT terms, how would you assess how our product/solution is addressing your needs?
  • Can you point to a particular return on investment (ROI) for this project/upgrade/acquisition?
    • Savings of software license or maintenance costs?
    • Ability to migrate to cloud?
    • Personnel redeployment?
    • Infrastructure cost reduction?
    • Faster time to market?
    • Greater margin?
    • Other?
  • What are the next steps in the project that involved our product/solution?
  • Do you have any other comments you would like to make?

case study blog Hugh TaylorHugh Taylor, is the President of Taylor Communications, a firm specializing in long form content for technology companies and the author of the book B2B Technology Marketing. You can follow Hugh on LinkedIn.

B2B Marketing best practices, case study development, content development, content marketing, Marketer Case Study, technology marketing case study, writing case studies

4 Responses to “The Art of the Technology Marketing Case Study”

  1. Larry Fleischman

    Well, I like your set-up Hugh. The concepts and analogies in the article are right on. Where you lost me though was the “must ask” questions list. The questions don’t align with the colorful story you advise we should be telling in our case studies. Was hoping for some new/different/provocative examples of questions. These appear to be same ole/same ole.

    • A fair point, Larry.

      These are ‘tried and true’ questions. They’re a reasonable starting point for a conversation with a case study subject. If anything, what’s missing from this piece (or implicit in it) is the need to dig into the subject’s answers with follow-up questions:

      Ask why.
      Ask for clarification (I’m a big fan of repeating two answers back to the subject, and explain why I think they seem contradictory to me. Their clarification tends to uncover some gems.)
      Ask for examples.

      If we go into an interview thinking that we just need to run through a list of pre-determined questions, we’re not going to come out with the material necessary to tell that compelling story.

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