If you’ve worked in marketing for any length of time, there’s no doubt you’ve written (or at least contributed to) a case study. They’re inevitable in the industry. And for good reason.
Marketing case studies provide proof and validate an organization’s efforts. They show prospects that you’ve encountered—and conquered—industry-specific problems. They externalize your products or services and showcase your expertise.
But case studies are also an appropriate way to #humblebrag about your results. They’re an effective lead generation tool that can be used in sales pitches or RFPs. In this context, case studies are an easy way to convince prospects to partner with your organization.
When executed properly, marketing case studies showcase your approach and capabilities (without giving away too much of your agency’s secret sauce). By telling your company’s story the right way, you provide prospects an opportunity to live vicariously through other brands.
While some writers may consider case studies a necessary evil, I’ve come to enjoy the process. Case study creation requires effective research and storytelling tactics. The ex-journalist in me enjoys the process of uncovering a client’s challenges—and showcasing their success.
But case studies do require some finesse. Let’s review how I write a case study.
Involve the right stakeholders.
Marketing content writers often serve as liaisons for departments within a greater organization. We are the narrators who celebrate the successes of our agency. We’re responsible for relaying client success stories to the general public.
However, the truth is that writers aren’t always on client calls or in the weeds with specialists. To ensure you’re accurately telling a story, it’s important to interface with the right stakeholders.
I’ve found it helpful to schedule a kickoff call with analysts and other account managers to understand the history of an account. These quick, thirty-minute meetings are a great time to wrap your head around the backstory of an account. While I generally prefer to keep things open-ended, I do have some back pocket questions that help steer these meetings.
Here are a few that generally help spark some thoughts:
- What are some unique challenges posed by the client’s industry?
- What were some of the client’s challenges when the engagement began?
- What was their previous—or existing—advertising or marketing strategy?
- What were the results? Over what time period?
- What major turning points did they experience? What did we teach them?
Ultimately, it’s important to take the time to dive deep into the history of the account. Without an understanding of the client’s motivations and challenges, it’s difficult to get to the root of the problem.
Plan and organize your content.
Once I do my research, it’s time to start thinking conceptually. While I generally stay away from outlines while writing blogs or other marketing content (a conversation for a different time…), I do find it advantageous to organize case studies into specific sections. Not only does this help standardize our agency’s efforts, it ensures that I have adequate information for each stage.
At Workshop Digital, we generally organize case studies into the following sections:
- The background: This section sets the stage for the case study. I use it to make relatable connections—including relevant problems shared by most businesses—that often expand beyond the realm of digital marketing.
- The challenge: At this point, it’s time to blatantly outline a client’s roadblocks. Once I uncover the backstory of a client, explaining their challenges becomes an easier task.
- The plan: This section centers on our team’s tactical plans. At this point, I’ve already outlined challenges; now is the time to discuss specific approaches to problem solving.
- The results: Arguably the most vital part of a case study, this is the time to highlight real-life data that was uncovered during the business relationship.
Utilize storytelling skills.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: storytelling is the foundation of quality marketing writing. Case studies are no exception. Each one should be viewed as a standalone story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Think back to your high school English class. Remember the elements of plot conflict? They apply to case studies, as well.
- Exposition: The introduction of the case study—or, the business issue faced by your client.
- Rising action: The moment of conflict that sets events in motion—and the moment where you stepped in and started developing a strategy.
- Climax: The turning point where you did something specific that subsequently ends in positive results.
- Falling action: The time in the story that wraps up your narrative and resolves any loose ends.
- Resolution: The time to explain the lessons learned—and show the results.
As is the case for all marketing copywriting, it’s essential to understand your audience. It’s important to keep jargon to a minimum. However, by knowing your audience, you also know when you can get away with using specific terminology. For example, including a recognized, industry-specific tool or tactic is okay (if you take the time to define it, of course).
Include the right data.
A case study without data is like a ship without a rudder: It goes nowhere. In fact, a case study without data-driven results probably shouldn’t be written in the first place. While it’s critical to build your story throughout the body of the document, you must back your claims with cold, hard facts. Including key performance indicator (KPI) data and statistics helps quantify your results.
I generally work directly with analysts to ensure that we have the right data to tell a story. This sometimes involves some back-and-forth communication to nail down the right story. Each KPI is different. For example, an increase in leads may indicate a successful paid advertising campaign. Or, a growth in website traffic shows organic SEO success.
Ultimately, you should strive to tell a compelling, cohesive story. And data helps back your story with real-life results.