Sunday, November 28, 2021

Two Ways To Make Your Case Studies Stand Out

Earlier this month, Michael Brenner published a great post at the Marketing Insider Group blog describing how to create compelling customer case studies. Michael offered several valuable suggestions including:

  • Make case studies "relatable" to potential buyers
  • Include sufficient detail to make case studies feel real
  • Tell the complete story (including challenges encountered and how they were addressed)
  • Demonstrate clear results using real numbers
  • Include customer quotes and testimonials
  • Use compelling visuals 
Customer case studies have long been a staple of the B2B content marketing mix. In the latest content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 61% of the B2B respondents said they are using case studies in their content marketing programs.

However, recent research suggests that the value potential buyers ascribe to case studies has declined. For example, in the 2021 Content Preferences Survey by Demand Gen Report, 35% of the surveyed business buyers identified case studies as one of the most valuable types of content they use when researching potential purchases. That was down from 72% in the 2016 edition of the survey.

Michael Brenner described several ways to improve the quality of customer case studies, and I agree with most everything he wrote. In fact, I discussed some of the same points in a short guide to creating effective case studies that I wrote several years ago. But there are two additional steps that B2B marketers need to take to make their case studies really stand out.

Make the Customer the Hero

I'm frequently asked by clients to review their customer case studies, and unfortunately, what I see far too often is self-promotional "brochureware" disguised as a case study.

The mistake many companies make is to cast themselves, rather than their customer, as the hero of their case studies. The story line of many case studies resembles an old silent movie where the villain ties a helpless damsel (the customer) to railroad tracks, and the hero (the selling company) rides in at the last minute to rescue the damsel in distress from an oncoming train.

A good case study will lead readers to identify with the customer. You want readers to vicariously experience the pain the customer was feeling and the success the customer achieved. In essence, you want readers to finish the case study believing they can achieve comparable success. When you make your company the hero of your case studies, you're asking readers to identify with your company, not the customer.

An outstanding case study will be written from the customer's perspective. It will tell the customer's story and describe what the customer was able to accomplish with, of course, help from your solution. So when you're preparing a case study, you can give your company a strong supporting role, but always let your customer be the star.

Solve the Case Study "Data Problem"

Most potential buyers turn to case studies to help them evaluate potential solutions and validate their purchase decisions. Therefore, a case study needs to contain sufficient detail to describe the customer's business situation and challenges, the experience the customer had with your company's product or service, and the results the customer obtained.

One of the most powerful ways to add persuasive detail to a case study is to include quantitative data when describing the customer's problem or challenge and the results the customer produced by implementing your company's solution. The problem is, this type of data can be difficult to obtain, particularly when a case study isn't prepared until several months after the customer buys and begins using your solution.

When that happens, the marketer developing the case study must construct (or reconstruct) the needed data. Having gone through this process on many occasions, I can attest that it's not an easy or quick task. In addition, it usually requires substantial help from the customer, and you are asking for help when the customer's time and attention has moved on to other pressing issues.

Because of these difficulties, case study developers are often forced to fall back on generic descriptions that simply don't have the impact of real numbers.

While many kinds of B2B companies use case studies in their marketing efforts, they are most frequently used by companies that offer expensive and/or complex products or services, or solutions that will require the buyer to make significant changes in some aspect(s) of their business operations. These are high consideration purchases, and case studies function as a form of "social proof" for potential buyers.

In many cases, these types of companies will acquire new customers at a relatively slow pace, and that can enable marketers to engage in some advance planning that will make it easier to create more compelling case studies. Here are three steps marketers can take to reduce or eliminate the case study "data problem."

Identify Likely Candidates - Meet with your sales team regularly to review recently closed deals and identify new customers that may be good subjects for case studies. A new customer can be a good case study candidate because of the customer's identity (large, well-known companies are always nice) or because the customer will potentially reap outsized benefits by implementing your solution.

Leverage ROI Estimates - Many companies that offer expensive and/or complex solutions create ROI estimates as part of the sales process. When these estimates are well done, they will usually capture a significant about of data about the customer's existing business problem or challenge. So, once you've identified the new customers that look like promising case study candidates, sit down with relevant members of your sales team and review any ROI estimates that were prepared for the customer.

