There is a difference between learning how to create a case study and learning how to create a case study that is memorable. That persuades. That sings from the rooftops, “Just look at these results — you know you want to work with us!”
Unfortunately, many of the case studies I’ve read are boring, self-aggrandizing, and uninspiring. That’s because most organizations know they need case studies, but fall terribly short in execution.
It’s kind of like that old saying, “It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.”
There is an art to creating a case study that will be the proverbial milkshake bringing all the prospects to the yard. So, today I’m going to teach you everything you need to know on how to create a case study that attracts the right buyer personas and helps you close deals.
(I'm also going to share my personal, free case study template with you that makes creating case studies a breeze!)
But First, What Is a Case Study?
Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of pulling together your case study, I want to give you a quick refresher on what a case study actually is.
I know, I know; You’re a pro. But in order to write a killer case study, you need to understand its purpose, as it will inform every decision you’ll make as you go through this process -- plus, it's never a bad thing to brush up.
We all know that case studies are critical when it comes to nurturing prospects through the buyer’s journey. This is particularly true since potential customers are usually about 70 to 90 percent of the way through the buyer’s journey before they reach out to someone in sales -- and by that point, they’re still going to ingest about 11.4 pieces of content before they make their final purchasing decision.
That’s why your content strategy needs to cover more than just eBooks, blogs, and podcasts targeting the awareness and consideration stages.
When done well, case studies can be invaluable inbound marketing tools during that critical decision stage, when prospects are evaluating who is going to help solve their problem -- and you want them to choose you.
Case studies are also indispensable during the sales process, once a brave prospect has decided yes, they crave the human connection only a sales rep can provide. So, every time you create a case study, ask yourself:
"Would my sales team consider this case study valuable and compelling enough to send to a prospect to help them close a deal?"
If the answer is no, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get to work on how to create a case study…
Step 1: Pick Your Case Study Subject
In my experience, one of the most common reasons a client’s case study has gone off the rails is the foundation of their case study was flawed from the start. In other words, they chose the wrong subject to spotlight.
That’s why you need to vet the focus of your case study before you begin work on it.
Fortunately, there is some good news: When it comes to the scope of the work you choose to feature, size doesn’t matter.
One-off projects (infographics, branding), a short sprint campaign (promoting an event, new content offer), or a long-term, strategic endeavor that took months to complete (website redesign, software implementation)… they’re all viable candidates for your next case study.
But what do the most successful case study subjects have in common? Well, the easiest way to answer that is by telling you what to avoid.
- The project should not still be in progress. You can’t write aspirational case studies, where there is “hope” or “intent” to bring about certain results. That would be like Michael Crichton ending Jurassic Park while the dinosaurs were still running around, eating people. “Don’t worry, I’m sure someone will get the power back on and save the day. The end.”
- If your client is not happy with the work you produced, move on. This should be obvious, but given that we were once put in this exact situation (and our client’s client was more than happy to share how unhappy they were during our case study interview), I’m going to throw in this reminder. When it comes to your case study, you should not be the only one satisfied with what you delivered. Even if they are happy, however...
- If you don’t have results to share, you don’t have a case study. It’s that simple. So, if you’re still in a pilot phase, waiting for results, hold off.
If any of this rings true for a project you’re considering for a case study, set it aside. It’s not case study material. The best case studies highlight completed work supported by measurable results that show how you solved a problem for a now-happy client.
Step 2: Gather Your Information
Once you’ve identified your case study subject, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and go on a fact-finding mission. There are a lot of questions you’ll need to answers before you start working on a draft and you’ll probably need to talk to a number of different people in order to get them.
- Which of your personas will this case study target?
- What problem did your client need solved?
- Why were you chosen to help them solve it?
- How did you approach the challenge?
- What was the ultimate solution, and how long did it take to implement?
- What benefits or results did your client see as a result of your work immediately?
- What benefits or results did your client see as a result of your work over time?
- Do you have a client testimonial?
The goal is to gather as much information as possible across the entire story:
First: Who is your client, and what is their problem or goal?
Next: How did you help them solve their problem?
Finally: Did everyone live happily ever after? Great! Prove it.
"Wait, How Do I Know All of the Questions I Need to Have Answered?"
I am so glad you asked!
To make your life a bit easier, I’ve pulled together this free case study template. It contains every single question you should ask when gathering information for your case study.
