There are a few noteworthy exceptions: case studies and testimonials. These are the only significant pieces of content curated by a brand, but not completely created by a brand. Online reviews and word-of-mouth are in a category all their own, as they exist (almost) completely independently from brand control.
So, what’s so significant about case studies and testimonials? Beyond the curation vs. creation angle we just discussed, they are also uniquely effective pieces of content. They are the only proofs of concept a brand can present to its audience that feel…honest. Honesty in advertising? How novel! Even though the content is all curated & vetted by a brand, because the message originated with a brand’s customer base, it has a hefty advantage in the integrity department.
With that elevator pitch out of the way, let’s talk about the real challenge that this blog addresses: actually creating a case study. Testimonials, by comparison, are easy.
Send a thoughtful email to a client asking for them to leave a review/provide a testimonial. You’ll be surprised how often the client just asks you to write something that they then put a slight spin on.
Case studies are a different beast altogether. They involve client collaboration, a pointed writing style, content creation, and research. For that reason, many brands never seem to get around to producing them. But this blog is here to change that.
Create A Simple But Effective Case Study
A brief preface before diving in: this case study format is purpose-designed to efficiently produce a primarily B2B-focused case study. This format doesn’t reflect how we created our agency’s case studies, which are very visual, or how one would create an extremely lengthy case study, which we treat as one-off research projects. This is a method to quickly produce simple case studies that still pack a real punch.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s start writing. We’re going to tackle these case studies from the top-down, starting with what you’ll need from your client to get started.
Step 0: Assets From Your Client
Before you can put pen to paper, you’ll need a short list of things. First, you’ll need your client’s sign-off.
Creating a case study without the consent of the client who the case study is about leads to a bland, unspecific piece of content that will lack the honesty & integrity that case studies are supposed to convey.
You will find that some clients will let you use their name but not their branding. While this isn’t ideal, we still give it our stamp of approval.
After you have their consent, you’ll need a few items from them:
- Their Logo & Brand Standards.
- A Quote About Their Initial Problem That You Solved.
- A Quote About Their Thoughts On Your Solution.
- Any Relevant Statistics About Your Solution In Action.
While this seems like a lot to ask, what you’ll find is that a client can provide all of this via email, which for them is a welcome change. When most brands approach their clients to create a case study, they typically put a much larger burden on their clients to produce the written content.
Step 1: Introduction
Yay! Our first copy block! Like most long-form content, you’ll want to start your case study with an introduction. This should be either the shortest or second-shortest copy block in your case study, with the conclusion also being brief. The goal of the introduction is as follows:
- Establish Who The Client Is.
- Establish In One Sentence What Their Goal Was.
- Establish How They Found Your Company.
The biggest rule of the introduction is to not spend too much time on any one topic. You’ll elaborate on the client’s problem in the next section, so a one-sentence preview will do. What you want to do is pull in the reader’s attention, which is why the intro should be all about who your client is. You want the reader to say “Oh wow, they’ve worked with a company like mine to solve a problem like mine.” If you elicit that feeling, you’ve drawn them in.
Step 2: Problem
Our model of the brief but effective case study is built around a Problem/Solution format. After the introduction, you’ll move right into the problem section. Moreso than the introduction, the problem section is going to vary wildly depending on your industry. The consistent thread across all industries is that you must explain the client’s problem briefly but in a detailed manner. There is little room for fluffy language, the reader doesn’t care what you have to say about your client’s initial problem. Just like the introduction, your goal here is to allow your reader to see their problem in your client’s problem.
The color in this section must come from one element: a quote from your client. That way, you don’t have to use adjectives and fluffy language to discuss how awful their initial problem was. The client can do it for you. And even if they don’t explain it as dramatically as you’d like, the fact that they are breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the lead reading your case study is dramatic enough.
The one creative note to keep in mind when writing about your client’s problem is this: plan ahead. Make sure that every facet of the problem has a corresponding solution. The danger is being overly dramatic and over-explaining the problem is that if you don’t circle back around and solve it, it looks like you’ve missed something. People don’t enjoy working with brands that miss something.
