How to write a winning case study

  • Not such a hard case after all

    /images/angela_july_2012.jpgCase studies are the kings of content. An in-depth look at how your business has helped a customer can add valuable credentials to your claims about expertise and service and will always be read by a serious prospect.  Angela Ward looks at how to create a case study that sells.

    What makes a good case study?

    A good case study needs three basic elements: a business challenge faced; the solution found; and, most importantly, the benefits gained.

    But you must also engage your readers and tell a story with a strong angle.  Maybe you can combine a business interest with a human element, such as overcoming adversity.

    There are two things that you want to achieve: either a reaction along the lines of 'if they can do that for them, maybe they could do the same for me' or PR.

    If your case study is going to work as PR, it needs to be closely tied to a topical issue or bigger story, for example, how you helped a client weather the recession or start exporting.  Marketing case studies are often too self promotional for the media.  Editors like a subtle approach that links to the current news agenda with the story tightly focused on the customer’s experience.

    Having decided on your ideal customer and story-line, ask if your customer is happy to co-operate and explain the mutual benefits, such as free publicity and website links.

    Who should write the case study?

    Of course, if you want to write your case study yourself and have the ability to do so, you can.  There are lots of tips from professional writers in our Resource Centre and we've summarised a few of them here.

    The alternative is to hire a freelance copywriter or a journalist who knows your field.  A journalist will know how to interview you and your customer and find the story.  They may cost a few hundred pounds, but it will be money well spent.  We also strongly recommend engaging a professional photographer.  You need interesting content in your photograph, not just boring head-shots and handshakes.  Good pictures makes people want to read on and they make your business look professional too.

    To find your writer and photographer, ask for a recommendation and always ask for samples of work to check their style.

    Once you've chosen both, give them a clear brief.  Tell them the expected word count (typically 500-750 words); the product or service you want promoted; and the benefits you want highlighted.  Fix a deadline for the first draft and then introduce the writer and photographer to your customer and work on agreeing dates.

    Make sure you go along on the day, not only is it courteous to your customer, but you want pictures of you engaging with the person who hired you. (Believe it or not, we have had camera-shy clients who have wanted to leave it all to us!).

    Quick tips

    • Case studies can be in the first person (I) or the third (he/she), but if you use he/she, pep it up with quotes from the customer, to make the story easier to read.
    • An alternative style is using a question and answer format.
    • Give it a strong headline that grabs attention such as: “Profits doubled in three months — here’s how”.
    • Sub headings matter too, as do bullet points - apply the usual rules of smart business writing and make it easy to scan and read.
    • Use statistics to show the difference the service has made and the benefits gained. Ballpark figures are fine.
    • Avoid jargon and superlatives such as “market leading” and “unique” – no one believes them!
    • Write out any acronyms in full the first time followed by the abbreviation in brackets, for example, Internet Service Provider (ISP).

    Where to publish your case study

    Case studies are normally in written format, but they can also be created as a podcast or video.  Once done, they can be used on your website, newsletters, brochures, social media and more.

    Case studies bring your website and social media to life and will always be clicked on by a serious potential buyer.  Getting coverage on other websites, blogs and social media is a bonus and a fantastic way to generate leads and improve your search engine optimisation.

    Next steps? Go out and find a satisfied customer — one who’s happy to talk about the benefits your product or service has brought.

    Can we help? If you want to chat about writing and photographing case studies, contact us and ask for Angela.

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