Need a way to convince customers or clients that your business is exactly what they need? You can give them a sales pitch, tell them all about your services, and talk until you turn blue.
But it’s much easier to show them what you can do. And there’s no more convenient way to do it than with a well-written case study.
Case studies are powerful assets because they let you show what’s possible. They give prospective customers a window into what it might be like to be your customer. It’s sort of like when a plastic surgeon creates a simulation to show you how great your face would look AFTER a new nose.
Up until they see the results, everything is abstract and hypothetical. Crafting a powerful case study is more of a demonstration of what people can expect.
I’ve made it my business to figure out the art and science of crafting powerful case studies. If you’re convinced that a case study is a great idea but have absolutely no idea how to create one, this post is for you.
A case study is a specific, self-contained story that demonstrates a business achievement. Businesses can tell you all about their acumen, prowess, and all-around awesomeness with all sorts of writing. Blogs, brochures, web copy, advertisements, sales letters.
But only case studies show it.
When I took algebra in eight grade, I was expected to solve for X. But my answers were considered incomplete unless I “showed my work.”
Step-by-step, I had to demonstrate the method I used to arrive at X. My teacher wanted to know that I truly understood how to solve the problem.
The business world is often the same way. Prospective customers want to understand how you solve for X.
Case studies help “show your work.”
What differentiates case studies from other types of content? They’re usually there to accomplish two things: show specifics and tell a story.
Showing specifics: A case study that’s vague isn’t compelling. “My business helped another business do better” isn’t exactly something to write home about. But “How XYZ Company Increased Sales By 15.7% in Three Months” is compelling. It’s a demonstrable success, and it’s concrete.
Telling a story: Does your case study have a narrative? This is the “hook” that makes case studies more compelling than publishing your raw data. “How Conversion Copywriter Bobbie Maloy Helped Beard Czar Earn $31.2M in Sales” contains specific research, but it’s the “How” that compels us to read more.
Incorporate those elements and you’re on the fast track to a success story for your business. Consider it your “proof” that you don’t just make promises. You deliver results.
Businesses love to read case studies. But why are they so compelling?
For prospective clients, case studies function like testimonials. Case studies build trust because they show positive results that involve a third party, demonstrating proof of concept.
A Content Marketing Institute study found that B2B marketers believe customer testimonials and case studies are the most effective types of content they have at their disposal.
Case studies are especially effective when a new client is deciding to work with you or try your product. They demonstrate proof that your business delivers results that can help someone close more deals, book larger projects, and even charge higher rates.
Case studies aren’t just there to serve as testimonials, either. They help potential clients identify the impact that an investment in your service can have on their own bottom line.
Does it work? The statistics show that case studies have a major impact on your ability to make sales when a potential client is evaluating you. Consider:
Every case study should tell a story and show specific business results. But there’s a third element that makes for a truly engaging case study: highlighting real people.
Whether you’re sitting down with a good book or reading a compelling case study, storytelling doesn’t work without that essential element of who.
Who is this happening to?
What do they think about it?
How did their business change as a result?
A good case study will pull quotes from real people who benefited from your business. It should talk about their challenges so we can put ourselves in their shoes.
Highlighting real people in your case studies makes your business feel more tangible. It also demonstrates social proof: if this service worked for someone else, it can work for me.
Incorporate specific business results, highlight real people, and tell their story. When you have all three elements, you’ll have the ingredients for an electrifying case study:
Since case studies are so great, why doesn’t everyone use them? They’re a teensy bit tricky.
Like any piece of content, you can slap some words up on a screen, no problem. But if you want to write a strong case study? A case study that persuades, engages, and tells a story? Then you’ll need a plan of action. Here’s my basic approach:
If you’re staring at that blank page too long, it’s probably because you don’t have a plan. Define your goals from the start and you’ll know how to proceed.
All great stories are fundamentally about people. Once you know your approach, your second step should be to find the right people to talk to.
Think of yourself as something like a journalist. The story is out there, but only if you dig it up. Only if you ask the right people the right questions.
