November 7, 2019

How to Write Case Studies

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Everyone wants case studies. Marketing knows a case study’s value because it can produce a lot of lead-ready traffic, and sales knows the assets close opportunities. But actually sourcing and writing great case studies can be difficult.

This article will help you write a good case study by understanding the problems inherent in the form, assessing your goals, and sourcing the best information possible out of your customers.

The problems with case studies

Companies don’t often complete a lot of case studies because both the brand and the customer can have unrealistic expectations of the format.

Problematic customer expectations

Customers often think that a case study will

  • Take a long time to produce
  • Make their company look bad
  • Make them lose a competitive advantage

Many customers think a case study is going to take a deep dive into how badly they ran their business, and then pose the product or service as the hero that came in to clean up the mess.

But a good case study is not a deep dive into strategies or even tactics.

If done well, a case study presents companies and customers as partners who work together to improve the customer’s business. They don’t characterize the customer as a damsel in distress, but instead make them an agent in their own success.

Problematic internal expectations

A case study can be many things: a video, a podcast interview, an infographic, a blog post, a white paper, a slideshare, or a social media post. It can be just one of those, or it can take several forms. A case study does not have to be a 1,500 word treatise on the exact strategies and tactics your company used. Actually, that form is more likely to cause you problems with customer approval.

Instead, you want to make your case study interesting, story-based, and snackable. This is not the time to get into the nitty-gritty details. Pros want to read about problems that make them feel less alone, and they want actionable solutions for their problems. They also want examples of ROI they’ll receive.

In your case study, get to the point, follow good web writing practices, and highlight the most important information. You want to tell an inspiring story backed by some impressive metrics. Keep it short, snappy, and interesting.

Overcome problematic expectations

These best practices will help you avoid some of the poor outcomes that customers and internal stakeholders fear.

What to include

  • Information about the company and their problem that makes them look good.
  • Statistics: optimally you would give hard numbers, but you can also give percentages and ratios to help bring home the point without exposing too much of the customer’s internal information.
  • Quotes from individuals (and headshots!) that describe the impact

What to leave out

    • Names of people and companies who didn’t give their consent: you’re here to make your customer and your solution look good, not make another brand look bad.
    • Information that doesn’t serve your audience or one of your goals
    • Company secrets or individual tactics that are competitive advantages (these are a fast lane to case study rejection town)

Setting realistic goals for your case study

Let’s face it: marketers secretly hope that every campaign, blog post, and white paper is going to go viral. Keep your goals for your case study realistic. You’re making a sales enablement asset. It’s not going to go viral. But if you do it right, the case study will help close some deals, which is a great goal.

As you set your goals, remember that you write this study at the whim of the partnering company. You can’t always get what you want. While you may have to work with ratios and percentages rather than hard revenue numbers, you can still come up with a compelling angle and storyline that will help convince buyers who are on the fence.

And speaking of storylines, experts will tell you both to go after the recognizable companies and not to worry about the big name. I’m here to tell you to follow the story, not the name. A recognizable brand may sound impressive, but so does a genuine success story. Also, established brands may force you to jump through more PR oversight hoops, which can be a major pain in the neck.

Finally, consider who you’re writing for and where you’ll use the information. Do you want to convince decision makers, individual contributors, or consumers? Know your audience to find the right angle and the best story to convince that audience.

And don’t forget to repurpose this data. Publish it on your blog, turn it into an infographic, share the data on social media, and put the asset in your sales enablement tool. Plan how you’ll repurpose your study from the beginning, so you can gather the information necessary for those formats.

How to source good information for your case study

The case study is only as good as the information your customer will give you. But it’s not the customer’s responsibility to give you the right data to tell your story. Do some thinking and planning, and then follow these steps:

      1. Draft an initial set of questions to prepare your subject. Send these questions a few days before your interview, and include a case study release agreement for the customer to sign. The initial set of questions plus your release should help the customer understand your process and set expectations for the kinds of questions you’ll ask. Don’t ask the customer to write answers to your initial questions, but they may want to be prepared with talking points.
      2. Interview the customer. Start by talking through the initial questions you sent, but don’t be afraid to follow up with clarifying questions. Make your questions specific, time-based, and probing. Use active listening techniques as you interview: restate part of the answer and reframe it to show that you heard what they said, and then ask questions about missing pieces. Bonus points if you remember to record the conversation, so you don’t have to rely on incomplete notes or your memory to write the case study.
      3. Follow up with the customer. After the interview, send an email that thanks the customer for their time. Use that email to ask any follow-up questions you may have thought of after the interview and give a timeline of when they can expect to review the final product.
      4. Don’t be afraid to go to several sources. Sometimes, the best person to interview isn’t your contact at the company. If you hit a wall, ask to be introduced to others on the team who may know the answers to your questions. Follow up with several stakeholders if necessary.

Write your case study

For many of us, this is the easiest part of compiling the case study. While you don’t have to follow the traditional format of problem, solution, benefits, and conclusion, you do want to highlight the story within this success story.

I suggest that you take no more than 500 words to tell your story, unless of course it’s in the format of a podcast or video interview with your customer. Focus on key metrics, interesting facts, and impressive testimonial quotes.

Finally, don’t be afraid to edit a little. If you made a recording of your conversation, a tool like Voice Typing within a Google document can help you transcribe it. But don’t feel like you can’t correct grammar or remove some “ums,” “uhs” and other verbal filler-words that take up space but don’t promote the story line.

Don’t forget promotion

Once you’ve written your case study and sourced the approval from the customer-partner, enact your plan to repurpose and promote. Write sample social media posts for the customer to promote on their accounts, and tag the customer in your own social posts. Send the case study to your content syndication partners, and promote the case study in your email newsletters.

Finally, make sure that your sales team has access to the case study in their sales enablement tool and CRM. Get this asset into their hands and provide your sales team with a short summary they can include to introduce the study.