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How to write a case study that sells

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Author photo: Katrina Oko-Odoi

Katrina Oko-Odoi

Content Marketing Manager

Knowing how to write and create case studies in various formats is a crucial skill — and an important component of your marketing strategy.

But what exactly is a case study?

A case study is essentially an overview of how your company helped a customer or client solve a problem or achieve their goals, and it gives your organization a competitive advantage. It establishes you as an expert with supporting evidence from your existing customers, and can be used to pitch to new customers and market yourself in different ways.

In this article, we’ll cover how to write a case study, step by step. By the time you finish reading about the benefits of business case studies, you’ll know:

First, let’s look at the basic components of a successful case study.

Don’t overlook this case study must-have: the interview

We've found that this part of the case study almost never gets the attention it deserves.

Your case study doesn’t begin with a rough draft or an outline of how you want to promote your company or product; your case study begins with the interview.

Without the right customer and the right questions, it's likely that your case study will turn out mediocre and lack specificity or attention-grabbing quotes and data to help it stand out from those of your competitors. (This is probably a good time to remind you that you won’t be the only one creating case studies — your competitors are building their libraries too.)

Here’s how to start your case study off on the right foot: with an interview that gets you the answers and material you need to create a compelling story.

1. Choose the right customer.

I’m going to be honest: you won’t always have the luxury of choosing the customer to feature in a business case study.

You may have happy customers that are objectively very successful using your product (the two ingredients you want when you’re looking for a customer to do a case study with) and who want to do a case study with you…

Only for their Legal or Comms team to shut it down because they aren’t allowed to endorse other companies, or even add their logo to a “Happy Customers” page.

It’s a huge bummer, and it happens more often with a business case study than we as marketers would like.

But if you’re lucky enough to have an abundance of customers who are both willing and able to participate in a case study with you, choose the ones who are:

  • genuinely, enthusiastically happy using your product or service, and
  • can show stats or tangible improvements in their business as a result of using your product or service

People often fail to include tangible data, but the truth is, “Look at how happy this customer is with us!” probably won’t be enough to sell prospects on giving you a shot.

Your potential customers want to see the benefits of using your solution — and if you can show the numbers to back it up, even better.

This also means that you should choose customers who’ve been with your company for a decent length of time. New customers won’t be familiar enough with your product yet and won’t have had enough time to see dramatic results.

By using Copper internally, our marketing team can see where all our customers are in their life-cycles with us as well as their account histories — which makes it a lot easier to choose good candidates for case studies:

customer records in copper crm
Just by glancing at customer records in Copper, you can tell which customers are happy with you.

Pro-tip: The industry of your customer matters too, in order to get the full benefits of business case studies. For example, if you know that ad agencies are a great fit for your product but you’re not very well-known in that industry, focus on finding ad agency customers to feature in your case studies. This could be great enablement material for your sales reps.

2. Ask the right questions.

Now that you have the perfect customer who's enthusiastic and has cold hard numbers to prove how awesome your solution is, you need to interview them in a way that helps weave a compelling story.

Whether you prefer to have a completely organic conversation with a customer or you want more structure, we strongly recommend sending your customers a list of case study questions in advance of your call. This will enable them to gather any data or information they need ahead of time and will help ensure that the interview is as productive and insightful as possible.

If you’re an experienced interviewer and you’re comfortable having a 100% free-flowing conversation with a customer, go ahead and do what you normally do while inserting some of the questions below where relevant.

Otherwise, let your customer know at the beginning of the meeting that you'll go over the questions you sent them, but that the conversation is open-ended and they can feel free to chime in if any other thoughts come up. Make sure to mention that they don't have to provide all the data on the call; you'll send them a follow-up email requesting any additional information needed for the case study. This sets expectations for everyone and doesn’t put too much pressure on your customer if, say, they don’t have the exact ROI statistics you’re looking for right then.

Typically, these are the questions we’d ask when doing a case study for Copper—and each one contributes to a story that really illustrates the benefits of using Copper. Feel free to take these and reword them to fit your product and industry:

  • What was life like for your team/company before you started using Copper?
  • What business problem were you trying to solve that prompted you to look for a new solution?
  • Were you considering other similar CRM tools? What made you choose us in the end?
  • How did you find the experience of learning how to use Copper?
  • Which teams within your organization are using Copper and how are they using it?

  • Have you customized Copper at all to meet your company’s unique needs?

  • What’s been the biggest difference that Copper has made?
  • Have you seen any improvements in your revenue, productivity, savings, sales…? Rough estimates are okay!
  • Is there anyone else at the organization who can speak to the difference that Copper has made?

