What is your favorite case study? Why do you like it?

Case studies come in all shapes and forms. Our Panel of Case Study Experts have written and reviewed thousands of case studies over the years. Which case study stands out in their mind? We have invited Case Study Experts to answer this query: “Give one example of your most favorite case study and why you like it”.

Cindy King

Blog CindyKing Twitter CindyKing

“Highlight business impact”

Cindy King’s Bio

Cindy King is a Cross-Cultural Marketer & International Sales Specialist based in France.  She uses her dual background in sales & marketing, in international business development, to help businesses improve their international sales conversion. She is also adept at content marketing, international web marketing and social media marketing.

Cindy King’s Tip

My favorite case study is a blog post on Social Media Examiner:
Social Media Marketing Lowers Acquisition Costs 39 Percent for TakeLessons.com

What stands out the most for me in this case study is the great example of how social media marketing works for a real world business.  It highlights how businesses need to adapt their marketing to this new environment in order to engage with their clients in a different way.  Another great take away from this case study is how businesses should approach the ROI of social media.  It’s not only about the money you make, but also the money you save.

Of course, most businesses would love to experience similar results to the TakeLessons.com case study, especially when you consider the manageable amount of time invested in their social media tasks. So this case study is also an inspiration.

Cindy King Recommends

Casey Hibbard

Blog Stories That Sell Twitter Casey_Hibbard

“Tell a story and prove claims with numbers”

Casey Hibbard’s Bio

Casey Hibbard is the founder and principal of Compelling Cases, Inc. Over the past decade, she has created and managed nearly 500 customer stories for dozens of companies, including Level 3, USA.NET, Jobfox, Qwest, Great-West Healthcare, Vocus and Verio. She is the author of the first published book on the topic of customer case studies, Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset.

Casey Hibbard’s Tip

Alltel Wireless drives “My Circle” success with sophisticated direct marketing was created for Acxiom, an interactive marketing services company.

This case study is at the top of its class for many reasons:

  • A well-known company was willing to share its success in a case study.
  • The design attracts and engages readers. The amount of white space is inviting, as well as the numerous, relevant graphics throughout the story. The layout keeps paragraphs narrow and relatively short, making it more reader-friendly.
  • A sidebar summarizes the story for readers. Placing it on the first page means readers don’t have to search for that information.
  • A feature story style means the story starts immediately with an engaging feature lead, instead of an “About the Customer” section.
  • Acxiom has left out an About Us section, keeping it about the customer’s story. Instead, the audience can glean that information from other sources.
  • The story uses descriptive subheads throughout to help readers skim.
  • The 4-page case study uses 5-6 powerful customer quotes that reinforce the customer’s experience.
  • It includes measurable results – the icing on the cake.

In short, it’s extremely attractive, tells a story and proves its claims with numbers.

Casey Hibbard Recommends

Michele Linn

Blog Savvy B2B Marketing Twitter MicheleLinn

“Highlight results that are quantifiable and relevant to the reader”

Michele Linn’s Bio

Michele Linn is a B2B marketing consultant specializing creating and promoting buyer-focused content, such as white papers, research reports, feature articles and case studies. Her business is devoted to making the job of B2B marketers easier by producing effective content and providing insights on how they can market it. Her website is Linn Communications.

Michele Linn’s Tip

One of my favorite case studies (Insurance Firm Wards Off Costly CPU Upgrades With Compuware Strobe) is one I worked on when I was a marketing manager for a software company.  It was a collaboration between the key people at my company (sales was especially instrumental), and I was very pleased with the results.

Like many case studies, the format of this piece is easy to skim and understand: problem, solution, results. The sidebar summarizes these key points for those who want a quick overview.

I am especially fond of this case study because the results are so quantifiable and relevant to the reader. For the audience of this story, hard-dollar savings was especially important. We understood exactly what data we wanted to pull out, so we developed the questions to get powerful quotes:

  • “We were able to fine-tune performance and delay our next CPU upgrade for almost 18 months, saving approximately $2 million in hardware and software costs.”
  • “We can improve performance and put off other upgrades, saving us today probably close to around another $1 million in costs.”

We got a lot of mileage from these quotes and others from the story. There was also a video and press release about the customer experience, which was a nice compliment to the written story.

