Ah, the case study: One of the most important pieces of marketing content for a business, and yet all too often, also the most boring. The problem with this is, lose a reader and you lose a customer. It doesn’t have to be this way!
In this guide, I’m going to show you how to write a case study that prospects will actually want to read. An attractive, inspiring, and convincing case study that turns readers into customers.
A case study is a self-contained story about how a real customer overcame their problems using your products or services. Notice how I used the word story. Marketers are obsessed with the notion of “storytelling” (usually without actually telling stories), but a good case study is a story with protagonist (your customer) who has a problem but who wins out in the end.
This case study example by Intercom puts faces to the name of their protagonist, Atlassian.
By the end of a case study, the reader should be able to visualize themselves as the hero of their own story. They should be able to relate to the problems of your featured customer, and see themselves achieving their own goals by using your product or service.
Case studies may not be as sexy as a viral blog post, and as such they’re often overlooked in favor of other content formats. This begs the question – why create marketing case studies at all?
The answer is because they’re really effective.
This varies by industry (a kitchen remodeling business could probably tell their whole story in pictures while a software invoicing solution, not so much), but here are some guidelines:
A case study is an on-brand, data-driven, objective resource for potential customers to gain confidence in your business. Here is what they are not.
Now that we’re clear on what a marketing case study is (and isn’t), as well as why you should be producing them, let’s talk about how to actually write a case study worth reading.
Let’s go into the details on each one of the steps above, using a fictional example. Our business is Kumbo Digital and our client is Currigate.
This should be like a newspaper headline that gives the most important information. A subtitle with supporting details or a customer quote is optional.
Currigate Plugs $12k in Profit Leaks with Kumbo Digital
There should be a section at the top with the important details. This includes
Share one to two sentences with your customer’s name, industry, location, and a highlight.
Currigate is a software service that offers highly customizable subscription packages to banks, brokers, and investors in the mortgage lending market.
Explain the issue the customer was facing or the goal they were having a hard time reaching—as well as the negative outcomes.
While this high level of customization is what sets Currigate apart from its competitors, it also requires multiple applications with disparate data and heavy manual work. Account owners were spending so much time manage invoicing, there was little left over to build relationships with clients, stay on top of overages, and upsell. This was leading to leaks in profitability and a weakening of customer service.
Include customer quotes as well as any hesitancies they had with using a product or service like yours.
“We were getting in our own way,” said Melanie Grigham, Currigate’s VP of Operations. “Our customer relationships were starting to falter, and we knew we had to do something. But the thought of manipulating just one of our data sources—let alone all seven—was scary. There were so many random connections in place and so much confidential information, we couldn’t risk it all breaking.”
Share how the customer found your business and why they chose you.
Grigham learned about Kumbo Digital through none other than Google research and decided to get in touch. “The thought of explaining the whole thing felt daunting, but I was relieved to hear [the rep] finishing my sentences for me!”
Include which specific product or service they chose, how it was implemented, and how the customer used it. Stay brief!
After learning the details of the situation, the Kumbo team proposed a custom solution that would integrate all of the data sources into one dashboard. “I was hesitant at first, but they showed me a small scale example which helped me to understand a little more about how it would work. I appreciated their patience with me as I took some time to make a decision.”
Grigham finally went with it. The dashboard took three weeks to implement and the data migration took just under a day.
Share how the client used your product/service, what the results were, and the benefits. Include direct quotes and clear evidence (statistical data, before-and-after images, time-lapse videos, etc.)
With the new platform, Currigate’s account managers could access all seven data sources—as well as generate, track, send, and approve invoices—all in one place. Time spent invoicing went from days to hours, freeing up time for them to engage with customers and work toward strategic goals. “Our staff are less bogged down to the point where they’re asking to take on more clients—which is unheard of.”
The redesigned and simplified product catalog (206 product codes instead of 1,024) has also made it easier for them to upsell as well as recommend combinations for specific needs. “Sometimes our new clients don’t know what they want, and this is perfect for giving them a starting point.”
In addition, Currigate was able to identify $12,403 worth of overages they wouldn’t have caught otherwise. “Now, we can be sure that their customers are being billed appropriately (which is great for us) and receiving the services best fit for their dynamic needs (which is great for them). It’s a win-win.”
Share where the client is headed, any additional quotes or praise, and/or their advice for similar potential clients.
