Case Studies without Stories?

Our Instagram World

It’s official: we now live in an Instagram world as far as marketing is concerned. For B2C marketing, this has been true for some time, perhaps even before Facebook acquired Instagram. Products marketed online depend on visual branding, sometimes in ways completely unrelated to the items that are hawked. Consider the Cialis™ bathtub images. What do they have to do with a medication to treat ED? But we all associate the bathtubs with pills anyway.

Visual branding has now taken over B2B marketing as well. Many B2B vendors now communicate their message in infographics, pictograms, photos, and charts. The prevalence of “responsive web design” that allows a website’s content to be displayed on any device, desktop or mobile, furthers this trend. After all, reading several paragraphs of text on a smartphone is taxing. The result? Anything over 30 words is long-form. People want short, snappy, and cute.

Increasing use of mobile devices also produces more demand for video. With video, information can be combined with visual imagery but in a format that doesn’t require reading. Advertisers benefit from being able to convey 2-3 minutes of information while holding the viewer’s attention. But what if they need to convey more information? What if the information is technical or complex?

The Threat to Case Studies

In the distant past, B2B companies used case studies to establish credibility and explain how their products or services work. Many even created longer white papers, and they still do, especially in extremely technical fields such as engineering. Anyway, case studies usually consisted of 2-3 pages of text with no images except, perhaps, a logo. They were intended to be read by prospective buyers.

Neil Patel cites research showing that long-form content marketing still produces great results. But when I click on links for “case studies” on many websites, I encounter screen-wide banners containing photos or graphics accompanied by pithy phrases or a single sentence. The information conveyed is very simple and focused on product or service features. No stories are told. There isn’t any room for narratives. Such “case studies” are merely product feature sheets in digital form.

The Value of Success Stories

What do B2B buyers want? Laura Ramos of Forrester reports that they want 3 things: customer/peer examples, content from credible sources, and short content. They don’t want lists of product features.

Marketers have long known that purchases happen on the basis of emotion, not just on information. B2B buyers, especially, want to know how a product or service will solve their problem, ameliorate their pain. When they come across examples of how peers have overcome their challenges by using a particular product or service, the prospective buyers become engaged.

In even simpler terms, buyers crave stories—stories that reflect their own challenges and how those challenges can be successfully addressed. Telling stories stimulates ideas and solutions because they focus on real people and specific events. Stories move us all.

Success stories are especially powerful marketing tools. They provide concrete details and help others imagine solutions to particular problems. Lists of product or service features cannot be substituted for stories that show benefits.Without returning to nothing-but-text case studies, how can we tell success stories in a connected, compelling way in our digital age? Perhaps we could design “curated success stories.” That is, tell connected narratives, complete with accompanying visuals, in chewable chunks, like better museums do. What do you think? Any suggestions?

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