Remember, your goal in this interview is to probe and understand. Don’t be afraid to ask “Why is that?” or “Can you tell me a bit more about how you did that?” The more information that you can draw out of your customer, the stronger your case study will be. If you end up with too much information, you can always pare it down.

Pro-tip: Case studies are used by your marketing team and sales team to get in the hands of prospects who are considering giving you their credit card. Keep your audiences in mind as you’re asking questions and fleshing out your story — what information would they find valuable?

Again, if your team is already using a CRM, it’s a great tool for keeping track of all your customer marketing opportunities. For us, Copper is indispensable — here’s more on how we use ours.

3. Identify a compelling narrative angle

It's important to think like a journalist here. Remember, you want to craft a case study that will actually peak your prospects' attention, so it needs to have an interesting angle that helps build the narrative and keeps readers engaged. The information you learn in the case study interview is key here — listen for interesting or unique tidbits to help you frame the story.

For example, in our Houwzer case study interview, the two most unique points that the owner shared was how quickly the company was growing and how they looked to Copper as a role model for innovation to help evolve their technology-based model. So we framed the piece around how Houwzer was innovating alongside Copper. This narrative thread was woven throughout the case study as a way to focus the story and provide specificity to it.

Look for similar insights from your customers that enable you to create a case study that tells their unique story while highlighting the unique value that your product or service offers.

4. Choose the best quotes

One of the trickiest things about writing a case study to entice prospective customers is deciding how to incorporate quotes. If you’re doing an interview, everything your customer says is basically a quote, so how do you write that up into an article-style piece (like this one)?

Essentially, you want to maximize the impact of the positive praise that your customer is singing about your company. So, if they say something like, “We automated over 1,000 tasks every week with Copper. It was unbelievable,” then keep that as a quote. A quote with an impressive number like this is an extremely powerful testimonial, straight from the mouth of your customer — and you should leave it that way.

Then, you can turn the more boring, descriptive dialogue, like “Well, we started out about three years ago in Brooklyn, and now we’ve expanded to two offices and fifty-ish staff,” into a part of your narrative, like this:

“Aliyah started the agency three years ago in Brooklyn. Today, she’s expanded the team to about fifty people on staff and two offices.”

This type of context is important to include because it helps you build out the story. But it doesn’t have to be written as a quote since the customer's voice here doesn't impact the power of the case study.

Okay, now that you have the bulk of your content written to create a competitive advantage, it’s time to decide what you want your case study to look like.

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Pro-tip

Know thy customer 🔍

Learn how to gather and use customer data effectively with this free handbook.

Creating the case study: which format to use?

There are a ton of different formats to choose for crafting your case study. To answer this question, you’ll have to ask another question first: how much time and money do you have?

Let’s go through the most common types and the perks and drawbacks of each one.

Blog post or article

A blog post is your trusty go-to when it comes to case study formats. It’s relatively easy to create and doesn’t strain your resources like a video would — all you really need is a writer and a designer to create the blog images.

If you’re looking for something a little more dynamic and engaging, though…

Video

Videos cost more, take more time to produce — and can tell your story brilliantly if you devote enough effort and resources to it. Ideally, your case study would include a video, but not every team has that kind of time (and money).

Do you have the design and video budget to shoot a case study video? Can you send your videographer and/or creative director on that trip? If it’s not possible, it's best to stick with more traditional written formats.

We don't produce that many video case studies at Copper due to time constraints, but here's an example of one we did with Storm Ventures:

One-pager

Similar to the blog post or article format, the one-pager is exactly what it sounds like: a concise page that highlights the main points of your case study. It’s kind of like a cheat sheet for your sales team, with only the most important details that they need to address when pitching a certain type of customer or client.

deloitte case study example
An example of a one-pager case study from Deloitte

Downloadable case study

These types of case studies are usually at least 2 pages in length and are designed beautifully using images and graphics and a professional layout. Most companies make them available on their websites as downloadable PDFs, and prospects often need to input their contact information to access the content (i.e., the content is gated).

This case study format can be an effective approach given that people who read case studies are usually further down the sales funnel (at the middle or close to the bottom). It's an excellent opportunity to capture their contact information so that you can nurture them with additional content to help get them ready to purchase.

At Copper, most of our case studies come in this downloadable PDF format, but we also produce blog articles that introduce every new case study. This way, visitors that land on our blog are made aware of our case studies and can click over to download and read the full piece.

