Case studies: Tell your success story

Nothing succeeds like success. And case studies are a great way to show how your product or service has helped your customers succeed. In this Linkedin learning course on case studies, we’ll create one for the fictional Landon Hotel which wants to host more business meetings. It’ll focus on a recent convention that took place there. The hotel has a great relationship with the convention’s event manager. 

So that’s who we’ll ask to interview for the study. The final piece will be a two-page printed document and will follow a traditional and direct narrative with three main elements, problem, solution, and results. 

A case study is a personal story, specifically, it’s a customer’s personal story. And so we start by working with the customer in preparation for an interview. We’ll marry their quotes with narrative text to tell their story. And in doing so, we’ll show how we’ve helped them to achieve success. 

Photos, pull quotes, charts and other elements boost the message. And with a final round of approvals, we’ll have a case study that stakeholders will proud to promote. Case studies are effective in ways that numbers and sales techniques alone aren’t because they appeal to our very human love of stories. 

To read a case study is to follow through the hero’s journey through doubt or deals, discovery, transformation, and ultimately victory. I’m Tom Geller and I’ve written and edited case studies for quite a few technology companies over the years. They loved the format because not only does it work well as a sales tool, it also reminds them of their past successes, increasing confidence and morale within the company. 

1.Exploring the Case studies

What is a case study?

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– Which do you think is more believable? When someone proclaims, I am great. Or when someone says, that person over there, they’re really great. I’d say it’s the second for two reasons. First, because the person who says how great they are has no perspective. 

They honestly don’t know if they’re great. Second, because they’re acting in their own self-interest. They have something to gain from convincing you that they’re great. But the independent voice has an outside perspective and won’t gain directly from the endorsement. 

Moreover, that outside person has stories to tell about what makes that other person so great. This is the main benefit of a case study for marketing purposes. And the focus of this course. Helping your customer tell their success story with your product or service as the star. Case studies have some common characteristics. 

Although, there are exceptions. They tend to be fairly short. Running anywhere from 300 to 1200 words. That’s because you want them to be eye-catching. With clear headlines and pictures. The idea is that anyone who sees them in passing will still get the message. But for those who actually stop and read them, they should tell a story, a clear narrative from problem to solution. 

These are mostly told through customer quotes with care to keep the sales talk quotation low. Again, let someone else proclaim your greatness, not you. As a side note, you’ll sometimes see the term, case study, to mean something in the social sciences or in the study of law. 

And in fact, much of Sigmund Freud’s writings are actually psychological case studies of his patients. But of course, these are quite different from case studies for marketing purposes. I only mention them because an online search for case studies will lead you to a lot of scholarly dead ends if you’re not careful. 

But let’s get back to the kind of case study you care about. And the steps you’ll take to make it happen. First, you’ll determine who you’re trying to reach and why. This will determine everything. From interview subject to how you distribute the final product to the kind of language that you’ll use. 

Then you’ll decide which of your past or current customers will arouse sympathy in that audience. You’ll confirm their willingness to be interviewed and to be public with their comments. You’ll also make sure you have any pictures, charts or any other material you want in the case study. Including, perhaps, a photo of the subject. 

With all these pieces in place, you’ll write the case study and then let the stakeholders review it for corrections and buy-in. 

Finally, you’ll lay it out and publish it and reap the rewards. You might have noticed that the actual writing is only a small part of the process. Those parts are only possible after you’ve already satisfied the customer with excellent service. 

The case study memorializes how well things went. If done right, this will not only make your benefits clear to prospective customers but will also help to cement and continue your good relationship with the subject.

How case studies are used

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– Seen broadly, every piece of fiction is a case study. Superman, for example, is a case study of how an extraordinary person navigates in an ordinary world. That tale has been effective in comic books, on TV, and in theaters. 

And so too can a case study deliver its messages in various formats, and through various venues. Let’s start by looking at how case studies have traditionally been used. In format they’re usually one sheet of paper printed in color on both sides. 

That makes them easy to hand out at trade shows or to put in packages. They become part of a business’s marketing collateral, which also includes such things as press releases, price sheets and technical specifications. 

