Part Six of Abbie Tanner’s Marketing Innovation Engine™ Programme: How to Wow your Clients with Case Studies
I believe case studies are the most effective way for a financial planner to illustrate his or her advice process and services, in a succinct and engaging way. Unlike other marketing literature, such as a corporate brochure or teaser flyer, case studies can show your process in action and bring your offering to life in the eyes of your prospect. They’ll prove your expertise in a specific subject area and instantly build rapport – especially if your target is faced with a similar situation or challenge.
The Client Perspective
Case studies make an impact because they are written from the perspective of the client. They typically start with an overview of the client’s situation and then walk through how the financial adviser worked with them to find a solution. Using a story-telling approach, case studies illustrate client benefits and break through technical jargon – speaking to the prospect in a language they’ll understand.
It’s important to remember that, when clients are evaluating whether they are willing to work with you – or even when they meet with you, as the case may be following an introduction from someone in their network or having viewed your website – they are assessing whether there is a ‘fit’ between their current situation and the services you offer.
They are trying to establish if they can rely on you and the advice you will provide, and whether you have the right level of experience and specialist skills to deal with their particular issue or objective. This is what a well-written case study will ultimately achieve.
How many times have you picked up a corporate brochure and still questioned exactly what it is that the firm is offering? Even the best designed, most well-written material can get lost in the sameness of corporate promotional literature. That’s why case studies are an excellent addition to your marketing suite – they help to bring your process to life and focus on key areas of differentiation.
Where Do You Begin?
When it comes to preparing your case studies, you need to ensure that they have a purpose and are structured to include a beginning, middle and end. You start with an insight into the client need (the situation they were in before they came to you), the solution (your specific recommendations), and the outcome (where the client is today, as a result of the work they’ve done with you).
How many is too many?
There is no limit to the number of case studies you can use in your business, as long as they are insightful, relevant and engaging. Good case studies are tailored to the individual needs of your target clients. For example, if you work with a large number of small business owners, it makes sense to prepare a suite of case studies dealing with the particular issues faced by small business owners (i.e. tax efficiently extracting profits, getting the business ready for sale, pension planning, accessing finance for expansion, or structuring shareholder agreements). The same goes for retirees – if you work with retirees, build case studies specifically tailored to their needs.
Tips for Writing Case Studies
Preparation: Start with an outline of the different client scenarios and services you would like to represent in your case studies. Once you have decided on the content, identify clients you have worked with who might be good ‘subjects’ to illustrate the workings of your process.
Be mindful of the need to preserve client confidentiality. If you are using a ‘live’ case or mentioning a client by name; be sure to secure their permission (preferably in writing) first.
Client Involvement: If you are looking to mention your client by name, or to include a testimonial, it’s important to keep them involved throughout the case study development process.
Obtaining permission before you start writing, soliciting input during the development stage and securing approval after drafting the content will all ensure that the client feels engaged and involved with the process. It will also ultimately result in an improved case study.
Quotes and Testimonials: Instead of asking your client to prepare a quotation or testimonial, write a draft for their review and sign-off. When presented with a blank piece of paper, clients often won’t know where to begin. While they may be really happy with your service, they might struggle to put their experience into words. Preparing wording in advance, with the angle you are exploring for your case study, will make it easier for your client to contribute.
Templates: Templates provide much needed structure. They ensure that you cover the most pertinent points and present information in a consistent way. (Especially important if you are creating a suite of case studies to represent each of your services and how you work with different client groups).
Procedurally, using a template will also simplify the writing process. Before you begin, define three to five specific elements to be included in every case study, then formalise those elements in a template structure and stick to them.
Create an Impact: Use language that will draw a reader in and make them want to read more. Start with the consumer insight and use action verbs to emphasise the benefits of the case study in the title and subtitle. Include a short (less than 20 word) customer quote in larger text, and summarise the case study in a series of succinct bullet points.
Organise according to problem, solution, and benefits: Regardless of the length of your case study, the most effective structure for the content is to first outline the problem, followed by an account of the solution and the client benefits.
First, describe the client issue, where possible using their own words. Next, outline how you worked with the client to find a solution or come to a resolution. Finally, describe how the client benefited from working with you and implementing your recommendation(s).
Quantify the benefits (wherever possible): The most compelling way to illustrate the benefits of your solution is to quantify the results. For example, “through implementing our advice the client benefited from X% taxation relief…”.
While quantifying benefits can be challenging, it is not impossible. Try to think outside the square – and, if you really struggle, consider developing a short list of qualitative benefits. These can also be quite compelling to your readers.
Thank and reward your client. After you finalise your case study and receive approval from the client, provide them with a PDF and/or printed copies. Another lovely way to show your appreciation for their efforts and cooperation is to treat them to a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates or cinema tickets.
Avoid these Common Mistakes
I look at a lot of financial adviser websites and often come across client case studies. At times I am impressed by how well they have been thought out and genuinely ‘speak’ the clients’ language, adhering to the tips above. Unfortunately though, I also see a lot of mistakes. Below are just a few examples of issues you should seek to avoid:
Trying to be too smart: Unfortunately, in our profession we tend to write for our peers. By trying to sound astute, we use technical jargon that can actually alienate our target clients. Before publishing any content whatsoever, get someone from outside of financial services to read it and help to strip out terms that won’t be understood. Don’t be afraid of ‘dumbing it down’ to ensure you get your message across.
Using numbers and charts, without a story: Some case studies I have seen are simply a flow chart or decision tree, full of numbers, statistics and bullet points. While these might appeal to a very technical audience they do little by way of creating a story for the reader to engage with. I have tested this structure with sophisticated and non-sophisticated investors and it is least liked by both groups. If you want to appeal to ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ readers use a story, then supplement it with numbers and diagrams.
Not considering the design and layout: When publishing your case studies, think about how best to package them to form part of your marketing suite. Consider using a designer to professionally typeset the text, and use images that will resonate with your target audience. The best approach, if you can, is to use a picture of the client, or someone that looks like them, to bring the story to life.
Writing too much: We live in a ‘sound bite’ world, and you have a limited opportunity to capture and retain a reader’s attention. If you can’t fit the content for your case study onto one side of an A4 page, you are including too much.
Only using case studies with new clients or prospects: When you create your case studies, think of ways to distribute them to your current clients. This can lead to referral opportunities or help you to expand share of wallet. (How often I have heard a client say: “I didn’t know my adviser managed investments. I thought they only looked after pensions?”).
Your case studies will illustrate the breadth of your services and who you work best with. Publish them in your client newsletter, on your blog or share them at your annual review meetings.
Consider Getting External Support
Writing your own case studies is never easy. Even with the best plan and content framework, a case study will be doomed to failure if the writer lacks exceptional writing skills, technical ability, and the marketing experience to turn a basic concept into a compelling story that people will want to read.
In many cases, a talented writer can mean the difference between an ineffective case study and one that provides the greatest benefit to your firm. Consider seeking help from a marketing resource who will finesse your case studies and ensure a lasting impact for your business.