How To Write A Case Study: The Ultimate Guide
Case studies showcase your best work and help convince your sales prospects to become customers. But how do you go about creating truly compelling case studies for your business?
You can start by reading the rest of this ultimate guide. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Getting Started (what is a case study? How do case studies help you sell? How do you write a simple case study?)
- Case Study Essentials (a detailed look at everything you need to create compelling case studies for your business from structure and content to presentation and promotion)
- Case Study Takeaways (10 bite-sized takeaways from our ultimate case studies guide)
In this section we’ll do the basics: what case studies are for, how case studies help you sell and how to write a simple case study.
What case studies are for
Case studies, like most of the content you create for your website, social media pages or emails, can have more than one purpose. For most brands, case studies are there to help sales. Prospects who are close to making a decision will need convincing that you’re the best fit for their needs.
A case study can achieve two things here: first it helps your prospect feel comfortable that they’ve done their due diligence. They’ve met you, read your proposal and looked at some alternative quotes. Your case studies show them how your product or service works in practice.
Second, case studies provide evidence and examples to support what your sales team has been telling them. Ideally you will have case studies that feature customers in similar circumstances (same industry, same organisation size, same problem). If your prospect feels some affinity with the customers in your case studies, they’ll provide the social proof that is so important in closing a deal. Prospects want to see that other people have had a successful experience with your product or service. This helps them feel more confident about going ahead. Afterall, the best theme park rides have the longest queues.
But you can also use case studies in other ways. For example, we find that case studies are powerful tools for recognising the efforts of your individual staff members or teams. If your business has had a win, a case study is a good way to reward the people who made it possible. Featuring in a case study can help your people feel valued and allow them to show off their expertise, both externally and internally.
Another good use for case studies is lead generation. Prospects who hit your website when they’re already close to making a decision might download a case study to check out what you can do. These are among the best types of leads for your sales team, as there is clear purchase intent. Much more so than with a softer download like a whitepaper or ebook.
How can case studies help you sell?
Case studies are often thought of as bottom-of-funnel content. Once a prospect is through the Awareness and Interest phases and moves to Desire and Action they start to look for that social proof that case studies can provide.
But the truth is that case studies can play a role at every stage of the sales cycle. Early on, when you’re trying to connect with prospects for the first time, you can use case studies on your blog to answer the questions your audience is asking in search or on social media.
In the middle of the funnel, case studies can help inform your audience and build trust. Even if they aren’t ready to commit to a sales meeting or to making a purchase, case studies can offer something of value and demonstrate your track record and expertise.
If you use marketing automation you can use case studies to qualify your leads. Downloading a case study or reading one on your blog are both good indications that a website visitor is a potential sales prospect.
At the bottom of the funnel, your sales team can use case studies to help get their deals over the line. After a screenshare demo or a sales meeting, a case study provides some evidence to back up all the impressive things the sales person has been saying.
How to write a simple case study
In the next section we’ll dig into some of the detail of what makes a compelling and useful case study. But what if you need to keep things simple? Perhaps you’ve got limited time and resource available to make some case studies. Or perhaps you have some bigger, more in-depth case studies in the works, but need to get something up on your site while you wait.
If that’s the case, try these 4 tips for creating a quick and simple case study:
1) Problem: start with the problem your product or service was able to solve. Explain the challenge your customer was facing and try to quantify it (financial cost, missed opportunities).
2) Solution: next explain how your product or service met the needs of your customer and solved their problem.
3) Words: including some direct quotes from your customer in your case study achieves two things: first they add authenticity to your case study. Second, they humanise the customer making it easier for readers to identify with them. Even better if you have good quality photos or video of your customers to add to this section.
4) Numbers: this is essential, even if you’re looking to turnaround a relatively simple case study. The context of the problem and the solution, the human element of the customer quotes – none of that beats hard numbers. You can use icons and screenshots in this section to help break up the text and improve the visual appeal of your case study.
Case Study Essentials
So, we’ve covered the basics, now let’s dig into the detail. In this section we’ll cover everything you need to create case studies that generate leads and drive sales.
What format should you use for your case study?
There are various formats you can use to present your case studies. Choosing the best one for your situation will depend on your goals and the resources you have available. Here are 4 different case study formats and how to get the most out of each one.
1) Case Study Blogs: posting case studies on your blog is a good way to hook in potential customers from organic search. According to Martech, 93 per cent of online experiences start with a search. If your case study blogs are optimised for search, people researching problems that your case studies can solve will find them in Google’s search results. Once on your site, you can push them to other useful actions.
