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!
The marketing case study is one of the oldest and most venerable examples of content marketing. From Oprah touting howWeight Watchers has worked for her, to American Express endorsing SalesForce, case studies are prevalent across industries and marketing forms.
According to a B2B marketing trends report, customer testimonials and case studies are considered the most effective content marketing tactics by nine out of ten B2B marketers. According to Social Fresh, customer testimonials have the highest effectiveness rating for content marketing at 89 percent.Seventy-three percent of people have used marketing case studies in the past 12 months to make B2B purchasing decisions.
Use this guide to understand how to use case studies for your organization. It offers instructions on how to secure a first-rate case study, and a template for getting started on a case study today.
What is a case study and why are they so important?
According to Top Rank Marketing Blog:
A “case study” in the context of marketing is an analysis of a project, campaign or company that identifies a situation, recommended solutions, implementation actions, and identification of those factors that contributed to failure or success.
As the aforementioned stats illustrate, marketing case studies are important because they help you sell your company’s product. They validate the statements your company makes about your product, and allow potential buyers to see your product in action. This blog post will help you secure and create a case study that sets your company apart from its competitors.
Here’s what you need to do to secure a case study.
Steps for Getting a Marketing Case Study
The first (and often hardest) part of creating a marketing case study is getting a customer to agree to one. No doubt many customers are pleased with your product. But it’s no small thing for them to take time out of their busy schedule to talk about how awesome the product or service they’re paying for is.
Many larger companies also have formalized rules around providing testimonials. This can extend the process of getting a case study, as they have to go through legal, senior management, and more, just to get approval.
Increase your case study prospects. Create a formalized process that ensures you get the case studies you need on a regular basis.
Meet with customer success, sales, and marketing to get them on board with creating regular case studies. From this meeting, create a formal document that outlines how to submit marketing case study opportunities, the frequency that customer success are expected to do so, and the process/time commitment involved after a client has agreed to participate.
Include a case study request email template to save customer success time. Consider these sample templates:
Including It in the Contract
Some companies choose to include a customer testimonial or case study commitment in part of their purchase agreement. This is a great way to guarantee you’ll have case studies in the pipeline. It’s also a conflict of interest, and some would argue flirts the line of ethical behavior. By including case studies in a contract, you’re essentially paying for testimonials.
You want to publish only truly impressive, stand-out marketing case studies. Customers who are doing so well with your product that you’d want to make a case study from their experience are likely to be happy to help. Customers who need a contract to be forced into a case study aren’t often the ones you want as a face for your brand.
Gather Information for Your Marketing Case Study
After a customer agrees to do a case study, take the following steps to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Send an Email
It should introduce you if you haven’t already. Confirm the date and time for your first phone call or in-person meeting. Address the time commitment of the case study, and include the questions you plan on asking.
With customer testimonials the person you’re interviewing needs to have well-spoken and thought out responses about your product. Here are some sample questions you could ask:
- How did you find out about our company?
- What made you start looking for our solution?
- Which other products did you look at before deciding on ours?
- Why did you choose our solution above others?
- How has using our solution been so far? Tell us about your experiences and what you’ve done with it?
- How has our product benefitted you and your team?
- What results have you seen with our solution so far?
- What do you hope to do with our product moving forward?
Next, conduct the interview. Whether it’s in person or over the phone, make sure to record the interview for transcription later. Make sure to inform them that you’re recording them. Aside from being common courtesy, it’s also illegal in some states to record someone without their consent. As you’re interviewing, make note of any especially interesting points, as well as numerical results.
Take Pictures and Record Video
If you’re conducting an interview onsite, take pictures and video. If not, ask your customer to send some over. The more visual your marketing case study is, the better. According to Animoto, four times as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it.
Transcribe and fact check the interview. Try using a service website like Fiverr for quick transcription that won’t break the bank.
Find out information about the company and their results with your product outside of the interview. Ask if you can see their results or look into their reporting for numerical information to back up the information in the interview. If they don’t have this information, look internally for more general stats on your product’s impact on the people that use it.
Find a Story, Start Writing
Once you have all the data you need, start pulling together your copy, video, and images into a shareable document. Use the marketing case study template below to create a first-class case study.
Marketing Case Study Template
Too many companies title their case studies things like “[insert company name here] Case Study.” This is both boring and uninformative. Use the case study title to help potential readers decide if it’s something that applies to them. Include a description of the company and some of their results. E.g. “Case Study: How CS2 Compliance Is Succeeding With Curata Content Curation Software”
The subtitle should round out the reader’s expectations of what’s in the study. Include more numerical improvements, or an overview of what happened. E.g. “Creating and Growing an Excited Community in a Highly-Regulated, Niche Market”
Their Company Overview
We recommend pulling the company overview directly from the company’s website. It should be two or three sentences and highlight parts of the company most important to your audience. If you’re looking to highlight the company size, mention it here.
