Business case studies are unique. They exist right at the point where valuable content and compelling social proof overlap. They have the potential to establish trust in a product or company while engaging audiences with a compelling narrative.
But like most other high-potential endeavors, getting the full value from a case study is easier said than done. It takes the ability to tell an engaging story and using data as a narrative device, without getting lost and obscuring the message.
With this in mind, here’s a guide focused on understanding how to write a case study, including who to talk to, how to approach the format, and what you need to make the final product one that will resonate with your target audience.
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What Is a Business Case Study?
A business case study is an account (usually written, but sometime visual) of how a business or individual businessperson was able to benefit from using a certain product, service, or company.
It’s a marketing tool, created and deployed on behalf of the company responsible for marketing the product or service. The subject — the business or individual sharing their experience — provides information about their experience that’s intended to give prospective clients an idea of how they would benefit from using the same product or service themselves.
How Do You Use Case Studies?
Willie Greer, Founder of The Product Analyst, says that “82% of marketers use case studies because it gains the trust of your customers when you can show them real numbers and data about your certain topic or field.”
If you can execute on a well-crafted business case study, this should be a cornerstone of your content marketing strategy. Case studies can be deployed via email, paid promotion, or social media to try to grab readers’ attention. Because of their value, case studies are often used for gated content, which can be leveraged in pay-per-click campaigns to try to pull in more qualified leads.
The best case scenario for a case study is that it pulls in leads from campaigns while also appearing high in Google searches for target keywords bringing in high-value organic traffic and adding credibility to your company’s or your client’s website. They’re also great to help leads that are close to their buying decision take the plunge and buy because of the trust and social proof they offer.
The Benefits of Business Case Studies
According to Jenni Pratt, Content Marketing Manager at Portent, “when it comes to promoting your products or services, case studies should be a staple in every marketer’s toolkit. They are a great opportunity to position your brand as an authority in a specific industry or marketplace, demonstrate success with tangible results, and tell a story that celebrates your customers and how they achieved their goals. They are a surefire way to prove you can walk the walk — if done correctly.”
Case studies are fantastic tools to give your audience an idea of what the practical benefits of using a product or service would be, making it easier to see themselves benefiting from the same product or service.
Sales teams love case studies too because they’re among the best sales collateral at their disposal. What better way to convince a lead that’s near making a buying decision to sign than showing them how a similar company succeeded with your service?
The Process: How to Write a Business Case Study That Converts
Many case studies get their start organically. If a client reaches out with positive feedback, for example, the seeds of a business case study have been planted. In this case, the process of writing the case study is marginally easier than one you’re creating from scratch.
But if you’re not seeing much feedback rolling in, you should still be leveraging case studies if possible, so where do you start?
Set Your Goal
Every case study — without exception — should start with a goal. If you don’t know what you’re trying to say, there’s no way to choose a case to focus on. There’s no way to map out content to or craft a message. There’s no way to conceptualize interview questions.
So, what’s the goal? At the highest level, your goal is to show that for at least one person that used it, your product or service is as advertised. Every subsequent step in the process is irrelevant without an initial goal.
Find Your Subject
B2C and B2B subjects for social proof are not created equal. B2B audiences seem to judge peers’ reviews and recommendations with higher degree of scrutiny. This may be because many buying decisions are simply more meaningful than those made by the average consumer. Therefore, the choice of subject for your case study is critical.
Look at it this way — business decision makers are contacted by hundreds of salespeople about products and services every week. Sometimes, they’ll set a meeting or a call, but more often, they won’t. But when they see a peer or a competitor talking about how their business was improved by one of those same products or services, this message will cut through the noise.
This is why your choice of a focal subject for your case study should be relatable to your audience — the reader should be able to picture themselves using and benefiting from using the product or service in question.
Subjects from companies that are well-known and have good reputations in your industry are ideal.
Lay Out Your Outline
Business case studies can exist in a variety of different formats, including PDFs, blog posts, videos, infographics, podcasts and more. You can think of it as a highly detailed testimonial.
Even though the writing, headlines, and data of a case study are responsible for making it compelling, that doesn’t mean the way it looks can’t also play an important role and drawing eyes to what you have to say.
Here’s Willie Greer of The Product Analyst, again: “The appearance of your case study is crucial, but don’t overdo it because it might distract their attention from the content of your study. Use palettes that are pleasant and engaging to look at, with minimal designs and colors.”
For example, case study infographics are popular because they give the creator the chance to present information in a stylized, eye-catching way. Some people think that infographics by themselves may not be the best to rank for your target keywords, though. We’ve talked in the past about how moving toward longer content is actually improving search rankings, despite shortening attention spans.