How to get the best out of case study blogs
- If you’re posting case studies on your blog then start with competitive keyword research and content planning. This will give your case studies a much better chance of ranking for useful search terms.
- Make sure you promote relevant calls-to-action around your case study blogs so that you can push readers to useful, trackable actions, such as a gated download or a call back request.
2) Case Study Downloads: putting case studies on your blog is good for SEO. But gated downloads offer another benefit. Someone completing a form to download a case study is showing some purchase intent. If this person has not been on your site before then that form completion is a fresh lead that you otherwise wouldn’t have.
How to get the best out of Case Study Downloads
- Any content you put behind a form must offer superior value to what’s freely available on your site. If you have case studies on your blog, your case study downloads must be much more detailed, with no overlap.
- People expect downloads to look amazing. You can’t just PDF an old blog post. Spend some time and money making your downloads original, creative and visually striking.
- Don’t rely on organic search to promote your case study downloads. It takes time, effort and money to create beautifully-presented, properly-researched and well-written case studies. You should use a mix of email, Google Ads and social media ads to get them in front of the right people.
3) Case Study Webinars: there are two big advantages to turning case studies into webinars. The first is that taking the trouble to sign up to and attend a webinar require a bigger commitment than reading a blog or even downloading a PDF. This is useful for qualifying prospects and pushing them down your sales funnel. The second is that you get a chance to interreact with attendees during a webinar, answering their questions and offering more detail on the topics they’re most interested in.
How to get the best out of case study webinars
- Set aside some budget to promote your webinar with Google Ads or social media ads. Preparing for and delivering a case study webinar will take even more effort than creating a download. You’ll want to make sure enough of the right people attend to make it worthwhile
- Record your case study webinar so you can re-use it around your site and in your email, Google Ads and social media campaigns
- Attendees will use their email addresses to register for your case study webinar. This is an extremely valuable remarketing list for follow-up content and drip campaigns.
4) Case Study Videos: if you record your case study webinars you can post them as videos on your website, social media pages and YouTube channel. But recorded webinars are not the only way to leverage video to share your case studies. Studio videos, slideshows or animations can be much more effective ways to communicate your key takeaways. According to Google, 50 per cent of shoppers say online videos have helped them decide which brand to purchase from. A case study video can help your brand into the mix.
How to get the best out of case study videos
- There are lots of apps that make creating or editing videos super simple. But make sure you don’t compromise on the quality of the finished product. Your audience will expect video content – especially when its from a brand – to be slick and professional.
- Decide where you’ll share and promote your case study videos before you make them. That way you can get the length, style and formatting right from the outset and avoid either compromising on user experience or paying for edits or reshoots.
What structure should you use for your case study?
In this section we’ll have a look at some best practice for structuring your case studies, using some real-life examples.
1) Lead with the numbers
Often case studies will start by setting the scene. Whatever format brands choose, they will usually describe the problem, provide some background on the customer and then talk about how their product or service was able to help.
Hard data is vital in any good case study, but often the numbers wait until the end. They are treated like the big reveal at the end of the story. But sometimes it’s a good idea to hit your audience with some bite-sized takeaways right at the start.
If you’ve opted to present your case studies as videos, giving some numbers away at the beginning can be a good way to keep people watching. Similarly, when your case study is on your blog or on a landing page, you’ve got maybe 3 seconds to convince each visitor that it’s worth sticking around. If it’s been made for social media, you have even less time to stop them scrolling.
Facebook is one of the world’s most successful ever advertising platforms. Last quarter, ad sales made the company USD 16.6 billion and accounted for more than 98 per cent of total revenue.
To help promote its ad products, Facebook has a library of case studies, presented on dedicated, dynamic landing pages. Just below the hero image, these pages feature full-width stat counters in an attempt to grab the user’s attention quickly and keep them moving down the page.
The numbers are often the most tangible takeaway from a case study. They are also an opportunity to introduce some design elements, such as simple graphics and icons. If you don’t want to give everything away at the start, you can share some headline stats and then do a more comprehensive breakdown once you’ve told your story.
2) Push users to relevant products
We’ve said that case studies can be useful at different stages of the sales funnel. However you plan to use them, it’s important to connect them with the product or service they’re talking about. If your case study is ungated, this might be a link to a relevant product landing page or a related download.
Facebook uses simple graphics to highlight the ad products used in each of its case studies. It then pushes users towards dedicated landing pages for those ad products. Facebook knows that learning more about these products – or even going right ahead and creating an ad – is a natural next step for people spending time reading its cases studies.
