Case (study) in point
Successful integrated communications programs are driven by a few key factors including measurable goals set at the outset of the program; well-planned campaigns defined by an overarching strategy; and a strong content library to help drive results. Case studies are important pieces to have in your content library. Not only do these pieces help tell your customers’ stories, but they also help your sales team, can be used for media relations stories, and they can serve as assets for marketing automation.
I recently spoke with Bob Pritchard, a senior copywriter here at Dodge, about some best practices for developing case studies. Bob has been an IT copywriter for more than 30 years, and he has been writing specifically for the healthcare IT industry for four years. Below is an overview of our conversation.
What types of information do the best case studies include?
In general, the best case studies tell a story across time, and they present information in phases to give a complete picture. In the first phase, they should describe what the customer was doing before the new solution was implemented. The fact is they’ve almost certainly done something to address the business challenge, whether they were doing it manually, inefficiently or piece-meal, and the process they previously used caused a need for a new solution.
In the second phase, a case study should illustrate the vendor selection process and why the customer chose a particular solution. For example, a case study should talk about the vendor’s strengths and why others might not have made the cut. Next, the case study should honestly and transparently characterize the transition period: Were there challenges? Was the vendor available for support? How was the training? Prospects will want to know what the transition was like, since they’ll be facing the same thing if going the same route.
Lastly, a good case study tells the story beyond the transition, and it talks about everything involved in implementation. Most case studies stop here, but it’s never the end of the story. There’s always work to be done after the initial transition, so it’s important to capture this information.
What elements make a case study really strong?
Outside of the phases outlined above, the strongest case studies talk about what happened after implementation. Being able to illustrate the solution has completely met the needs the customer had in the first place, coupled with customer satisfaction in the long run, make a strong case study. The case study audience – often the vendor’s prospects – know implementations are hard work, and they are committed to the journey. The case study should describe the journey and talk about how the vendor was a big help—that’s the story case studies should tell. If the customer’s story can show what got them from implementation to happiness and willingness to tell their story, that’s what should be captured.
We know strong statistics can help support case studies but these are sometimes hard to identify and measure. What advice do you have for making sure benchmarks can be exemplified in a case study, even if exact stats aren’t available?
It’s important to remember the customer chose the solution because they needed to make their jobs easier and their organizations more efficient. Oftentimes, a vendor wants information a customer simply doesn’t measure for one reason or another. Customers are concerned with making sure their needs are met and having the perception it’s making their lives easier. Some good questions to ask include: Can you characterize how the solution has helped you? How do you think it has made your organization better? What specific information can you give about the improvements? This gives the customer the opportunity to talk anecdotally and provide testimonial about the products. Prospects will recognize these improvements may also be available to them even if they have a different set of problems.
What tips do you have for striking a balance between promoting solutions and becoming too self-serving?
We see well-intentioned people get this wrong all the time. The problem often stems from a writer or interviewer coming to the story with the mindset they are to be the vendor’s advocate; this automatically frames the case study in a promotional manner. Writers and interviewers should come with the mindset of a journalist with no stake in the outcome of the situation. Learn about the customer from the standpoint of learning about their problem and solution as a category, and ask questions to get a vendor-neutral story. When the customer volunteers unique information about the vendor, probe for more information in the customer’s own words.
When you start to push too much about a particular feature or offering, you run the risk of putting words in the customer’s mouth. The best tip is to try not to force anything—there are other content mediums for promoting really specific product features. Even if the customer doesn’t particularly rave about the vendor, it is alright because the case study will still be a testimonial to the fact they had a problem, found a solution and are now happy with your client.
How formulaic should a case study be?
Again, you should follow a general framework that tells a story through time. Ultimately, you want all case studies to have something delightful about them that you don’t read about in any other case study. You want readers to get a picture with depth, especially if they read three or four case studies. If they are all are exactly the same, then in addition to making them uninteresting, it kind of connotes it is a commodity solution.
Consider focusing on what is interesting, unique and cool about the customer, even if it might not have anything to do with the client. Perhaps the customer serves a unique population and had to find a creative way to use the solution, or they had a particular problem that prompted the need for a better solution. Some products aren’t inherently inventive, but take time to ask customers how they might be using it differently. This adds depth and uniqueness to an otherwise potentially formulaic case study.