3 tips for producing great case studies

Case studies (or “application stories” as we always tended to refer to them on magazines) are often conveniently relegated down the list of marketing priorities. The effort/reward ratio can be very high. If your own sales or applications engineer doesn’t have the full facts on the installation, the article can be arduous to write, as it might require re-contacting – and possibly inconveniencing – an existing customer. Whether or not this proves necessary, there are those dreaded two words: ‘customer approval’. I’m sure many of you will have had bad experiences with putting something together (possibly with the help of your customer), only to see the finished product unceremoniously rejected by the customer’s MD on a whim.

Yet a well-written case study can be a tremendous piece of sales and marketing collateral. The three tips I’d suggest when preparing one are as follows:

1. Write a good summary of what you intend to write, how you plan to use it, and the benefits publication can bring to your customer’s company. Then ensure you find out who will give ultimate approval at the customer’s company, and ensure they understand the benefits they’ll get from this publicity and are happy with the project before you even think about getting the article produced. If their objection is the usual daft one that they don’t want to publicise whose components, systems or services they’re using, begin the proposal by pointing out how easy it is for their competitors (or anyone else, for that matter) to find out about your involvement, by reading the label or whatever.

2. Line up an experienced technical writer to create the article. The customer will be impressed, and you’ll get a good, objective view on the application. More than almost any other promotional writing for your company, a case study is journalistic reporting, and an independent writer should be able to see the wood from the trees far better than you or the customer.

3. Sort out great photography at the start of the project. There’s nothing worse than proudly saying that your widget has been used as part of The Great Big Sprocket System and then finding out that the only photo of The Great Big Sprocket System looks more like a grainy, snatched spy photo. Wherever the case study goes – your website, a newsletter or a magazine – you’ll want an arresting shot of the doubtless glamorous application if the article is to attract any attention.

Any other tips, in your experience? I’d love to hear them.

Discussion

  1. Pauline Rawsterne

    Ascertain the customer’s problem and how your product or service helped to overcome it. It may sound obvious, but all too often people writing case studies don’t ask the right questions of the client – in fact sometimes they don’t get to speak to the client at all. But how can you produce a convincing case study without quality information?
    If you’re simply saying that the client was a widget manufacturer who ‘wanted a good service at a reasonable price’, not only does it make for a bland case study but when you come to do the second and the third you’ll probably be saying more or less the same thing.
    Therefore ask open questions, not just about why they chose the product or service but also about their business. Try to find three or four unique things to say in each case study as this is what gives added interest. So for example, maybe the client company was started by the founder’s grandfather with a horse and cart a century ago; or maybe it supplied widgets for the world’s tallest building. Perhaps the product was the only one small enough to fit the bill; or technical input from the supplier helped to resolve a complex engineering problem.
    For each case study, keep a note of the product or service involved, the client’s sector, and the particular problems it solved. Then as you build up your supply of case studies, you’ll be able to develop a grid that will provide an easy reference aid enabling you to quickly pick out relevant case studies for any enquiry you receive.

  2. Paul Nash

    You seem to have covered most of the points but overlooked the significance of the ‘quote’ from the end customer. There is nothing like a favourable quotation for reinforcing the ‘message’ and quite often the client’s customer will say more positive things to a third party (i.e. not the supplier). Finally, if you can get permission to visit a customer’s premises to do a case history maximise the opportunity. Take videos if possible for web sites or other publicity purposes, and discuss the customer’s future plans in case there are future opportunities for your client, a valuable service for your client and very much appreciated!

  3. eli wildawski

    Place those monthly/weekly application notes in your website.
    1. It brings the g search engine back for more indexing
    2. It provides your customer list, a follow up on all your applications, so they can always forward their contacts to it.

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