3) Target different segments and funnel stages
An important part of the trust-building benefit you can get from case studies is to try to connect them with your audience. You can do that by creating case studies for each product or service you sell. Or you can create case studies targeting particular audience segments or funnel stages.
LinkedIn Ads highlights who each of its case studies are aimed at as part of the splash banner at the top of its case study landing pages. This is designed to help users find the most relevant case study for their circumstances. It also helps users see value or relevance in a case study when that might not be immediately obvious.
Take this example. A lot of brands might look at this case study and think they don’t have much in common with American Express and so wouldn’t get value from reading it. But when they see it’s about the acquisition stage and targeting small and medium-sized businesses, that could change.
This criteria is a good way to organise your case studies and identify gaps in what you currently offer your audience. The customer journey or sales funnel stage is particularly useful, because it can help you decide what format to use and how and where to promote each case study.
A useful tool here is a set of user personas (or buyer personas). By creating avatars to represent segments of your target audience you can put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re trying to sell to. This helps get you thinking about what they want from you and what actions you want them to take.
A case study, like any kind of content marketing, should start with a clear understanding of who it is aimed at, what value it offers and what action it is intended to support. User personas are an excellent way to make sure that happens.
4) Tell a story
If you look at examples of case studies, you’ll see lots of attempts to make a human connection between the content and the reader. That could be pictures and bios of the customer or video interviews with the team that delivered the work.
The human connection in a case study matters. If people watching or reading a case study can identify with the people involved or the problems they faced it is more likely to provide that social proof that can be so important for closing a deal.
This example from HubSpot seeks to provide that human connection, firstly by having the customer perform the role of presenter. And second, by telling a story. It takes the viewer on a journey from the initial problem, through each stage of the solution.
A case study like this requires more time and effort from the brand and the customer. It also takes a lot longer to watch as it’s not just about a product or service solving a problem. It’s about how HubSpot’s content automation platform supported the creation and execution of a multi-channel digital marketing strategy.
Who should you interview for your case study?
Whether you’re presenting your case study on your blog or in a webinar interviews can provide extremely valuable content. Typically there are two types of people you’ll want to interview. Firstly, your customer. Secondly, your staff.
If your customer is prepared to do an interview then they can provide direct quotes to feature in your blog or download. Or they might even be willing to do a piece to camera for your video case study. Hearing directly from your customer rather than just you is a fantastic trust-builder. The added benefit of doing that via video is that it has that human element and will feel more authentic.
Interviews with your team allow you to provide a level of detail that might otherwise not be possible. The people who actually deliver your products and services and work with your customers know all the little quirks and nuances. They’ll be able to provide more in-depth descriptions of both the problem and the solution.
Case Study Takeaways
To wrap things up, we’ve pulled out 10 takeaways from our ultimate guide, just in case you didn’t commit the whole thing to memory on your first read:
1) Case studies are often thought of as a bottom-of-funnel tactic, but the truth is that they can be useful at every stage of the sales funnel;
2) An often-overlooked benefit of creating regular case studies is the recognition and prestige they offer your staff who have worked on successful projects;
3) Case studies always need hard numbers. Prospects want to see some evidence that your product or service can do what you claim. Numbers are tangible and easier to remember;
4) Numbers are a good chance to improve the aesthetic appeal of your case studies. You can use screenshots, stat counters, icons or simple graphics to make your numbers more visually appealing and easier to recall;
5) Case studies that feature on your blog need careful targeting and SEO research so they rank for useful keywords and hook relevant prospects in from Google’s search results;
6) If you put case studies behind a form, make sure they look better and offer significantly more value to readers than content that’s already freely available on your website;
7) Webinars can be an effective way to present your case studies. Be sure to spend some money promoting your case study webinar on Google Ads or with social media ads to maximise the number of people attending;
8) Prospects respond better to case studies that feel relevant to them. With this in mind, you should organise your case studies by market segment, organisation size, problem and product;
9) Human faces will help prospects connect with your case studies. This makes photos and bios of your customers or appearances in videos from your staff valuable additions;
10) Create some user personas before you start producing case studies. User personas help you see things from the perspective of your customer. And they can be a good way to identify the different problems, products and funnel stages that you want your case studies to cover.
Thank you for reading our ultimate guide to case studies. If you’d like more tips and advice on running content marketing campaigns to support your business goals subscribe to our newsletter or check out our resource library.