Case studies are another type of sales communications that have become increasingly popular in recent years. This is especially true among those companies that sell complex products, such as enterprise software applications, or consulting services, such as sales training programs. Customers want to know how well these products and services have performed at other companies before they invest in it themselves.
If you're not familiar with case studies, don't let the name fool you. We're not talking about a dry, technical, or scientific document here. Cases studies — at least the ones used in sales, marketing, and public relations — are essentially product success stories. They're often written in an editorial style similar to what you'd find in a business or trade magazine. A case study tells the tale of “customer meets product” and how everyone lived happily ever after.
Case studies also are known as success stories, application briefs, user stories, and case histories. They often are used in business-to-business sales and marketing communications. Find more information on how to write copy for businesses that sell products and services to other businesses.
What Case Studies Look Like
There are numerous formats for a case study. Some are just half-page summaries. Others are full-blown feature articles. Typically, they are published on one or two pages and run about 500 to 1,000 words.
Case studies are popular not just as a selling tool, but also in public relations. In fact, the best case studies often get referenced, or sometimes even reprinted verbatim, in industry publications. That's free publicity! No wonder everyone in sales, marketing, and PR loves them.
An effective case study should reflect the realities of purchasing, implementing, and using a product. If you paint too rosy a picture of the experience a customer has with a product, readers won't believe it. So go ahead and write about delays, setbacks, and glitches and how these issues were eventually resolved. It will make your case study more credible.
Before you write a case study, read a few. Many company Web sites have case studies available that you can download. It's a great way to learn more about this fascinating hybrid of brochure, testimonial, and article.
Points to Cover
Here is the recommended format for writing an effective case study:
The challenge. Begin by introducing the key issue. What problem or condition was the customer trying to change or improve? If possible, use the customer's own words in the form of a quotation.
The customer. Introduce the customer to be featured in the case study. Who are they? Where are they located? What products or services do they offer? What is their most interesting characteristic?
The journey. What steps did the customer take to solve the problem? What other products or services were investigated? Why didn't these work out? Many case study writers skip this section. Don't you skip it. This is the place in the story where the reader begins to identify and empathize.
The discovery. How did the customer find out about the product or service? In an ad? At a trade show? Through a media interview? This section often acts as a bridge to the remainder of the case study.
The solution. This is where you have unbridled freedom to pitch the product or service without fear of sounding too promotional. The earlier sections have earned you this right.
The implementation. How was the product or service installed or implemented? Did everything go smoothly? Be honest about any problems that arose and how these were resolved. Highlight instances where your company or client went the extra mile to satisfy the customer.
The results. How well did the product or service solve the customer's problem? Be as specific as you can here. Use hard numbers such as cost savings, revenue gains, sales growth, and return on investment. This is another good spot to include a customer quotation. And it's a great place to summarize and close your story.
Take a look at this excerpt from a case study:
Savvy Sales Literature Positions Company as the Industry Leader
Effective sales literature — whether it's a series of brochures or a comprehensive corporate folder — can be tough to produce. That's because it often must succeed on multiple fronts. For example, the same brochure may be used as a visual aid during sales presentations, handed out to visitors at trade shows, and used in mailings to prospective clients. In addition, brochures are everywhere. So how do you create one that doesn't get lost in the clutter?
Those are just some of the problems faced by Robert Brakel & Associates, a sales tax consulting firm. “As the leader in our industry, the competition is constantly nipping at our heels,” says company president Jim Brakel. “We needed a sales literature package that would immediately set us apart and position us as the best.”
To tackle the problem, he gave Michael Huggins of Mindwalk Design Group a call…
Notice how this case study is written like a compelling story. You want to find out how it ends! It also follows the case study format closely, starting with the challenge and the customer. It's not until the third paragraph that the product — the services of Mindwalk Design Group — is introduced. A case study is most effective when the writer focuses on telling the success story rather than selling the product.
Get the Story
Where do you get the quotations from happy customers to use in the case study? Somebody has to interview the customer to get the story. Review the interviewing tips and best practices provided in Chapter 3. Following are some of the more common questions that copywriters ask during case study interviews.
Be sure to prepare a list of questions before you interview the customer. Don't just try to wing it! You should also visit the customer's Web site, if they have one, and familiarize yourself with that company's history and products.
What does your company do? What is it most known for?
Before you started using [product name], describe the challenges that you were facing.
What were these challenges costing you, in terms of money, productivity, downtime, competitiveness, sales growth?
Before choosing [product name], what other products or solutions did you consider? How did these alternatives compare to what [product name] offered?
How did you come to discover [product name]? Did you see it at a trade show? In an ad? Did a salesperson contact you?
What specific problems were you hoping that [product name] would solve? What expectations did you have?
What made you finally decide to purchase [product name]? What factors played a role in your decision making?
What concerns did you have about implementing or installing [product name]?
How did the implementation or installation go? Was it smooth? Was it difficult? If there were problems, were they dealt with to your satisfaction?
How has [product name] performed since it was implemented? Has it met your original expectations? Did [product name] solve most or all of the original challenges you were facing?
Specifically, using numbers if you can, how has [product name] impacted your sales, customer service, productivity, competitiveness?
Describe instances when [company name] (the makers of [product name]) went above and beyond the call of duty to resolve an issue?
Would you recommend [product name] to colleagues and other companies?