Many companies can talk a big talk, but how many times have you ever heard someone call themselves The Best at something? It can be easy to portray yourself as being the best, but often harder to convey to potential customers (with data) that you actually are.
But there’s one way to do this well, a way that shows how customers interact with your product, how they use it and most important of all – what results they get.
Yes, that’s right we’re talking about case studies. A good case study achieves a lot of things (more on this later) but the main area it overachieves above everything else is that it shows that your product or service is capable of solving problems (that it’s built for) and fulfilling needs of your customers.
Writing a good case study isn’t necessarily easy, in fact it’s easy to write a bad one. Or at least in my experience a boring one. Case studies don’t need to be boring in this day and age.
They can however be costly to produce, ranging upwards of $2k just for copywriting alone. Most startups either can’t afford to pay that or generally don’t budget for it. As a result, the case studies get left in the lap of someone on the marketing team who produces something that’s best effort.
Can you make high-quality, high-ROI case studies that make your brand look great without hiring an expensive professional copywriter? We think so.
To give you some insight into how well this performs for us:
Our case studies have generated over 60k pageviews in the last 12 months alone
Case Studies are our highest ROI generating content too, we’ve talked about this before in our Content Pillars post, so 60k pageviews means a lot of eyeballs on the product (and a lot of paid customers).
Let’s take our Beardbrand one:
This case study generates anywhere up to 200 pageviews per day by itself, took less than 4 hours to write and is responsible for more than $100k+ in revenue alone.
Over the past few years we’ve developed a simple case study framework that we follow and we’re about to share it with you.
After this reading this post, you’ll know exactly how to:
- Identify and incentivize the right customers
- Get the right information to make the case study actionable
- Tell a story that captivates the reader to convert
- How we make case studies less like case studies
- Examples of others that write rocking case studies
- How to drive traffic to your case studies
Steps To An Amazing Case Study
Decide On Your End Goal
Abraham Lincoln once said:
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
This is great advice for lumberjacks. It’s also something to keep in mind when you’re writing case studies.
We’ve talked a lot about evergreen content in the past. Blog posts, infographics, and even e-mail campaigns come and go. You publish them, they deliver results (or don’t) and then you move on to the next piece of content.
The isn’t necessarily true for case studies (depending on how you write them). They usually require a lot of effort and research to write, they also tend to be long-form and deliver a high ROI. For this reason, a single case study can remain an important part of your marketing for months or even years.
The end goal of a case study shouldn’t be to bore your users
The opposite however, is also true – it is very possible to write a case study that flops or one that’s only relevant for a very short period of time. If you do, you’re potentially losing at least dozens of hours and thousands of dollars. So there’s definitely an opportunity cost with writing this type of content.
That’s not to scare you – but rather to emphasize that it’s crucial to know what you want your case study to achieve.
Here are the 2 main decisions you need to make:
The Desired End Goal / Result
When Slack launched they made a great video that was in fact just a giant case study showing how a typical business can use their product.
The initial slack launch video is technically one giant beautiful case study
But the end result can vary wildly depending on what type of business you run. You need to take a step back and decide what outcome the case study is serving:
- Generate more leads for your sales team
- Generate more social proof for your website
- Drive more signups
- Drive more sales of a specific product or service
- Educate your customers on how to use the product in a certain way
- Show off new product features in a live setting
- Draw spotlight to a new partnership
Are you trying to generate leads? Build brand awareness and recognition? Show your prospects that you can solve their problems?
Figure out what it is that you want – because if you have no clear direction, you won’t be able to guide readers towards it. Make sure to have one primary goal, even if you have a few auxiliary ones. This’ll help you stay on track at all times.
You have a brand. That brand has a story. You want to weave your case study into that story – or write it in a way that adds to the story you’re already telling.
How do you do that?
The first step is aligning your case study’s desired end result with your brands story.
