How to write a good case study article...
This post is longer than usual. But even if you don't read it all now, do save it because it gives you a step by step guide on how to create a case study story that can be used over and over again.
Essentially you’re telling a story
A case study is story about you and your business, and how you solve problems for your customers.
I love case studies. They are a powerful marketing technique for anyone delivering a professional service. I cut my teeth on writing case studies in the B2B sector, but they also work really well for many B2C organisations too. The benefits of case studies include:
- A way to showcase your skills, experience, knowledge and attitude.
- It allows potential customers to get a picture on how you could help solve their problems.
- It’s an independent endorsement about the benefits you deliver to your customers.
80/20 approach told from the client’s point of view
Over the years I’ve written hundreds of case study articles. And the ones I think work best are in what I call an 80/20 style. Which means that around 80% of the copy is written in the first person, with your customer telling their story, from their point of view. The other 20% of the copy links the quotes together so you are telling a story with a logical flow rather than just presenting the reader with a page of random quotes.
Sometimes there are difficulties
The 80/20 approach is in my opinion, the ideal scenario, but I accept that sometimes this can be difficult. If you are a lawyer or some other service with client confidentiality issues, then you may need to write a case study from your point of view, telling the story of the ‘client type and situation’ without mentioning any names. It’s not quite as powerful in marketing terms, but it’s better than nothing.
Problem - Solution – Result
Whatever the situation, all good case studies tell a story in three main parts. A client problem is highlighted, you swoop in on your white charger and offer a solution and then the client gets outstanding results that changes their life forever.
The case study structure
Obviously everything I’m about to tell you depends entirely on the situation you’re in, your market sector and your client’s willingness to participate. So common sense has to prevail. But in an ideal scenario, here’s how a good case study article is structured:
- Background – What’s the client’s background and situation? What market sector are they in.
- How did they find you? – It’s always good to know how the client found you, and why they chose you. Was it through a formal tendering process? Or was it through a personal recommendation?
- The need – What did they need? What problem(s) needed to be solved?
- Your approach – What did you suggest? How did you approach the situation? How did you find innovative ways to help this client?
- The results – What happened at a practical level? How quickly did the client see/feel results? What were those results?
- Outcome – What are the longer term benefits for the client?
- What’s happens next? - E.g. Will the client purchase more? Will they recommend to their friends and family? Have they got hundreds of new customers as a result of your help?
How long should they be?
Everyone asks me this, and it’s one of those ‘how long is a piece of string’ questions. But, I understand that guidance can be helpful. So here’s what I do:
- Long version: I would say nowadays something around 800 words gives a good article with depth and detail. I would use this for say printed materials, or a pdf document to download or for a feature article in a magazine. This kind of length I find, is easy to scale up or down.
- Short version: I would probably do a shorter version of around 500 words (max) for a web page story. I might also pull out key phrases and facts to create mini 150 word versions.
Whatever the length, I find it easier to start with a long version, and then create different versions to suit your needs.
What else do you need?
Well pictures are always terrific. The key point of a case study story is to implant a vision in the head of a potential customer on what they might get if they chose your product or service. So a written story is great, but pictures make it even better. If you have the resources or skills, it can also be great to create case study videos.
How can they be used?
This is one of the great features of case studies; they are excellent value for money in terms of how they can be used in your marketing. Uses include:
• On your website.
• For editorial articles.
• As printed literature.
• As the topic of presentations and talks.
• As a basis of advertising campaigns.
• As ‘leave behind’ literature packs when doing sales visits.
• As fulfilment information in telesales and for general enquires.
• In tender or proposal documents.
• In your social media content.
In some the large companies I’ve worked for (in the days when I had a proper job), we would often set up a case study library so there were good examples of different market sectors, customer types, problems solved and products/services delivered. They other good news is that they have a long shelf life.
I quite like the fact that in today’s obsession with quick and dirty social media content, there are still some good, solid, traditional marketing techniques that stand the test of time, and are still as powerful and valid as they were 20 years ago.
This is very important, so don’t be tempted to skip this bit. You need your client’s willing participation if this is to work well. And you need to ensure that you have their permission to use the story in your marketing and promotional materials. And, you need to be specific about how you are going to use them. So for example, if you only asked the client for permission to run their story on your website, and then they see that you’ve used their name, brand and quotes as part of a national advertising campaign, you could make yourself liable for a law suit. So be careful.
You also need to make sure that the client has the right to change and tweak, and you MUST get their permission to use the story and their photographs in writing. An email is fine, but you must have it to cover yourself.
And that’s it. I don’t want to get too bossy about it, but DON’T EVER BE TEMPTED TO SKIP THE PERMISSION BIT.
See you next time...