When it comes to marketing collateral, there are few — if any — assets I like more than the case study. If structured and written correctly, a case study is a relatively short, interesting and effective weapon in your arsenal (i.e., a piece that will actually be read by your intended audience). Despite this, there is rarely a week that goes by that I don’t find a “case study” on a company’s website that is useless and probably more harmful to the business than helpful.

Not all case studies are created equal, and there is a general formula to writing a good one:

  1. Give it Structure. When done properly, a case study becomes a tool for demonstrating how you deliver solutions. To do this, however, the content needs to speak directly to prospects in the universal language of business value. As a general rule, it should follow this structure: challenge, solution and result.
  2. It’s Not About You. A case study is not about your company. Hard to believe, right? It’s about presenting a business challenge, offering a solution and backing that story up with facts. This can be done without ever mentioning your company. Now, I’m not saying that’s what you do, but rather, your company is not the focal point. When this happens, you are no longer speaking business value and you lose the prospect.
  3. Don’t Make it a Novel. You may be highlighting the most successful project in company history. The project may have included every service your organization offers and be the textbook example of how things should go, but if you can’t tell that story in about 800-1000 words it will never be read. Aim for a one-page, two-sided piece (even shorter if you can). No one wants to read a page-turner detailing the daily activity of the project. Stick to the Challenge-Solution-Results rule to keep it short and on point.
  4. Start with Good Data. Without real data to support and illustrate how wonderful a project was, it’s hard to write a good case study. Don’t get me a wrong, there are plenty of great case studies out there that tell an amazing story and have no supporting data whatsoever (some things are harder to quantify than others), but these are the exception. As a general rule, start with good data and it all comes together. How much did revenue increase? How much time did you save? How much has productivity increased? Good data makes it easier to write an impactful case study.
  5. Make it Versatile. The other thing I love about a case study is that the subject matter lends itself to other forms of content. Sure, you want a well-designed, branded PDF posted to your website with the Challenge-Solution-Result rule prominently displayed. But why stop there? Conduct a Q&A with your customer about the project, record it and post a podcast to accompany the PDF. Pull out the best quote from the study and add it to your website or, better yet, add it to your next proposal as a call-out. Get creative with how you leverage the content you are developing.

I have only skimmed the surface of what goes into creating a great case study, but simply following these five guidelines will produce far more effective and smarter case studies for you in the future. Good luck and have fun selling your solutions.

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