The second is understanding where your perfect customers are in their own decision-making process. Once you do that, you can make your case study’s narrative a perfect fit with their story. This is the smart way to get what you want without ever having to hard-sell.
Case studies should convey the power of your product through your customers eyes
Some example narratives:
- Gleam: Helping users grow their business
- Canva: Helping teams create better images to serve their various needs
- Hubspot: Showing customer success with their product
- VWO: The various ways that customers use (and see success) from their product
- Front: Helping teams communicate better with their customers
Find The Right Customers
When planning your case study, you’ll likely have multiple candidates to choose from. It’s important to remember that the ones you like best may not give you the best results.
Instead of relying on your personal sense of intuition, focus on finding a candidate that helps show customers:
- How you product or service works in a particular industry
- Getting incredible (or above average) results
- With an underdog story
- Using your product in an unorthodox or unique way
- That you can handle clients of specific sizes or volumes
- That you’re an expert in a particular niche
You likely won’t be able to find someone who helps you achieve all of the above. However, if you keep an eye out for several important case study elements, you should be able to hit the mark on most of these points.
Some of the things that we track which helps us narrow down case study targets include:
- Consistent results or campaign volume across many campaigns
- High volume outlier campaigns
- Campaigns with conversion rates above our averages
- Customers that create a large number of campaigns
- A specific segment that is trying to replicate the results of a customer
- Follower growth of customers, are they growing fast? Are we responsible?
- Email communication, do customers show enthusiasm to do a case study + have results?
Some of the other things to consider (that you can’t track automatically):
A Juicy Story
Many psychologists believe we make emotional decisions, then rationalize them – even when doing business. This is important to factor in when writing content. You might assume everything is purely logical in the B2B space – but at the end of the day, your readers are still people who enjoy a great story.
One of our most popular stories is the one below, where we show Greenbelly using Gleam to generate great results on a budget:
This means you should always try to go above and beyond cut-and-dry numbers. You want to pull at readers’ heartstrings and make them feel your message. To do that, you’ve got to have a juicy, dramatic story.
The absolute best case studies tell stories that users can connect with
Every story has to have a character, or a range of people that help take the story from conception to completion.
Take Eric from our Beardbrand case study, he offers a really relatable situation to many people just trying to start their business from scratch.
Some companies and businesses really try to show how their product can impact an entire company.
Take this video case study from Herman Miller about their client Wistia:
We really love how the actual case study video uses Wistia too.
You want to show concrete, specific results. Avoid wishy-washy stuff like “increased leads by 2x” or “substantially improved sales”. It doesn’t mean much.
Don’t be afraid to use real figures and numbers in your case studies (client permitting)
Instead, find a customer that will give you very specific data like “added $31,987 to sales” and “drove an extra 1,000 leads in 1 month” to play with.
Just like this one where our customer generated an extra $200k per year with 1 opt-in form:
Knowledge & Co-operation
Most (if not all) case studies are interview-based. This means they’re a team effort. This means you need someone “on the other side” who gets what you do – even if it’s only a little. For this reason, you ideally want to work with someone who’s both competent and cooperative.
Quite often you’ll be able to see the best user by the ones that are actually using the product, you should have their Names + Emails already – so this is normally a good place to start.
Of course, there are many other considerations. Big brands are better than small ones; cases where your competitors failed and you succeeded are also fantastic. But so long as the 4 main boxes above are checked, you can move onto…
Not all your clients will be on-board with being featured in a case study. So first you’ll need to ask them.
Here’s the template we use when reaching out for case studies:
As you can see it’s pretty basic and straight to the point. It’s also quite personal – almost conversational.
You’ll notice a few things that we do:
- Mention a recent campaign that impressed us
- Link an example of the type of case studies we write
- Show some sort of benefit to the user – we’ve found a credit works best for us here (3/6 months)
I’ve never not had a customer respond to this template.
