Is It Time to Rethink the Agency Case Study?

BY Joel Klettke
November 16, 2020

Creating case studies for agencies comes with its own special set of challenges.

First, agency customers are a particularly skeptical bunch because they’ve either been burned by an agency in the past or heard horror stories.

Maybe they didn’t get the results they wanted. Or the work was poorly performed. Or communication was terrible.

Whatever the problem was, they’re not likely to be won over by cheery case studies that consist of a laundry list of tasks performed and summary of results.

They’re also savvy enough to recognize that most case studies sound the same. They see that case study subjects are cherry picked and results are presented without substantial proof that it was the AGENCY that drove the results.

In other words, they view case studies as narcissistic, dry and extremely suspect!

Second, agencies themselves are often frustrated with their own case studies.

They don’t think their current case studies are performing as well as they should, and they want more bang for their buck.

Which is why it’s time to rethink the agency case study.

It’s time to write them in a way that’s more persuasive, more carefully targeted — and where agencies get more value.

So if you’re an agency, here are five ways to rethink your case studies:

1. Show how you think

Sadly, most agency case studies are narcissistic and shallow.

They go from “first we did this, and then we did that, and then we achieved this” without covering the “why” and “how” behind the “what.”

But agency customers don’t just hire you for the results you can get.

They also hire you for HOW you think and HOW you deliver.

When you show prospective customers not only what you’re capable of, but also how you think and deliver, you can overcome their skepticism.

Creating a strong narrative with lots of rich detail that walks them through your strategy helps ease their concerns.

It’s the best way to convince prospective customers that yes, you truly do know what you’re talking about.

So let the case study explain WHY you proceeded the way you did. WHY did you take that strategy? WHY was that the right path for this client?

In other words, show the strategic thinking behind the results.

Then, talk about how you deliver those results. How do you communicate? How do you strategize?

Do you keep customers in the loop? Will they have to hunt you down? Will they be equal partners with you?

Your case study should show all aspects of how you think and perform.

Show that you’ve got your approach nailed down—and you can replicate that success for THEM.

2. Show some vulnerability

Many agencies are guilty of showing only their very best work in their case studies.

Every project went perfectly. The customer was delighted from start to finish. Great results were achieved.

It’s unlikely that this is a true reflection of all your projects.

And your customers know it.

Most projects aren’t so perfect.

So what happens when things go wrong? How do you respond? How do you get things back on track?

Because it’s these kinds of situations that prove your mettle. Perfect projects are easy to manage. What really demonstrates your skills and ability is when things go wrong.

So it pays to show some vulnerability in your case studies.

Show the failures and struggles that happened along the way to achieving great results.

Talk about the surprises, the things you had to adjust for, and the times you had to pivot.

Including these doses of reality adds credibility to your case study. Prospective customers are more likely to be persuaded.

Not all agencies are willing to do this. Some think that admitting to any bumps in the road scares off prospects.

But sometimes it’s exactly what’s needed to win them over.

3. Let your customer speak

Sometimes, agencies are guilty of making their case studies about themselves instead of their customers.

So they tell stories of how they “rescued” customers, instead of how they helped their customers rescue themselves.

Or as we like to say around here, we want to portray the customer as a hero with a problem—not an idiot with an issue.

Part of this means letting your customer speak and tell the story from their perspective. Let him/her drive the narrative, partly in their own words.

Again, telling stories from the customers perspective helps to persuade tough audiences. They start to imagine themselves as the hero of their own story.

It also makes future customers more likely to participate in your case studies down the road.

4. Create different versions for different audiences

Too often, agencies order one type of case study and think that’s all they need.

But it pays to think more broadly.

If you want to reach different audiences, you need to create slightly different versions for those audiences.

Take CEOs, for example. CEOs and other high-level decision makers typically don’t have time to dive into every detail of a project. They just want to get to the results.

So in this case, your case study can safely gloss over the what, hows and whys to get to the end results.

But if your audience is boots-on-the-ground people who will be working directly with your agency, then those details are important. They WANT to know what happened, how you did things and why you did them that way.

They’re looking for concrete evidence of how your agency works and that you’ll be a good fit for them. So you have to show the details.

These case studies need to be more meaty, with more quotes and details.

That’s why we often recommend that our clients order two different case study versions: narrative and snapshot.

It’s not just that one format is longer than the other. The big difference is that they’re aimed at different audiences and serve different purposes.

5. Repurpose

Another mistake we see is that agencies tend to throw case studies up on their site and not deploy or repurpose them.

It’s a wasted opportunity!

It’s not enough to have a case study sit on the resources section of your website.

Use it in presentations, share it on social media, and post it on social media.

Case studies also make excellent fodder for Q&A blog posts and “how to” type blog posts.

You can also use the “byproducts” of case studies to create entirely new assets, such as audiograms.

Is it time to rethink your case studies?

If you feel your case studies aren’t winning over new customers or that you’re not getting enough value out of them, it’s time for a rethink.

Because when you do, you’ll win over even the most hardened agency skeptic.

Let’s talk about agency case studies.

Contact us to start the conversation.

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