An effective case study can help you stand out amongst your competitors and win future work.
But, how can you write an effective case study that isn’t just a linear and dry narrative? Or full of dry text that causes your potential customers to fall asleep?
Read on to learn some tips and tricks for creating a great case study with lots of case study examples.
Disclosure: This blog post contains affiliate links. That means that I may earn a small commission if you purchase something made through the links in this post.
What is a case study?
Case studies are accounts explaining how you or your company has worked with a customer or client and solved their problem.
You may find that they are also called Client Stories or Customer Stories…or even better – Success Stories!
Why bother with case studies?
Case studies are a powerful sales tool for a business, no matter what the size of your business.
In terms of marketing, the benefits are multiple.
They are a GREAT way of convincing your prospect that you actually do what you say you do.
They provide long-form social proof on your website.
Having additional content with references to a local client could also help your SEO if your business is local.
Convince and convert
A case study lets the customer speak.
Anyone can write on their website that they are the leading this that and the other, or that they have the best customer service or ninja-like project management skills.
Great! But does that prospective customer believe all that?
With a case study, it’s the customer not you validating these claims. It’s giving your business an extra layer of credibility.
Add in some quotes and you have an even more robust online reference.
By laying out the situation and having the customer explain their problem, you are helping your future prospect relate more deeply. If well written, they should be able to see themselves working with your business.
What are characteristics of effective case studies?
There are usually four core elements that go into making a successful case study – often remembered by the acronym, STAR – S-Situation, T-Task, A-Action, R-Result.
But, case studies don’t always have to be in this order.
In fact, as you’ll see from the examples below, some even work better with the Result first.
This doesn’t have to be a chronological list of doom and gloom. Instead, try and understand the mindset of the client you are writing about.
What was the situation? What was it about the status quo that wasn’t working? What were they struggling with?
If you can, try to use the client’s own words here. You want to make it as much about them as possible.
I like this journalistic opening to Salesforce’s case study about Edwardian Hotels London.
“It’s Sara’s 50th birthday and she’s planned a stay at her favourite luxury hotel to celebrate. Thanks to Edwardian Hotels London, Sara will be making special memories even before she’s unpacked her bags. “We want to anticipate our guests’ needs before they arrive at one of our properties. A stay with Edwardian Hotels should feel like coming home,” said Siraj Singh, Director of Marketing and Ecommerce at Edwardian Hotels.“
It’s such an immersive and emotive start.
Already, I understand what the company wants to achieve before I even get to the technical implementation.
This section is also sometimes called the challenge or the client requirements.
This is where you want to elaborate on what the client needed, the pain points and any complications.
Don’t skip on the complications. It will make any actions you took and the benefits shine that much brighter.
Canva does a good job of weaving quotes into the body of the text, so it really feels like the customer is telling the TRUE story, not an embellished version from the company’s point of view.
In this case study from Shopify and Emma Bridgewater, the case study lays out the task at hand in “plain English.”
There’s even a sneaky call to action in there as well, related to the core problem the customer was facing.
3. Action / Solution
Ok, I understand their situation, I get the gravity of the task, now tell me what you did to fix it.
Even better show me big beautiful images of your work.
Or screen record what you delivered. This is particularly helpful for software case studies. Even better, ask the customer to send their own photos – high-res of course.
Perhaps you could add in the holy grail – video testimonials!
Check out how Space48 cleverly illustrates what they did with a new eCommerce platform for Ordnance Survey in a before and after animation.
4. Results / Resolution
Here’s where you can get creative.
Try using call-out boxes or animated graphics to show any facts and figures.
Space48 uses dynamic graphics in this case study on Pramworld, to show how they boosted the metrics.
How to get the information you need for an effective case study?
If you are writing a case study on behalf of someone else, or you are not close to the subject matter, then you may need to conduct an interview.
If so here are a few tips:
- Put the interviewee at ease and ask about them, what they do, their background (When I was at the BBC, I used to always ask interviewees what they had for breakfast. Totally threw them and put them at ease)
- Be curious
- Ask open questions and leave pauses for them to fill
- Don’t be afraid to ask a question again later on, as a second go at a question may get you more vital information
If you do get to interview the client directly, make sure you ask if you can video too!
Top tips for writing an effective case study
Have a compelling headline and sub headings
Think of your case study as an article. What would the headline be?
Is there a sentence that provides a good summary and convinces people to read more?
Now you have their attention, they’re more likely to read through the nitty-gritty detail.