Start by sending out emails and poking around. This is when it’s helpful to have a go-to case study email template so you can reach out to potential interviewees as efficiently as possible. You don’t even have to write these yourself. I share mine as part of my Case Study Email Template product.
With responses from the right people and a solid grip on what’s engaging about your story, you’re ready to choose an angle.
Ask yourself: what is the point you need to get across? This is the “theme” that guides the rest of your process.
If you’re stuck, try writing a one-paragraph summary of the most engaging transformation you’ve uncovered so far. This should give you an idea of which story needs to be told.
When you know what point you need to get across, that will inform everything else: the structure of your case study, the questions you need to ask in your interview, and more.
At this point, you know your angle. But you don’t have the metrics and the tangible anecdotes that tell the tale.
Here’s the trick: asking the right questions is less of a science and more of an art form. Even if you think you’ve asked a question directly, you may not always get the answers you want. If you need help crafting questions, download my go-case study questions.
When conducting the interview, make sure to record the call. This makes it way easier when it comes time to get writing. You can get a transcription of the recording and have notes right in front of you. Wondering how to do this? Read How to interview a customer for a case study for more info.
When you have answers to those pressing questions, you have the raw materials for a case study.
Think of this stage as sitting at a table with a fresh puzzle. You dumped all the pieces out. Now it’s a matter of seeing how they all fit together.
There are lots of creative ways to integrate case studies into your marketing efforts.
Here are a few other ways to integrate case studies:
Add them to your lead nurturing emails. Anyone who’s interested in seeing the kinds of results you’ve generated will gladly read these examples of your success.
Send a case study via email after a consult call has been scheduled. For example, a coach recently asked me how she could use her case studies once she wrote them. She wondered where they fit into her process. We decided that sending prospects a case study after they’ve scheduled a consult call is the perfect time. It’s the moment where they’re excited about the possibilities of working with her. To fuel that fire, a case study for them to read while they wait for their consult call is great to serve up.
Cite the results and use your stats in blog content. My client Qualified.com regularly cites the metrics from their case studies in their blog content. Anyone who’s interested in learning more can view the case studies and get a deeper sense of the services they provide.
Use quotes from case studies as testimonials on your website. Call it multitasking. Every effective quote you grab for a case study can double as a testimonial for your website, giving you twice the impact.
Add a short-form case study into your proposals. Summarize with bullet points and the effect in a proposal can be powerful. It adds elements of tangible benefits and social proof, enhancing your chances of winning the contract.
Use case studies to upsell existing customers on certain products and upgrades. A case study can do more than introduce you to new clients. It can demonstrate that your business is a great place to invest in because of the tangible results you’ve offered in the past.
There are a few routes you can go here. You can tap into existing customer data to identify the most powerful cases you haven’t yet written. You can check in with your sales team and find out about the positive interactions they’ve had with customers. For smaller businesses, you can even reach out to existing or previous customers and ask about their experience.
I’ve outlined more ways to identify the best case study subjects in my DIY Case Study Kit.
Metrics don’t hurt; they make intangible points tangible. But they’re not absolutely necessary. I’ve previously explained how to write a case study without metrics. When you don’t have metrics, you can still concentrate on persuasive elements like key benefits, social proof, and the transformation achieved in your story.
Some businesses gate their case studies. They reason that if someone is interested enough to download a case study, they’re close to making a decision. Ostensibly, the case study is the final piece of the puzzle.
But putting your case study behind a gate means that there may be many of potential prospects that never see the business transformation you can provide.
Consider your potential client. As they compare different services, they might download a competitor’s case study–especially if it’s freely available.
You’ve put a lot of resources to have your case study. Why bury it behind a gate when your goal is to get it in the hands of your potential clients? Especially when you’re competing with other services that don’t put up a gate?
It’s better to make your case studies accessible. You want them read, shared, downloaded, and emailed as much as possible.
Either. The key is to think about how people will use your case study. How does it fit into your sales cycle?
A lot of people like to publish case studies as PDFs so they’re easy to attach in emails. Others want to have them as live pages.
I say, why not both?
