How do you write a case study?
Friday, June 21, 2019
You might have heard about the “power of the case study”. But how do you write a story that engages and motivates your audience? In this post, I’ll explain the value of case studies and give you a simple framework to build from.
We’re all extremely busy. And there’s so much noise around us. Online, social media, email. Wherever we go, there are marketing messages to absorb.
And B2B is no different. Your prospects are real people being bombarded with messages and information. So, how can you cut through all this noise and show them how your product or service can help them?
Well-written case studies.
Often overlooked by many businesses (at their loss), case studies (or success stories if you prefer) can actually reduce your marketing costs. You’ll see my explanation of that logic here.
I bet you read product reviews? Me too. They’ll often heavily influence my purchase. And I don’t even know the reviewers! Done well, case studies have exactly the same power for more complex buying decisions. So, here’s how to get yours in order.
Writing a case study is like telling a story
Shift your mindset if need be. When you’re writing a case study, you’re writing a story. And all stories have a remarkably similar structure.
Stop seeing case studies as another sales pitch for your product.
In any story (and this is no exception):
- There’s a hero: that’s your customer. NOT your product.
- They have a problem: the challenge they had before they opted for your product or service.
- They meet a “guide”: that’s you (and your products).
- With support, they overcome their challenge and…
- Avert disaster or have tremendous success!
It might sound simplistic. But there’s a skill to this. The important thing is to weave your case study effectively round this structure so that your reader is drawn in and emotionally engaged.
They’ll appreciate the problem because they have the problem too. And they’ll resonate with the words of your customer (which should be your focus) because that’s how they feel too.
Do you see why great case studies are far more powerful than a “features and benefits” sales pitch? They’re an incredible asset to your business.
The stages of writing a case study
So, how do you write a case study in this way? You follow a series of steps and ALWAYS remember… the hero is your customer, NOT your product.
By using this proven method, you’ll also find your customers will be happier to get involved in the process. It shines the light on them. It’s PR for them too.
Step one: do your research
Planning is essential if you’re going to create a fantastic case study. Here are some points to consider:
- Determine your angle or hook
- Get commitment from your customer and ask them for an interview (by phone or face to face)
- Pull together the background in-house. How did you help their buying process? When did they buy? Can you identify any performance facts from your side?
- Who is going to carry out the customer interview?
Step two: plan the customer interview
This needs some thought. You want to draw up your questions ahead of the interview. Ideally, email them to your customer so they have time to consider their answers.
You might want to ask them:
- What was their situation before they purchased your product? How difficult was it? How did they handle the challenge? How did it limit their business?
- What selection process did they use to shortlist your product or service?
- What other solutions did they consider?
- What made them choose you?
- Having purchased, if there was an implementation stage, how did that go? Were there problems to overcome?
- What were the short or medium-term results of buying your product or service? Identify the direct and indirect ones.
- What does the future now look like? How will your product help their business develop?
During the interview itself, you need to probe beyond the questions. How do you write a case study that commands attention? You tell it in the words of your customer. And as if the reader were sitting right next to you. To do this, you need the right content. Gather it well.
Step three: watch your language
Acronyms and complex words will lose them. So, don’t be too clever. You’re trying to write something that draws them in and motivates them to contact you. Not something that blinds them with phrases they don’t understand.
Your reader might not have fully researched your industry. Remember, we’re all too busy. You’re creating something that will hold their hand and show them what a great “guide” you can be.
Step four: draft your copy
ONLY when you’re ready, get writing. And give this the time and focus it deserves. You’re not just ticking a box to get it done.
Use active language. Keep the story flowing, using the structure I touched on above. You’ll gently weave in some key details about your product or service.
Don’t overdo it!
Remember that your customer is the hero. When their story hits the mark, the prospective customer will be in touch and then is the time to cover all the product details.
Aim for 800-1,200 words. This is a time for longer copy. And yes, they will read it when it resonates with their own challenge.
Step five: consider your headline
I’d suggest considering the headline after you’ve drafted the copy. You might think of many first, then whittle them down.
Focusing on a key success fact can be good. If you’ve got a statistic to use, then go for it. For example:
“ABC Company saw 50% sales uplift after choosing XYZ product”
You’re aiming for a news-like headline that’ll be compelling, given the reader’s likely challenge.
You’re all set!
After a good amount of re-drafting, proofing and gaining approval from all concerned, you should now have a powerful case study to incorporate into your marketing communications.
Don’t just stick it on your website though.
Having invested in creating these assets, you might supply your sales team with PDFs that they can email direct to their prospects. You might include excerpts in your literature. And then, there’s the use of social media and email to spread your message wide and far.
Given the value to your customer, they might also wish to use the case study. Or at least, refer people to it.
Give it the legs it deserves.
Can you see the benefit, but you’re daunted by the work and know-how required? That’s why I’m here. Just get in touch and we’ll discuss how I can write your case studies for you – managing your project from start to finish. What a relief that would be!