Case Studies, Use Cases, and References: 3 Must-Have Content Pieces in Your Marketing Toolkit

Not a ton is written about the importance of case studies, uses cases, and customer references–much is lost in the flurry around social media marketing tips. But we think these are 3 content pieces that are a must in your marketing and sales toolkit.

Several months back, I attended an event where entrepreneurs and inventors were pitching their products and services for investment funding. This was the first time I had been at an event with this focus. I must say that it was very cool to see so much innovation going on up close and personal. One of the differences I noticed in those who excelled in their presentations was in the availability of case studies, use cases, and customer references.

If you have not had a chance to create or update these materials because you have been going a hundred miles an hour, now may be an excellent time to work on them. It can only make your marketing efforts stronger when you get back to business. 

At the end of this article, you can download our bonus 7-page worksheet that will walk you through steps for identifying these key marketing opportunities.

Let us go through each of these and why you should care.

The Use Case

A “use case” describes under what circumstances your product or service is most suitable for the buyer. For example, “My solution/product/service is best for (fill in the blank).” The fill in the blank part could be specific applications, industries, occasions, or a particular customer profile. These descriptors help the buyer understand the context of what you are offering. Why is this important to do? To put it simply: customer satisfaction. The clearer you can be in your description, the more customers can evaluate for themselves the fit for their particular needs.

Kleenex does a great job with use cases

Using different packaging and sub-branding, Kleenex promotes its tissues across a broad spectrum of uses. Including inside your car (“Kleenex go-anywhere pack”), to inside your back pocket (“Kleenex on-the-go slim pack”), to its more traditional flat box (“Kleenex Ultrasoft flat box”). Please note that there is nothing different in the product itself, but rather each package is positioned specifically for different uses.

Promote your use case(s) in all marketing and to sales channels

Remember to educate your partners on your use case(s) if your product or service is sold through channels. This primer will help them sell more effectively and to identify more opportunities.

Prominently feature your use case(s) in all of your online and offline marketing vehicles. You can apply the applications or industries to inform your social media buys too.

Interestingly, your customers sometimes find other essential applications for your product that you had not thought of previously. They may tell you about it in comments on your website or social channels. So, always be on the lookout for these types of unexpected insights!

The Customer Reference

This point is pretty straight forward: who (a specific person/company) has bought your product or service and can say good things. References are going a level deeper than a “verified purchaser” in that a reference is willing to disclose their name and tell others about the product or the experience buying from you. Your first order of business will be to get permission to use their name and under what circumstances. To protect yourself, please be very clear about how and where their name will appear. For example, on your website, in a direct mail piece, or in your social advertising. Also, have an agreement as to the exact copy they will allow.

The Case Study

In the hierarchy of tools that lend support to your product or service claims, a level deeper still is the case study. It is much more in-depth than an endorsement like we described above. A case study typically discusses real-world usage or implementation and the concrete, quantifiable results experienced. It also names the customer who bought your solution, with their permission, of course.

We are the first to admit that case studies are hard to get. Why is that?

(1) Some customers may want to keep what they are doing as a competitive advantage. The question is, “Why should I tell my competition what I am doing?” This thinking is perfectly understandable. How do you get around this? In my experience, look to find a customer or two who wants to show off how innovative or smart they are by using your product or service to serve their customers better.

(2) You may need to wait a sufficient amount of time for the results to be fully realized by the customer. How do you get around this issue? We found that having some “beta” customers is important during your pre-launch phase (6-12 months before launch). This time allows the customer to see and be willing to talk about results ahead of your launch date.

The payoffs can be huge. Potential buyers are typically risk-averse, especially if it is a significant investment or requires that the customer make a transition from what they are currently doing to what you are offering. They’ll say, “If it is so good, who else has used it?”

As an added benefit, case studies are loved by the media in your industry/niche. They are always looking for good “success stories.” You may be able to get free marketing for yourself and your customer.

The food and cosmetic industries are masters at case studies

The most common tried and true examples of case studies are found in the food diet and cosmetics industries. Taste tests and those “before” and “after” stories and pictures of real people make the marketing story believable.

What are some of the key requirements to obtain a case study successfully?
  1. Get their buy-in to the case study upfront–especially if you want them to identify themselves publicly.
  2. Make this easy for the customer. Pay for a reputable writer to interview the customer and write up the case study.

We hope we have convinced you that it is crucial to have uses cases (always!), named references, and case studies as part of your arsenal of sales and marketing tools. We are the first to admit that getting these content pieces in place takes extra effort. But when the competition is hyper-competitive in the marketplace, you want to give yourself and your solution the best chance to win new and returning business. The shelf life of these materials is pretty long, so we believe you will find it worth the investment.

Want to read more from Miriam and Lucy? Our first book, The Marketing Plan Blueprint, The 8-Step Process for Growing Innovative Ideas into Winning Businesses, is available in print worldwide!

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Use Cases, References, Case Studies Worksheet & Planner

What's the importance of case studies, uses cases, and customer references? These 3 content pieces are a must in your marketing toolkit. Our 7-page worksheet will walk you through steps for identifying these key marketing opportunities.

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