The rule of thumb is anywhere between 800 and 1,200 words. But length isn’t as important as you think.
What’s important is that you have a meaningful message, and that the message gets across.
If you find yourself getting over 1,200+ words, make sure that your content is highly scannable and that summaries tell the whole tale.
You didn’t think I’d end a post on case studies without a few demonstrations, did you? Let’s look at some engaging case studies and examine what makes them so effective.
Why it’s effective: Clarity with the challenge. In my DIY Case Study kit, I recommend a few key “challenge” questions designed to identify problems like the ones you read above.
Notice how we start with a story: “Tory came to us with an idea.” But, she was lost! Conflict! Tension! These are the compelling beats that keep the reader engaged and demonstrate the value of the service.
Why it’s effective: The entire case study is full of all sorts of valuable gems and wonderful storytelling. But notice how pull-quotes like these create tangible social proof.
It’s like reading one of the world’s best-written testimonials. Except it’s even more engaging because it’s attached to specific names, specific outcomes, and genuine results.
Why it’s effective: The personal touch. Remember how I wrote that a great case study highlights real people? This case study dives into the feelings of overwhelm as experienced by Miranda Grieco. It’s ridiculously compelling because of it.
Just observe how the case study begins. “Three months after having her first child, Miranda Grieco felt like she was drowning.”Who couldn’t empathize with Miranda? Right off the bat, the personal element gets us hooked.
Why it’s effective: The way it discusses impact. When I ask questions for the “solution” section of my case studies, I always want to know about impact. Are there improved sales numbers? How have any improvements impacted the lives of the people involved?
You won’t get insights like these unless you know what questions to ask. Focusing not only on the solution, but the impact of that solution, creates a more engaging case study. Remember, it’s not just about solutions. It’s also about the results that follow.
Why it’s effective: There are tangible benefits here, and it’s always great to include specifics. But this case study also includes a unique take on the impact of the solution: opportunity cost.
What wouldn’t have happened if the solutions were never implemented? This case study includes a brief section that starts with “If not for HubSpot and Messenger,” detailing the customer inquiries that never would have been able to occur.
Why it’s effective: It’s all about how you see the case study. Your approach is as important as any other element in the study itself.
Sapio chose an interesting angle: how they matched users on their online dating service by intelligence. As part of a carefully-coordinated PR campaign around Valentine’s Day, the uniqueness worked. The case study was picked up by major news outlets, generating the aforementioned 3,000% spike in app installs.
Why it’s effective: Defining the challenge. Notice that the metrics here aren’t about the results off the bat. They list the “Top Omnichannel Obstacles,” and that instantly puts anyone concerned about these obstacles in the position of wondering how to get out. It’s Storytelling 101.
If you can’t identify the real people that took a part in your story, consider making the audience the main character.
Why it’s effective: It’s economical. Don’t stuff more words into a case study than are necessary to tell an engaging story. Doing so will only make readers’ eyes glaze over, especially if the content isn’t scannable. Weebly’s case study is a lesson in getting a story across in just a few paragraphs– and it works.
Why it’s effective: Another example of minimalism. The entire case study fits on one page.
You may also notice that the “benefits” section is longer than the solution. That’s because they focused on both tangible benefits (saving 20%) and intangible benefits (more time to innovate), which means they had a case study writer who was asking the right questions. Even though it’s just one page, the entire approach was thorough.
Why it’s effective: I know. The title’s a mouthful, and doesn’t point to tangible benefits. But read more closely and you’ll see just how much work was put into interviewing the people that make the story compelling.
The section on “results” in particular weaves real metrics with quotes from experts at Intel. Ping-ponging between measurable achievements (500k visits) and the intangible feelings of the Intel team via pull-quotes makes for a far more engaging case study. It’s less dry. It gives the reader an opportunity to put themselves in Intel’s shoes.
It’s a lot to digest, I know. People often don’t realize how much work goes into crafting a single page of engaging case study content. It doesn’t hurt to have someone hold your hand along the way. If you want these principles incorporated in your next case study, contact me or get my DIY Case Study Kit.