CPA, Consulting, AEC and Other Professional Service Firms Can Use Case Studies to Strut Their Stuff and Still Not Be “Salesy”
One of the key pieces for the content marketing strategy of any professional service firm needs to be engaging, well written case studies. A well done case study is a bridge between non advertorial top of the funnel educational content, and bottom of the funnel sales activities.
Case studies are an opportunity to showcase the thought leadership of the firm, niche teams, or partners. They serve to document and demonstrate experience and expertise relative to the types of issues or problems that the firm’s prospects might have. Good case studies play an important role in the "get found first" objectives of inbound marketing, because they’re written with search engine optimization in mind.
There’s tons of other great reasons why case studies are important. Sure, they’ve been around since dirt was old, but they deserve a fresh look in today’s digital marketing environment.
A Guide to Writing Great Case Studies
A case study must serve your firm’s business purposes as well as being of interest to your audience. Choose clients who are brand evangelists for your firm, eager to share results of what you’ve done, and willing to speak to your role in helping them solve a problem. You need to think (and voice) your writing to the persona you’re trying to influence. For example, the messaging in the study that you’d use to appeal to a CFO is going to be different than that of a CIO.
What lessons or insights do you want your reader to walk away with after reading the case study? Of course, one of those lessons is going to be how great a job your firm did in solving a problem, but there’s always going to be a substantive technical lesson that needs to be addressed.
The “art” of writing case studies is to avoid being “salesy” by going easy on the advertorial – this isn’t the time or place to loudly toot your firm’s horn - that will come a little later in the sales funnel when you’re moving to get a face to face appointment.
Here’s a structure that we use with our clients to get at the fundamentals of the case study:
- Describe the persona (or personas)representing the audience for the case study
- Describe the issue, need or pain that faced the client
- Describe the client’s situation, frustration, challenges, relative to the pain or issue …quantify this.
- Describe what your firm did to solve the problem – an approach, methodology, tools, processes, etc., especially anything proprietary
- Describes the results in quantifiable terms, and show movement from X to Y.
- Summarize the key lessons learned and how they apply to others facing the same situation
The secret sauce? Numbers. If you don’t quantify results, and show movement from problem to result using numbers, that you don’t have a case study … it’s likely that all you have is advertorial gobbely gook.
If a Case Study Falls in a Forest, Does it Make a Noise?
Of course the job isn’t done until you’ve produced, published and promoted the case study. Without promotion, all of your efforts will not make a noise.
You’ll want to determine whether you can put the case study into different media – blog post, video, podcast, article, e-mail, and so on. Then you’ll want to let the world know that’s its available by promoting it all over your website, in email blasts, in your eNewsletters, via social media, and other channels.
And with an apology to inbound marketing purists, you can even use it as a form of printed collateral.
Examples of Firms Doing a Great Job with Case Studies
I put together a list of different types of professional service firms that I think are doing a pretty good job at using case studies in their marketing program. Check out the different ways that these studies are presented, and you’ll see common elements that make them readable and actionable:
- Armanino McKenna (CPA)
- Bain and Company (consulting)
- Wipfli (CPA)
- Kiersted (e-forensics)
- Cummins & White, LLP (litigation)
- Panorama Consulting Solutions
A great goal for 2014 would be to publish 1 to 2 case studies per month. That’s going to take a lot of energy, resources and partner time. You’ll not only find that you can leverage your efforts into a lot of different formats, but more importantly, that you’ve produced a type of content that will go a long way toward moving your prospects down the sales funnel.