case study

I’ve read a lot of case studies. (It’s an occupational hazard; I’ll be okay.)

Most of them are instantly forgettable. Some are so bad they make my eyes glaze over before I’ve gotten past the first sentence. But, every now and then, I come across one that just works — and when that happens, it’s extremely effective. 

This is why case studies are so ubiquitous. When they’re done well and they get in front of the right people (usually, these live on websites, with PDF-able versions for printing and hand-outs), they have the potential to be the reassuring nudge your prospects need to move forward with your service or product.

Of course, making an effective case study is easier said than done. Your prospects are busy, and they’re not going to pay any attention to a case study that doesn’t grab them immediately. So, let’s talk about how to create a web-based case study they’ll actually want to read.

Your Prospects Need to See Themselves in Your Subject

When I think back to the handful of case studies that have worked on me, they connected because I self-identified with the subject. I related to the challenges faced and I wanted to achieve the goals they achieved.

Maybe it should go without saying that you should aim to create case studies that will resonate with your target market, but from what I’ve seen, the more common approach to case studies looks more like this: 

  • Step 1: Determine that the business is due for a new case study or two
  • Step 2: Review customer roster and reach out to candidates most likely to participate
  • Step 3: Write case study based on whoever responds yes and whatever they’re willing to talk about

It’s the spray-and-pray version of case study development. And I get it — maybe there aren’t a lot of great candidates to choose from, and beggars can’t be choosers. But if you’re not being strategic about what you’re writing about then you can save yourself the effort — it probably won’t be time well spent.

If you’re interested in creating a case study with purpose, here are some guidelines to keep things on track.

Choose your case study participants wisely. The subject of your case study should be determined by your marketing strategy. Specifically: 

  • Which segments of customers are you looking to attract?
  • Is there a customer in particular you wish you could clone because they’re such a good fit?
  • Are there any that represent a vertical you’re trying to tap into?
  • Do any showcase the benefits of an offering you’re trying to promote?
  • Have any switched from a competitor to your business?

Define your priorities for targeting and work backwards from there to see who in this group experienced exceptional results from working with you and can articulate what it is about your service or product that helped them. If they happen to be a recognizable name in their industry, even better. 

Note: it’s one thing to pick a great case study participant; it’s another to get their buy-in. To improve your chances of getting them on board:

  • Be clear in communicating why you’re doing the case study, what you need from them and when you need it by
  • Ensure them that you’ll make them look good in the case study and that they’ll have final approval
  • Consider offering them a credit on services or another incentive to participate

Pick questions based on your prospects’ needs and challenges. Hopefully, you have buyer personas — those semi-fictional representations of your target customers (and if not, start there). Use your personas’ goals and challenges to shape your case study questionnaire so that you’re sure to hit on what’s important to them.

Here are some standard questions as a starting point:

  • What are your business’s goals?
  • What challenges were you facing before you began using our service/product?
  • What made you choose our service/product over our competitors?
  • What was your decision-making process like? Where did you start looking for information? What concerns or hesitations did you have along the way?
  • How has using our service/product benefited your business/helped you achieve your goals? How did we address your concerns or hesitation? What tangible improvements or data can you point to that has resulted from working with us? 

Tell a compelling story. With the right questions in place, you should be positioned to come away with some good content when you complete the interview. Now, the key is to turn that into a story that your prospects will find engaging.

Here’s a general structure to follow when putting a draft together:

  1. Create a short, catchy title that highlights the subject and major accomplishment
  2. Write a couple sentences to serve as the summary for your case study, including a few bullet points spotlighting wins
  3. Write a brief introduction to the person or company on which the case study is based (I usually pull this from their website)
  4. Write a paragraph on the challenges your customer was facing before working with you along with any goals they had
  5. In a couple paragraphs, describe how your company helped them overcome these challenges and achieve these goals. This is a great place to lean on your core differentiators
  6. In the next paragraph or two, showcase the results of your service/product. Include quotes from your customer and any relevant data points that quantify the results

As with any piece of content, use design to make it digestible — nobody is going to read a wall of text. Find some good supporting images to help tell your story, don’t be afraid of white space, and make use of pull out quotes, headers, bold text and bullet lists. (For a good list of tips to creating scannable content, I recommend giving this Copyblogger post a read.) 

Need some examples to get you started? Head over to our case studies page to see some that we’ve created for ourselves.