Just in case: tips for writing case studies
Lots of business owners hear the phrase “case study” and eagerly decide this is something they should be doing. But our experience shows that often it’s a question of leaping aboard a bandwagon, not quite knowing why they’re travelling, nor where they’re heading.
Case studies come in all shapes and sizes. Some of our clients want straight factual accounts: their client; the proposal; the project; the result. Some want to tell the story themselves, others want their client’s perspective: both may be a personal account of the business/ customer relationship, but the handling and result can be very different. Some clients want to showcase a single high-profile project in great depth; others want a superficial treatment of a range of projects to compare and contrast.
Some businesses want case studies to send out with press packs; others want them to hang on the portfolio section of their website along with galleries of photos; others want to include them in the printed brochures they give to prospective clients, or as appendices to annual reports to be given to stake-holders.
And, of course, the clients – both our clients and our clients’ clients – come from different sectors and business types. It soon becomes clear that the idea of a one-size-fits-all case-study model is a nonsense.
So, if the phrase “case study” has caught your attention and you think this is something you should have for your business, here are a few factors you should consider:
Purpose, audience & distribution
It’s a good idea to start at the end and work back: how are you going to present the case study and who is your intended audience? Keeping these points in mind, you are more likely to find that, whatever the final result is, it’s fit for purpose.
Selection of projects
Which projects should you choose for your case studies? Broadly speaking, these should be the most appealing and most effective stories, the most successful and impressive projects. But if you are putting together a series of studies, you should also think about the ones that work together to show a complete picture of what you do and how effectively you do it.
If you are compiling case studies from the point of view of your own business, you may not need any additional input from your clients. Even so, whether or not you have signed a non-disclosure agreement, it is courteous to ask your clients if they are happy for you to write about them and disclose details of their projects. Depending on the type of work you do, your clients may be delighted to benefit from the publicity, but there are times when they would rather remain anonymous and failure to respect this can only damage your own business reputation.
Every business has its own expertise, so if you ask a PR specialist or marketing agency to write the case study for you, you will probably get a higher quality result than if you produce it in-house. You may think you know what needs to be included and may want to gather and collate the information yourself to save money, but bear in mind that if you are employing an expert, it’s only fair to let them do what they are good at: you will need to confirm that your clients are willing to be participate, but after that it may be preferable for the writer to deal with them directly. Quotes attributable to the end customer are always an effective technique for case studies and an experienced writer will ask the right questions to get the best quotes. You will end up with personalised and authentic stories if the writer interviews your clients, although you should be prepared for the associated costs, especially if face-to-face meetings are needed.
Style and length
A case study can be anything from around a few hundred words to 1,500 or more. Style is usually very dependent on the use that is to be made of the study and the audience it is aimed at, but common formats are journalistic reports, story tellings, interviews etc. Different formats and voices are more or less appropriate for different sectors, and different projects lend themselves to different treatments. Even so, if you are writing more than one case study, you should try and maintain a level of consistency that holds them all together and reflects your brand.
It’s not all about the words, of course. You can include photos or other graphics in print, and motion graphics or live video/ audio in digital versions; video testimonials from the end customer can be particularly powerful. Although these can be recorded with mobile devices now, a certain level of quality is needed and some professional edition can make them much more slick. Clearly, there are cost implications to all these different options.
So, although “write me a case study” may sound like a simple request, there’s a lot to be taken into consideration. If you’d like someone to guide you through the process and produce a portfolio of compelling case studies that communicate your brand message effectively, do get in touch for a chat.