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5 tips for writing powerful customer case studies

Case studies can be a really effective way to engage your audience and help move them through the buying cycle. But here’s the thing – despite the increasing quality of content, and reader expectations, many case studies still miss the mark and are a boring read because they focus foremost on pushing product features and overt sales messages. A great case study engages prospects with a powerful and relatable story that also answers their concerns and questions. So what’s the key to writing a really good case study? It’s all about solid preparation and compelling storytelling.

Tip #1. Be clear on the role of your case study

Almost any type of business can benefit from great case study content. If you’re a start-up with a new product or you are selling big-ticket solutions with complex buying cycles then case studies will be an essential part of your marketing arsenal. That’s because a great case study brings to life a real example of your product or service in action, providing authentic peer endorsement, all wrapped up in an interesting and compelling story told from the customer’s perspective. They are not foremost about making a sales pitch – other elements of your marketing will do that. In essence, you are providing prospects with the information and answers they need to solve their problems in an engaging and relatable format. Armed with a clear understanding of what you are creating, you’re all set to start planning it out.

Tip #2. Take time to plan what you want

Ok, so sometimes a really great case study falls into your lap and you just know it will make an arresting story. But more often than not, you have to go looking. Before you start shaking down the sales, product and service teams, it helps to be clear on what you are looking for. Think of this as your brief.
  • Why are you doing a case study, what’s the business and marketing objective?
  • Who is your ideal customer? Or, ideal customer for this case study?
  • What is the key customer insight that you want to nail?
  • What customer problems are you specifically trying to address?
  • Which angle is particularly relevant and topical right now?
  • Which aspect of your service/product do you want to feature?
  • Where will the case study be used and in which formats (post, slides, video etc)?
Armed with some clear thinking you’ll be better placed to engage the sales and service teams and hunt down some really good stories.

Tip #3. Do your research and prepare your questions

OK, so you’ve identified some customer stories that have potential, but if you’re going to make these really shine, you’re going to have to work hard to unearth the interesting details and identify the story. Before interviewing your in-house teams and the customer, do plenty of research and write down your key questions. Don’t forget to ask both rational and emotional based questions to draw out the story line.
  • What was your problem?
  • What impact was it having on you and your business? Why did you have to act, why did you have no other choice?
  • Why did you do that? How did that work out for you?
  • Did it work out as you thought?
  • What problems did you encounter?
  • How did you get over them?
  • Did you change course?
  • What did you learn about your business and yourself along the way?
  • What was in it for you personally?
  • How did that make you feel? Where next?
  • What part did we play? What did we do for you?
  • How did we help and what did you really appreciate about how we helped?
  • How did we make you feel?
In each of these’s you’ll want to focus on finding the real specifics of the story, otherwise the end result will feel vague, indistinct and flat.

Tip #4. Hook your reader

The case study should be from the customer’s view point, in the voice of the customer, with the customer as the protagonist, or hero, of the story. Of course you’ll want to tell the story of the problem, solution and payoff, but capture the human narrative too, and put that centre stage to make it a relatable and interesting read. From the beginning, establish the burning fuse that needs action, what depended on it and what hopes and fears there were. Find your core theme that addresses the customer insight and weave this through the story. And give the plot interest by drawing out the obstacles, telling the ups and downs, and the impact these had on your customer. Establish how the solution pays off both rationally and emotionally and how it changed the business/customer and what they learnt about themselves/their business. In all of this, your company’s role needs to take the back seat – think of your brand as the essential but supporting character to the story’s main hero, your customer.

Tip #5. Use data and images to support the story

Images are a powerful way to draw readers in and illustrate the story. The choice of feature image is absolutely essential when posting your case study on social media. And don’t forget to include specific facts and data that will be valuable and interesting to your reader. If the data is complex and distracts from the story, then use a callout or a summary after the main content. Think about using charts and infographics to make the data easily understood and more visually appealing.

Now make sure your case study is found

Now you’ve done all the hard work you’ll want to merchandise it as hard as you can. A few things to consider.
  • Should the PR team should be given first call on get it placed in target media?
  • Can it be used as a download on a PPC campaign?
  • How will you use it on your social channels?
  • Where will you feature it on your website, is it easily found and optimised?
  • How should your sales team use it, and should you supply printed copies?