blog Post

What is a Case Study and What Goes into One?

June 10, 2021
Content Marketing
Content Strategy
Case Studies

When you hear the term “case study” what comes to mind? It’s true the term has been bastardized throughout the years and means something different to just about everyone. So let me tell you what comes to my mind whenI hear the term “case study.” To me, a case study is a powerful marketing tool that tells your client’s story through their perspective.

It’s a story to help your readers - hopefully prospects -understand how you helped a client. It’s told like a story, using your client’s own words and emotions so that it is less about “you” and more about “them.”

I am passionate about helping my clients get the most out of their case studies, and when client tells me they want my help creating one, I am nothing by gleeful. But then, we have a conversation that typically goes like this:

Client: We did some great work for a client, and I think it will make a powerful case study.

Me: Fantastic! What was the project?

The client provides a brief overview of the project, after which I say: 

Me: That’s sounds great. What were the benefits they enjoyed because of your work?

The client then provides some vague benefits and results the client experienced, at which point I say: 

Me: Will your client be willing to speak with me about the work you did for them?

Client: Oh, well we have a testimonial from them. Will that work?

Me: It could, but your case study will have much more impact if I can speak with your client to get their perspective on why they chose to work with you rather than someone else, how it was working with you, and what tangible results they’ve experienced due to the work you did.

I then go on to explain that while we could create the case study without speaking with their client, the case study will be much more effective if we do include input from the client.

At this point, the conversation continues:

Client: Wow, that makes total sense. I never really thought of it like that.

Me: Just think about it this way. Do your prospects want to hear you brag about the work you did for a client, or hear the client brag on your behalf about the work you did?

What goes into a case study?

OK, if you haven’t figured it out by now, let me be as clear as possible and state that I truly believe a case study must include input from your client. If it doesn’t, I contend it should be called a project overview or something else. Definitely not a case study.  

So now you may be wondering, wow do you get that input? It’s easy; by conducting an interview. Set up some time with your client via phone, zoom or in person - about 30-45 minutes - and ask them some questions about their experience working with you. You can email the questions in advance, so they are prepared.

And you want to get as detailed as possible when it comes to the results they achieved.

“We were really pleased with the work you provided” is nice to hear but it’s not going to help you in your case study. Why were they really pleased? Did you help them realize a 50% increase in leads? Were you able to help them increase their monthly sales by 10%? Maybe they were able to cut their turnover rate by 40% because of the work you did. Those are the types of results you want to highlight.

And here’s something else your case study needs: a good story.

A case study tells the story of how you helped your client.It includes a beginning, middle and end. Let’s break that down a bit.

The beginning paints the picture of what’s to come. It includes an overview of your client - who they are and what they do - and the challenge they were facing that forced them to seek out your help.

The middle goes into how and why you came into the picture and what you did to help alleviate their challenges, laying out the solutions you proposed.

And the end highlights the results your client achieved because of your work. Tied together, the challenge, solution and results you lay out should make a compelling story.

Something else to think about is to highlight work you’ve done that address common challenges to your prospects.

The reason is, you want other prospects to read your case study and see themselves in your client’s shoes. They’ll think, “Hey, I’m also experiencing that same challenge, and I want it to be resolved the way it’s resolved for this company.”

You see, because your case studies tell a story that includes input from your client, they are very relatable. Your prospect can see themselves in the story.

Wrapping It All Up

If you’re reading this and having an “aha” moment, then I’ve done my job. A case study is not simply a project overview. Instead, it tells the story, with your client’s help, about how you helped alleviate a challenge for them and the benefits they’re enjoying as a result.

And, if you’ve written a bunch of case studies that don’t include your client’s input, that’s fine. But now you know moving forward, that you absolutely, positively must include their input moving forward.

Want to learn more about case studies and how they can help your business grow. Contact me.


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