The strategy: Planning the perfect case study – 1

The strategy: Planning the perfect case study – 1 Image

Whatever you’re marketing, well-written case studies that gets to the heart of what you do are a must. So, over the next three posts, we’re going to tell you how to create content that really works for you and your audience. In this post we’re looking at strategy and how to approach case study writing and in later posts we’ll look at how to interview, how to ask questions and how to plan the write up.

Whether written as a blog or as a standalone piece of marketing communication, case studies are great at showing how your products and services work in action – and that’s good for helping people understand what you do better.

However you plan to present or shout about your case study – whether you’re using social media or are using more traditional channels – case studies give potential customers or funders the reassurance they need that you’ve successfully done whatever it is you do before – and done it well.

Case studies aren’t adverts

But, developing your own case studies is tough. It normally involves interviewing people about how they’ve been using your products and services and the benefits they’ve received – and that’s not easy. Sometimes, pithy customer quotes can be elusive. Other times the write-up can be a little too dry and technical or it can end up reading like an advert – and if you want your case studies to get read, neither approach is right.

Quite simply, good case studies are good stories with a beginning, middle and an end. Good case study creation is all about getting to the heart of a story and finding out how a product or service has helped someone overcome a problem of some sort.

Case studies are stories about other people

If you take away one thing from this series of posts it should be this: case studies are stories – and they’re stories about someone else. They’re not about you, they are about showing (not telling) how your customers have overcome challenges, resolved issues and solved their problems using your products, services or ideas.

One of the commonest mistakes people make in writing case study content is to pack in the sales speak about how wonderful your client or customer thinks you are. Of course you want them to be saying nice things about you – that’s the whole point – but not to the extent that the reader thinks they’re being door stepped by a pushy sales rep. That’s a turnoff for anyone.

Another mistake people tend to make is to think of a case study as an opportunity to give the reader mountains of information. Most people are drowning in information – they don’t want more of it – and they’ll never remember it anyway.

People are engaged by real life stories and they want to hear about how people have overcome their challenges and issues – in this case by using your services or products.

Make your reader want to read

An important but overlooked part of the writing process is to pay attention to how your article or blog looks. If your case study looks easy and appealing to read then it’s far more likely that it will get read. So, don’t give your reader an impenetrable-looking slab of text to wade through.

Make your article look visually interesting.  If you can, use different sections, make sure you leave plenty of white space and try not to cram in too much. Use snappy headlines, unfussy fonts and designs and think about using pull quotes, photos of whoever you’re interviewing and if you can, sidebars or boxes giving details about the client. We’ll come back to all this in a later post.

Adopt a standard house style

If you haven’t started developing case studies yet or you’re part way through, it’s important to think about how they are all going to work together – whether you’re thinking of using them on or offline. Normally, you’ll want your content to have a bit of variety. You don’t want all your case studies to be about the same sorts of customers from the same sorts of sectors. Be selective and choose your people wisely. Make sure that together, your case study portfolio gives a good indication of the breadth of your work.

Lastly, make all your case studies feel as though they’re written by the same person or organisation – this way you can use your case studies to define your brand. Decide on a house style, give your case study portfolio a standard ‘look and feel’ – and stick to it. This will make you and your business look more professional and consistent and ensure that the reader can flick through a pile of case studies (whether physical or online) and compare different sections. Make sure you use the same font size and headline styles for every design and make sure that they’re all laid out in a similar way with the same features used for each.

So, 5 key points in summary:

  1. Remember that a good case study is a good story about how someone else has benefitted from using your products, services or ideas.
  2. Case studies are about showing people how well your ideas, services or products work not telling them how – so leave out the sales pitch.
  3. Don’t give your reader a mountain of information to wade through – tell them a story that draws them in.
  4. If you case study looks easy and appealing to read then it’s far more likely that it will get read.
  5. Give your case study portfolio variety but make sure you have a consistent house style which gives definition to your brand.

In our next post we’re going to be looking at the all important interview and giving you tips on how to get the most from your interviewee, how best to set questions and how to plan your story ‘arc’.

Chris Smith About the author: Co-founder of digital writing productivity coach @beprolifiko | writer in residence at swarm | ex-philosophy lecturer | maker of unpopular short comedy films.