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4 tips for writing a strong case study

September 20th, 2013 · 26 Comments · Copywriting, Customers/Clients, Marketing, Strategy

Story Everyone loves a good story.  And there’s a reason why Aesop and others opted to teach their life lessons through stories that have been told and re-told for many years.

Case Studies are the marketing version of Aesop’s Fables. Stories told to make a point or teach a lesson that demonstrates the value of your product or service.  So how do create a good case study?

CS Tip #1:  Structure it like a story. Make sure there’s a logical flow.  Explain the problem (identify the villain).  Introduce your company/product (bring in the hero). Describe how the challenge was overcome (tell of the battle). Sum it up (give it a happy ending).

CS Tip #2: Include lots of details. Don’t just say, “We were losing customers.” Give specifics.  Our sales were down over 42%.  Be sure to give details in describing both the problem and the solution. If your client isn’t willing to let you use their company’s name and information, choose a different example. This isn’t the place to be generic or vague. Your credibility goes hand in hand with the level of disclosure.

CS Tip #3: Use quotes to give your case study its authenticity. Be careful not to dumb them down so they sound generic.

CS Tip #4: Make sure everyone signs off on it before it goes public.  The power of a case study is that it reveals an actual problem and its solution. Some businesses may be reticent to air their dirty laundry. Before you pitch your case study to a reporter or post it on your website, get everyone’s blessing.

Case studies are incredibly compelling when done right.  If you’re lucky, you’ll tell a story that people will tell over and over.

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26 Comments so far ↓

  • Karl Edwards

    I love case studies! I find they’re a teaching tool people connect deeply with.
    Thanks for the fun and helpful connection with a story. (villain, hero, battle, happy ending (or so we hope!))

  • Drew McLellan

    Karl,

    And they are a fantastic and non-threatening way to sell. They add value/insight while making the case for your product or service.

    Not a bad combo!

    Drew

  • Eamon

    For me the expert storyteller is Richard Branson. He not only writes the script but plays the main role in the production, i.e Richard Branson of Virgin (David) taking on and defeating Lord King of BA (Goliath).

  • Todd Cabral

    Great Post Drew. I think #4 is the most important point. Since many companies are afraid of exposing villains, it’s critical to align on (and get approval for) the stated problem early on. All too often we think we’ve hit a homer with a great case study, only to find that the customer’s corporate or legal teams want us to tone down the problem set-up before they’ll approve it. And doing so often requires a rewrite of the payoff. Of course, I still like to swing for the fences, but it’s good to keep an eye on the dugout for the bunt signal before stepping into the batter’s box.

  • Lewis Green

    Good advice, especially the story part. I sometimes am guilty on my web site of just giving the numbers surrounding the problem, solution and results. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Drew McLellan

    Eamon,

    You’re right — the David and Goliath set up is a wonderful storyline. We all love to cheer on the underdog.

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Todd,

    Do you think the whole push for authenticity and transparency will help corporations ease up on the “never expose the dirty laundry” attitude and get them to be more open and candid about their warts?

    I hope so. The fact that they weren’t perfect but overcame the challenge is a big part of what makes them real to the consumer, don’t you think?

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Lewis,

    I think that’s a good reminder for all of us. We are so used to the stories and we know the results are what is measurable and matters…that we forget the power of the story.

    Emotions drive the sale. The numbers merely justify it.

    Drew

  • Gavin Heaton

    I also try and write case studies without the use of jargon. It is easy to fall into the trap of corporate speak, but you lose too much of personality of the brand if you do so.

    Now, I am off to put these tips into practice!

  • Todd Cabral

    Drew,

    As Andy Dufresne said in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things…and no good thing ever dies.”

    I share your hope that transparency and authenticity will win the day, and someday soon we’ll find less of a roadblock standing in the way of writing about the real problems customers face. Unfortunately, today’s reality, at least inside established companies with any brand equity at all, is still pretty conservative. I hope (and think) things will loosen up a bit as the guard changes. Until then I’ll continue to plan my escape. :)

  • Jacob Morgan

    Hey Drew,

    I just wrote a post about “making a case study out of nothing.” I have seen several companies try to manipulate information in order to make a case study. In other words, corporations refuse to acknowledge failure by forcing a case study out of something that is NOT case study worthy.

