There is a difference between learning how to create a case study and learning how to create a case study that is memorable. That persuades. That sings from the rooftops, “Just look at these results — you know you want to work with us!”
Unfortunately, many of the case studies I’ve read are boring, self-aggrandizing, and uninspiring. That’s because most organizations know they need case studies, but fall terribly short in execution.
It’s kind of like that old saying, “It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.”
There is an art to creating a case study that will be the proverbial milkshake bringing all the prospects to the yard. So, today I’m going to teach you everything you need to know on how to create a case study that attracts the right buyer personas and helps you close deals.
(I'm also going to share my personal, free case study template with you that makes creating case studies a breeze!)
But First, What Is a Case Study?
Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of pulling together your case study, I want to give you a quick refresher on what a case study actually is.
I know, I know; You’re a pro. But in order to write a killer case study, you need to understand its purpose, as it will inform every decision you’ll make as you go through this process -- plus, it's never a bad thing to brush up.
We all know that case studies are critical when it comes to nurturing prospects through the buyer’s journey. This is particularly true since potential customers are usually about 70 to 90 percent of the way through the buyer’s journey before they reach out to someone in sales -- and by that point, they’re still going to ingest about 11.4 pieces of content before they make their final purchasing decision.
That’s why your content strategy needs to cover more than just eBooks, blogs, and podcasts targeting the awareness and consideration stages.
When done well, case studies can be invaluable inbound marketing tools during that critical decision stage, when prospects are evaluating who is going to help solve their problem -- and you want them to choose you.
Case studies are also indispensable during the sales process, once a brave prospect has decided yes, they crave the human connection only a sales rep can provide. So, every time you create a case study, ask yourself:
"Would my sales team consider this case study valuable and compelling enough to send to a prospect to help them close a deal?"
If the answer is no, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get to work on how to create a case study…
Step 1: Pick Your Case Study Subject
In my experience, one of the most common reasons a client’s case study has gone off the rails is the foundation of their case study was flawed from the start. In other words, they chose the wrong subject to spotlight.
That’s why you need to vet the focus of your case study before you begin work on it.
Fortunately, there is some good news: When it comes to the scope of the work you choose to feature, size doesn’t matter.
One-off projects (infographics, branding), a short sprint campaign (promoting an event, new content offer), or a long-term, strategic endeavor that took months to complete (website redesign, software implementation)… they’re all viable candidates for your next case study.
But what do the most successful case study subjects have in common? Well, the easiest way to answer that is by telling you what to avoid.
- The project should not still be in progress. You can’t write aspirational case studies, where there is “hope” or “intent” to bring about certain results. That would be like Michael Crichton ending Jurassic Park while the dinosaurs were still running around, eating people. “Don’t worry, I’m sure someone will get the power back on and save the day. The end.”
- If your client is not happy with the work you produced, move on. This should be obvious, but given that we were once put in this exact situation (and our client’s client was more than happy to share how unhappy they were during our case study interview), I’m going to throw in this reminder. When it comes to your case study, you should not be the only one satisfied with what you delivered. Even if they are happy, however...
- If you don’t have results to share, you don’t have a case study. It’s that simple. So, if you’re still in a pilot phase, waiting for results, hold off.
If any of this rings true for a project you’re considering for a case study, set it aside. It’s not case study material. The best case studies highlight completed work supported by measurable results that show how you solved a problem for a now-happy client.
Step 2: Gather Your Information
Once you’ve identified your case study subject, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and go on a fact-finding mission. There are a lot of questions you’ll need to answers before you start working on a draft and you’ll probably need to talk to a number of different people in order to get them.
- Which of your personas will this case study target?
- What problem did your client need solved?
- Why were you chosen to help them solve it?
- How did you approach the challenge?
- What was the ultimate solution, and how long did it take to implement?
- What benefits or results did your client see as a result of your work immediately?
- What benefits or results did your client see as a result of your work over time?
- Do you have a client testimonial?
The goal is to gather as much information as possible across the entire story:
First: Who is your client, and what is their problem or goal?
Next: How did you help them solve their problem?
Finally: Did everyone live happily ever after? Great! Prove it.
"Wait, How Do I Know All of the Questions I Need to Have Answered?"
I am so glad you asked!
To make your life a bit easier, I’ve pulled together this free case study template. It contains every single question you should ask when gathering information for your case study.
The questions are also grouped by where they fall within your “story," and I've included prompts if you feel stuck or need inspiration for certain questions.
One of my favorite things about this case study template is that you’ll be able to spot gaps in your story immediately. Are you light on results? Did you forget to ask for a testimonial? It’ll all be at your fingertips, in a single, well-organized document.
