Case studies are powerful tools businesses can use to attract potential customers and convert them into clients.
The way they work is pretty simple. All they are is a demonstration of what your services have done to aid a client in the past.
The idea is to demonstrate, with tangible numbers, charts, and data, how your service directly benefits your clients. All of this is presented with the goal of proving in no uncertain terms how beneficial your company can be and using that information to attract new customers.
What's the most important part of your case study?
Think of these people first. Your case study is an exercise in self-promotion, but it shouldn't be self-centered. The goal is to identify what your customers are concerned with, and how you can present a case study that shows you can help them.
For example, if you're that aforementioned customer service firm, you have two major channels of improvement for any of your clients. Customer support is one; helping their existing customers with support and service requests, questions, and concerns they may have. The other is sales. If a potential customer uses the live chat system on the client's website and they have questions that they want to be answered before they make a purchase, your responses directly impact whether or not the client makes a sale.
If your potential clients already have excellent customer service but have a sub-par sales team, promoting a case study about your customer service, customer retention, and other elements of your product won't convince them to sign up.
This is also why many companies produce multiple case studies about different aspects of how their services are used. If you have a case study for every occasion, you can provide the right one to any given potential client.
If your potential clients are the most important part of a case study, what is the second most important part? Veracity.
But wait; isn't any case study going to be cherry-picked to be the best-performing client's data? Well, sure. But the goal is to represent your services in an authentic light. Everyone knows you've picked the best data to showcase, but it's still real data. Any potential client could sign up and, if the circumstances are right, have the same results.
This is a question you'll have to answer yourself, and a lot of it depends on what kind of relationship you have with your clients.
If you're a service provider that tends to work in the background in a way that might jeopardize the authenticity of your clients if they were found to be using your service, you might want to anonymize your case study. Rather than saying you worked with Coca-Cola Company, you say you worked with "A Major Beverage Manufacturer."
What kinds of services would fall into this category? Usually, things where the service is presented white label, or as part of the client's own productions. Freelance writing is one example; if you're providing ghostwriting, your client wants their own name on the content, and they're likely using it for their own brand and reputation. If it comes out that they didn't actually write anything they claim to have written, it could be bad for their reputation.
Of course, this depends on the situation. Many famous people use ghostwriters, and their reputation is never damaged because they still know their stuff; they just work with a writer to have the "busywork" of writing done for them. They still develop an outline, provide their information and facts, and have all of their thought leadership in the content.
It's only if you have no real idea what you're talking about, but you hire a freelancer to make it look like you do, that it can come back to bite you. As a service provider creating a case study, this generally won't be an issue.
If you're not doing an anonymous case study, then you're going to be sharing data that is tangible and privileged about your clients. That's just the nature of the beast; other potential clients need to know specific numbers so they can make their own determinations. If your client doesn't want that data shared, then you can't use them as a case study.
Generally, you want to have some kind of case study participation and permission form for your clients to fill out. Ask them, "hey, are you willing to be in our case study?" If they say yes, give them something like this to fill out, and that becomes something like a contract giving you permission to share the information necessary to present the case study in full detail.
Does this really matter? Sometimes. Providing the actual name of the actual client allows anyone who wants to do their due diligence to ask that client if the data is true. Realistically, almost no one actually does this, but by presenting the option, you lend more veracity to your case study.
Before you can actually begin writing your case study, you should also determine the depth and format of the study. Generally, you have something like three options here.
Option one: The short call to action study. These are simple case studies, no more than a page long in general, with a few charts and tables to illustrate data. They're relatively simple, they do away with all of the flowery details, and they simply present data quickly and effectively. These are used as source data for claims you make in your product and service pages, your landing pages, and other parts of your sales process. They're meant to basically just be sources a potential client can look at to see how effective your services are.
Option two: the sales study. This is a longer case study, probably around 1,500-2,000 words long, when you include all of your data. It has more surrounding information beyond the core three components of a case study because it's something you use in your marketing. You publish this as a blog post or submit it as a guest post to other blogs that would be interested in having data to see not just how your services stack up but why the service type is important in the first place.
Option three: The presentation study. These are longer studies you generally provide as part of a deeper, more one-on-one kind of sales process. They're usually PDFs and are stand-alone, presenting a more narrativized look at your customer's challenges and their journey before, during, and after using your services.
You can see templates of these different kinds of case studies here.
Remember, too, that you can produce all three out of one core case study, and you can use the same data in other ways. For example, you can prune down the text as much as possible, use more charts and graphs, and make an infographic out of your case study.
Now that you know the angle of your case study and you have clients who have given permission for their data to be shared, you need to put together the actual case study.
Here's a sample outline for a case study:
That's basically it! Case studies are surprisingly simple when you get right down to it.
There's one more kind of case study I haven't mentioned yet, and it's the introspective case study. Instead of showing off the data of a client and how your services improved them, you're the client. What challenges have you faced, how did you overcome them, and what were the results?
The format is exactly the same; you're just turning things around. This is usually more of a marketing and guest posting style of case study; you produce it and share it with industry publications, who publish it as an example of how others in your industry can replicate your success.
Producing a case study feels easy when you distill it down to just a few bullet points, but it's more complex than you might think. So, here are some tips to make it easier.
First, use tangible data as much as possible. The more data you have, the more complete the picture you provide, and the more likely that data will convince someone that you can help them.
Second, take a look at other case studies and see how they're formatted, how they're written, and how they work. Here's an example of the outreach-style case study, and here's a big list of examples from HubSpot. There are plenty of similar resources out there, so it shouldn't take you long to find something relevant to your situation.
Third, don't be afraid to start with a template. Case studies don't need to be hugely unique in format and presentation because it's the data that's important. A template can get you started pretty quickly.
Fourth, put some attention into the graphic design of your case study, if you can. Screenshots and charts can be good, but the surrounding graphic design can turn it into something truly special.
Finally, don't be afraid to hire a talented writer to turn your data into a great case study. A great marketing writer can work with you to produce a compelling case study out of nothing but raw data and a goal.
In fact, if you're looking for talented writers, I know just the place. Check out my job board. Whether you want someone for a one-off case study, a series of similar projects, or an ongoing job, you can find them here. All you need to do is click to post a job, fill out a couple of forms, and you're good to go. Have any questions? If so, let me know! I'd love to help you out however I can.
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