Monitor Customer Success - Identify the quantitative metrics that will best capture the benefits that a new customer is likely to derive by implementing your solution, and begin tracking those metrics at the beginning of the customer relationship. If your company has a "customer success" function, you probably have the mechanisms in place to gather most of this data. Helping customers reap the maximum benefits from your solution is important for reasons that go far beyond creating case studies. So even if you don't have a formal, dedicated customer success function, you still need a process for monitoring how customers are benefiting from your solution.

Image courtesy of Animated Heaven via Flickr (Public Domain).

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Empathetic Marketing Will Be Vital in 2022 . . . But It's Not Easy

Empathy has become a hot topic in marketing circles over the past couple of years. The increased interest has been largely driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted the personal and professional lives of millions and wreaked havoc on the operations of businesses almost everywhere. Astute marketers quickly recognized that communications with customers and potential buyers would only be effective if they embodied a healthy dose of empathy.

If anything, empathy will become even more essential for effective marketing in 2022. So marketing leaders need to make empathy an important focus of their planning for next year.

Why Empathy Matters

Empathy is generally defined as the ability to understand and vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of another person. It's the ability to put yourself in the "heart and mind" of someone and "see the world" as that person sees it.

Empathy is essential for effective human communications of all kinds, and it's particularly important in marketing. One of the primary objectives of marketers is to craft messages that will resonate with customers and potential buyers, and empathy is necessary for achieving that goal.

To create messages that are truly empathetic, marketers must perform two sequential tasks:

  • First, they must put themselves in the shoes of their target audience(s) and see the world through their eyes. This step is often called perspective-taking.
  • And second, marketers must adapt their messages to fit the mental and emotional perspective(s) of their target audience(s).
In short, marketing messages must be tailored based on all relevant aspects of the audience's perspective in order to produce maximum effectiveness.
Why Empathetic Marketing Is Hard
If you think my description of empathetic marketing sounds a bit like "Marketing 101," you'd be right. Understanding potential buyers and leveraging those insights to create compelling marketing messages has been the fundamental job of marketers for decades. But while empathetic marketing isn't new, it remains very difficult to do well.
One reason is that empathetic marketing requires deep insights about potential buyers, and those insights can't be totally derived from the demographic and behavioral data that most marketers rely on. Therefore, marketers are required to make inferences about several important aspects of their audiences' perspectives.
For marketing messages to be empathetic, those inferences must be reasonably accurate, but drawing accurate inferences about potential buyers isn't easy, even under the best conditions. And that brings us to the second reason that empathetic marketing is difficult to do well.
The Problem of Marketer Bias
Remember that empathetic marketing requires marketers to take on the mental and emotional perspective of their target audience. This means that marketers must be able to set aside their own likes, dislikes and feelings and adopt the persona of their audience. As the insightful Mark Ritson recently wrote:
". . . the first rule of marketing is that you are not the market. All your thoughts and immediate responses to things like advertising, price and packaging are not just incorrect - they are dangerous . . . Learning to separate your own instinctive thoughts and feelings from the actual insights from real consumers is, literally, the first thing a trained marketer learns to do well."
Recent research suggests that many marketers have more work to do to master this vital skill. Over the period of 2017-2020, Reach Solutions (the advertising arm of Reach, plc, the largest national and regional news publisher in the UK) published the results of four studies that provide a wealth of fascinating insights about the state of advertising in the UK. I've provided links to the study reports at the end of this post, and I encourage you to read them.
The first study in 2017 found that the relevance of brands and advertising had declined significantly in the UK, and it revealed that the UK advertising industry was out of touch with the mainstream UK population. The next three studies were designed to explore the potential causes of this disconnect.
The Reach research uncovered several stark differences between the people working in the UK advertising industry and the mainstream UK population. For example:
  • People between the ages of 18 and 40 represent just 35% of the UK adult population, but they account for 84% of the UK advertising workforce.
  • Less than a third of UK adults have received a college degree, but in the UK advertising industry, ". . . a degree is the minimum requirement for entry level roles."
  • Forty-four percent of people working in advertising self-identify as being on the left of the political spectrum vs. only 25% of the mainstream UK population.
Just as important, Reach found that the people working in advertising and marketing do not have an above-average aptitude for empathy. Only 30% have high levels of perspective-taking and affective empathy vs. 29% of the mainstream population.
Reach concluded that the people who work in the UK advertising industry have cognitive biases that cause them "to literally see and experience the world differently from the modern mainstream" and that people in the ad industry "are driven by distinctive personality traits that are not shared by the modern mainstream."
The Reach research was conducted exclusively in the UK, but if comparable studies were done in the U.S., I suspect many of the findings would be similar.
The bottom line is, marketers must make a concerted effort to put aside their emotions, beliefs and cognitive biases in order to take the perspective(s) of their target audience(s). That's not easy to do on a consistent basis, and that's why truly empathetic marketing is hard to do well.
Image courtesy of Ian Burt via Flickr (CC).
Reach Solutions Research Reports
When Trust Falls Down (2017) (Note: Reach Solutions was formerly Trinity Mirror Solutions)