Step 3: Write Your Case Study
With your completed case study template, writing it should be a breeze. But like I said at the start of this, your case study will live and die by your ability to craft a narrative that is memorable.
There are two ways you accomplish this: tone down the fluff and be persuasive.
Minimize Your Editorializing
Whenever I’ve worked on a project I’m particularly proud of, I have a tendency to provide way too many superfluous details.
It’s just because I’m excited, but in the context of a case study, this kind of overeditorializing can make it look like you’re trying to fluff or pad your case study, because your results are flimsy.
Instead, streamline your narrative and your language.
Every detail you include should serve one purpose: to support the thesis of your case study. If it doesn’t, cut it out.
(No one cares if it was raining when you came up with that brilliant idea to drive website conversions, or that your shirt was blue when you thought up that ideal tagline for a new product.)
Also, avoid words or phrases that attempt to influence an opinion, such as unnecessary adverbs or adjectives.
For example, if you’re showcasing a branding project, don’t say the final logo was “beautifully designed.” That kind of statement should only be shared if it’s a testimonial from a client — the client's opinion of your work is the one that matters, not yours.
Put Your Persuasive Writing Skills to Work
Your case study should inspire people to take action. They should want to immediately pick up the phone and call you because they feel compelled to work with you, right?
That only works if you write in a way that is both inspirational and compelling.
Persuasive copy is powerful. Here’s how you do it:
- Even though you’re telling a story about a specific client, include qualifiers about that them (industry, size) - or their situation (pain point, objective) - that allow a reader to feel like you’re speaking directly to them and the problem they’re trying to solve. They should be able to easily step into their shoes and say, "Hey, that sounds like me."
- Comparisons, such as metaphors and analogies, can be your best friend in a case study, as they can help a reader accept a certain scenario as being true if it’s related to something they already understand. However, there is one caveat: Don’t use clichés. While they may exist for a reason, science says we are trained to ignore them.
- Use power verbs. In fact, here are 109 of them, waiting for you to choose them. Power verbs have momentum. Power verbs imply results. Power verbs aren’t wimpy.
- Don’t use passive voice. Use active voice. (What’s the difference, and why does it matter?)
- Spotlight data, client quotes and testimonials to demonstrate the effectiveness of your work.
Finally, don’t forget to proofread!
Step 3: Design Your Case Study
Okay, so you have your case study draft in hand, filled with persuasive phrasing and glowing client testimonials. Now it is time to send it to design.
Of course, the end result at this step will probably depend a lot on your brand’s visual standards, but I still have a few tips for you.
If you’ve been blogging or creating content for any amount of time you — and your designers — probably already know the basics.
- Whitespace is your friend.
- Include visuals.
- Break up walls of text with headings, subheadings, and bulleted lists.
- Call out relevant data points and quotes you want readers to remember visually.
- Include videos (if you’ve got ‘em).
- Also, if you have a testimonial, include the person’s name, job title, and their photo. It shows you solve problems for actual people.
When it comes to case studies, design is just as important as the copy itself.
A well-written case study will only be persuasive if you create a piece that is visually appealing enough that a prospect will actually read it. If they don’t read your case study because of ugly, unfriendly design, all of your hard work will have been for nothing.
The format of how you present your case study is up to you, but keep in mind, they should be easy to find and read. Our success stories are on our navigation and they're ungated. (We don't any barriers between prospects and proof that what we do delivers results.)
However, if you decide to go a similar route of creating a case study that lives as a website page, create a PDF version that is easily printed, as well. It should be a document a sales rep can bring to a meeting and walk through in person, instead of having to say, “Oh, I’ll shoot you a link when I get back to the office.”
A Great Case Study Is Worth the Effort
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Man, Liz. This sounds like a ton of work.”
Well, yes. It is.
In the world of inbound marketing, it’s not enough to simply create content anymore. All of your competitors are now creating blogs, and case studies, and eBooks. In order to stand out today, you have to create quality content that clearly demonstrates you understand the problems of your buyer personas and how to solve them better than anyone else.
So, again, yes. This process is comprehensive, but only because I want to make sure that you are empowered to create case studies that make prospects want to call you instead of someone else.
Now, get to work!
So you want to make case study videos.
And you want them to be convincing, compelling, seductive even.
Video is ideal for case studies because it brings out the authentic emotion in your interviewees in a way that no other medium can. You can communicate all the logical reasoning of a text-based case study alongside the sincere human feeling necessary to guide a lead towards sale.
The process of planning and producing video is subtly different each time. Each case study is unique, because each of your customers is unique.
Luckily, there are some general guidelines that should always be followed when creating video success stories.