Michele Linn Recommends

Sarah Mitchell

Blog Global Copywriting Twitter globalcopywrite

“Identify a case study with clear subheadings – Problem, Goal and Solution”

Sarah Mitchell’s Bio

Sarah Mitchell is a freelance copywriter with a focus on B2B content, specifically case studies and white papers. Combining successful technical, sales and writing careers, Sarah provides a rare perspective to every project. She’s especially interested in working with small and medium-sized businesses. Sarah has lived and worked on five continents. Find her website at Global Copywriting.

Sarah Mitchell’s Tip

My favorite case study is from an unlikely source, Cook’s Illustrated magazine. For those of you that don’t know, Cook’s Illustrated is known as America’s Test Kitchen. Taking a scientific approach to every recipe printed, the magazine is nothing less than a monthly compendium of case studies.

Published in March 2006, Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake identifies itself as a case study with clear subheadings on The Problem, The Goal and The Solution. Written clearly in feature-style prose, the reader is drawn immediately with a reminder of how chocolate cake used to be, “towering slices …slathered with billowy frosting”.  The problem succinctly follows, “over the years chocolate cakes have become denser, richer and squatter”.  By the time I get to the goal, “old-style, mile-high chocolate layer cake with a tender, airy, open crumb and a soft, billowy frosting”, I’m already making a shopping list.

As with all good case studies, Cook’s Illustrated provides plenty of convincing data. You trust a recipe perfected with 130 attempts. Both failures and successes are detailed in objective language. Key findings are described along with the technical reasons for success. When you’re done reading, you know what works and, importantly, why it works.

The case study ends with clear recommendations in the form of a recipe and systematic instructions with accompanying photos. If you’ve never made a chocolate cake in your life, this case study provides four pages of specific information to guide you. For an experienced baker, Cook’s Illustrated makes you confident you’ve found the perfect recipe.

Sarah Mitchell Recommends

Stephanie Tilton

Blog Savvy B2B Marketing Twitter StephanieTilton

“Produce a range of pieces to address different audience interests”

Stephanie Tilton’s Bio

Stephanie Tilton is an expert case study and white paper writer who helps B2B companies advance the sales cycle by engaging prospects and customers. Harnessing her unique blend of technical knowledge, marketing savvy, and writing skills, Stephanie has crafted nearly 100 case studies and white papers for leading brands such as Akamai Technologies, EMC, Macromedia, Novell, SAP, and Symantec. Her website is Ten Ton Marketing.

Stephanie Tilton’s Tip

My favorite case studies focus on the customer’s success and help readers envision how their situation can change for the better.

SAP does a great job of telling these types of stories. In fact, SAP takes an interesting approach to showcasing customer successes. It produces a range of pieces to address different audience interests, from a one-page customer profile to in-depth stories that follow the typical “problem-solution-results” formula. In the middle lie Business Transformation Studies, which illustrate how SAP has helped customers, well, transform their businesses. These Business Transformation Studies are formatted to appeal to both skimmers and readers, as well as to business and technical audiences. In the sample I’ve chosen, you’ll see the following elements used to great effect:

  • A headline and pull quote emphasizing the main customer benefit
  • A shaded box summarizing customer and solution information
  • Bullets highlighting key challenges, reasons the solution was selected, implementation highlights, and benefits
  • A four-line summary encapsulating the story
  • A one-page narrative telling the story in a compelling fashion

Key takeaway: Focus your case studies on your customers and format the stories so readers can digest information the way they prefer.

Stephanie Tilton Recommends

Recommended Resources from Experts on Case Studies

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How to Be a Content Marketing Winner

Do you feel like a content marketing loser? Like even though you’re using the same strategies as the celebrity bloggers, the crowd keeps passing you by?

In a super post about “getting lucky” in the content marketing world, Tracy Feit Love breaks it down to this memorable example:

“Two guys walk into a bar (humor me here). The first guy walks up to a woman and says, ‘Hi. I make a lot of money and drive a really fast car, so you will definitely want to go out with me. Here’s my number. When you’re ready to go out, call me.’

“The second guy sits down at the bar and listens. He hears the woman next to him complain to the bartender that the last Italian restaurant she tried was terrible, and that she couldn’t seem to find good Italian food nearby. When there’s a break in the conversation, he says, ‘Excuse me, but I couldn’t help overhearing about your bad experience with some of the local Italian restaurants. Have you tried Davio’s Cucina? It’s really excellent.’

