A content preferences survey in 2017 found that 78% of buyers prefer to use case studies over all other types of content when researching purchases. It’s easy to understand why they are such a valuable content format, but as many marketing managers could attest, the process of planning and writing case studies can be challenging.
If you haven’t had to plan and write case studies before, or you’ve found the process challenging, I hope our seven tips below will make the task easier.
What is a case study?
A marketing case study is piece of content that showcases a successful project. It typically sets out the commencing situation, the solution recommended by the company creating the case study, how the solution was implemented, implementation actions, along with challenges encountered and how success was achieved.
Why do case studies work so well?
A case study provides an overview of a positive business transaction with a client. Unlike a testimonial, it’s not just a review or report from a customer who supports your business. It’s a success story. A detailed account of how you were able to successfully solve a problem your client faced.
If you are targeting particular industries, writing case studies that resolve challenges unique or highly relevant to those industries, can help you gain the confidence of prospective clients. They’re often a key part of the content strategy for B2B products or services.
Case studies can attract new customers, build trust in your business, and make the work of your sales team a bit easier. They also provide evidence that you care about the problems your clients face and find solutions.
A good case study breaks down the process for potential clients, familiarising them with the steps they may go through when working with your business.
Case studies and the buyer journey
No matter what stage of the buyer journey potential clients are in, they can be drawn to the useful detail found in great case studies:
- Awareness Stage: How the client came upon your business and what sort of problems needed to be solved can resonate with readers facing similar situations.
- Consideration Stage: Details on your approach and any specific strategies you created for a client can appeal to potential customers with similar needs.
- Decision Stage: Reading how you overcome any challenges that occurred, or went above and beyond in providing your services, can increase buyer confidence and provide further evidence that your company would be a good choice.
Planning is key to writing effective case studies
The most compelling case studies identify real clients and successful projects. Creating quality case studies can be a significant exercise, but the following seven key steps will give you some structure around the process. We also have a free case study template you can download and use as you wish.
1. Choose the right clients
Choose clients you have a good relationship with. You want the case studies to show off your strengths so pick clients who are enthusiastic about your services. Select projects that will help readers appreciate your business and highlight your track record of providing successful solutions.
The type of work or size of clients you most want to attract should also be top of mind during this process. Choose case study subjects that will have the greatest relevance to that group of prospective clients.
If you work for a large company and don’t deal directly with the clients, you may need to ask the account or project managers to suggest suitable clients.
2. Create a case study questionnaire
Create a questionnaire to send to clients who are willing to participate. Keep the questions simple and easy to understand to ensure more people respond. Ask questions related to reasons they were in the market, challenges they were facing, and the results of working with your business.
Encourage subjects to provide tangible results if any are available. If your good work has increased the client’s revenue or profitability, you’ll want your case study readers to know. Do keep in mind that clients typically won’t want to reveal precise details like revenue figures or visitor numbers, but many will be happy to express any relevant figures as a percentage.
Allow space in the questionnaire for clients to express themselves – this can provide you with quotes to include in the case study.
3. Telephone interviews
A common approach to writing case studies, is to have writers conduct telephone interviews with the client representatives. This can be done in place of sending a questionnaire, or in addition to the questionnaire where more information or detail is needed.
An approach we like is to offer a choice – ask clients whether they would prefer to receive the questionnaire by email or have a telephone interview with the writer. That’s because the key to gathering information is to make conveying the information as easy as possible. Some clients will be reluctant to commit to a phone interview and prefer to complete a questionnaire in their own time; others balk at filling out documents, and the idea of a phone interview is more appealing. If you’re only offering one option and they’re reluctant, you’ll be less likely to get a quality response, or in some cases, any response at all.
4. Seek permission
Before sending out a questionnaire or writing up a case study, it is important to gain your client’s permission. Even if confidentiality wasn’t specified in a formal contract, there’s an expectation that businesses we engage with will keep the details of our dealings with them confidential.
Create a standard request for permission that you can use each time. Our suggested approach for this is to make a phone call first, and follow Getting permission by email is best, so you have the approval in writing.
When you’re dealing with large corporations, don’t be surprised if permission is conditional upon you submitting the completed case study to their PR or marketing manager so it can go through their internal approval process before you publish.
Accept that some clients will decline. If your company was called in to fix a problem, the client might prefer not to advertise that the problem occurred – a case study might make your business look competent, but the client company less so because the problem occurred at all, or because they were unable to fix it without outside help.
It is possible to write a case study without mentioning a client’s name, but we don’t recommend doing it. Not only might it damage the relationship with your client, but a case study without a client name is like an anonymous testimonial: largely worthless when it comes to establishing trust.
An exception to this might be if the projects you work on are so sensitive in nature, that clients would never want to be identified. If you feel case studies would still be valuable, consider seeking the client permissions, on agreement that you will not name them or include details that would identify them.
5. Develop a case study template
If you won’t be writing the case study yourself, create a template to guide your writer or content marketing agency. This helps to ensure their work will meet your expectations and cover the aspects you want covered. A case study template also establishes a consistent approach for your future case studies, regardless of who does the work.
If you have (good) case study examples at hand, give these to your writer as a guide.
Don’t forget, you can download and use our free case study template.
6. Give your case studies visual appeal
Once the writing is completed, add relevant photos. This is especially important when the work your company did included visual changes or improvements. You could reach out to your client for before and after pictures, but it’s a good idea to establish a practice of taking your own progress shots during significant projects.
Where projects are digital rather than physical, you may be able to use charts, graphs and screenshots to add visual appeal and back up information in your copy.
7. Polish and proofread
Typos, punctuation errors or inconsistent spacing can create a perception of carelessness – not a quality that is attractive to potential clients. You want your published case studies to shine in every way, so polish and proofread carefully before publication.
Done well, case studies can be among the most effective pieces of content you create. They tell fabulous stories – stories that appeal because they’re situation-relevant, ‘real life’, and have the appealing element of people overcoming obstacles to succeed.
The key to success is in the planning. Develop a streamlined process for identifying appropriate projects, getting permission, collecting information and images, and writing the case studies, and you’ll soon be able to turn our fresh ones regularly with minimum effort.
Have you helped your clients to overcome challenges, upgrade systems, create special spaces or boost their revenue? If you have, creating one or two case studies for each type of client you hope to attract could be well worth your while.
And if your internal marketing resources are a little stretched, contact a content marketing agency for help – you can call us 1300 880 543 to discuss your requirements.