On the other hand, getting customers to provide the followup information in order to write / make the case study successful is another story 😆
The best way to address this is to have a proper process that you follow for each case study. Here’s a rough one that we follow:
- Research: Who are you going to target?
- Reach out: How are you going to get in contact?
- Questions: Decide what questions you want answered
- Collect: Collect the answers, images or information that allow you to write the case study
- Prepare: Write a draft of the case study
- Publish: Push the case study live
- Promote: Promote the case study to your audience
We’ve covered a good bit of this process already, but the tricky part happens now. How can you get your customer on board to give you everything that you need to write a case study that really kicks ass?
Once you’ve reached out and agreed to cooperate on the case study, in principle or formally, it’s time to start planning what questions you’ll need to ask.
Preparing Questions & Collecting Data
Once the customer agrees to the case study you’ll need to formulate your discovery questions. You want to make the case study process as simple as possible for the people you’ll be collaborating with.
This means you need to determine the format, will this just be a text or post based case study? Or will you be doing a Podcast interview? Or even a video?
Your overall end format will dictate your approach. I like doing this via email and trying to make it as personal as possible.
Here’s a example from our most recent case study followup that includes both the email above and the questions combined.
- Avoid yes/no questions. Instead, create small, non-invasive, open ended questions
- Think of this as an intelligence gathering exercise. You won’t get everything you need right away
- Leave some space for open-ended answers. No matter how perfect your planning is, your partner(s) may have things to say outside your questionnaire’s format
- Try not to pigeonhole yourself into just answers to your own questions, ask some leading questions that allows the customer to get creative
Once you get a response to this email you might decide to just ask for more detail, images, or get the customer to jump on a call to delve into the details.
I’ve found that it’s also important to ask the customer what level of transparency they’re comfortable with, sometimes organisations will be funny about giving away too much data to the public.
Once you’re done with that, it’s time to…
Write The Case Study
This is where a lot of folks get stumped. Unless you studied in a business school or worked in a corporation before, it’s rare to have much experience writing case studies.
But despair not! Just follow the simple blueprint below. It’s simple to use, it’s pleasant to read, and it’s familiar to anyone who’s used to reading case studies.
Forging out a structure for your case studies can help you immensely.
A typical structure looks like this:
- (Optional) Executive Summary. This is more of a TLDR; who is the customer, what did they achieve and how?
- Introduction. Who is the customer? Why are they using your product?
- The Challenge. What problems are they using your app/service to solve?
- The Process. Briefly explain what you (or the customer) did
- The Outcome. Give a mix of story-based and fact-based outcomes that make you and your client(s) look good
- Recommendations. Tell readers what to do next – and make it 100% clear how your business can help them achieve similar results
- Takeaways. Explain the key takeaways that might be useful for your readers
Here’s an example case study that follows this exact format.
It’s very easy to get bogged down in the process and end up writing the typical boring case study. So write your case study with the following points in mind:
- Keep paragraphs short; up to 3 sentences or so will make text easily scannable
- Don’t overcomplicate things. Avoid industry jargon unless it’s absolutely necessary; your readers won’t necessarily have the desire or capacity to understand advanced materials
- Break text up with subheadings every 200-500 words, just like we’re doing in this blog post for readability
- Use Images, an image keeps the user’s attention and helps break up the flow of the case study. They can also help explain certain points that you make throughout the case study
Once you’ve completed the first draft, it’s time to…
Add Value to the Case Study
Once you’ve completed the “meat & potatoes” of your case study, it’s time to pump authority, credibility and persuasion by adding value in several basic but effective ways. First, you’ve got to have stats and facts.
The more relevant data you can collect and present in, the better. It boosts your perceived authority and saves your reader time and energy. Essentially, you’re curating information – which is a major value add for your case study.
Something we mentioned earlier is that you want concrete, relatable numbers. “3,000 new customers” is better than “200% more leads”, because the latter could mean anything whereas the former is a specific headcount that’s easy for the reader to visualize.