Your Company Overview
It’s okay to use a boilerplate description here. However, if there is something else that might be beneficial to include in this particular use-case—add it. If you have more than one product description in your boilerplate description, focus on the product the marketing case study focuses on.
The introduction should present the company you’re talking about and their problem. Here’s an example:
CS2 Compliance, a regulatory consulting firm for financial services clients, wanted to build a community for its clients and save time answering regulation-specific questions in individual emails. They wanted a solution that made content creation easier, found topical subjects in their industry, and enabled them to quickly publish to their website and newsletter.
The next section should introduce your product and why your customer went with you. Example:
They chose Curata Content Curation Software (CCS). Curata CCS uses machine learning, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence to help marketers discover and publish industry-specific content across marketing channels.
This should describe how your product or service was implemented and how it made the overall process smoother, easier, cheaper, etc. Example:
CS2 uses Curata CCS to curate articles that answer a variety of FAQs, building a robust content program including discussion boards, webinars, and frequent newsletters. This has led to strategic and streamlined website content and newsletter publication for CS2.
Finally, show the results. They support the statement that this company was successful with your product. If you have further information about how customers perform with your product, include it here. Include how your client is planning on using your product in the future to grow and expand their goals. Example:
Newsletters now have an open rate of 42.52 percent, and a click-through rate of 23.11 percent, both significantly above industry averages. With Curata, CS2 exceeded community registration goals by over 60 percent. CS2 is now using Curata to expand their reach and create custom experiences for each sub-audience within their online community.
Once the meat of your marketing case study is written, choose some pull quotes to highlight. Example:
CS2 co-founder and president Mary Harris King had this to say about Curata: “Curata keeps our current clients up-to-date with interesting articles while integrating with our public facing website so potential clients can see our newsfeeds, and sign up for the daily news digest, etc. It’s a great way to reach both audiences.”
Case studies are a compelling way to convince prospects to buy your product. They’re even more compelling when your claims are supported by data and hard information. Use company information and stats, outside numbers, and numbers from your customer to round out your marketing case study. Writing on how curation improves content marketing ROI? Include a stat from a trusted source. Example:
Over 50 percent of marketers that curate content indicate that it has increased their brand visibility, thought leadership, SEO, web traffic, and buyer engagement.
Many case studies include a conclusion at the end wrapping up all the details. Instead, try a big, colorful CTA. While a conclusion is nice, making sure the reader doesn’t have to consume more than they need is even better. If your marketing case study is very long, include the most important points at the beginning in bullets.
Distribute and Promote Your Marketing Case Study
Case studies are effective on your website and as a sales enablement tool. They should also be sent to your sales team. Include a description of what it’s about and the situations it should be most effective for.
Other ways to maximize the impact of a case study include:
- Place it on your home page
- Send an email sharing it with the case study’s target audience, or as part of your newsletter
- Write a supplemental blog post to drive traffic to the case study. Focus on the problem solved in the case study and write an informational post on that topic
- Add the case study to relevant landing pages
- Add it to you or your coworkers’ signatures
- Insert it into a slideshow or longer presentation on product use cases
- Share the case study on social media
Examples of Awesome Marketing Case Studies
For more information, check out some standout case studies by other companies.
Bitly’s case study is notable for a couple of reasons. First, their decision to use a slide deck over a single page document. It’s easy to digest and different enough that it piques the reader’s interest. The layout is sleek and skimmable with easy takeaways. Bitly includes images and a colorful layout that’s more interesting than a traditional, text-heavy marketing case study.
Kantar Media Division Cymphony
Kantar media created a case study video of their work for Samsung. For a service-based product, this form of marketing case study proved extremely effective. Kantar describe their process, their findings, and their results in a quick, story-heavy video.
Zendesk include customer testimonials in a visually appealing multimedia library on their website. This allows visitors to search by use case, industry, and company size to find the most relevant story to them.
For an example of one of Curata’s case studies, check out “How CS2 Compliance is SucceedingWith Curata Content Curation Software” [pdf].
Marketing case studies can be hugely effective. They provide proof of concept to potential buyers, and drive your audience further down the funnel. They can also serve as a powerful sales enablement tool. For more on how to drive your audience further down the funnel and measure your content’s efficacy, read Curata’s eBook: Content Marketing Metrics: Account Based Marketing Edition.
Tags: case study, content marketing, marketing case study