Today, Currigate’s unique subscription model is as strong as ever. It’s even considering opening up to new markets. “We never thought we’d reach this point so soon—we thought new markets was years down the line,” said Melanie. When asked what advice she had for other businesses like hers, she talked about mixing faith and facts. “You’ve got to do your research to find a trusted provider, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to a leap of faith, and sometimes you just have to do it.”
Alright, so that was a basic example of a case study, but there’s more to it than just the words that comprise it. Here are eight tips to write a great case study that prospects will want to read and that will help close deals.
Just like when asking for reviews, it’s important to make the process as clear and easy as possible for the client. When you reach out, ask if you can use their story of achievement as a case study for your business.
Make the details as clear as possible, including:
The clearer the picture you paint for them, the more receptive they’ll be to sharing their time with you.
While a good case study is like a story, you don’t want to hold out on your reader until the end. You want them to know the results right off the bat, then they can read further to find out how those results were achieved. In the example below, the overall picture is made clear with the title (The Loot Box Uses Ad Factory and Content Marketing to Drive Sales) and the three stats below it.
Apart from kitchen remodeling and website makeovers, it can be hard to make a case study compelling. But there is always room for creativity.
The more compelling your angle, the better the story. The better the story, the more engaging your case study will be. In Mailchimp’s case study example below, the customer name (Good Dye Young), compelling headline, and expressive image all work together to give this case study life.
Your angle is the “hook” that will catch your audience’s attention, but it’s essential that ALL prospects can relate to and identify with the problems encountered by your case study’s “protagonist.” This means catering to your core demographics and target markets, and solving the problems most commonly experienced by your customers.
The same Mailchimp case study example above finishes off with an “advice for other small businesses” section:
We already know that case studies aren’t the most exciting reads, so don’t make it worse by throwing a bunch of text and numbers onto a page. A good case study is skimmable, visual, and organized.
Your company should always be positioned as a helping hand that helped the real hero of the story—your client—overcome their obstacle. There are two reasons this approach is so effective. Firstly, you want your audience to visualize themselves as the protagonist of the case study. This is much more difficult if you won’t stop talking about how great your company or product is. Secondly, adopting a more humble tone can help increase your credibility in the mind of the reader.
As a storyteller, it’s your job to craft a compelling narrative about how your featured client triumphed over the forces of evil using your product or service, but that doesn’t mean your protagonist doesn’t have their own voice.
Let them tell the story in their own words and then incorporate direct quotes into your narrative. This will break up your text, increase credibility, and make your protagonist a tangible character that readers can relate to. Take an interview style format and use paraphrasing and annotations so the text isn’t repetitive. Set up the segue and create room for your client’s quote, and let them do the rest.
Yes, we want to create a useful, helpful resource for prospective customers, but let’s be real—nobody’s winning a Pulitzer for a case study, and it won’t be going viral on social media, no matter how well-written it is.
Case studies are little more than tools to be used by either self-motivated prospects researching your company, or by sales professionals as tools to help convince prospects to convert. Nothing more. They’re designed for audiences that are already strongly considering becoming your customers, which is a smaller but more qualified group of people than your general audience.
So don’t be disheartened if your case study content doesn’t attract as much traffic or engagement as your best or even average content. They’re not meant to. But that doesn’t mean you should stop creating them or start obsessing over how to improve them.
Here are some business case study examples that put the tips in this guide into play.
Call us biased, but LOCALiQ’s case study format is pretty rad. What we like about it:
You saw a sneak peek of this above! What we like about it:
After the “Good Dye Young” example earlier, how could we not include another Mailchimp case study? What we like about it:
Wrike takes the case study snapshot to the next level in this example. What we like about it:
Our final marketing case study example comes from Slintel, a go-to-market intelligence software. What we like about it:
To make things easy for you, I’ve compiled the tips and examples into a marketing case study template, in document form, that you can use to write your own.
No two businesses are alike, and case studies vary widely in terms of style, tone, and format. One thing that all marketing case studies share, however, is their purpose – to convince prospects that doing business with you is a good idea. With these case study steps, tips, examples, and templates, you’ll be well on your way to producing stories your prospects will actually want to read.
Kristen is the Senior Managing Editor at WordStream, where she helps businesses to make sense of their online marketing and advertising. She specializes in SEO and copywriting and finds life to be exponentially more delightful on a bicycle.
See other posts by Kristen McCormick
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