    I think you will find it interesting, I won’t paste it in here because I’m sure like most bloggers you hate when people paste links in their posts. But, if you click on my name it will take you to the post. let me know if you agree.

    J

  • Drew McLellan

    Jacob,

    Great post. Thanks for sharing it. Just so you know, I don’t mind commenters putting in a link in their reply as long as it adds to the conversation.

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Gavin,

    Hmm — your comment makes me wonder if it would be possible to write the case study from the client’s POV? That would completely eliminate the risk of jargon and give your prospects someone to relate to.

    What do you think?

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Todd,

    Like you, I remain cautiously optimistic. But you are right, it will probably take a generational shift in leadership at most major corporations for this sort of transparency.

    In the meantime — let me know if you need a file in a cake as you plan your escape.

    Drew

  • olimpio

    hi

    i like the idea of sorting on how to target the right customer for the right product.most marketers don’t get what do they want to sell to people of different ages. but it is most likely if you could create some ideas on what are the best strategic approach of your products without offending your customer.by this it is surely be good for those aspiring marketers.i’m making a hard time thinking of the possibilities and ideas that could trigger the interest of the customers.i only knew a little thing which i also learn thru the net about making business online.it is also a great help 4 me.so if u could visit my site i am glad to have comments or suggestions about my very short article. give some ideas about marketing. thanx and goodluck

    my website:link to pong-myfavoritegame.blogspot.com

  • olimpio

    hi

    i like the idea of sorting on how to target the right customer for the right product.most marketers don’t get what do they want to sell to people of different ages. but it is most likely if you could create some ideas on what are the best strategic approach of your products without offending your customer.by this it is surely be good for those aspiring marketers.i’m making a hard time thinking of the possibilities and ideas that could trigger the interest of the customers.i only knew a little thing which i also learn thru the net about making business online.it is also a great help 4 me.so if u could visit my site i am glad to have comments or suggestions about my very short article. give some ideas about marketing. thanx and goodluck

    my website:link to pong-myfavoritegame.blogspot.com

  • Christina

    The key is to alligning support upfront is to make the client look better than their competition WHILE illuminating the “villains” or “warts”.

    Sales people have to do this to seel anyway don’t they?

  • Drew McLellan

    Christina,

    They do if they’re good at their job!

    Drew

  • Indy Total Construction

    I like case studies! Thanks for the great and helpful connection with a story.

  • vbulletin 4 styles

    Hmm — your comment makes me wonder if it would be possible to write the case study from the client’s POV?

  • shikha

    hi
    I am a new employee working in NGO working for poor and vulnerable…I too have to prepare case studies…but I make it as simple as possible by giving important information.I am enjoying my job a lot by entering into life of an unknown and letting others know abot the same by preparing case studies.

  • shikha

    well i work under cooperative department empowering rural area people.I hope I am commenting on right site…Is case study important in other fields also???

  • STEVEN J. FROMM, ATTORNEY, LL.M. (TAXATION)

    Had not really considered story telling so this post was most interesting to me. As an attorney, I need to be careful about client matters from an ethical perspective but there is a lot of merit in your post. Thanks.

  • Davis

    Very informational post! The tips about using quotes is so important as it gives your work more credibility.

  • John P. Wheeler

    I’ve always been a little bit apprehensive writing a case study, but after reading this guide, suddenly it doesn’t seem so tedious. Great job on this entry!

  • Alexandra Petean-Nicola

    Awesome article. I think it’s a great strategy to pitch it to your customer as a success story when asking for their blessing. The impact is different and it’s clear from the the begin that you’ll present the solutions and how well it worked, rather than you will present their dirty laundry to the public. Very useful tips.

  • april

    I also try and write case studies without the use of jargon. It is easy to fall into the trap of corporate speak

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