How to write a kick-ass case study
Make the most of your success stories in six simple steps
Note: I wrote this article for the Flying Solo business community and I’ve republished it here to share the case study love.
Write a great case study, and you’ll instantly increase the chance that it’ll be your business that makes a customer shortlist.
If you understand the value of case studies and customer testimonials – you’re one smart cookie! New customers are always looking for validation that you’re the one they should choose to work with. But it’s up to you to share your success stories and turn happy customers into a PR exercise.
Where most businesses fall down, though, is they don’t follow a process for obtaining and telling the story. You can’t just sit down, whack out a few hundred words and expect it to be ground-breaking.
Here, you’ll learn how to get and present the core facts. You’ll discover what you should talk about and how to send the right message to your future customers.
Step 1: Research is your friend
If you’re a writer being paid to do the story, you’ll know all about the importance of research. And yet it’s a step that’s often missed. You need a clear understanding of why you’re writing a case study in the first place. Is it a broader PR exercise, or are you focusing on one specific product (a new one maybe?); perhaps you operate in a crowded marketplace and your USP is the focus.
You’ll be talking to at least one person, so it’s important to go prepared with an appropriate list of questions. But have your most important questions listed first – so if you run out of time you aren’t left wondering how to write a story on how the product they’ve been using assisted their Grandma choose her new car. See what I mean?
Also, check their website and all available social profiles before the interview. It’s easy to get a comprehensive profile about people and businesses, simply by checking their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn profiles. Google search them and see what comes up in news articles. These can be great talking points and help your subject feel comfortable, and they’ll give you a heads up on any hurdles you might encounter.
Research – don’t skip it.
Step 2: The interview
Yep, you guessed it. Pick up the phone, dial their number and talk to them. You should spend at least thirty minutes having a good old-fashioned chat so that you’re getting the complete picture of their experience as your customer. What you’re also getting (that you can’t get via email), is their tone of voice – crucial for accurately describing their story. You’ll hear the heightened excitement when they tell you “after 17 years of doing it myself, you took 45 mins to remove 6 hours of admin from my calendar every week”. Or the relief in their voice when they say, “I just can’t write good content, paying for your time is something I should have done years ago.
If you can, interview your subject in person or via video call. Seeing you as a real, genuine person will help them relax and tell their story in a much clearer way. You’ll also have the added benefit of watching their body language; you’ll be able to add a further layer of depth into your story. “Alison sat upright excitedly when asked whether she’d recommend us to others.”
Step 3: Give context
Whether you’re writing about an individual or a global brand, your first step should be to give a top-level summary. It’ll help your reader understand the context of the customer experience and connect the problem that the subject had to your solution.
Don’t go overboard, a straightforward introductory paragraph or two should be enough to set the scene. You want the reader to identify with the scenario and be desperate to see whether you’ve covered off their own issues. Anything beyond short-and-snappy, and they’ll lose interest.
Step 4: Detail the problem
Here, the reader will want to clearly see what the problem was. It’s a good idea to do this in bullet points for three reasons:
- It keeps things clear. You don’t want your reader to be left wondering.
- Separating the problems show the scope of the project.
- Your reader can cross-check with their own list of issues.
So, what’s the best structure for your list? Three main issues is a good number to aim for. Any more than this and you’ll be increasing the time your reader spends on the case study. And, let’s face it, readers get lazy. You don’t want your message to be diluted.
- Start with the biggest problem they had. This is usually tech, people, money or time related. Explain where/why/how the problem started and how many people had been involved, etc.
- If not their biggest issue, include at least one reference to money, or revenue (if you know it was achieved in the outcome – showing value and cost savings is always appealing to a decision-maker).
- If they tried other methods or products that didn’t work, include these (but only if you made it work).
You can name names. If they use specific platforms, programs or products, it’s good to demonstrate your areas of knowledge and how you operate alongside them.
Step 5: Detail the solution (and your role in it)
So, you’ve hooked the reader in. Now they’re saying, “Ok, show me how you did it.”
There are two things you’ll need to cover next. First, you need to tell the reader exactly what you (or your business) did in solving the problem. And it’s a good idea to show how you saved the customer money (or time, as that equates to money as well). Here are three short examples:
- We built and implemented a new system. It took 4 weeks to consult on the requirements, 6 months to build and then 3 months to implement.
- We redesigned their website and overhauled their content strategy. From initial briefing to project sign-off, it took 6 months.
- Our team – 2 designers, a copywriter, 3 engineers and a brand specialist – built their e-commerce shop from scratch.
Get the picture? Giving them examples helps to showcase what you’re capable of achieving and in what time frame.
Along with showing them what the outcome was, the most important part at this stage is proving it. You’ve got to give evidence. Here are the above examples, with evidence added:
- We built and implemented a new system. It took 4 weeks to consult on the requirements, 6 months to build and then 3 months to implement. Their people management ‘time spent’ has reduced by 50%.
- We redesigned their website and overhauled their content strategy. From initial briefing to project sign-off, it took 6 months. They’re now fully booked 4 months ahead.
- Our team – 2 designers, a copywriter, 3 engineers and a brand specialist – built their e-commerce shop from scratch. It’s now turning over 150% more revenue than their forecast each month.
See the difference? You want to leave them assuming you’re a sure thing for solving all their problems.
Step 6: Wrap it up with a testimonial
At this point, you’re closing out your argument so all that’s left is to wrap it up. Readers love hearing things straight from the horse’s mouth, so a great testimonial is perfect proof that your case study is truth. It’ll also be useful for promoting on your website and social channels. Break it out so it’s eye-catching to the reader – and keep it short. Two sentences max (you can edit it down for other uses).
It’s worth the effort
You’ve got the who, what, why, when and how – now you must do. Create the best stories you can and share those wins far and wide. The value of your offering will increase (in the eyes of your reader) and you’ll have genuine, measured talking points for your future customers.
You’ll be showcasing your confidence and the ability of your business – and there’s nothing wrong with that. With a great case study, you’ll instantly increase the chance that it’s your business that makes a customer shortlist.