Which guy is more likely to end up with a date?”

Even if guy no. 2 doesn’t get the date, he’s at least demonstrated that he’s listening and that he’s willing to offer help. So, how can you show you’re listening? Here are a few ways:

1. Try a poll or online survey. We’re often afraid to put our ideas on the table and admit that we don’t know what the next step should be. When, in fact, asking your clients and/or readers what they think of your next move, or product can only put you on the right track to better meeting their needs. Another way to use polls or surveys is simply to develop a profile of your client/reader base: What are their demographics? Are they more into Facebook or Twitter? What areas of work and life do they need most help in? This information can help you figure out where you come in.

2. Listen and react: When you read others’ blogs and Twitter feeds, you are listening. But unless you comment or react in some way, the author has no idea you’re out there. You are not engaging. Put yourself in their shoes: They would love to know they’ve got your attention, that they’re making you think about something, that you read a post of theirs from start to finish. Jump the hurdle of silence and connect in any way you can think of – even if it’s just to ask the writer how they came up with the idea for their post, or to thank them for voicing an interesting point of view. Responding to others’ questions or requests for advice/help seems obvious, but you have to get into the habit of doing it.

3. Connect people: Another way to show people you’re listening is to connect them with those that have a relevant or mutual interest. Think of the people in your various networks, and how they might be able to learn from or work with each other. This shows that you’re thinking of others, and willing to make an introduction that may help them in the future.

4. Give credit where credit is due: Let people know how they’ve influenced you or helped shape your decisions. Perhaps a particular thread of forum discussion or Tweets helped you gather opinions on a particular topic. Tell people that their feedback was helpful, and be specific about how you used it. Here’s a great example of letting your readers know how their feedback helped: Rypple added a new feature based on user feedback.

5. Give people something different: If you are out there listening to what’s being said in your online neighborhood, chances are you hear a lot of the same things over and over. You read discussion of the same issue, rehashing of the same problems or approaches. Try to find ways to establish yourself as something other than a parrot: find an angle, tool, recommendation or resource that helps people. Or, at the very least, makes them laugh. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky.

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What is your favorite white paper? Why do you like it?

White papers come in all shapes and forms. Our Panel of White Paper Experts have written and reviewed thousands of white papers over the years. Which white paper stands out in their mind? We have invited White Paper Experts to answer this query: “Give one example of your most favorite white paper and why you like it”. Read on to get their insights.

Jonathan Kantor’s Favorite White Paper — Transforming Sampling into Shopper Marketing: Walmart’s “Bright Ideas” Event Program
Michael Stelzner’s Favorite White Paper — The Expanding Digital Universe
Jonathan Kranz’s Favorite White Paper — The Taxonomy Folksonomy Cookbook

Must-read resources on how to write good white papers:

Jonathan Kantor

Blog WhitePaperPundit Twitter Jonathan_Kantor

 “My favorite white papers are ones that use a variety of visual elements to grab reader attention.”

Jonathan Kantor’s Bio

Jonathan Kantor is the principal and founder of The Appum Group, “The White Paper Company“, and has been producing commercial white papers for the past 11 years. He is also the author of the White Paper Pundit blog. Jonathan’s experience with white papers is also coupled with over 25 years of enterprise business experience with leading industry innovators such as Apple Computer, Microsoft, Digital Equipment Corporation, and J.D. Edwards Enterprise Software (now a division of Oracle Corporation). This experience included a variety of sales, marketing, business development, and management positions.

Jonathan Kantor’s Tip

My favorite white papers are ones that use a variety of visual elements to grab reader attention.

As part of my weekly Friday FREE White Paper List on the WhitePaperPundit.com blog, I have an opportunity to review hundreds of white papers that have been freely distributed via Twitter.

The best white paper that I have seen over the past few months comes from the In-Store Marketing Institute called: Transforming Sampling into Shopper Marketing: Walmart’s “Bright Ideas” Event Program.

The reason I like this white paper is the way in which it uses a variety of visual elements to deliver critical business messages. The white paper leverages several ‘attention-generating’ elements such as:

  • Colorful photographs, illustrations, and captions to build reader affinity.
  • Colorful column charts with callout messages to reinforce critical business points.
  • Shaded text boxes containing related business statistics and messages.
  • Bright, colorful SME quotes represented as large page callouts.