Here's an example of the landing page visitors land on to download a case study:

Pro-tip: Get the most out of the information you've gathered for a case study by creating multiple formats out of one interview. e.g., if you shot a 30-minute interview, turn that into a short video, a social media post, a blog article for your marketing website, and a one-pager for your sales team.

Now, let’s get into the actual writing of the case study.

Writing a case study in 3 steps:

1. Outline and draft up your story.

First, lay out a rough draft of your story. Every story is different, but should include these fundamental components:

  • A brief introduction of the customer this case study will feature
    • You don’t have to go super in-depth, but this can help “ground” the reader and get them invested in your customer’s challenges—which you’ll solve.
  • How the customer met your brand
    • Were they being wooed by your competitors? Did you save them from disaster and catastrophe?
  • How the customer used / is using your product or service
    • Be as specific as you can. You’re painting a picture for a prospect who probably doesn’t know you very well—describe features and benefits in detail. And lay off the jargon.
  • Plenty of product images and screenshots
    • Wherever you can, use photos and screenshots to illustrate what you’re talking about. Especially when you’re talking about your product, and especially if your product is not the easiest to grasp (which goes for most software companies).
pipeline example in a case study
It’s often not easy for us to get screenshots from customers as they don’t want to give away all their trade secrets, so when we do get a Copper-related for a case study, it’s a cause for celebration.
  • The aha! moment
    • This is the climax of your story. When your customer realizes how much they love your product, or how much money they saved because of using you, or how many more sales they closed… you get the idea. Always, always look for the highlight and try to make it stand out, whether using a block quote or some other visual indicator.
  • Numbers, numbers, numbers
    • This can be folded into your aha! moment, but not always, and that’s okay. Praise and complimentary quotes are great, but in the B2B line of business, numbers tend to be the clincher.

2. Double-check the quotes.

You should be doing this as you go through your transcripts or notes, but if you haven’t, make sure to remove the ums and ahs. They can really take away from what would’ve been a powerful quote.

Look out especially for any awkward phrasing or repetition (this isn’t usually noticeable in conversation, but becomes very obvious once you see it written down) and do some minor editing to make everything sound smooth.

3. Get your customer’s sign-off.

Once the copy is done and the images are in, do a final check for spelling and grammar, then send it off to your customer to take a look.

Some companies have multiple stakeholders that would need to review this, so it’s best to find this out ahead of time—or if you forgot, just budget enough time knowing that more than one person may need to provide feedback.

After you get the green light, your case study is good to go!

Now, let's get inspired to start writing. Here are a few examples of case studies with elements that you can incorporate into your own.

Case study examples: a quick analysis of different case studies

This case study is clearly laid out, namely with “Challenge,” “Solution,” and “Results” sections. All of these are typical of most case studies and not terribly unique, but including a photo of the person who was interviewed near the bottom of the page helps put a face to the story.

keurig case study example

The cool part is that this case study includes a video as well, making it a hybrid of the formats we talked about above. Keurig is a big-name customer to have, so it’s not surprising that Prophet decided to put some money behind this case study.

Probably the most basic out of the case study examples here, this one only has three paragraphs:

proexhibits case study

They have some nice quotes in there, but nothing at all on ROI. How much sooner than the expected turnaround time did they complete the booth? How many attendees did Blue Diamond attract? (Is that more than their previous number?)

Overall, it doesn’t do a bad job of telling the story, but could’ve gone into more detail.

Out of the four, this Landor case study is my favorite in terms of layout—the design is clean with high-quality photos (and though it’s stylish, it doesn’t distract from the case study content):

bmw case study example

Each section is clearly laid out and skimmable, and the “A shift in vision” section is cleverly done as an image with bullet points.

They could’ve written that out as a paragraph (like many marketers do), but this way is much easier on the eyes and really drives home the contrast in the improvements that Landor made to BMW’s retail showrooms.

Again, a beautiful case study—probably the most extensive out of the four here:

patagonia case study

Amp Agency included the usual sections like “Challenge” and “Solution,” but they also have an “Insights” section, which is unique (and a great differentiator if you want to show that you’re a smart, thoughtful agency.)

What makes this an excellent case study? They have the numbers to prove it! They’re all the way at the bottom though and there’s a typo in the “68,5481” number, but it certainly helps to know that Amp Agency’s efforts led to an “88% merchandise sell-through rate during the tour.”

Ready to write an awesome case study?

Building up a library of case studies that can attract prospective customers is no easy task. Not only do you need a dedicated writer and designer (and videographer, if you’re fancy), you also need to find the right customers to feature and the right questions to ask.

With this step-by-step guide and a list of interview questions to start you off, you’ll be building solid social proof in no time.

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