I’ve written a few case studies in my day, and one thing that made it easy was having a structure around which to write. There are many ways of writing a case study, and the best way to do it is the way that best communicates the work done by the client, and highlights their capabilities. Case studies are used as sales tools, thought leadership pieces, and lend credibility to the professionalism of the client. As I said, the outline of a case study can vary, but in general, here’s how to write a case study.
The Six Parts of a Case Study
The case studies I’ve written have been very technical and quite long. The client I wrote them for sells high-end audio equipment that typically has a long sales cycle (i.e. their customers take a long time after being introduced to the product before making a decision to buy). In order to help their sales team, the client wanted case studies that showcased their varied installation and application capabilities, including the system specifications. For reference, here’s a sample case study that I wrote, and that you can use to follow along as you read these six parts.
- Client Introduction
- Materials List
- Quotes Throughout
Tell us about the customer the installation/product/service served, especially if they have big name recognition. Who are they? What do they do? What’s unique about the business? Give the reader a brief overview.
What did the customer need and why? In the case of installing audio equipment, was the customer renovating a facility? Building new buildings? Upgrading? This is where you tell the reader what the task of the vendor was–the immense problem they would soon solve.
How did the vendor do it? Don’t over-exaggerate here, but definitely display the vendor’s skill and expertise in coming up with a solution that fit the client need, budget, and timeline. This is some impressive feat that shows off the heroic capabilities of the vendor. Don’t brag, but bring the awesome.
This section might not be necessary for most case studies, but for technical hardware/software products, the audience (AV integrators, IT/facilities managers) want to know how much hardware is required (read: how much space and money it will cost) to achieve the solution. As you can see on page 3 of the case study referenced, the number of hardware pieces and their names are listed for reader convenience. So, when the audience decides to research the vendor’s capabilities, they know exactly what products/services to explore. Not to be a broken record, but this is where the sales tool-ness comes in.
So, how did everything work out? Did the client love it? (Obviously nothing negative about the vendor is going to go into a case study they’re writing for their own sales use, but you know what I mean.) Tell us how it all worked out. Is attendance at the venue up? Are there any statistics that can be shared? Positive feedback from visitors to the space? Combining the challenge and the solution, what were the learnings? Anything super special or interesting?
Every kind of sales and marketing piece is made stronger with relevant quotes. Include quotes throughout the case study from the customer, vendor, and the customers’ customers (also referred to as end customers–visitors to the new facility, for example). Don’t let this be optional. If you’re writing this piece, make it a requirement that you get quotes from the customer at a minimum. Vendor and end customer quotes are less important, but still cool to include if you can. Quotes are excellent supportive elements for everything mentioned above.
Also, your client for a case study could easily be the vendor performing the service (as was the case for me) or the customer who commissioned the work. Conclave member Jeff Gunderson has written quite a few technical case studies, too. Here’s an example of how he writes them.
I’ve encountered “case studies” that are more like glorified photo galleries (creative agencies are often perpetrators of this). They have beautiful, heroic images, a one-liner photo caption for each, and a concluding statement. Not a case study. A case study should be a meaty sales tool that a company can show to clients that showcases their capabilities and competence to do what they say they do. Photos should definitely be part of case studies (along with good design), but they’re more the garnish or the sauce, not the headliner, not the main attraction. Fight for the integrity of the case study if you’re ever in that position. I’ll back you up!
How do you organize your case studies? Any examples you’ve come across that you’ve liked?