10 Tips To Write A Great Case Study

Case studies can help companies win business. We’re in a demand-generation, deal-closing economy and good customer evidence is the laser-guided bomb of marketing. Here are 10 tips that will help you write and use great case studies.

1. Go for the story, not the name

Most marketing people lust after the hero case study with big brand recognition. The reality is that these guys rarely want to give case studies and, if they do, they rewrite everything and take a long time to approve it. Better to find the willing customer with a good story. When it comes to PR, the most successful case studies I’ve written have been about unknown, niche companies with a great spokesperson and a neat angle.

2. Find a champion and build rapport

Case studies can’t be written by committee. You need to find a champion for your case study inside the target company. Ideally, s/he has the authority to approve it too. I prefer to make first contact with this person, interview them, get their feedback and their signoff so that every contact builds a friendly, one-to-one relationship between me, the writer, and them, representing the company. Too many cooks etc.

3. Real interviews with real people

The foundation of a good case study is a good interview. I like to interview my client’s account manager and the most senior guy at the target company who is willing to become a case study champion. Sometimes, because I work in tech, I need a techie interview as well to get the facts right.

4. Use case studies to support sales

If a case study has a good story – “our client cut costs by 25%” – use it to show potential customers how they can do the same. Arrange case studies on your website by benefit or topic rather than company name so that sales people can find the right story when they need it.

5. Keep them short

Nobody has time to read a four-page, 1,000 word case study. I recommend 500 word case studies and, ideally, you want a 50-100 microcontent version to go on the website and to use as a verbal summary in a sales pitch. A PowerPoint ‘wincard’ version is also helpful for sales. Each version needs to be written for its medium – web copy is not the same as printed copy or PowerPoint text.

6. Make them interesting

A case study is an article. It has to earn the reader’s interest and attention. Write good headlines and strong ledes. Use good, powerful quotations (not frankenquotes). Avoid hype, clichés, jargon and corporate BS. Think very hard about what a potential customer wants to know about a case study. Use the conventions of a newspaper article, not a corporate press release.

7. Be specific

Holly Buchanan makes this point very clearly on her blog. Details matter. Not only do they make the case study more credible, they answer the reader’s questions.

8. Set them free

Most of my big clients have central case study databases. They have strict formats and guidelines for case studies and big agencies to enforce them. This is fine and I can work with that but it often seems that these controls limit the impact and spread of case studies. Good case studies should ripple quickly through company websites, social networking, intranets and into the hands of sales peoples and customers by as many routes as possible. If no knows about the case study or it tries to be all things to all people, it will likely fail.

9. Use short legal agreements

One or two pages at most and they should include a clear mechanism that allows the target company to stop being a case study on request (they never do) and to reassure them that they will get to approve the case study text before it is used. A case study release should reassure a candidate not frighten them off.

10. Speed is everything

Case studies have a short half life. Technology moves on. Companies change. Ideally, a good case study should take a week from first contact to approval. If it takes longer, it increases the risk that the case study champion will lose interest. It should be a crescendo not an endless low humming.

Matthew Stibbe is writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing. He is also an avid blogger, closet geek and HP fanatic.