This white paper is a good example of what I call in my new book, “Crafting White Paper 2.0”, a “White Paper 2.0” strategy. This concept refers to a new generation of white papers that embrace a new set of formatting and design principles to engage today’s time and attention-challenged business reader.

As readers become accustomed to the short, quick, colorful methodologies associated with Social Media messaging such as Twitter, the white paper medium must evolve from its stark, black and white past to engage this new and savvier online audience.

For more information on ‘Short Attention Marketing’, interested readers should review my free white paper on this topic.

Jonathan Kantor Recommends

  • Free document distribution sites: Scribd.com, DocStoc.com, Slideshare.net, Gazhoo.com, Yudu.com, and WhitePapers.org.
  • Blog sharing sites such as BizSugar.com, Sphinn.com, and Reddit.com.
  • WhitePaperPundit: The Friday FREE White Paper List, a listing of free white papers from weekly Twitter Tweets that don’t require registration, posted each Friday.
  • Twitter search criteria set to keywords: “White Paper”, and “White Papers”.
  • Google Alerts set to “White Paper”, and “White Papers”.

Michael Stelzner

Blog WritingWhitePapers Twitter Mike_Stelzner

“Conversational writing can and should be utilized to convey complex ideas and draw in readers.”

Michael Stelzner’s Bio

Michael Stelzner is one of the leading authorities on the topic of writing and marketing white papers. Michael is also the author of the bestselling book, Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged.

Michael Stelzner’s Tip

Let’s face it, white papers are typically dry and boring. However, they don’t have to be. (Let’s you and I change that, ok?)

Here is a great paper by IDC called The Expanding Digital Universe. This paper was written by John F. Gantz and a team of 8 other writers (which makes it even more amazing how well the whole thing flows). This paper reads like a great story rather than an analyst report.It includes much of the trademarks of an excellent white paper, including lots of images and creative subheads.

However, what I want to draw your attention to its outstanding writing.

Consider this excerpt:
HOW BIG IS THE DIGITAL UNIVERSE, REALLY?

It is pretty easy to picture a byte – it’s the equivalent of a character on a page – or even a megabyte,  which contains about the same amount of information as a small novel. But what about a million million megabytes, which is an exabyte?

If we stick with the book analogy, then the digital universe in 2006 could be likened to 12 stacks of books extending from the Earth to the sun. Or one stack of books twice around the Earth’s orbit. By 2010 the stack of books could reach from the sun to Pluto and back. In 2006 those books would represent about 6 tons of books for every man, woman, and child on Earth. A large adult elephant weighs about 6 tons.

This paper is absolutely littered with conversational writing.

Take home lesson: Conversational writing can and should be utilized to convey complex ideas and draw in readers.

Michael Stelzner Recommends

Sarah Mitchell

Blog Global Gopywriting Twitter globalcopywrite

“My goal is to develop a paper that becomes a reference point for how people make decisions.”

Sarah Mitchell’s Bio

Sarah Mitchell is a freelance copywriter with a focus on B2B content, specifically case studies and white papers. Combining successful technical, sales and writing careers, Sarah provides a rare perspective to every project. She’s especially interested in working with small and medium-sized businesses. Sarah has lived and worked on five continents. Find her  website at Global Copywriting.

Sarah Mitchell’s Tip

My background is old-school software development.  I spent plenty of time working on applications and a fair bit developing systems software. If you were a systems software programmer in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, a good white paper was like finding a nugget of gold.

I can’t say I have a particular white paper I favour over others. The white papers I liked best were the ones coming out of the IBM laboratories geared at heavy-duty geeks. They didn’t contain business benefits or purchasing guides. They were hard-core technical manifestos for people needing or wanting more in-depth information about a specific area of hardware or software. The writers of these early white papers were the best technical resources working for one of the most influential technology companies of all time. Having access to an IBM white paper was the next best thing to sitting in an office and picking the brain of a leading expert.

I write white papers because of the intrinsic value those technical reports provided in my early career. Spending an hour pouring through 10-15 pages of specific detail could save days or weeks of valuable project time. I’m mindful of providing the same outcome even when I’m writing shorter papers focused purely on business benefits. My goal is to develop a paper that becomes a reference point for how people make decisions.

