Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How to Write an Effective Case Study

One of the best ways to share and communicate your firm's capabilities is to describe your past experience through case studies.  Yet, for many, this is a confusing exercise.  Where should I start?  What information should I include? Who's point of view should the case study be written from?  How should it be organized?


Tell a story.  Ready?  Once upon a time...



Why?  People like stories!

To be more scientific - - a case study written from the perspective of the hero in distress (client) aids future heroes in distress (prospects) in applying the story to their own situations, and helps them imagine their own successes alongside the hero's helper (the firm offering solution).

Here is a helpful, easy to follow, step-by-step summary from Bill Whitley's the Art of the Rainmaker: the Message, Questions, and Insights that Attract and Engage Clients

This can be organized as follows:

1. Background
2. Challenge
3. Solution
4. Notable Results

Need this spelled out in more detail?  Here is more great wisdom from Simon Townley's blog Write Mindset.
"...A good case study starts out with our hero – our satisfied customer. Like every good hero, he wants something, he has a story goal. He may want to find the perfect ice cream; he may want to buy the car of his dreams; he may want to learn to play the piano; or he might be looking for a world-class data centre where he can host the corporate databases and applications for which he holds prime responsibility. You get the idea.

There is conflict however: he doesn’t know how to reach his story goal.

This conflict is resolved when he discovers product X or service Y. We see how he is able to reach his goal, and come to a satisfying happy-ending when product X delivers a huge range of benefits.

So, to write an effective case study, you need to remember you are telling a story about a person or a company that wanted to achieve something, what they did about that, and how it all worked out in the end. It gives a proven, rock-solid structure for a case study that works every time:

1) The problem – the status quo, the situation at the start of the story, where we see our hero/customer struggling to achieve his story goal.

2) The solution – we show how our hero found product X, and how he used it to achieve his goal.

3) The benefits – we show how using product X has enriched our hero’s life and made him happy-ever-after.

This formula should work for any case study you need to write, be it for a big company, or just a testimonial for online marketing. The story can be a few sentences long, or many thousands of words. The structure can remain the same, only the level of detail needs to change.

Remember, however, to give your story a touch of life. Every good story needs a believable character, so include details of the person/company and a quote which lets us hear the proof in their own words.

Finally, make sure the quotes don’t read like corporate committee speak. Many a case-study has been ruined by the inclusion of so-called ‘quotes’ that don’t sound like something any human being would ever actually say. If the customer can only supply that kind of material, then change it so it sounds like a real quote, or write something for them. In either case, go back and get their approval."

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