Case studies are the short story of the business world. You could say a case study is a portrait of a profitable relationship between your company and a customer.
They create credibility. They showcase a real world example of a product or service in action. If they are so great, why do marketing directors complain about how difficult it is to get great case studies? Here are some ways to help you get the opportunity share amazing stories from your customers.
Build trust with your customer.
The first issue in writing a great case study is to abandon the notion of a “case study” altogether. You don’t need “a case,” right? Heck, that sounds like something you’d litigate. You want a STORY–something compelling, authentic, and real. So start by asking your clients to “help tell their story.” Don’t use the “case study” word at all. You aren’t going to court with this.
Modern stories are the new case studies
Most of your customers really do want to help you provide real information; they just balk at the formality of the theoretical “case study” structure because we inherently know conditions change so fast, they may not be the same in a year. They don’t want to be “on the record” when inherently we all know that relevant record is a dynamic relationship. So start talking about your story instead . . .
Call script for a killer case study
Imagine calling your client and saying something like this:
You: “Our agency just let us know that the most respected journal in our industry wants to do a feature article on how well we’re doing with this solution. I think we should do it–it will position your firm as the leader you are, and it definitely looks good for us to be part of your success, too. Can we make it happen?”
Your client: “Our approach is maybe thought leading– are you sure? You’re doing okay right now too, but I’m not sure we want to give away the whole recipe to our competitors or tell them about a company we work with.”
You: “That makes a lot of sense–you know, we could talk about the results, and talk a bit about the approach, but leave the details vague. That way, you remain a thought leader but your competition is in the dark. I thought taking a leading position in this space would help you . . . ”
Your client: “Sure, but we can’t endorse you either–we work with several firms like yours.”
You: “I get it–we’re just happy to be one part of your story. Let’s help each other out and find a great way to shine a light on your leadership that looks good all around. Can I set up an interview with our Write2Market writer? If you don’t like the piece, we don’t have to submit it, but I think we can tell the story, make you look like the leader you are, and not give away the secret sauce. Worth a shot?”
Your client: “Well…it is a really big trade journal. I’m working on my career, and we’re working on our thought leadership position–this might be a good idea. As long as we can keep it open around who we work with and the details of how we do it, I don’t mind sharing some of the story–let’s take next steps.”
3 things you need for a modern case study
Now you’re cooking with case study grease! To write a great case study fast, you’re going to need a few things. Let’s start with the three things you need:
- Context. What’s the larger business trend in play? Is there third party research that validates the trend?
- Organization. The reader is your next customer, so organize your story around their pain points and their journey. The NEEDS of your reader provide the outline of your case study. Use the information that is important to the reader because it addresses their “pain.”
- Objective facts. Put a dollar on the value of the solution you provide and define the ROI in detail. Often the customer loves your service or product for reasons we don’t even realize. Encourage the customer to brag about themselves and their sharpness in finding, and buying, your offering. Probe for the real reasons why working with your company is so satisfying. This will create buying triggers.
Once you have these three biggies, you’ll only need to format in the next six critical case study elements:
6 essential case study format elements
1. A lead quote or testimonial. Use a quip from an interviewed source–your client or customer–that is repeated within the body of the text.
2. A results summary. This includes three or four benefit or advantage statements—high-level bullets that explain the meat of the case. These should showcase how your company helped the firm in the case study. These points should appeal to the prospects actual pain points.
3. A challenge or problem summary that explains the problem to the reader (a prospect), using a point of view that empathizes with the reader’s perception of the problem.
4. A compelling, interesting title – the answer to a need you KNOW the reader has. Even better–make sure this has a keyword in it and you can tweet it with a relevant hashtag.
5. “About Us” section. This is one paragraph about your company, including a few notable facts and contact information.
6. A call to action. Each case study should encourage the reader to respond to something specific. Many times, these are in the left or right margin of the case study or at the bottom.”
Want to see some case study examples?Case Study Samples
This section provides some advice on the process of writing up your report.
Plan the report
Before you begin to write the report, it is essential to have a plan of its structure. You can begin to plan the report while you are investigating the case.
Fist, prepare an outline (in list or mind-map format) of the main headings and subheadings you will have in the report. Then add notes and ideas to the outline which remind you of what you want to achieve in each section and subsection. Use the outline to help you consider what information to include, where it should go and in what sequence. Be prepared to change your outline as your ideas develop. Finally, the outline headings and subheadings can be converted into the contents page of your report.
Schedule your writing time
Prepare a schedule for writing and editing the sections of the report. Allow some extra time just in case you find some sections difficult to write. Begin by writing the sections you feel most confident about. Preliminary sections (executive summary, introduction) and supplementary sections (conclusions, reference list and appendices) are usually prepared last. Some writers like to begin with their conclusions (where the writer's thoughts are at that moment) or the methodology (it's easier to write about your own work).
Analyse your audience
In writing a case study report in your course, the report is often intended for an imaginary person so you need to make sure that your language and style suites that person. For example, a report for senior management will be different in content and style and language to a technical report. A report to a community group would also be different again in content, style and language. Audience definition helps you decide what to include in the report based on what readers need to know to perform their jobs better or what the readers need to know to increase their knowledge about your subject. These notes on audience analysis are adapted from Huckin and Olsen (p1991)
*After: Huckin & Olsen ,1991.1.
- Who will read the report? Think about all the uses of the report and where and when it would be read. Reports written within an organisation may be read by different people and different departments; for example, technical and design specialists, supervisors, senior managers, lawyers, marketing and finance specialists.
- What are the readers' needs and goals? Each department or unit in an organisation has its own needs and goals. Understanding the different perspectives can help you decide how to communicate persuasively to these groups. For example while design engineers may prefer to develop new or alternative design to show progress in their field, the marketing specialist may prefer that the organisation imitate a known successful design to save time.
- How do I make communication clear for managers? Communication must be accessible and useful to busy managers as they will primarily seek important generalisations. This has implications for the report's structure, the amount of orientation or background information provided and the level of technical language used. An executive summary, introductions to new sections and concluding summaries for major sections should be included in the report.
- What might be the readers' preferences or objections to the report? You may need to address the significance and benefits/limitations of your recommendations from a number of readers' perspectives in the report. You may also need to consider compromises as a way to acknowledge potential conflicts or criticisms of your recommendations or solutions.
Prepare a draft report
Writers rarely produce a perfect piece of text in their first attempt so a number of drafts are usually produced. Careful planning and editing will ensure a consistent professional standard in the report. You will need to do the following:
- Revise the task often
Do this by keeping both the reader's needs and the report's objectives in mind as you gather information, take notes and write sections of the report.
Do this by taking clear notes, which include the information gathered and your thoughts about the usefulness and the implications of this information. Review your notes to decide what is essential information to include in the report.
- Create a logical structure
Use your contents page outline to decide where information will go. Within each section, plan the subheadings and then decide on the sequence of information within these.
Check that your writing flows and that your ideas are supported and plausible. If you are not sure what to look for, here are links to advice and activities on report organisation, cohesion and evidence.
Ensure that all your figures and tables communicate a clear message. Show a colleague your visuals to check how they will be interpreted or 'read'.
For first drafts, a word processor's spell checker and grammar checker can be useful however, do not rely solely on these tools in your final edit as they are not perfect. Errors will be overlooked or even created by these programs! The best ways to edit are to read a printed copy and where possible get a colleague to read and give feedback.
Here is a report checklist that you can print out: CHECKLIST