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Define "Buying Scenarios" for Better Marketing in 2022

The predominant view of B2B buying is that it involves expensive and/or complex products or services, large buying groups and long buying cycles. In reality many B2B companies derive substantial revenue from other types of sales. That's why marketing leaders should define relevant buying scenarios as part of their planning for 2022.

Most of the research and other literature relating to B2B marketing has focused on "high consideration" purchases that involve multiple decision makers, complex decision-making processes and lengthy buying cycles.

For example, in a recent survey of sellers by Forrester, 94% of the respondents said they sell to buying groups of three or more individuals, and 38% said they sell to groups of ten or more people.

In the 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study by Demand Gen Report, 54% of the survey respondents said four to nine people were involved in their buying decisions, and 11% reported having buying groups of ten or more people. And in the 2021 edition of the study, 55% of the survey respondents said the length of their buying process had increased substantially or somewhat compared to a year earlier.

But high consideration purchases with large buying groups and long buying cycles have never represented all B2B buying. In fact, many B2B purchases are routine, and the buying decision is made quickly by a small number of people, or even by one person.

In a 2021 survey of 401 "industrial buyers" by Thomas, 53% of the respondents said they make buying decisions in less than one month, and another 33% said they make buying decisions in one to three months.

It's likely that substantial dollars are associated with purchases that don't fit the high consideration stereotype. In a major survey of business buyers conducted several years ago by Enquiro, respondents estimated that 50% of their budget was spent on low risk purchases that are made frequently and involve only minimal changes from purchase to purchase.

The reality is, many B2B companies earn revenue from multiple types of purchases, and different buying scenarios call for different marketing strategies and tactics to achieve maximum success. Therefore, B2B marketing leaders need to define the buying scenarios that are relevant for their company and map revenue to those scenarios as part of their planning for 2022.

Elements of a Buying Scenario

A buying scenario is a description of a buying process that includes two major components - the functional attributes of the process itself, and the factors that describe the context in which the buying decision is made. The following diagram depicts the buying scenario model I've used for several years.

The functional attributes of the buying process are shown on the right side of the diagram. They include the size and composition of the buying group, the length of the buying process and the activities performed by the buying group.

The items on the left side of the diagram describe the context in which a buying process is conducted. The common denominator across all these factors is that they describe the level of risk that buyers associate with a prospective purchase.

As the level of perceived risk increases, buyers will take steps to mitigate the risk, and those steps will largely dictate the functional attributes of the buying process they will use. So for example, the buying process used for an expensive product or service, or for a purchase that will require a significant amount of change in the buyers' organization will usually involve more decision makers, include more research activities and take longer to finish.

A Buying Scenario Example

One buying process attribute that often receives too little attention is what I call "Influence of individual buying group members." It's not uncommon to identify a buying scenario in which the official buying group includes several people, but the buying process is actually driven primarily by one member of the group.

The value of identifying this type of buying scenario is illustrated by one of the case studies in The Organic Growth Playbook by Bernard Jaworski and Robert Lurie. This case study involved a company that manufactures commercial heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment and building management systems.

To improve sales growth, the company conducted research to map the buying processes used for commercial HVAC equipment and building management systems. Among other things, the research identified the steps in the buying processes and the participants in the buying decision.

The research found that the typical buying process involved multiple "buyers" including building owners, financial executives, facilities managers, procurement personnel and facilities engineers. The research also found, however, that the facilities manager was the key buyer in many buying situations. In these scenarios, the facilities manager drove the entire buying process and made the final purchase recommendation. 

Equally important, the research also revealed that many facilities managers were authorized to make purchases up to a set dollar amount from discretionary operating funds without having to use a full-blown capital investment review process.

Based on these research findings, the company made several changes to its go-to-market model. It changed its marketing communications strategy to focus on creating better engagement with facilities managers, and it modified its product line to enable customers to buy equipment and services in modules, which made it possible for facilities managers to make purchases using a more streamlined buying process.

As a result of these changes, the company's sales growth accelerated significantly in the three years after the changes were implemented.