As we’ll look at later, some of the highest ranking case studies have a good mix of eye-catching images and text to add context to any graphics videos, or pull quotes on the page.
But no matter what format you end up using, the way information is presented and the format should be generally the same:
The introduction is where you provide context and introduce key characters. This helps the reader understand what’s going on in the situation and to build credibility for the case.
For example, if your business case study is about a tool used by marketers, you may want to spend a few lines talking about the accomplishments of your subject or their company.
It’s important to note that a case study should be written in chronological order, in language simple enough for your audience to understand easily. Your introduction will establish the voice for the rest of the piece.
First, tell the story of where the subject was before they started working with your company. This is the central challenge that the subject solves by using the focal product or service. The benefit of establishing this clearly is that it sets up a use case to show the viability of your company to prospective customers.
Next, introduce your company as the source of a product that, at long last, will be able to solve the subject’s main problem. Tell how the subject found the product and why they decided to try it out.
The results section should wrap up the case with compelling leverage points, backed up by hard data and a call to action.
Complete the Product
After you’ve finished writing each section, here’s what the message of a complete case study might look like:
- Introduction: Meet Bob, a sales person at Company A.
- Problem: Bob is tired of waiting to use his office’s single phone to call his prospects
- Solution: We sold Bob his own phone, and he started using it exclusively
- Results: Bob was able to increase his number of sales calls per day by 400%
What Questions Do You Need to Ask the Subject of Your Case Study?
When it’s time to interview your selected subject, you should come prepared. But what does it really mean to be prepared?
There are two major mistakes that some marketers make in preparing for and conducting interviews for case studies.
Mistake #1: Asking Generic Questions
Some companies produce A LOT of case studies. Which is good, since they’re so valuable, right? But case studies that are the result of mass production aren’t likely to have the desired effect.
Once you set the goal of your case study, questions should be formulated as a way to prompt the subject to make statements that support that goal.
Mistake #2: Asking Questions In Order with No Follow-Ups
We’ve already talked about how making a case study relatable is one of the most important parts of writing one. In order to make your audience relate to the subject of a case study, you have to go a layer deeper than just their experience with your client or company.
A case study made with high-level questions asked in rigid order will force you to end up with a product that doesn’t dig into the most intriguing aspects of the subject, things that you may not know going into it.
Focus on Hard Data to Underline Your Points
When you’re asking questions, try to dig deeper than subjective statements about your subject’s experience with the product.
We previously mentioned that B2B audiences demand a higher standard of social proof than the average B2C consumer. The way you overcome this is with hard numbers.
A reader may or may not respond to one of their colleagues saying “I really like this product.” But, if the subject says something like, “this product helped me double my sales in a week,” it’s hard to ignore.
Example Interview Questions
When it’s time to set a strategy to interview your subject, you need to be focused on the goal.
Let’s say you’re representing an email software client who has made one of their unique selling points the fact that their software tracks customer behavior and analytics better than competitors. With this knowledge, you might choose to set your goal to show how a better understanding of customer behavior has helped improve their email strategy.
When you sit down with a user of the software, here are some questions you might ask:
- When did you start using this software? Why did you make the choice to start using it?
- What other types of software have you tried in the past?
- What are the main changes you saw from before making the change to after?
- How using this software affect your email opens and click rates?
- What specific ways does this software help your over ability to reach customers?
- Is there a specific story you can expand on that would illustrate the benefits that this software has added to your business?
- Would you recommend this software to your peers?
Once you have the information you need, you can organize it into your case study.
What Does a Good Case Study Look Like?
As we mentioned, a good case study has a few different elements:
1. A Good Mix of Text and Graphics
A case study has to be digestible for it to have its maximum impact, and a case study that’s exclusively text-based may have a difficult time holding your reader’s attention. An example of a case study that uses visual examples to support its goals is this one from Neil Patel: Content Marketing Case Study: How 4 Infographics Generated Over 10,000 Social Shares.
2. A Descriptive, Eye-Catching Title
Imagine that you’re a professional looking for a new desk chair and you come across two case studies. One is called “Case Study: Company A” and the other is called “How Company B Upgraded Their Office Chairs and Increased Productivity”. Which one do you think you’d be more likely to click on? The title of your business case study should include the central challenge experienced by the subject and how your product served as the solution. For example: How One eCommerce Business Solved the Omnichannel Challenge with Bitly Campaigns.
And, as mentioned, this has to be done in a way that tells a clear story, with a relatable subject, written in a way that it can be understood by the target audience from start to finish.
Find Writers That Can Rise to the Occasion
To reiterate, understanding how to write a business case study could be a worthwhile endeavor for your business, but it takes a talented writer to execute effectively. To build a team of writers for your next case study or other content project, visit Crowd Content and reach out to explore your options.