case study -- n. a) A detailed intensive study of a unit, such as a corporation or a corporate division, that stresses factors contributing to its success or failure. b) An exemplary or cautionary model; an instructive example.(The American Heritage Dictionary)
A business case study tells a chronological story that starts with a pivotal decision, challenge or obstacle. Your service or product provides a solution that delivers clear benefits and measurable improvements.
From an educational marketing perspective, the objective is for the potential client or customer to identify themselves or their situation in the story, to understand how your products or services could help them, to recognize your company as a product, technology, service and market leader, and to pick up the phone or engage in some other way with your organization.
1. Identify the Subject and the Story
In addition to the promotional value for your company, case studies should strengthen relationships with satisfied customers and promote their businesses and brands. Target high-potential growth areas and market segments. It’s never too early to start thinking about highlights that would grab reader attention in the subject line of an e-mail blast; this includes brand names, hot topic/issue areas, big dollar cost savings, and dramatic turnarounds.
Before moving forward very far, get explicit permission from the client or customer to write and publish the case study. And make sure you have approval from the right person. Don’t assume that it will be approved or you could end up wasting a lot of time and effort on developing a story that cannot be shared.
Be prepared. Make the reporting process as painless as possible for your customer. Don’t waste interview time on basic information that can be pulled off of a website. Gather as many insights and details as possible from both your customers and your employees who led or supported the project/solution.
At the end of any interviews, assure the client that they will have the opportunity to review the text and their quotes. Be sure to ask for photos or illustrations, or make arrangements for professional photography.
Business is not boring. Just like any other facet of life, the business world is full of characters, drama and good stories. But it is chock full of bland and boring prose. Be clear, be direct. Be wary of excess modifiers and over-qualified statements. Avoid gobbledygook words, marketing-speak and businessese.
Case studies are already formulaic: 1) problem, 2) solution, and 3) results. Use that framework but build a sense of urgency and convey why your solution is essential now. To speed the narrative flow, put non-essential details (such as annual sales, product lines, brands, locations, employees, etc.) in a separate sidebar or box.
Include the client’s perspective everywhere you can; their quotes should read as a trustworthy third-party referral to the reader/potential customer. Respect readers’ intelligence and time. The typical case study won’t run longer than 1 to 3 pages, (600-1,500 words).
4. Editing and Revising
Send the draft text to appropriate customer and client representatives and internal staff who have a stake in the final result. Be as firm as possible with the deadline for changes and revisions. Use the weeks that it can often take to receive feedback for internal review and fact checking. After all changes have been reconciled, have the final text reviewed by a professional proofreader.
For layout (electronic or print), clearly identify titles, headlines, subheadings, pull quotes and boxes. Include high-resolution images, brand logos, charts, tables and anything else the graphic designer can use to grab a passing eye.
Case studies often follow a common page template that prominently features company logos, background details and where to go to get more information. Repeat the review and proofreading cycle with the final layout. Pay particular attention to headlines, chart captions and illustration callouts.
6. Distribution and promotion
We're getting beyond the content creation phase at this point, but depending on the quality and sources, good case studies can be of interest to top-tier trade magazines and business journals if offered on an exclusive basis. The trade-off for such third-party endorsement and exposure is that–after the case study has already taken months to develop–the lead time from submission to publication can take several more months. Copyright ownership can become an issue as well; you may be required to pay for branded reprints of the article that you already paid to develop.
Other typical uses for case studies include customer newsletters, association news, blog posts, and permanent website collateral. Utilize every social media vehicle available to promote the case study. And keep on promoting it. A tweet on Twitter, for example, has a half life of a few hours. Keep dribbling out key value statements over several weeks.
What have I missed? Are there any other key factors for creating high quality business case studies?