How to write a case study (even when you don’t want to.)


Sharon Tanton

Sharon is Content Director at Cohesive, and co-author of Valuable Content Marketing | Fascinated by the power of stories in making change | Loves gardening | Lives in Bristol

Andy Williams

Co-founder, the wordy 'other half' | Intrigued by good content, and what it achieves | Bit of a nerd, quite creative, loves to write | Father, cyclist, activist | [ he/him ]

A bunch of people are brainstorming

This article is about how to write powerful content, based on audience insights. It’s our second in an evolving series, so keep checking back. At the start of the series we talked about why audience insight matters when you want your content to connect, and we learned some lessons from standup comedians. Next, we explored a shortcut to creating impactful content by telling a story your audience is already invested in. Here we teach you how to rework the tired old formula for case studies into content that inspires trust and puts your relevance into overdrive.

Case studies are powerful sales collateral, but I have a confession to make. I have a mental block about them.

Of course I know they’re useful. If someone is considering whether or not to work with you, they’ll turn to your case studies straight after your service pages. Or maybe they’ll turn to them first of all, because they want to check out what you actually do, before they read your sales copy. Case studies show you in action and give a flavour of the real impact you create. The purest form of social proof, they demonstrate the trust your clients have in you, and the way that you help. Just about every client I’ve ever worked with or for has said ‘we need more case studies.’

Get them right and they show you in action, demonstrate your value, unlock conversations with potential clients, and move conversations on towards a sale. They’re the sonic screwdrivers of your sales content tool kit, and yet, writing them feels like very hard work.

So often case studies lurk midway down the marketing to-do list, and never quite make it to the top.

The reframe

For me, writing case studies is the ‘tidy your bedroom’ of marketing writing. Blogs are so much easier to manage. They don’t need signing off by clients for a start. They’re self-contained but with room to riff around, so they feel a bit freer. Writing a case study takes a lot more work. It’s more structured, and more rigid, and you have to look at all the stuff you shoved under the bed.

So what’s the answer?

Think of them as customer stories, not case studies, and they instantly sound less boring. (Because that’s the other thing about case studies. 86.9% of case studies on the web are really dull. There was a problem. We fixed it. Aren’t we great?)

Start adding characters to the story and you give yourself the ability to add more life to the piece. You can frame the challenges in relatable language, you can add quotes, you can talk about the results in a way that feels real and immediate. Yes, case studies benefit from numbers and statistics – it’s a chance to set data in context – but getting people into them brings them alive.

5 fresh ingredients: one easy-to-follow recipe

But back to basics first. What ingredients make up a good case study? A basic case study needs to include the following:

  1. A challenge: The first step in creating a case study is to identify the challenge that your customer was facing before they turned to you for help. Difficulty generating leads, spiralling costs, projects getting stuck, unclear messaging, poor staff retention? The challenge could be anything at all – but it’s one that you’re well placed to tackle.

    Top tip: Describe the challenge through your clients’ eyes. What were they feeling, as they faced up to this challenge? How was it affecting their clients, their staff, their ambitions, and their profits? What was at stake, and what difference could solving it make to them and their organisation?

    Your most profitable, most enjoyable, most rewarding projects always make the best case study material. Putting case studies out into the world is asking for more of the same to be sent your way, so focus your efforts.

  2. An approach: How did you figure out a solution? What method, tools and experience did you bring to bear? What were the key insights that informed the solution? You’re going to be at your most credible and persuasive when you can show that you know how to replicate success. So if there’s time and room, don’t jump straight to what you did, but spend some effort explaining how you did it.

  3. A solution: Here’s where you get to talk about the specific products or services that you provided, and how they helped the client achieve their goals. Weave any relevant data through the copy. Statistics, charts, or graphs that illustrate how your solution improved the customer’s performance add credibility to your case study.

  4. Impact: What’s changed for the client’s business as a result of your work? A summary of the difference you’ve made is a key component of a case study. Did you meet or surpass expectations? How has your help affected the bottom line? What’s the A to B journey you’ve taken the client on? From complexity to clarity. From stuck to unstuck. From struggle to growth. Sum up the difference you’ve made in simple, clear words. And get a summary from the client in their own words too. Ask them how it feels and what the transformation you’ve delivered means to the business

    Top tip: Sometimes your biggest adversary is the status quo. For a prospective client, doing nothing can seem like the safest, lowest cost decision. Here’s your chance to bump them out of that complacency, demonstrating that the prize is worth the effort, and that you can minimise any risks.

  5. The client’s voice: Weaving the client’s words into the body of your case study underlines your credibility and brings it alive. A happy client will attest to the effectiveness of your solution and make your case study feel authentic. And it turns what could be a not especially interesting report on process or products into a story that people will want to read.

Fries with that?

What sides and garnishes can you add to make writing case studies less of a chore, and reading them more rewarding? Don’t feel you need all of this, if you have the basics covered, and much will depend on the final format, word count and what not.

Takeaways | Adding a summary of the key things you’ve learnt during the project is a useful addition to a case study. Super helpful for anyone thinking of taking the same journey (i.e. a potential client,) you can include things like ‘things to get in place before you start,’ ‘problems to avoid’ ‘biggest success indicators.’ Additions like this are not only interesting to write, they help you get better in your role too. Capturing the learning after a project is a good use of your time. Share that learning and it can become useful content in its own right.

Strong headlines | Case studies are heavyweight evidence proof of your expertise, but don’t treat them too reverentially.  You want people to read them.  So apply the usual rules of smart business writing and grab attention with a headline – Don’t say ‘Delivering Technical Solution X to Customer Y’ Instead capture the value right upfront and say ‘Boosting staff retention by x% for Customer Y.’ Tap into your ideal readers real business careabouts in your headline.

Play with the form | Experiment with some short form case studies that focus on one aspect of the project rather than the whole story from start to finish. Knowing that it can be a good sound bite rather than an epic can be motivating. And maybe just as useful, if you share it in the right places.

Create a playlist: Tag your case studies clearly so it’s easy for your sales team to pick the right one off the virtual shelf and show potential customers just how you add value. #productivity #collaboration #informationsecurity #esg.

And finally

Sometimes you’ll have the luxury of space and time. Sometimes you’ll have a 200 word box to fill in a templated response. A good B2B case study should always be concise, regardless. Enough detail to demonstrate the value of your solution, and the approachability of your team, but not so long that it becomes overwhelming.

If you’ve any thoughts or tips to share, or questions to ask, reach out in the comments section or to Be great to hear from you.

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