We've put together a Straightforward Guide to Case Study Video to lead you through the 11 key steps to creating case study videos that build trust, convert leads and close sales. Keep scrolling for an overview of its contents, or just click the button below to download it now.
Video Script Template
Learn the step-by-step process to convincing your audience.
Our simple template provides the layout you need to write and arrange your video script, plus examples to help you along.
7 Simple Steps to Creating Convincing Case Study Videos
1. Set Clear, Specific Goals
The first step to getting what you want from case study video is deciding what success looks like. Set some clear and achievable objectives that tie into your wider business goals.
Most likely you'll want to use your video case studies to help close sales, convert leads and make your sales team a bit more smiley.
But tweak your goals based on whatever specific target you want to achieve (and make them specific). This way you'll be more likely to hit your target, prove that you hit it, and ask for more money to hit it again in the future.
Free resource: You can use our Video Objectives Template to help you set video goals.
2. Decide on Your Target Audience
How can you create a successful case study without knowing who you're trying to convince?
So it's vital that you narrow down which buyer persona your video is targeted at before jumping any further. This might seem like a simple step, but you'd be surprised how many smart people forget it.
Remember: if you try to appeal to everyone you'll end up appealing to no-one. It's simply not possible to speak effectively to all your diverse target audiences in one case study, so go ahead and just choose one.
3. Find the Problem, Solution, and Your Message
Do you know your target audience's biggest problem and how you solve it?
It's time to identify it. Because this is the cornerstone of your case study video. It's the thing that will prove to viewers you've solved their issues before for others and convince them that you can help them too.
Whatever that core problem is, it'll also become the core message of your video.
This is the major reason why your target audience buy from you. So it needs to be focused on throughout your case study, both in the interview questions and the story (more on that in a second).
4. Choose the Right Client & Get Them Onboard
Now it's time to get down to details. You know which buyer persona your client will need to belong to, but you still need to ask a real client to be involved in your case study video.
It begins with a screening process. You should go through all of your customers and narrow them down based on the target audience/buyer persona they belong to (this will most likely involve job titles and industries), and their ability give a set of compelling answers on camera.
A good rule of thumb: the more similar your chosen client is to the audience of your video, the better. That way viewers will identify with your client more readily, making them more likely to be swayed by your case study.
When it comes to asking your client to be interviewed, it's important to ease any concerns they may have. Be upfront yet gracious. Negotiating 101: the more issues of theirs you alleviate, the more likely they'll be to say yes.
5. Craft the Story Through the Right Questions
All great case studies rest on a compelling story. To extract that story from your client, it's necessary to have some sort of informal pre-interview chat with them to talk through their experiences (and their suitability as case study subject).
Next, the story must be constructed from your client's background, their core problem and their experiences with your product or service. The best structure to follow is the classic 4-part format:
- the situation,
- the problem,
- the solution,
- the outcome.
But how do you get your client to tell that story in a natural way? Through the right interview questions.
These questions should set your interviewees up so that they reveal the story and message of the case study authentically through their answers. Make sure they're open-ended, rather than yes/no, to get the most interesting responses.
6. Create the Visual Style
Video is a unique medium. It allows you to express your case study through visuals and sound as well as words.
This is a powerful opportunity, and you should take advantage of using colour, editing and music to reinforce the story you're telling and the brands you're representing.
Good case study videos have a good production value, which subtly confirms that you care about your client and their story. The best videos intersperse their interviews with supplementary footage (also known as B-roll) to keep viewers engaged.
An experienced video agency will help you create the right visual style for your brand before filming, on the shoot itself, and afterwards. In fact, they should support and advise you through the entire case study video process (like us!).
7. Get Your Case Study Out There
Planning and production aren't the only steps to an effective case study video. You also need to create a marketing strategy for how and where it will be used.
Your case study can be distributed in an almost limitless number of places. This plan should be based on your original objectives and your target audience. Some good general uses for your video include putting it on your website, using it video marketing, and showing it during sales pitches.
And don't forget to include a specific Call-to-Action if you want your audience to take action after watching your video (you most likely do).
Round-Up: Plan for Case Study Success
Follow these steps and you'll be well on your way to creating effective case study videos.
But I'd be lying if I said there isn't more to it than that. There are plenty of other considerations to keep in mind when creating your video, and useful advice that can be invaluable (especially if you're new to the whole process).
Our Straightforward Guide to Case Study Videos will lead you through this process in much more detail, with examples, tips and tricks. Download it for free now to learn the 11 key steps to creating convincing & compelling case study videos that build trust, convert leads and close sales.
The Straightforward Guide to Case Study Video
Learn the step-by-step process to convincing your audience.
Packed full of our expert advice on how to identify the right story, choose the right client, and use your video case study effectively.