There’s a lot more to creating a great marketing case study than just writing. It’s a whole process that includes goal setting, client selection, information gathering, design, and distribution.
As a case study writer, I’m involved in only one small part of the process. But my ability to produce a great case study involves many other factors, many of which are decided on before and after I’m pulled into the project.
I’ve broken down the process into several sections and 15 steps. Here’s what those look like:
Before you assign a marketing case study to a writer, your organization has to lay the groundwork.
Begin by asking yourself why you need a case study in the first place. For example:
The main objective for any type of content marketing is to generate more business. Read Neil Patel’s blog post: Why You Need to Create Case Studies (a Data-Driven Answer).
Ask yourself who would use the product or service you want to highlight and what pain points your solution addresses. Your case study needs to resonate with them to be effective.
For example, for a cybersecurity business I support, the audience differed for two different case studies.
You’ll want to select a client who’s not only ready to sing your praises, but whose story shows your solution and differentiators in the best light.
You also want someone who’s accessible and easy to work with. The more well-oiled your relationship with the client is, the more likely the case study will be published sooner rather than later.
Lastly, be sure your client is on board with a case study before you even start.
Subject matter experts (SMEs) from your company will be the primary source for the case study. Select SMEs who are affable, well spoken, and comfortable explaining complex concepts.
In most cases, I speak to one source from the company that hires me and one source from their client’s company. However, some companies may want to expand the source list.
What I tell my clients is the more sources you include, the more time it takes to write and the more complicated the project becomes. It’s their prerogative, but it will increase the word count and the cost.
The success of a case study depends on showing results. Results can be hard data, anecdotal evidence, a “We did it!” scenario, or a combination of these. Here’s what I mean.
Each one of these examples is valid, because the result synchs up with the client’s reason for using your particular product or service.
Need help figuring out what’s good data? These blog posts might help:
Some clients want a marketing case study for events, such as conferences or trade shows. Others want them for an upcoming client meeting.
If you’re starting from scratch, I allot about a month for just the text from start to finish, providing interviews are easy to schedule and revisions go quickly.
When a case study hinges on a date, that looming deadline creates a matter of urgency for the case study’s completion.
That means you have to ask yourself more questions to see if it’s feasible, such as:
Map those answers to your calendar, and you’ll see if the case study can be done in the time you require.
By the way, I have all sorts of sneaky ways of moving a project along, which you can read about in this blog post: The Zen of Case Studies: How to Finish Them on Time.
Now that you’ve got all the information you need to move ahead on your marketing case study, you need someone to write it. The writer may be part of your team, or you may choose to outsource it to a freelance writer.
Here are four things you’ll want to look for:
If you’re looking for a freelance writer, be sure to read these related blog posts:
These tasks pertain to the writer, but they are managed in tandem with your team. Since I’m the case study writer here, I’ll break down my process.
I always talk to you first to get the background and the main story. As part of the interview process, I do the following:
The bulk of the case studies I’ve written are based on this initial interview. To use a sports analogy, you are the play-by-play commentator. You break down work you did for the client step by step.
The interview reveals the following:
If you or an SME have never been interviewed, this blog post is super helpful: 8 Tips to Help Executives Prepare for the Interview.
The interview with your client follows most of the same steps. The biggest difference between the two interviews is the type of information I get from your client. To use the same sports analogy, your client is the color commentator.
My goal, therefore, is to get your client to fill in information gaps, elaborate on those pain points, offer compelling examples, share data you don’t have, and provide great quotes.
Quotes, by the way, are essential to sharing your client’s authentic voice. To read more about quotes, take a look at this blog post: Why Your Case Study Needs Great Quotes and How to Get Them.
The client interview may be a long or short interview, depending on the length of the case study or how much information I get from my interview with you. However, I try to keep these to 30 minutes. Your clients are doing you a favor, so I want to be respectful of their time.
When we think about writing case studies, we focus on the writing portion. But notice that we’ve gone through nine steps already, and nothing has been written yet.
That’s why I pointed out in the beginning of this post that case studies are as much about the planning as they are about the writing. For a case study project, the actual writing takes about a third of my time.
Here’s my case study writing process in a nutshell:
Once I’ve completed both interviews, I create an outline for the case study — introduction, challenge, solution and results — and share it via Google Docs. The outline allows you to verify that the storytelling and the messaging are on target before I get started.
I follow the outline, adhere to the word count, and include a headline, subhead, and suggestions for callouts, sidebars and pullquotes. If I get stuck on anything, I send you questions via email. When I’m done, I send you the first draft of the case study.
I also make sure that every case study follows these guidelines:
Get more information on what a case study should include: 5 Tips for Writing Great B2B Case Studies
Most clients are comfortable using a collaboration tool like Google Docs to review the content and offer suggestions. The revision process works like this:
Now that you have the final version, the writer (if it’s a freelance writer) will exit the process.
Your internal writer, however, will most likely oversee the rest of the process, perhaps sharing the final with your client before the case study is mocked up, creating a call to action (if applicable) to include on the case study, and writing landing page copy if the case study is a downloadable.
For more information on how to write the case study, take a look at HubSpot’s How to Write a Case Study: Bookmarkable Guide & Template.
Your marketing/design or web development team will manage this process. Or you can outsource it.
Design may include creating a PDF and printing it and/or posting it online. A PDF is handy for sales to send to prospects after initial sales calls. It’s also excellent collateral for conferences and trade shows.
If you’re not going the PDF route, then you’ll design a webpage and post the case study there.
If you’re using the case study to collect leads online, you’ll need to create copy for the landing page. If not, you might just place the case study in a resources section or link to it from your blog.
How you proceed goes back to your original goal. Who is your audience? How will they access it? What action do you want them to take after reading the case study?
Now that your marketing case study is available, you can promote it in any number of ways: via your website, social media, newsletter, sales communications, conferences, tradeshows, etc. The list is endless.
This goes back to your original objective and what you wanted to achieve with a case study in the first place.
As you can see, developing a marketing case study more steps than assigning it to a writer. It takes forethought, goal-setting, project management, interview skills, an eye for design, and one final necessary step: verifying that it helped you achieve what your wanted.
I’d love to hear about your project. Feel free to contact me.