Here are the bones of a good case study:
Once upon a time, there was a business owner who had a problem that was costing money and inhibiting the growth of the business.
Along came a provider who knew just what would solve the problem.
The business owner took advantage of the solution, and lived profitably ever after.
And there you have it: a story. People, a.k.a. your customers, love stories. It’s wired into our DNA. We especially love stories in which we can picture ourselves as a character.
Which is why a case study–a short story that relates the experience of a real customer–is one of the best tools a business has for moving a customer along the decision-making process. “If she solved that tough problem, I can do it, too!” the reader thinks. Done right, a case study is a spoonful of sugar that helps the marketing message go down in a most delightful way.
Best of all, the source of this customer-based content is sitting right there, for the taking, in your database. Alas, when we at RSL Media review client content, we too often see squandered opportunities (which we fix, of course). Case studies tend to be thin on story, overtly sales-y and product-focused, and downright dull–and, as a result, are likely to go unread.
How can your company’s case studies avoid this unhappy ending?
First, find the right angle
Give serious thought to hot-button topics for the intended reader, in this case the owner of a business who would benefit from your company’s products or services:
- What is the biggest, most aggravating problem ABC Company’s customers have (as related to your products)?
- What are the one or two things your enterprise does that have the most impact on that situation?
- What does success as a result of using your company’s product or service look like?
- What are the one, two or three things you most want a prospect to know about your company?
With these points in mind, the case study creator can gather information that fits the desired story-like structure: Problem, Solution, Results.
Talk like a human
Shake off that business-speak. Buzzwords are a kind of fig leaf we use when we don’t feel totally confident about what we’re saying.
So instead of simply being important, an issue becomes “mission critical.” Nothing is ever a plan or a product or an approach–it’s a “solution.” No process is ever “easy” when it can be termed “user-friendly.” Businesses don’t change direction; they “pivot.” And so on. Buzzwords are subtly off-putting because they aren’t direct and clear. They make the reader do extra work.
What you are going for is authenticity–the true voice of the interviewee. We can’t stress this enough: direct access to the subject–a conversation, not an email exchange or a company-vetted statement–is essential in order to arrive at a compelling, conversational tone that will entice the reader to stay with the story.
Record the interview, and transcribe it later. Here’s a test: if you have succeeded in getting good quotes, the interviewee’s colleagues will later say, “That sounds just like him!”
It is okay (indeed, recommended) to clean up the interviewee’s statements when you write them up. Don’t fall into the lawyerly trap of “we must quote him word for word” or you’ll end up with chopped-up quotes and a lot of awkward explanatory brackets. The interviewee is going to have quote approval anyway, so do him a favor and make him sound good.
Put flesh on the “bones”
Be sparing with the customer’s praise for the provider. Often case studies include quotes to the effect of, “We always work with XYZ Corporation because they deliver top service in a timely manner.” While that makes XYZ Corp. feel good, it’s not interesting. It doesn’t allow the reader to see him- or herself in the story.
So give us colorful details. Work isn’t “strictly business”–it’s full of emotion, because people care very much about what they do. The crew had to stay up all night fixing machinery that time the big storm hit? They had so many customer calls after that one promotion that they had to add another phone line? Instead of having to be at the office by 6 a.m., the owner now has time to take his kids to school? Sketch out these colorful scenes to make your copy compelling.
The same goes for a title like “ABC Inc. Sees Success With XYZ Corp.” Nobody’s going to read that. Go for something specific and results-oriented–“How ABC Doubled Its Profits” or “How ABC Saved $25,000 in Taxes”–and you’ve got a hook that few can resist.
Dubious about whether you can get such a grabby angle from your customers? Keep digging. Not only do we all love a good story–we’ve all got one, business owners most of all.
We have helped many companies with their customer-based content, including case studies and we would be happy to take a look at yours.