Finally I would like to do a post on actually writing a case study since I have a few more tips to pass on. For me the most effective strategy was to “think backwards,” that is, I started with the material I had for the Results section. If this section was weak on impressive statistics, I looked elsewhere….
Head and Subhead (aka Title and Subtitle)
I almost always write the head and subhead last, although I might do a draft early on. Generally I use the most impressive result or statistic I have and name the customer in the head. I then connect the customer and the result to my company’s product in the subhead.
The head is extremely important because it will appear in various website lists, which become web links that are highlighted. Often your head will be your only chance to convince a reader to click through to your story.
Usually your layout template will call for a short case study summary. Make every word count because these summaries have two important functions. Some readers will resist reading your story, but they will read the summary, and this may be your only chance to impress them and change their minds about reading further. If your layout allows call outs, you can also use these as enticements.
This summary is also likely to be used by others, such as web programmers and PR professionals. For search engine optimization (SEO), you need to make sure you include keywords.
A flat statement of the problem your company’s product is solving can be pretty dull, so here are some strategies you can use to add color:
- Human interest – Sometimes you have interviewed someone interesting, like the CEO of a growing company in Thailand or a lively project manager in Australia. I like to turn the spotlight on people like this and quote them, which not only flatters them but gives your story more human interest.
- Country background – You can often find interesting statistics about the country the company is in or about the company itself. For example, when I was writing about a mobile phone company in Africa, I began with statistics about the explosive growth of mobile phone use in that part of the world.
- Situation – The problem or situation itself may be interesting. Perhaps a CEO has mandated the use of a new technology (that your company provides) or you have spoken to a competent project manager who has really done his homework.
- Customer collateral – Sometimes customers have done research studies that are related to your story (look on their websites). Since they are often promotional and contain impressive statistics, they can bolster your customer’s reputation in your prospect’s eyes along with providing good material for you.
If you understand the capabilities of your company’s product, this section should be easy to write. I usually emphasize “the problem” in the previous section, which allows me to begin the solution section with an anecdote about how the two companies got together. Here are a few possibilities:
- Testing – If you are very lucky, the customer did an exhaustive feature comparison or did benchmark tests and chose your company’s product. Needless to say, this is gold, but you should avoid mentioning the competition by name (your legal department will probably object if you do). You are usually writing for a specialized audience, and your readers are likely to know who the competition is.
- Distributor recommendation – A distributor is not going to recommend a product that will cause problems, so this is a valuable fact to include, and the distributor may even be eager to provide a glowing quote and some background for your story.
- Second choice – Occasionally a staff member will suggest your company’s product after another company’s product failed to deliver what was needed. Again, you would not mention specific competitive products although you can sometimes subtly hint at which product it was.
Since you will seldom have terrific hard test results, you have to improvise. Along with making strong statements about the benefits of your company’s product (with quotes from your customer), you can try these topics:
- Customer’s customers – Sometimes your product will be used as part of a system that serves many millions of your customer’s customers. You can usually find such figures, which are great for summaries and heads in addition to body copy, on your customer’s website (check the “Investor Relations” section), in collateral, or in annual reports. You may also find a relevant case study that your customer has done with one of its customers that you can quote.
- Customer service – I usually mention easy installation and great customer service in the “Solution” section, but if you are desperate for material, you can discuss these in “Results.” Some companies shy away from mentioning customer service because it suggests that a product has problems or is difficult to work with, but if your customer did not need customer service or your service people were a great help in configuring a complex system, it is often worth mentioning.
- End user reaction – Some products are part of applications that are very difficult to quantify, such as unified communications, but which often have great customer feedback. If you are lucky, you can get your customer to estimate how much time each employee is saving or supply a great anecdote about how the product is being used.
- Future plans – If the customer is willing to reveal future plans and they involve your company’s products, describing these plans is a great way to end the case study.