The questions are also grouped by where they fall within your “story," and I've included prompts if you feel stuck or need inspiration for certain questions.
One of my favorite things about this case study template is that you’ll be able to spot gaps in your story immediately. Are you light on results? Did you forget to ask for a testimonial? It’ll all be at your fingertips, in a single, well-organized document.
Step 3: Write Your Case Study
With your completed case study template, writing it should be a breeze. But like I said at the start of this, your case study will live and die by your ability to craft a narrative that is memorable.
There are two ways you accomplish this: tone down the fluff and be persuasive.
Minimize Your Editorializing
Whenever I’ve worked on a project I’m particularly proud of, I have a tendency to provide way too many superfluous details.
It’s just because I’m excited, but in the context of a case study, this kind of overeditorializing can make it look like you’re trying to fluff or pad your case study, because your results are flimsy.
Instead, streamline your narrative and your language.
Every detail you include should serve one purpose: to support the thesis of your case study. If it doesn’t, cut it out.
(No one cares if it was raining when you came up with that brilliant idea to drive website conversions, or that your shirt was blue when you thought up that ideal tagline for a new product.)
Also, avoid words or phrases that attempt to influence an opinion, such as unnecessary adverbs or adjectives.
For example, if you’re showcasing a branding project, don’t say the final logo was “beautifully designed.” That kind of statement should only be shared if it’s a testimonial from a client — the client's opinion of your work is the one that matters, not yours.
Put Your Persuasive Writing Skills to Work
Your case study should inspire people to take action. They should want to immediately pick up the phone and call you because they feel compelled to work with you, right?
That only works if you write in a way that is both inspirational and compelling.
Persuasive copy is powerful. Here’s how you do it:
- Even though you’re telling a story about a specific client, include qualifiers about that them (industry, size) - or their situation (pain point, objective) - that allow a reader to feel like you’re speaking directly to them and the problem they’re trying to solve. They should be able to easily step into their shoes and say, "Hey, that sounds like me."
- Comparisons, such as metaphors and analogies, can be your best friend in a case study, as they can help a reader accept a certain scenario as being true if it’s related to something they already understand. However, there is one caveat: Don’t use clichés. While they may exist for a reason, science says we are trained to ignore them.
- Use power verbs. In fact, here are 109 of them, waiting for you to choose them. Power verbs have momentum. Power verbs imply results. Power verbs aren’t wimpy.
- Don’t use passive voice. Use active voice. (What’s the difference, and why does it matter?)
- Spotlight data, client quotes and testimonials to demonstrate the effectiveness of your work.
Finally, don’t forget to proofread!
Step 3: Design Your Case Study
Okay, so you have your case study draft in hand, filled with persuasive phrasing and glowing client testimonials. Now it is time to send it to design.
Of course, the end result at this step will probably depend a lot on your brand’s visual standards, but I still have a few tips for you.
If you’ve been blogging or creating content for any amount of time you — and your designers — probably already know the basics.
- Whitespace is your friend.
- Include visuals.
- Break up walls of text with headings, subheadings, and bulleted lists.
- Call out relevant data points and quotes you want readers to remember visually.
- Include videos (if you’ve got ‘em).
- Also, if you have a testimonial, include the person’s name, job title, and their photo. It shows you solve problems for actual people.
When it comes to case studies, design is just as important as the copy itself.
A well-written case study will only be persuasive if you create a piece that is visually appealing enough that a prospect will actually read it. If they don’t read your case study because of ugly, unfriendly design, all of your hard work will have been for nothing.
The format of how you present your case study is up to you, but keep in mind, they should be easy to find and read. Our success stories are on our navigation and they're ungated. (We don't any barriers between prospects and proof that what we do delivers results.)
However, if you decide to go a similar route of creating a case study that lives as a website page, create a PDF version that is easily printed, as well. It should be a document a sales rep can bring to a meeting and walk through in person, instead of having to say, “Oh, I’ll shoot you a link when I get back to the office.”
A Great Case Study Is Worth the Effort
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Man, Liz. This sounds like a ton of work.”
Well, yes. It is.
In the world of inbound marketing, it’s not enough to simply create content anymore. All of your competitors are now creating blogs, and case studies, and eBooks. In order to stand out today, you have to create quality content that clearly demonstrates you understand the problems of your buyer personas and how to solve them better than anyone else.
So, again, yes. This process is comprehensive, but only because I want to make sure that you are empowered to create case studies that make prospects want to call you instead of someone else.