There’s a bunch of metrics you can ask your customer to provide:
- Revenue uplift from campaign
- Analytics reporting or backend reports
- Traffic increase during campaign
- Conversion rate lift from campaign
- Efficiency increases (i.e. able to get more done)
One thing that can be good to do is build revenue tracking into your app, so that customers can see the direct impact of campaigns on their dashboard.
Then, in future, getting this data for case studies will be super easy.
Getting users to read a case study can be hard if you don’t actually provide them any value. We try to provide value in every case study by offering ‘5 Growth Takeaways’ that use showcase various techniques to help you replicate the success of the customer.
Try to make your case studies feel more like guides and less like marketing material
This makes the case study feel less like a piece of marketing and it ends up being a useful guide to help you out. More people read the case study, more people share it and it ends up driving more signups.
Improve Your Storytelling + Visuals
Another way to add value is through quality storytelling. Remember: even if you’re marketing B2B, the people reading your materials are still people. They love a good, relatable story. Last but not least we’ve got graphics, data visualizations, and images.
These are important – because as much as 90% of the data processed by our brains is visual. Something as simple as adding stock photos allows you to tap into this effect, making your case study easy-to-absorb and memorable.
For example, this visual shows the impact Shopify were able to have by running a competition that promoted a specific blog post:
You can maximize this effect by using image-text combinations like:
- Infographics, which show a process, sequence of events, or abstract idea through a combination of images and words
- Data visualizations, which illustrate data
- Captioned images, which attach a specific idea to a visual aid
If you need inspiration for images or need some for your posts check out our guide to downloading free stock images.
Use Customers Quotes to Illustrate a Point
Being able to see a customer talk about your product has a huge impact on the reader. Make sure you grab quotes or testimonials that you can use.
Competitions are a great way to engage our following and to provide incentive for taking action on our pages.
We sprinkle them throughout case studies to add relevance to specific points:
The platform is easy to use on the brand end, and our followers and fans who take part in competitions never have any difficulty entering or using the platform.
Review Your Case Study
Once you’ve made the first draft of your case study, it’s time to get more eyes on it. Two heads, as they say, are better than one; other people and teams may have valuable insights and ideas that didn’t occur to you.
Who should you show your case study to, exactly?
Team: First, show it to team members. Get them to scan it for mistakes in spelling, logic, flow, and presentation. Ask for their input on important ideas you may have missed. Get their honest, no-holds-barred opinion on the overall quality of the piece.
Client: Afterwards, show the case study to your customer. Brainstorm with them on how you could add further value. See if there’s anything you missed in terms of demonstrating value and capabilities.
Once they give you the nod you can publish it. At this point, you should have a solid, top-notch case study.
Don’t forget to give your post one last check for spelling or grammar mistakes. We’re all human.
But, we’re not done yet because you’ll need to…
Your case study is out. It’s going to get its fair share of organic reads. But with case studies being such high-ROI marketing tools, and with you having put so much work into yours, why not capitalize by promoting?
Promoting on Social
The most instant and easy way to get eyeballs on your case study is to promote it to your social audience.
Adding your case studies into your regular Tweeting schedule is a great way to get visibility. We usually sticky our most recent case study to the top of our Twitter profile.
Facebook works on a similar principle, we’ve found that really playing around with your messaging can have a huge impact on the engagement of the post.
Instagram tends to work much better for visual case studies and videos, you also need to ask users to click your bio link to view it (which can be problematic).
Promote on Your Website
Many businesses have case study sections on their site. Make sure you add this one to the list.
Once you get enough case studies you can end up categorising them to help users find specific use cases that fit their objectives.
The thing about case studies is that not only are they great for helping you win customers, they can also be great to help existing customers understand your product more.
We use our Capture notification bar to display new case studies for our existing users to read – sometimes giving them inspiration to try different things.
