Writing a Convincing Case Study

Case studies come in all sizes and shapes—everything from a video presentation, to a simple one page problem-solution document devoid of any graphics, to a comprehensive report rich in problem-solution detail with a wealth of photos, illustrations, charts/graphs and customer quotes. Whatever the content depth, however, case studies remain one of the most effective sales tools in the marcom arsenal, clearly demonstrating appropriate use of the clients’ product or service and, by their very nature, offering a candid endorsement of the clients’ product/service. As such, they are unsurpassed in their ability to make the client and its products credible—especially if the company is an industry leader and/or the product or service has had a significant impact on their business.

Case studies also have a great deal of utility: salespeople love to refer to them on sales calls and frequently offer them in their sales call leave-behind printed materials, they include them in their PowerPoint® presentations, they are useful in trade show graphics and as handouts at trade shows, they can be offered to trade journals as feature article material, they are useful in direct mail and email marketing, they are key to the company’s web site content and they are useful in a whole host of company communications (both internal and external).

But before we get into the content of a case study, it’s important to review the nomination process and the baseline information needed to set the project in motion. This is important because case studies can involve a number of people—both internal and external—and you want to make sure that everyone is “on-board” before embarking on the report.

Who should be “studied”?

First of all, case studies should always be in agreement with the strategies/tactics specified in the marcom plan. Once these strategic targets are determined, the company should ideally communicate their needs to the sales force, along with a Case Study Nomination Form. This form should be filled out by the salesperson, giving a concise overview of the problem-solution, as well as key customer contact information, and his/her assertion about the customers’ willingness to participate in the case study.

Once the Nomination Form is reviewed and the case study approved for development, contact should be made with the salesperson to flesh out his/her overview and to discuss any insights on content development. Then, the customer should be contacted to explain the type of information needed to complete the case study and offering, if needed, samples of past case studies. It’s also wise to find out if there is anyone else at the company that needs to be involved in the approval process. Once this is established, a preliminary authorization form should be sent to all involved for their signature.

Now, you can actually begin.

Developing the Basic Problem-Solution Content

Case studies are built on a simple equation: Define the challenge, describe how the challenge was met and give results.

To achieve this, the key questions typically are:

  • What is the nature of your business? (Please describe the size and scope of your business.)
  • What was the nature of the (product/service) challenge before you? (Be specific.)
  • What led you to specify our customers’ product/service? (Name all feature/benefit factors.)
  • Was our customers’ product/service unique in the marketplace? (What did it offer you that others did not?)
  • What were the results of using this new product/service? (Need to quantify to whatever extent possible.)
  • Do you expect to use the company’s products/services again?

Now, that sounds pretty simple, but depending upon the product, the end-use application and the scope of the case study, copy or video development can mean a single 15-20 minute interview with the customer—or, a series of interviews with a number of individuals, in addition to on-site photography and/or video, the development of illustrations, charts and graphs to help tell the story, and the design, layout and printing of the report.

Optimizing the Case Study

If you’re developing a pdf or print piece, make sure that your headlines and subheads move the story along in a logical and intriguing way. And to ensure that your case study is highly credible don’t toot the client’s horn too loudly (even though these questions certainly lend themselves to this kind of treatment). The objective should be to keep the customer central to the report: What were they faced with, what did they do about it? They are the hero of the story. Any over-the-top promotion of the clients’ products/services will be met with skepticism. And that’s the very last thing you want.

Whenever possible, include customer quotes. By simply quoting the customer the utility of the report is greatly enhanced. For instance, customer quotes can be even be used as stand-alones: heralded on your web site, in sales collateral, trade show graphics and sales presentations, and more. And, if these short testimonials are highlighted in your case study through attention-getting graphic or type treatments they can be absolutely key to moving the story along and driving your message home.

And like all digital marketing material today, make sure that your final document has been search engine optimized, with keywords linked to supporting documents or multi-media presentations.

You can also make the report the subject of your blog, utilizing social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to further your message.


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