Check out this example from MailChimp about “How Stretch & Flex Started and Grew During a Pandemic.”
Already the headline is intriguing and quirky.
The subtitle explains that Mailchimp helped them get success.
Qwilr also uses subtitles in a very clever way. Each subtitle header showcases the key features of its service and breaks up the body of the case study.
Keep your case study well structured
Use lots of subheadings to break up your text and guide the reader through the narrative.
Accenture does this really well by laying out their case study almost like a mini-website with hyperlinked headers at the top.
Or what about having a sidebar table where you highlight the key features. This makes it very easy for a prospect to see if they are like the case study and compare case studies.
Check out Linode’s case studies where they use the sidebar to link to the company and succinctly showcase which products/services are used in each situation.
Make your case study scannable
Reading on the web is much different to reading a book.
People typically scan down web pages looking for words that stand out to them or meet their search criteria.
You can help this process by bolding keywords and keeping paragraphs short. No longer than a couple of sentences.
Highlight key quotes from the customer and bold the keywords
You want to pick a quote that highlights the key reason the project was a success.
It’s usually these quotes that truly explain what was so good about the working relationship or the project. Often the customer’s words reveal a hidden benefit that you may not have realised.
Canva and Biteable do this well in their case studies.
Check out this post on using quotes and making animated quotes.
Add in lots of detail but don’t clutter it with jargon
Add in data, quantities, volumes, sizes. All that textural detail will help create a full picture of what was done.
Be careful not to overload your case study with jargon because your prospects may be at the start of their purchasing journey and may not know what exactly they need or want yet.
Ask an outsider to read your case study and see if it makes sense to them. Often they will find holes in the narrative that you may have missed.
Add in quantifiable data if possible
I ADORE OH Partners’ multimedia case study layout because their results are made to STAND OUT, like this case study of the Arizona State Lottery
Then they showcase the visuals, then their awards and drop the mic with a stark, high contrast call to action.
Keep it chatty and relatable
Making your case study more effective can be as simple as making the language you use chatty and more relatable. Shocase your company’s personality in your writing.
Review your text and remove any filler words.
You may sell a complicated product or service that your current customers understand, but your prospective new customers might not. If that is the case, check that you have explained any important jargon, written acronyms out in full at least once.
Founded in 2007, Shapeways is a New York-based “leader in advanced additive manufacturing solutions,” which is a fancy way of saying they’re great at 3D printing.Mailchimp – How Shapeways Increased Their Click-Through Rates by 525%
In all the case study examples used so far, all of them use big, high-quality images, video, screen grabs.
Whatever it takes to visually showcase what you’ve done.
Ceros short-circuits the typical text-heavy case study completely and has a short montage of all its customers explaining the benefits of working with them in this neat video.
Pinterest also includes short videos within the body of their case studies, like this one on IKEA.
Don’t forget your call to action
Now you’ve got that prospect to read until the end, don’t forget to remind them how to contact you.
Do they need more convincing?
Tell them where else to go, what else to read on your site or who to speak to.
Do you have a demo?
Make it easy for them to book it.
Can they have a quick chat?
Give them options to chat with you other than picking up the phone or sending an email.
Add some additional value
It’s easy to just end your case study here…but give that prospect something else to get their teeth into to find out more about you and move them closer to purchase.
Do you have related blog posts?
What about some top tips related to the case study.
In Biteable’s case studies, they ask the customer to give tips to the readers before adding in their call to action,
How to maximize your effective case study?
Once you’ve crafted a killer case study, don’t let it just sit there on your website.
Why not turn them into a series of podcast episodes, like cloud computing company Linode has done?
Paypal has an entire playlist of customer case studies where they let the customer to the talking.
A video format shortcuts a lot of the situational setup you need in a written case study with visuals over some voice over.
You also have the ability to bring in different voices from across the business to give a more “rounded” view.
So if you are planning a case study, definitely think about how you can give it more life and extend its value by making a video or podcast instead.
You could also turn it into a pdf, and use it as part of your wider marketing materials or attaching in your email marketing campaigns.
There’s a lot of work that goes into creating a truly effective case study, but if you can get them written and on your website, they are such a great tool in your content marketing arsenal.
Top tip – go hard on multimedia. The future is video. Having your customers visually explain what it’s like to work for you will serve you well. Plus, you can use that video on YouTube Channels, social media channels, showreels and presentations.
I’d love to find more examples where companies are breaking the mould with case studies. So let me know.