June 20th, 2017

How to Write a Good Case Study

illustration of computer with files, graphics, a pencil and highlighter, and magnifying glass

Tell your best story to sell your business and your services.

Ah, the case study. Possibly the oldest weapon in a marketer’s arsenal. A neat, ever-so-validating body of work designed to prove that your business works. Yet, in spite of this, it’s very difficult to get good ones written and published.

Part of this is due to the difficulty in getting client approvals, pulling together all the facts and figure you need, and working with your designer to really set it off. But it’s also true that doing your case study right takes time. What do we mean by doing it right? Let us break it down for you.

1. Choose your subject well.

It can be tempting to choose a case study based on the results you achieved for that client, or the relationship you have with them, or because they’re a prestigious client and you want their name associated with your business. Of course, these are all good things that may warrant a case study. But the prime criteria to look for is whether this client matches the kind of business you want to do in the future.

Think about it: maybe you got great results from one client, but they’re slightly outside your industry and you don’t want to expand in that direction. Your relationship with them might be great, but if you don’t have a good story to tell it might be better to take a pass. Or, they may be prestigious while also representing a line of work that you ultimately find unfulfilling. These are all great reasons to look elsewhere for your case study.

Instead, choose the story that will most attract your ideal client. Your case study is about bringing in new business. It’s about the future, not the past. Think about where you want your case study to take you, and then develop accordingly.

2. Tell a compelling story.

Every good case study should have a beginning, middle, and end. Begin with a snapshot of the “before” state of your client. What challenges were they facing which inspired them to come to you? What were their pain points, and what did they hope to accomplish? The more vividly you can paint the dire situation at the beginning, the better you will look at the end.

Next, discuss the details of how your product or service helped your client succeed. Don’t gloss over your steps. You want to give a prospective customer an idea of what working with you might look like. Showcase how you handled any snags along the way and how you were able to overcome them. If there’s a reason you chose one course of action over another, discuss it.

Finally, bring it all together in your conclusion. Share your results, and expand upon how your client benefitted from the work you did. All case studies have happy endings, so close it well.

3. Use real data.

Look, if your numbers aren’t good, you shouldn’t be using this client to highlight your business. Given that, why would you hide the statistics that show off how awesome you are? Also, be explicit: don’t use fractions or percentages, but raw numbers. If you say “we doubled sales,” I don’t know if you brought them from 10 to 20 or from 1000 to 2000.

Obviously, you will need to work with your client to ensure you aren’t publishing any sensitive information. However, as most case studies put a client in a good light, and if you’ve chosen your subject well, they will be the kind of client who will be happy to sing your praises.

Related to this, solicit your client for testimonials. Use their real words. Reach out to them for images that might backup your story. For instance, if you helped redesign their store interior, you may need their assistance with before and after photos. Or, if they use internal software to crunch numbers and analyze the results of your efforts, see if they can send you some screenshots of the results. Wherever you don’t have direct access to verifying information, work with your client to provide it in your case study.

4. Make them look sharp.

Work with your graphic designer to make your case study beautiful. This isn’t just for you, it’s also for the client you’ve written about. Presenting your results in a clean, branded manner will be more appealing to your target client and help make your case that you’re the business they want to work with.

Think about the call-outs you want to make as well, how you want to include graphics and tables, the imagery you want present, and any testimonials that you could draw attention to. Before and after photos work well with most clients, and tables and graphics help to simplify complicated information and make it easier to digest.

Also, think about the ways in which people consume information. While some may focus on the text, others prefer to skim. Many people are more visually-oriented than otherwise and absorb charts and graphics faster than words. By working with your designer to present your key information in these ways, you stand a better chance of reaching a broader audience.

Case studies also make for excellent downloadable content.

Once you have your case study in hand, what do you plan to do with it? Our suggestion is to incorporate it in your sales process as a piece of downloadable content. The ideal scenario is to have one case study for each of your target personas and/or one to highlight each of your service offerings. Try offering a case study downloadable on each of your service pages. Alternatively, if you’ve assigned personas in your email workflows, send out the corresponding case study in one of your follow-up emails.

Need help creating a case study? We work with many of our clients to create high-quality downloadable content as part of our marketing services. Get in touch with us to learn more about how case studies and downloadable content can boost your sales.

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