Step 3: Solution
Bet you didn’t see this coming! Following the problem section, you get to explain your solution. Just like the previous section, the solution can be as long as it needs to be, as long as we’re speaking clearly. The reader is aware that this is the section of the case study that you have the most control over, so being overly complimentary of yourself is a waste of time. Simply look back at your problem section and go point-by-point explaining how you solved the problems. Here is what to avoid:
The reader doesn’t care how innovative you say you are. They don’t care about how tirelessly you worked. They don’t care about how cutting-edge your solution is. They care that you served your client comprehensively.
The impact will come from your client quotes and the statistics/metrics paired with your conclusion. The reader will respect you most for making the problem easy to understand and solution easy to follow.
The one piece of color you can add that has room to be a little more fluffy is a quote. The quote here should actually come from your internal team, which gives you an opportunity to spin the narrative to a certain degree without sacrificing the journalistic approach. The quote should come from a relevant party within your organization who dealt with this project hands-on.
Step 4: Results
There are people who will read the entire case study and there are people who will read the pull quotes and look for statistics. You have to serve both audiences. While the entire case study is designed to prove that your company can do what you say you can do, the Results section is the most concentrated version of that. Can you increase sales? Can you reduce rework? Can you speed up delivery times? Can you grow a customer base? Your Results have to prove that the answer is yes. Otherwise, why did you choose to create a case study about this particular client?
This brings up an important point about client selection. When choosing a client for your case study, don’t default to the clients that like you the most. Choose clients who you served the most effectively. They’re not always the same.
Creating a results section can be tricky, not every business solves problems with an easily measurable solution. Some don’t have the ability to translate increased efficiency into dollars & cents. So, in your results section, get creative. If you can’t pull actual statistics, find a way to explain how you’ve benefited your client’s business with supportive facts. Though stats are easier to digest, any fact-supported result will get the job done.
Step 5: Conclusion
Just like the introduction, the conclusion should be short and sweet. The natural question to ask is “What’s the difference between Results and Conclusion?” The answer is that the conclusion should both summarize the case study and provide insight about where the relationship is today. The entirety of the case study is past tense, but the conclusion gets to be a sort of where are they now section.
Just like the problem section, the goal of the conclusion is saying just what needs to be said. Then, pull in a client quote to put a bow on the entire piece.
A Few Case Study FAQs
So, having walked through the 5 vital sections of a quick, high-impact case study (including what you’ll need from the client), let’s answer a few questions.
Having a great case study is one thing, but knowing what to do with it is something else entirely. The following questions are among the most common we receive regarding case studies.
Where & In What Format Do I Include Case Studies On My Website?
There are many potential answers to this question, so we’ll focus on what you must do, and provide some examples of what you can do. First things first, if you have case studies, they must be on your website. The best place for them is a dedicated Case Studies page. Don’t have one yet? You can use your website blog as a stop-gap.
We always suggest having case studies as both live site pages and as printable PDFs. Google rewards growing websites, so that’s a built-in bonus of having case study site pages. The PDF is great because you can attach it to an email, upload it to a CRM like Hubspot for dissemination, or put it in the hands of your sales team.
Should I Gate My Case Studies With A Form?
This is probably the question we’re asked most often about case studies. The answer here is subjective, but the advice we give our clients is as follows: only gate content that offers extra value. In other words, unless your case study really discusses your business’s secret sauce, don’t ask for personal info in exchange for it. As internet users have gotten savvier and the emphasis on privacy has grown, the amount of people who will exchange their information for a case study has dropped dramatically.
The goal of gating content is creating a list of potential leads to follow up with. But here’s the thing, if your website and case study are compelling enough, they will give you their information freely just to learn more about you. Also, you can retarget website users with follow-up ads without having to ask for their information, so you have a cold lead next step no matter what.
As an agency, we sincerely believe in the power of case studies. Like we said at the beginning of this blog, these steps have proven themselves to be the easiest system to rapidly-produce engaging, high-quality case study content with minimal time investment and client interview. We’ve done extensive presentation-worthy case studies that took over a month to put together, which certainly have their place. But if you’re looking to take your website over the top, there is simply no better proof of concept than a case study.