Such marketing collateral went online as businesses launched their first websites. Now, the easiest way to put case studies online is just to upload the PDF files. But that’s not really optimal, because visitors have to download the file and possibly zoom in to read the text. Also, PDFs aren’t as friendly to search engines as plain web text is. And you can do a lot more online. 

For example, you could embed a customer video to show just how happy people are with your service or product. Case studies themselves can also be delivered as video or audio versions. In addition to making the video available on your website and in such places as YouTube, you could subtitle it and play it on a monitor at events. 

Of course, this requires planning from the very beginning. In particular, you need to record the customer interview at a very professional level. The quality of the product will directly impact its effectiveness. Now, if you’re new to this, and you don’t wanna hire an outside professional, we have several courses on how to record video interviews. 

Case studies can also be part of something bigger, such as white papers and annual reports. Their formats will probably need some adaptation to fit the surrounding materials, but the content itself should just fit right in. 

Whatever your plans though, I recommend that you make distribution decisions before moving ahead. Ask yourself, do you already have a way to distribute marketing collateral? Is there a good place on your website for it? If not, where will it go? How will you promote it in social media? Besides outside sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, you can leverage the material in blog posts, newsletters, podcasts, and so on. 

Do you have any other content marketing assets already in place at your company? If you engage a public relations company or other outside marketing consultants, discuss your plans with them early on because they might have distribution ideas that you didn’t think of. 

One of the wonderful things about case studies is that they work well on their own as printed pieces, but they also fit in well with all your other marketing efforts. So with planning, you can multiply your efforts to produce a piece that works well in multiple formats and venues.

Examples of case studies

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Writing is good if it fits its purpose. The text of a great novel is useless as a banner ad and vice versa. So, as a writer, whenever I take on a new kind of job, the first thing I do is to look for examples. 

I study them, and I’m quite unashamed about imitating them because when a piece looks and feels like what readers are used to, it’s content becomes the center of attention. So, we’re going to look at some examples of case studies, and fortunately, much of the work of collecting them has been done for us. 

This wonderful page on DocSend.com collects 150 of them in a variety of categories. Let’s start with one from a company I’m sure you know, LinkedIn. Rather than reading it closely, we’re going to look at the broad strokes, what kind of elements it includes, how they’re arranged, and the effect that they have. 

Now, at the top, we have a title and subtitle. The subtitle here is of special interest, because in just seven words, it cleverly includes both the goal, increasing brand awareness, and the solution, with LinkedIn Company Pages. So, without reading anything else, we have a complete summary, just from a glance. 

Another thing I really like about this piece is the right-hand column, which outlines the fundamental format for case studies: challenge, solution, and results. This extra Why LinkedIn section is unusual, but it’s also a sort of breakout from the solution part of the formula. 

This piece’s total length is two pages. Both sides of a single sheet, broken into three sections. Now, if you look closely at the text, you’ll see that each section mixes narrative writing with quotes from the customer. Then, on the second page, we have a pull quote from the subject and a picture of the complete solution. 

If I were to make one overall critique of this case study, I’d say, “Make it bolder.” Cut some text in favor of more and bigger graphics. Use shorter headlines and more action verbs, really pull the reader in. By contrast, take a look at this case study from the social media management company, sprinklr.com. 

At three pages, it’s an unusual format, but it’s also notable in that it leads with this wonderful graphic, which I think really works well. The headlines in this case are the background, the problem, and the results. 

Then, instead of having a section for the solution in the middle there, they have a sort of epilogue that outlines the technology and the services they offer, along with a nice, bold pull quote. Similar content, very different format. Finally, let’s look at how the interactive online content company, Ceros, takes advantage of online features.

For work they did for a healthcare company in Philadelphia, they show an animation of the website they developed. And after they developed some interactive graphics for an image recognition company, they were able to actually embed those graphics in the online case study. 

What I hope comes out of this examination is that case studies offer a lot of opportunities to stand out, quite aside from the words you write. And that’s why so much of your job will be in finding and featuring these extra pieces, which will ultimately be what draws people in to read your writing.

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