I’m delighted the broader business community is adopting the white paper as a means of conveying information.  The technology industry developed white papers out of necessity.  As companies realise the value of educating their customer, the white paper is finding new purpose.

Sarah Mitchell Recommends

Jonathan Kranz

Blog Kranzcom Twitter jonkranz

“The whitepaper is an opportunity to reframe an issue in a way favorable to your customers and to your business”

Jonathan Kranz’s Bio

Jonathan Kranz is the author of The eBook eBook: How to Turn Your Expertise Into Magnetic Marketing Material and coauthor, with Joe Pulizzi, of The Content Marketing Playbook. He’s all about writing helpful content and making screwy videos. Join the party!

Jonathan Kranz’s Tip

A great whitepaper isn’t just about a topic; it’s an opportunity to reframe an issue in a way favorable to your customers and to your business.

That’s what I love about The Taxonomy Folksonomy Cookbook. Author Daniela Barbosa takes a previously esoteric and fairly obscure topic, taxonomy (think indexes and card catalogs – remember card catalogs?) and turns it into a vital, exciting business issue that anyone can understand.

In one bold act of communications judo, Barbosa has:

  • Positioned herself, and Dow Jones, as experts in an important and growing field
  • Helped business decision-makers understand the significance of information access within the context of their own enterprises
  • Helped her information-scientist audience communicate more effectively (by sharing the whitepaper/ebook) with their business-oriented colleagues.

Further, as Jonathan Kantor says so effectively elsewhere in this post, the visual presentation of a good paper should complement the written content. Here, The Taxonomy Folksonomy Cookbook has hit it out of the ballpark. Custom illustrations and a brilliant layout not only reinforce various key points throughout the paper, but as a whole, effectively communicate a light-hearted spirit that makes a complex topic a whole lot less intimidating.

Jonathan Kranz Recommends

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Happy Holidays, Content Marketers!

Now that Halloween is behind us, watch out for fruitcake and Jingle Bell Rock. The holidays start earlier each year, which is unfortunate for those of us still mourning summer. But, in terms of content marketing, it’s a great reminder to stay seasonal, relevant and creative. This doesn’t mean jumping on the consumer bandwagon, in fact it may mean helping people do just the opposite. Read on for eight tips on how to ready your content for the holiday season.

1. Wrap up a gift. Put something in a box with a ribbon on top and it becomes a gift. Think of ways you can package your content so that it becomes a gift or a special offer. Can you put together a resource guide or other evergreen content that will be useful and relevant to a large audience?

2. Do something charitable: In this 2008 pre-holiday post, Chris Brogan requests that instead of sending holiday cards, readers contribute to particular causes. Does your organization support a fundraising or community cause? Rally readers by getting them involved in your project.

3. Cook something delicious: Put your subject area in a blender with holiday themes and see how it turns out. Perhaps you can create a funny guide to the year’s best books and/or gifts related to your subject area. Check out this post on What to Buy a Marketing Person for Christmas.

4. Write a letter to Santa: Kids get to write wish lists to Santa, so why not us professionals? A funny, creative format for a blog post at this time of year is a wish list based on your subject area or field of expertise.

5. Holiday newsletter: Lots of people send out personal newsletters to family and friends, giving the highlights of the year. What about concocting a funny or informative holiday newsletter about your industry or company? Other variations: “The year in review” and “Best Xs of 2009”.

6. Surprise people: Part of the pleasure of giving is surprising people, so do something out of context, something that rallies against stereotypes or something that taps into people’s inner child. A great read on this is Andy Nulman’s book Pow! Right Between the Eyes, which focuses on the power of “surprise marketing.”

7. Look to the trends in the year ahead. Many media outlets end the year with a “What’s hot, what’s not” list, looking at what trends have gone in and out over the year. Go out on a limb and forecast trends in your subject area for the coming year. Here’s a Harvard Business publishing post about Social Media Trends for 2010.

8. Help people stop binging. Christmas is a time of excess: more spending, more eating and higher expectations. Is there any way you can help people get back to basics and keep it simple? Get Rich Slowly blogger J.D. Roth is already on it, with his post The Regrets of Christmas Past and last year’s Do-It-Yourself Christmas: 34 Great Gifts You Can Make Yourself, which received 57 comments.

Happy Holidays!

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