You might think that the traffic generated by this would be insignificant. But you’d be wrong.
This bar generated over 8k reads from ~80k impressions at a 9.5% conversion rate. You’d be silly not to try something like this for your own case studies.
Running a Competition
This is something that we started trying a few months back, could we use our own product to promote our case studies or blog posts?
Turns out the answer is a resounding yes.
Just look at how many Retweets this particular case study has:
We’re using a Red iPhone 7 to promote this case study which has over 200k entries for ~$749 USD prize outlay.
How far would $749 get you on an ad platform?
Get best practice tips for:
Other Promotional Ideas
Here’s a few other ideas on promoting your case study:
- Email your list about the case study, make sure that the email is relevant to their interests
- Run paid ads to various demographics to see how they respond to the case study
- Link to case studies from related articles or blog posts
- Make a SlideShare presentation to accompany and preview the case study for more organic traffic. SlideShare is something of a free search engine for professionals, and it’s easier to rank there than on Google Search
- Create a PDF of the case study and offer it as a content upgrade
- Case studies tend to do quite well on LinkedIn, make sure you post it there
- If your case study is a video make sure you post it on Youtube/Vimeo or embed it in your blog posts
- If the case study is newsworthy then you might consider pitching it via a PR company
- Link to case studies from relevant landing pages as social proof
- Answer Quora questions related to your case study, and drop a link to the URL at the bottom. This will improve your perceived authority and drive free traffic.
- Publish a quality Medium post and link to the case study URL from inside it.
The more you do to promote, the more you’re going to get out of your case study.
Remember: Case studies offer a very high return, which is why they’re so expensive to outsource. But if you don’t drive traffic effectively, it doesn’t matter how great your case study is; it won’t make you any money or do anything for your brand.
Update and Refine Your Case Study
You’ve made it this far – and now that you know the step-by-step instructions for creating an epic case study, you can give yourself a round of applause.
Just don’t get the idea that the process of writing your case study is over once you publish it. Remember: a case study takes a lot of effort to create. You want to make sure you squeeze every last drop of value out of it, don’t you?
Of course you do!
To get that done, you’ll want to keep updating your content for two reasons.
First, you want your case study to be evergreen, i.e. to continue delivering leads and brand value as time goes on. Doing this means ‘refreshing’ it to reflect new technologies and trends.
Second, you want to make sure you’re addressing the needs and wants of your prospects as well as you can. So if your product changes, or certain features aren’t available anymore then you’ll want to make sure the case study reflects that.
Otherwise it doesn’t become as effective.
Another trick is to constantly test various SEO Titles on your posts to see if you can drive more long tail traffic.
A little effort goes a long way. Compared to the initial effort of planning, writing, publishing and promoting a case study, the process of refining it is simple. Don’t dismiss it out of hand.But now, let’s get to the most important question of all.
Should you actually commit to writing a case study using this guide?
After all, this form of content can be extremely profitable when used right – but very costly when misused. Case studies take lots of energy, resources, and man-hours; you don’t want to make one, then find out it’s not delivering the results you hoped for.
So what do you need in order to publish case studies that generate leads and sales?
For starters, you need to have a consistently successful content strategy. A case study should generally not be the first (or main) piece of content you field on your website.
Second, you want to have a customer acquisition funnel that works. Without one, even the best case study in the world won’t lead to conversions.
You might also want to create a testimonials or customers page that features snippets of awesome feedback from customers (without getting into full case study mode).
Now get out there and rock your next case study!
Read Our High Converting SaaS Case Studies
- Adore Me: Running The Perfect Holiday Giveaway
- ESL: 2M+ Social Actions in 7 Days
- Shopify: How to Promote Blog Posts With Contests
- Flyte: How to Smash Your Kickstarter Funding Goal
- Beardbrand: Growing a Shopify Store From Scratch
- Greenbelly: How to Partner With Brands On a Budget
- 4 Million Engagements in 2 Years