Now, get to work!
Business case studies can have a massive impact on your marketing, done right.
While they cost time and effort to create, they can be a stellar tactic to draw new customers to your business and help you earn new clients.
Unfortunately, many people aren’t sure how to start when it’s time to write copy for them.
If you’re one of the many individuals who wants to learn how to write a business case study, but just aren’t sure where to get started, my simple guide is here to help you step-by-step – another installment of our #howtowrite series!
What is a Case Study?
A case study is a piece of content, published by a company, that outlines their success or effectiveness in dealing with a client. It’s commonly used as a piece of marketing content and can be incredibly useful since it helps would-be clients understand how the agency or professional has excelled in the past.
Virtually every successful online company uses case studies, and Express Writers is no different! Earlier this year, in fact, we published a case study that showcases how we helped a client boost their revenue by 77% after creating some product descriptions for them.
Case studies are more than just a piece of self-congratulating marketing material (this is an incorrect assumption that many people hold about these unique content types), though. In fact, they’re meant less to stroke the company in question’s ego than they are to help would-be clients understand how a given company can assist them.
The Top 4 Benefits of Why You Should Learn How to Write a Business Case Study
So, why go to all the time to create your own case study? (It IS a ton of time and effort!)
If the “what is” didn’t argue in favor already, here are key reasons to spend your time finding out how to write a business case study, and putting one of your own together.
Business case studies have many advantages. The top four are as follows:
1. Case studies allow a company to use storytelling to bring their product to life
Whether it’s a service or a hard-and-fast consumer product, a case study is an excellent way to illustrate it and help bring it to life for new customers. Just like any great novel, a good case study has a beginning, a middle, and an end, with a conflict and a resolution. It’s a wildly effective way to make somewhat complex products real and can go a long way toward improving the way your clients perceive your offerings.
2. Case studies provide peer-to-peer influence
Peer-to-peer influence is a massively important thing, and case studies are wonderful at fulfilling it because they offer the view of a customer rather than a company. While it’s a company that publishes a case study, the entire thing is dedicated to recounting a customer’s experience. Direct quotes, statistics, and more are standard, and these things are fantastic for helping would-be clients to see the value in a company.
3. Case studies offer real-life examples
We’ve all heard about how critical customer reviews are for conversion rates, and case studies take this one step further. By providing real-life examples of your product at work, paired with glowing customer reviews, they can help new customers feel more confident in your company and take the leap to convert.
For an example, check out this case study excerpt (from our own clientele based case study):
4. Case studies are powerful word-of-mouth advertising
Because a company must ask permission from a client to use his or her data in a case study, the inclusion of a customer in a case study often leads to some brand evangelism that can help boost your company’s visibility and improve your conversion rates.
How to Write a Business Case Study: Your Complete Guide in 5 Steps
So, you want to write a case study, but you’re not sure where to begin! This guide will help you get started.
1. Identify your best possible avenue for data
When it comes time to write a case study, you might have multiple cases to choose from. The first part of being successful, though, is narrowing these things down. For your case study to succeed, it must contain just the right information, and it’s critical to ensure this from the get-go. To determine which of your various cases would be the best fit for a study, look at them and evaluate whether or not they contain the following elements:
- A significant challenge. This could be a tight timeline, a complicated issue, low sales numbers, or even a need for entirely new software integration.
- A satisfying solution. For your case study to fall into the realm of storytelling, it needs a solution that customers can relate to.
- A series of substantial benefits. The final component in a case study is the benefit. An excellent case study should feature several benefits that your customers can relate to deeply. The benefits will be even more compelling if they’re solid statistics like we used when we say we boosted the client’s sales by 77% year-over-year. The more granular, the better in this case.
2. Write your case study (5 key tips)
Now comes the tough part – the writing! While it’s true that writing a case study requires a different set of skills and a different voice than everyday writing, it’s far from impossible.
To ace your DIY case study, follow these tips:
- Choose your voice carefully
Depending on your brand and the content of the case study, you can write it in either the first or third person. Either approach will work, and most case studies use a mixture of both.
EXAMPLE: Our client-based case study at Express Writers does this, and it flows quite nicely. If you’re going to use a combination of both the first and the third person, though, be sure that you’re enhancing the third-person parts with direct quotes from the client, as straight third-person voice can sound overly narrated after a while.
