How to write a cracking case study: 4 tips from a management consultant and seasoned case study author
Well-written case studies are one of the most powerful tools in your sales arsenal. They offer a window into what it’s like to work with your business. More importantly, they are a proof point of the impact you can make for your customers.
But they’re easy to get wrong. If your case study waffles or is filled with dry facts and figures, you’ll lose the reader early on. If it’s unstructured or hard to follow, the reader is likely to miss your key messages. Either way, it’s a lost sales opportunity.
The good news is that by following a few simple rules, you can make sure your case studies hit the mark and showcase your business in its best light.
1. Be clear on your objectives
A case study is a short-and-sharp story that provides a snapshot of your capabilities. While it can be tempting to describe everything you achieved on a given project, the best case studies are tightly focused on just one or two key messages.
Before you start writing, be crystal clear on what you’re trying to achieve.
- Why are you writing a case study?
- What are the unique selling points you want to showcase?
- Who is the target audience?
- What do you want the reader to know, feel or do after reading the case study?
- What is the single most important message you want to convey?
Answering these questions upfront will help you stay focused on relevant content that will resonate with your chosen audience.
2. Focus on the problem you can solve
A good case study describes the customer in enough detail to understand their core business (e.g. industry, geography, company size, mission), but doesn’t bore the reader with irrelevant details. E.g. “We were engaged by small Australian not-for-profit with 7 employees which aimed to foster community awareness about chronic disease.”
A great case study builds on this by painting a rich picture of the specific challenge that the customer faced or the problem that needed to be solved. E.g. “The customer was struggling with an outdated IT system that was slow, frequently crashed and required significant manual workarounds. The Chief Executive was losing confidence in the integrity of system data and staff morale was low.”
This approach engages the empathy and emotion of the reader, and helps them to make connections with their own experiences. Importantly, articulating a context that resonates with potential customers will pique the reader’s interest in the rest of your case study, as well as in your business.
3. Describe your business from the customer’s perspective
A case study is not a catalogue of product features or service offerings – it’s an opportunity to showcase how your business helped a customer solve a specific problem.
This means that, when you describe the product or service you delivered, it’s best to focus on the attributes that were directly relevant to the customer’s context.
- Why was your product or service a good fit for the customer’s challenges?
- What specific features or attributes were appealing to the customer?
- In the customer’s mind, what differentiated you from your competitors?
Resist the temptation to provide an exhaustive summary of your business – it risks diluting your key messages and confusing the reader. Rather, describing a concise and relevant set of features as part of a story about the customer will be far more memorable for the reader.
4. Provide tangible evidence of the impact you made
Describing the impact you made on a customer’s business is arguably the most important part of a case study. The story you tell about the impact you made will contribute to your legacy in the eyes of past customers and will be used by future customers to assess your value proposition.
Quantitative data provides objective, measurable evidence of your impact. Where possible, paint a holistic picture by incorporating operationally focused ‘output metrics’ (e.g. minutes saved, complaints received, system downtime) with benefits focused ‘outcome metrics’ (e.g. executive confidence, level of collaboration).
But don’t be fooled into thinking that metrics alone are sufficient – it’s equally important to appeal to the reader’s emotions by using anecdotes and quotes from individuals involved with your work. Any facts and figures should be grounded in a story about how you changed the customer’s business.
In the wise words of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate (economics), “No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.”
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Laura Birchall is a management consultant and occasional Mint Content writer.