Top image courtesy of Mark Morgan via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Economic Forecasters Predict a Strong 2022 . . . Mostly

The success of any marketing plan depends largely on how well it accounts for the business and economic conditions that exist when the plan is executed. Therefore, as marketing leaders develop their plans for 2022, it's vital that they assess what the economic environment is likely to be next year.

This assessment should include an analysis of several macroeconomic indicators and industry-level data. At the macro level, most marketing leaders need to assess expected levels of economic growth, unemployment, consumer spending, business investment and inflation. At the industry level, they should focus on the economic factors that will or may impact demand for their company's products or services.

Several organizations have recently released economic forecasts that cover all or part of 2022, and I'll describe some of these predictions in this post. All of the forecasts discussed here are regularly updated, so marketers should check them often to ensure they are working with the latest economic outlooks.

Real GDP Growth

Most economists and other forecasters now expect the overall U.S. economy to experience above-average growth in 2022. In September, U.S. Federal Reserve Board members and Federal Reserve Bank presidents predicted that U.S. real GDP will increase by 3.8% next year (mean of individual forecasts). In October, The Conference Board also estimated that real GDP will grow 3.8% in 2022. 

Several Wall Street economists tracked by CNBC and Moody's Analytics are predicting GDP growth of 3.9% in 2022 (average of individual forecasts).

To put these forecasts in perspective, many economists believe that the maximum sustainable growth rate of the U.S. economy (measured by real GDP) is 2% - 3%.


The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen dramatically since the pandemic high of 14.7% in April 2020. Last month, it stood at 4.6%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Most economists expect the unemployment rate to continue declining in 2022. For example, the Federal Reserve is now estimating that the average unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2022 will be 3.8%. The Conference Board is forecasting that the unemployment rate will fall from 4.8% in the fourth quarter of this year to 4.1% in the second quarter of next year.

Consumer Spending

Consumer sentiment declined sharply in August of this year and remained low in September and October, according to the University of Michigan's Index of Consumer Sentiment. Many economists have attributed this decline in consumer confidence to the summer-early fall surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant. In the October report, the University of Michigan researchers noted that the continuing low level of consumer optimism was primarily due to growing concerns about inflation.

Despite these downbeat readings on consumer confidence, most forecasters expect consumer spending to be strong next year. For example, The Conference Board expects real consumer spending to increase at annualized rates of 4.2% in the first quarter and 3.5% in the second quarter of 2022. And Deloitte predicts that real consumer spending will increase by 3.5% over all of 2022.

Business Investment

Historically, business investment levels have been closely correlated with CEO confidence about future economic and business conditions. This relationship bodes well for business investment in 2022. In the latest McKinsey Global Survey of business executives, 51% of North American respondents said they expect economic conditions in their home country to improve over the next six months.

The Conference Board is estimating that "nonresidential investment" will increase at annual rates of 5.0% in the first quarter and 5.2% in the second quarter of next year. For all of 2022, Deloitte is forecasting that "real fixed business investment" will grow 3.2%.


Taken together, these forecasts suggest that the overall U.S. economy will continue to be in full-blown recovery mode in 2022. If these forecasts are accurate, most B2B companies should be operating next year under business conditions that are generally favorable.

But there is one storm cloud on the horizon that has recently become more concerning . . . inflation.

In the twenty-first century, inflation has largely been a non-issue for most U.S. businesses and consumers. From 2000 through 2020, the average annual change in the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) - the rate of inflation - was 2.48%.

In contrast, the CPI increase over the twelve month period from October 2020 through September 2021 was 5.4% (all items, not seasonally adjusted), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Federal Reserve has taken the position that this recent inflation will be "transitory," but many economists are now contending that higher inflation will be more persistent than the Federal Reserve expects.

The inflation occurring now is being driven primarily by supply chain disruptions that are affecting a significant (and growing) number of products. These supply disruptions are creating shortages and driving up prices at the producer level. For the twelve month period from October 2020 through September 2021, the U.S. Producer Price Index (final demand, not seasonally adjusted) increased 8.6%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Federal Reserve maintains (and many economists agree) that inflation will recede toward more "normal" levels in 2022. At present, the major uncertainty is how soon the decline will begin and how far the inflation rate will fall. If inflation remains elevated for a significant part of 2022, the other economic indicators discussed in this post could turn out to be less positive than the latest forecasts suggest.

Image courtesy of Fertile Ground via Flickr (CC).