«return to Tip of the Month Listing5 Tips from 20 Years of Writing Case Studies

By Casey Hibbard

Twenty (20!) years ago this week, I went out on my own as a freelancer. And most of that time has been dedicated to customer case studies.

When I wrote my first customer case study, for a software company, I felt like I’d unlocked a whole world. No other marketing communications piece provided such a sense of satisfaction than delivering a true account of a happy customer’s experience for my clients to share with the world.

I doubt I still have my first-ever case study. If I did, I imagine the writing and design would be comically outdated. Case studies have come a long way since then, and so have I.

What have I learned from nearly two decades and hundreds of case studies?

Here are my 5 top tips:

1. Tell a unique story – every time

Uncover each customer’s unique challenges and journey so every story sounds different. Similarly, don’t muddy the narrative with heavy product and solution descriptions. Those are best left for other marketing materials.

2. Ask specific, open-ended questions

The more specific your questions, the better the answers. Instead of “What benefits have you seen?” ask before-and-after questions such as “How much time did that activity take before? And now?”

3. Check the story against the vendor’s goals

What’s the vendor company trying to accomplish? What do they need the customer story to say? If the case study doesn’t reinforce the vendor’s key messages and competitive position, it won’t pull its weight as a sales and marketing asset.

4. Make it human

No other marketing piece has the opportunity to show the ups, downs, stakes and emotions like a case study can. Humans, not faceless companies, are behind these decisions and live with them day-to-day. That’s why customer stories are powerful and engaging. Capture those emotions.

5. Get permission first

Before moving full-speed ahead, make sure the individuals who WILL approve the case study have given their permission upfront to avoid nasty surprises later on.

Enjoy the process. It’s an honor and a privilege to talk to happy customers every day!