How to Write a Killer Case Study

Content Marketing Marketing Tools & Tips Things we notice

Customer stories are like gold. Your prospects are going to trust them more than they’ll trust you. (Don’t take it personally.) Let’s take a look at how you can get a powerful story that your marketing and sales teams can leverage to the hilt.

The customer

The first ingredient is, of course, a happy customer. Your account management team will have recommendations. Although your instincts are to pursue the big, hot, well-known brands, you may not want to start with them. Why? They take time to pursue, and may require you to jump through a few (corporate marketing and legal) hoops. An excited-but-smaller customer will often give you a richer story, which you can then show to your Big Brand customers to help bring them around to doing a case study later. Keep asking.

Other good sources include Twitter and Facebook–customers who have tweeted a thank-you or other favorable comments–and people who have posted a favorable review of your product on an online recommendation website.

The ask

Next step? Ask. Be sure to explain what’s in it for them. Free publicity or thought-leadership in their industry, or even something to add to their professional LinkedIn profile… Many companies and individuals are delighted to have an opportunity for free marketing.

The interview

She said yes–now what? Schedule the interview. A 30-minute call is often all you need. Try to keep the interview to no more than the scheduled time. Remember that your customer is doing you a favor. Be respectful of their time. Prepare questions ahead of time, though do not be afraid to veer from them if doing so gives you a better story.

Sample questions (tailor these to your own product or service):

  1. Tell a little about your organization and your role there.
  2. How do you use [product category] as part of your job?
  3. How are you using [your product name]? How many users?
  4. What made you choose [product]? What was the particular business problem you were trying to solve? Please provide details.
  5. Did you consider other solutions and why did you decide against them in favor of us?
  6. Were there any surprises when you first started using using [product]? What happened?
  7. How has your approach to [business process] shifted since using [product]?
  8. How does your business compare before and after you started using [product]?
  9. What results have you achieved? (Here numbers/stats would be valuable—any you are willing to share.)
  10. What features do you value most?
  11. Anything else you’d like to add about your experience with us?

The purpose 

A case study should reinforce your brand and messaging objectives. 

A case study should reinforce your brand and messaging objectives. It does not need to link to each one, but each case study should relate to at least one key benefit statement. For example, if your product helps with ROI, having a case study that details exactly how one company saw positive financial results is useful. Remember that a case study is like any other piece of collateral: it has a purpose and should align with your overall strategy.

The story

There are a number of brand and style choices in the actual writing: I prefer a one- to two-page format–any longer and you risk someone not being willing to even start reading. Make sure to include callouts in the form of data or pull-quotes to draw readers in. Use the voice and tone of your brand. Do think of your story as a story–any fiction writing course will show you how to set up a compelling problem. You’ll want to show a big, ugly challenge of resources, technology, tight timelines, the underdog vs. the Big Dogs… Classic narrative structure can make for a compelling case study, though each arc depends on your customer’s experience.

The approvals

Once you have a text document that you’re happy with, send that to the customer for their input and to get sign-off on the facts. I always reassure them that they’ll get to give their blessing on the final, designed PDF as well. Get full buy-off in writing before leveraging in your own marketing. (The topic of what you can do once you have an approved killer case study could fill another blog post.)

Lather, rinse, repeat

Remember: once you’ve got that first one under your belt, forward it to your case study targets when you make the ask: they’ll get to see how professional it is, and see that others are doing it, making it feel “safe” to share their own story with you.

Voila! That’s one way to make a killer case study. However, there’s more than one way to skin a cat: what are the best practices you have?

Kate Kirby

Kate Kirby is principal at Kirby Creative. She has 14+ years of experience in direct response writing, product marketing, and managing marketing teams. She is a legitimate expert in turning the written word into revenue (she’ll deny such grand claims, but it is true). 

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