How to Write a Case Study
In this post I’m going to tell you how to write a case study.
You’ll find out how to choose the right client, how to get them on board, and how to tell their story without putting your reader to sleep.
I’ve also included a handy case study template.
What do you want to prove?
All case studies have one thing in common. They provide cold, hard proof that your products or services are valuable to people.
But here’s the important question:
What do you want to prove to future customers? In other words, what will your case study subject gain or achieve by the end of the story?
It could be expanding into a new market, learning new skills, complying with regulations, saving time, saving money or getting rid of hassle.
Once you’ve decided on the value objective, it’s time to find the perfect customer.
Choosing the right client
You’re looking for a past customer whose story resonates with your ideal future customer.
The better the result, the better the case study. Well yeah, der… That’s obvious.
But think of it in terms of numbers. Which of these is more compelling? This one:
|My website is attracting more traffic.|
Or this one?
|My website traffic has increased from 20 visitors to 200 visitors per day.|
Real numbers are always more powerful than vague `it’s better than it used to be‘ statements.
Here are a few more things to bear in mind:
~ Has a customer experienced unexpected success or an unexpected benefit?
~ Have they switched from a competitor to you?
~ Are they a big-name client? Obviously, they’re prime candidates – although it may be tricky to get your subject’s approval to take part.
Talking of which…
How to persuade customers to take part
Think of it from their point of view. Why would they want to participate in your case study?
Here are 3 persuasive reasons:
Free publicity – The case study expands your customer’s reach beyond their own industry… for free.
Brand awareness – In the B2B world, creating brand awareness is hard work. You’re doing the hard graft for them.
More website traffic – Your case study creates a backlink to their website. This increases their site authority in the eyes of Google. As well as raising their site ranking, that backlink will increase traffic from visitors who click through their website.
Telling the story
Case studies are storytelling, pure and simple. Admittedly, they won’t win the Booker Prize, no matter how well-written…
But that’s not the point.
Your case study demonstrates the value of your services from a customer’s viewpoint. And there’s only one way to get the full, unadulterated story. Speak to your customer directly.
Seriously, it will make the difference between a compelling story and a yawn-inducing snorefest.
What should you ask?
Once you’re in front of your customer – or on the phone, Skype, Zoom or whatever – here’s a list of questions to ask in order to get the full story:
- What prompted you to approach [name of your business]? Which particular issues or problems were you experiencing?
- What was the impact of these issues?
- Why did you choose us?
- What was it like to work with us? How was the onboarding process?
- What did we do that was particularly valuable?
- Which benefits have you experienced as a result of our services? Can you define this in terms of figures?
- Were there any unexpected advantages?
- Would you recommend [name of business] to others? If yes, why?
Now, this next bit is really important:
Make a note of the answers, using your customer’s own words.
If your client is happy for you to do so, record the interview. Or, if you can type like a demon (like me), transcribe it as you go.
Tell the story (and here’s that handy template)
You’ll be dividing your case study into 4 sections: the client, the brief, the process and the result.
Write a short description of your client’s business, with a link back to their website. You’re looking at a maximum of 100 words.
This is where you define the issue that your customer was experiencing, before you came along and solved it. And here’s the crucial thing:
“Drop in direct quotes from your customer. Use their voice. It’s perfectly OK to edit for readability, just as long as you don’t change the meaning of what they said.”
For readability, the quoted sections should be no longer than around 50 words. If they’re over 50 words, make sure that you break it up…
With a new paragraph.
This section is where a case study comes into its own. Why?
It delivers the details of what you do. and how you do it. This is particularly useful if your product or service is complex or technical. The reader can see it in action.
Secondly, it proves your professional integrity, trustworthiness and how lovely you are to work with. When you say this kind of thing about yourself, this is what your reader will think:
Yeah, sure. Jog on.
“In your customer’s voice, it’s believable. This person has direct experience of working with you. They’re providing hard evidence of your professionalism, service levels, human warmth– the sort of stuff that’s impossible to prove using your own words.”
Remember what I was saying about real numbers? This is where to put them.
You’ve increased your client’s profitability by 30%, saved them £100 a month, brought them 300 customers that they would not have reached without your services.
OK, you get my drift.
“Finish with a kick-arse, memorable quote that leaves the reader in no doubt about the value of your services.”
And finally… The writing style
Online readers of case studies are the same as any other online reader. They have the attention span of a gnat.
Your case study writing style should therefore follow the same rules as the rest of your website copy.
- Sentences should be short and punchy, with a maximum of around 20 words. If you use a longer sentence, follow it up with short one. Like this.
- Paragraphs should be no longer than 4 lines.
- Use plain English. Nobody (and I mean nobody) wants to read industry jargon or business bull.
- Make it conversational. Use contractions, questions and natural turns of phrase.
- Read it aloud. You’ll quickly discover whether it’s easy to read. If you stumble over words or run out of breath, it isn’t.
- Edit it. For some tips on how to do this, I’ve written a handy blog 9 Tips for Editing Website Content.
That’s just about it, except to say… If you’d like me to take the case study load off your shoulders, you know what to do. Get in touch here