Case Study Structure: Problem, Solution, Results

One of my favorite things about marketing case studies is that they generally have the same logical structure: problem, solution, results. Companies may have different names for these (or sometimes use headlines instead), but the formula is the same and is endlessly repeatable. In this post, I will discuss this classic structure and how you should approach each section.

Problem

Of course, in marketing we don’t have problems. We have issues or challenges. In this section of the case study, you introduce the customer and the situation before the product or service you are selling saved the day. (If you look at two of the sample case studies I have been citing, you will see that Microsoft prefers the heading “Situation” while HP prefers “The Challenge.”) Some common situations described in this section are:

  • A company is growing and needs more capacity
  • The equipment in use will no longer be supported by the original manufacturer and must be replaced
  • A visionary CEO wants to move to a new technology to improve responsiveness to customers

 Solution

In this section, you describe how your product solved the problem outlined previously. Again the variations are endless. The customer may have done a systematic and exhaustive search of alternatives, or may have used your company’s products in the past and seen a new product on the company website or learned about it from a supplier or someone on the IT staff.

The solution section can be relatively short as long as it describes the new situation accurately and glowingly, but it can also be very detailed and contain system diagrams, if relevant. If you look at the Microsoft case study that I have been using as an example, you will see that there are enough visual elements to add interest so that you don’t need a diagram. Length is also an important consideration. Generally you want a case study to be a powerful selling piece that is also as short as possible.

Results

If  testing and/or benchmarking have been completed, the customer may allow you to quote some statistics, which can be extremely valuable. Generally, though, you will be describing the benefits that your marketing department has developed, tailored to the specific customer situation. (In the examples I have been using, both Microsoft and HP prefer to use the term “benefits” directly in headings.) This section is also a good place to describe the customer’s future plans for your products, especially if there are important new features that you want to highlight and the customer may add in the future.

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About Regina Domeraski

I am a writer and have been for as long as I can remember. I worked as a technical writer and now a marketing writer for high-tech companies, but my interests go far beyond technology and include writing as an art and a craft, creativity, film, classical music, and the mystery genre (after all, Hamlet is a murder mystery).
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