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concrete-breakersThere’s something comforting about consistency. Even as children,we are grateful for structure and guidance (much as we may outwardly resist it). And that preference stays with us into adulthood. Admit it – you get a good feeling seeing the same cheery face serve your hot drink every morning at the local coffee shop. Or find it reassuring to know exactly where to find items in your local grocery store aisles. And you like the fact that the same dentist works on your teeth every time you visit. The flip side is that we are thrown off when any of that expected structure is thrown into disarray. This response extends to all aspects of our lives, including our interactions with companies.

The reason I bring this up is that I recently reviewed case studies for a new client, and was surprised at the inconsistencies. In a library of 30+ case studies, I found numerous designs, a range of page lengths, and various story structures. I felt confused, like I was looking at pieces from different companies. And I bet prospects get the same feeling.

While variety may be the spice of life, inconsistency is the doom of brands. There are plenty of folks who pooh-pooh branding, relegating it to the pile of “fluffy stuff” that marketing is charged with. But branding plays an important role in making sure that prospects and customers enjoy a consistent experience with a company. Ultimately, branding is about setting expectations — and meeting them. It isn’t just about logos, messages, naming, and tone; it extends to visual identity, including the templates used to produce content assets such as case studies.

My new client employs lots of intelligent, experienced folks. Without a doubt, these people want prospects to have a positive interaction with the company at every turn. Here are the suggestions I shared so they can leave prospects feeling at ease – and strengthen their stories at the same time:

  • Highlight the key benefit in the title (or in a sub-title). Don’t simply list the customer’s name or write a play-on-words that’s essentially meaningless. Instead, use the headline to convey how the customer benefited from your product or service.
  • Add an at-a-glance section to the first page that lists company name, industry, challenge, solution, and key benefits. Not everyone will read a story word-for-word. Include a sidebar that gets across the key points.
  • Clearly and consistently label sections. For example, “Situation,” “Challenge,” “Solution,” and “Results.” And include subheads that highlight salient points. This step – along with 1 and 2 – will not only help “skimmers” glean the essence of the case study, it will ensure each case study is structured similarly.
  • Choose a standard story length. The case studies I reviewed for the client ranged from 800-1,700+ words. While there’s nothing wrong with different lengths, it’s best if page count is pre-determined, not random. For example, SAP produces a variety of customer story types of varying lengths. Its Business Transformation Studies are 2 pages, its success stories are 4 pages, and its case studies are in-depth 10 pagers. SAP chose these page lengths because it suited the requirements for the story being told. As a result, its stories are consistent in appearance.

Regardless of the elements you choose for your case studies (or any content assets), the key is to define a formula and apply it consistently. In addition to creating a design template, it’s a good idea to draw up content guidelines that explain what’s required for each section of your case studies. Your writers will feel more comfortable developing stories. And you’ll produce case studies that leave prospects feeling more comfortable about interacting with your company.