Just like Marvel and DC superheroes, use cases and case studies both come armed with an impressive set of powers. But as with their comic book equivalents, they each come with different strengths. Sometimes saving the day calls for someone faster than a speeding bullet, other times you need a superhero with spidey-sense. It’s the same with use cases and case studies: different needs call for different approaches.
A use case vs. case study — how will you know which to use in which situations? Let’s take a deep dive into the distinct powers of use cases and case studies then look at the scenarios that each are best suited to. I’ll share some effective formats to consider for each type of content and offer tips for each.
What’s the difference between use cases and case studies?
Before we dive in, let’s define our terms. A use case is written for a particular type of customer, such as buyer type (technical or strategic, for example) or industry. It describes how a solution solves challenges the buyer faces and helps them reach their goals. It paints the picture with a broad brush, encouraging prospects to envision how your product could meet their specific needs.
A case study focuses on a single customer’s experience with your product or service. It describes quite specifically the challenges the customer needed to solve, how the customer implemented your solution, and exactly how they benefited as a result. A case study requires finer brushwork. It details how the customer deployed your product to solve a specific problem or set of problems. And it quantifies the results the customer achieved because of it.
Benefits of use cases
The power of use cases lies in their flexibility. They allow you to show how a particular type of user will get the most out of your product. Use cases give you the freedom to describe problems solved, benefits, and features for buyer types with different priorities. (For example, business leaders vs. technical users or organizations in different industries.)
Unlike case studies, with use cases you’re not constrained by how a specific client chose to use your product. Use cases let prospects fill in the details unique to them. They’re great for demonstrating how processes work, highlighting value for specific industries or roles, and showcasing increased efficiencies.
Benefits of case studies
The case study’s twin powers are social proof and the ability to quantify results. When it comes to making purchase decisions, buyers want to hear the experiences others have had with a product. Case studies tell a unique story of a company’s experience with your product and how their investment turned out.
Since you’re sharing an actual customer’s experience, the case study format allows you to go into more detail. You can include percent of cost savings or time savings, dollar amounts of new revenue brought in, etc. Being able to see the real-life application of your product and the results a real customer achieved is highly persuasive.
Ideal formats for use cases
You have many options for what your use case can look like. I’ve seen effective use cases take the form of multi-page documents or a single graphic. You’ll want to first identify what information you want to convey, then choose a format that’s well-suited to your purpose. Here are a few popular formats for use cases.
- White paper — White papers make an ideal medium for longer form use cases. If your intended readers are technical prospects, this format allows you to include lots of detailed information.
- One-pager — Single-page sell sheets are perfect for presenting a narrowly-defined use case. Since they’re so short, you can develop multiple one-pagers to target different product features and individual solutions.
- Graphic — Many people are visual learners. For very-narrow use cases or high-level overviews, infographics give prospects a visual way to process the information.
- Video — A well-produced video gives you a host of options not easily included in a written format. Video use cases have the advantage of being able to show your solution in action. You can also share a bit about your company’s culture, or introduce key members of the product team to prospects.
Ideal formats for case studies
The core strength of the case study is its ability to tell an engaging story of how an actual company used your product to solve a problem or experience growth. These formats work particularly well when used to present a case study.
- Feature story — The feature story format makes the case study look like a magazine feature. It allows you to make full use of storytelling to weave a narrative. You’ll also include compelling statistics, direct quotes from the customer, and describe the pain they experienced before using your product.
- Q&A — Customer interviews that are heavily-infused with quotes providing specific details lend a feel of authenticity to a case study. The Q&A format also allows prospects to quickly scan and find the information that’s most compelling to them.
- Video — Video is like a chameleon. It blends in well with just about anything. When using video to present a case study, include an interview with the customer. You may also want to demo the product features that directly contributed to the client’s success.
How to write better use cases
While use cases can take a variety of forms, these best practices will help boost their effectiveness.
- Describe the challenges and goals common to this type of buyer — Answer two key questions in your use cases: What kind of challenges are they facing in the day-to-day operations of their business? At the start of each day what goals are most important to them to accomplish?
- Make a direct connection between your product’s unique capabilities and the benefits your buyer will experience — If you’ve done your homework with creating buyer personas, you know what’s most important to your audience. Explicitly make the connection between what your product can accomplish and the benefits that matter most to that buyer type.
- Be a problem solver — Show how your solution solves the challenges common to the type of buyer and allows them to reach their goals. Highlight the impact of the status quo and demonstrate how your product effectively resolves the issues.
- Keep it simple — There’s no replacement for brevity. People are busy, and time is precious. A tightly-written use case is much more likely to be read than one that meanders.
- Weave in story — Even though the use case doesn’t take a narrative format, weave in storytelling techniques as much as you can. It will make the use case easier for prospects to follow.
How to write better cases studies
Case studies are more engaging and convincing if you include these elements.
- Tell a story, with your customer as the hero — Everyone loves a hero, except when it’s someone else. Avoid the urge to make your company the hero when writing case studies. Instead, focus on the client as the hero, emphasizing how they overcame a difficult problem and achieved great things with the aid of your solution. Your client is the hero. Your product is their secret weapon.
- Dig into the pain of the status quo — No one likes to feel pain, and everyone wants to avoid it. Be sure you have a thorough understanding of the pain involved in your customer’s situation prior to your solution. And show all the facets of that pain.
- Tie your product’s specific solutions to the pain points — Define the pain points, and show how your solution resolved them. Clearly connect your product’s capabilities with how the client achieved their goals.
- Quantify the cost of “before” and the value of “after” — Stating hard numbers in a case study makes it more believable. And it also gives prospects ammunition for justifying their choice and getting budget. Include stats like dollar amount or percentage of savings, dollar amount or percentage of new revenue, amount of time saved and what was able to be done with the saved time, and improved employee happiness (leading to improved retention rates and performance).
- Include candid quotes — Quotes add a layer of authenticity to a case study. As you’re interviewing your client for the case study, jot down direct quotes. Look for how they capture the essence of their presenting problem, how your product has improved an aspect of their business, and how easy it was to integrate your solution into their business.
For more on how to craft a compelling customer story, check out How to Write Customer Stories that Sell.
The use case vs. case study debate
So which one wins in the use case vs. case study debate? They both do. Use cases and case studies are both powerful tools that can be called upon to demonstrate your product’s distinct benefits to prospects. A well-rounded marketing effort will include both. After all, sometimes saving the day requires the use of a cape and spider silk.
Put your case studies to work! Check out The Ultimate Guide to Using Case Studies in Your Marketing for 12 different ways to expand reach.
By the way, here are three ways I can help you attract and convert your ideal customers:
1. For marketing teams at B2B SaaS companies, take the free Content Strategy Quiz to see how your strategy measures up and learn how you can improve.
2. For tech startups, grab my free workbook on how to craft a messaging platform that gets prospects excited about what you offer.
3. Schedule a call to share what’s holding you back from better marketing, and I’ll let you know if I can help and how. If I can’t help, I’ll recommend someone who can.