- Make your title specific and attention-grabbing
The title is a critical component of the case study. To make it as attention-grabbing as possible, include percentages and strong action verbs. Here are some good examples from real-life case studies:
Remember: titles perform better when they are as accurate as possible. That’s why phrases like “by 1,000%” and “doubles yearly revenue” appear in these wide-ranging case studies.
- Keep your language simple
Many people think that learning how to write a business case study involves incorporating jargon and corporate-speak into the writing. Fortunately, this isn’t true. In fact, writing a business case study requires you to keep your language simple rather than making it more complicated. The more you can avoid corporate jargon in your case studies, the better.
In addition to making them more natural and approachable, this will also allow non-customers to approach your case study without being intimidated away by overly complicated case study language.
- Add real numbers to your case study
When you look at the case study titles above, most people would agree that “increased webinar sign-up rates by 1,000%” is the most memorable phrase up there. In addition to the fact that this is a shocking number, it’s also so precise that it grabs reader attention.
With this in mind, follow KISSmetrics’s lead and include real numbers in your case studies. While phrases like “doubled this” or “tripled that” are powerful, they just don’t have the added oomph they need to take your case study to the top.
- Write from the beginning to the end
A case study is not the place to leave out critical data. Instead, write from the beginning to the end and keep it as accurate and chronological as possible. This will help flesh out the entire circumstances surrounding your interaction with the client and allow your readers to understand your impact more effectively.
3. Finish the case study with all of your relevant contact information
Since a case study is designed, at least in part, for press distribution, it should be outfitted with your contact information and details. This will allow other companies, customers, and more to contact you regarding the case study, and will help to make the information within it more accessible to other people.
While there are different standards for which information you “should” include in a case study, most sources recommend including your phone number, website, email, and one or two social profiles, along with a short bio. This will provide enough information for interested parties to contact you and can help boost the ROI of your case study down the road.
4. Hire a designer to finish the product
Don’t forget that every good case study needs a great design, and it can be helpful to bring in a designer to add some visual interest to the piece. Simple things, like using text boxes to pull out key facts, statistics, and quotes, and inputting related graphics and charts can make all of the difference in your case study and should be used liberally to enhance its value and interest.
We can help – our lead designer is familiar with how to take copy and create custom, beautiful designs in Adobe to match! Check out our case study service here.
5. Publish the case study
Publishing your case study is the final step in creating it. To get the most success from your case study, you’ll want to post it in the places your real audience and prospective customers frequent. This may mean publishing the case study on your blog, reaching out to relevant publishing platforms, or gating the case study and using it to drive email sign-ups for your company.
Alternately, KISSmetrics recommends appealing to different types of learners by breaking your case study into unexpected formats, like a podcast, a YouTube video, or an infographic!
We published ours in a few different forms.
First, as a blog post:
Then, as a landing page.
What About Hiring a Specialist to Write the Case Study?
Writing a case study requires a very particular voice, and if you don’t have the time or confidence to do it yourself, it’s in your best interests to hire someone specifically who knows how to write case studies and has done it before. In addition to making your case studies more efficient, this will also help you create the best possible case study and not drive yourself into the ground as you do it.
No matter how good the writer you hire is, you’ll have to provide them with some specific information about your case study.
Ideally, you should give the author a very clear overview of what you’d like from the case study. This should include the following components:
- Word count
- The products, goods, or services you’d like the case study to promote
- The benefits you provided for the client
- The struggle the client faced
- The specific way you went about resolving it
- The result (percentages, direct quotes from the customer, and facts are helpful here)
- The deadline for the case study
These things are critical for helping your writer create the best possible case study, and they’ll go a long way toward making the process more lucrative and enjoyable for you, as well.
The Case for Case Studies
Case studies are an incredibly useful tool and can have a massive positive impact on your content marketing.
While most companies don’t think they can create case studies, learning how to write a business case study is simple, as long as you’re willing to put in some time and work.
In addition to helping your customers understand the benefits of your services, case studies also provide an essential platform for new clients to see your products at work, which can be all they need to convert and become brand evangelists.
By following my tips above, you can learn how to write business case studies from scratch. Simple, effective, and critical for your company, this is one ROI-boosting move you simply will not regret.
Don’t want to D-I-Y? Trust our marketing team of experts: we’ve crafted successful case studies for businesses of all types. Talk to us today about your case study writing & creation needs!