Well, the case study is one of those pieces of content with a solid answer to all those questions. Why? Because if we could choose one word to define the marketing case study, it would be this: trust.
Think of it from the simple perspective of a customer. Which would you trust more: a testimonial from another customer (which is good, by the way) – or a full digital marketing case study, with interviews, results and facts?
Though often complex and laborious, digital marketing case studies offer in-depth, information-filled content like no other medium. Whether for B2B or B2C content marketing strategies, the relevance a case study brings to any business can be dramatic. You’re basically showing your potential customers why they should care about your product or service. But it’s not just that. You’re providing them with hard evidence, research, investigation. With credibility.
That’s the magic that case studies can create. When done well, they can provide tangible examples of the true benefits of what you’re offering to the market.
There is one little problem, though. And we’re not going to shy away from problems – big or small – here. Digital marketing case studies can be difficult to create and daunting to follow, precisely because they are usually big. There, we’ve said it.
And why is that? Because they have to go by some – shall we say – pretty specific research standards. Or else they can’t be called case studies, can they?
Wait a minute – take me back to the start. (Coldplay’s “The Scientist” starts playing.)
Before learning how to write a marketing case study, we should really go over what exactly a case study is, right?
A case study is, in brief, a detailed investigation into a specific topic, following an investigative approach. They can involve quantitative or qualitative research methods, use many different sources of evidence, and be a single study or part of a series of related case studies. The research object can be pretty much anything, but within the digital marketing arena it’s usually focused on products, services, brands and organizations.
But here’s the one thing that ties a case study together: evidence. That’s right – a case study will ideally present proof in order to convince readers to take a particular action. Let’s say, for instance, you want to influence a particular target group to use your product or service instead of your competitor’s. Nothing speaks credibility more than a well-made, well-researched case study showing how your company has successfully tackled the problem – and increased the [insert relevant KPI here] for a specific customer. Backed up by evidence, of course.
Makes sense? That’s why case studies are so popular among B2B organizations, by the way. Nothing speaks louder to a business owner than results, right? Backed up by hard evidence, of course. Most marketers will agree that building trust is one of the most powerful things – and one of the hardest – that a content strategy can do. That’s exactly what a case study brings: trust. Tons of it. So let’s try to dig a bit deeper and better understand how to write a marketing case study in a way that’s great not only for business people, but for every type of audience.
What we’re going to cover in this awesome “how to write a case study” article:
- Consider the big picture (or your content strategy)
- Look into your target audience (what story will suit them best?)
- Come up with some goals (as usual)
- Define a format (but don’t stress too much about it)
- Some tips on the interview process
- Create an engaging story (with powerful insights, tone, flow etc.)
- Highlight your results (with facts and data whenever possible)
- The conclusion (not the real one)
- Media elements will be needed
- Remember your SEO
- Feedback, social proof, quotes – get them
- Do some outreach – get it out there!
- Working on other content options available
- The other conclusion (the real one)
1. Case studies want to belong.
Meaning: your marketing case study should be part of your big content plan.
Yep – just like any other piece of content, it’s going to be much better when part of a bigger context. A piece in your content marketing puzzle – and a very big piece, by the way. Ask yourself a few questions to help determine this:
- How does this case study fit into the overall content marketing strategy?
- How does it help to reach the content strategy’s goals – and business goals, for that matter?
- Which product/industry is it going to cover, and how many digital marketing case studies will be needed?
- What questions/issues from customers is this case study going to answer?
- How is it going to be integrated into other content channels/pieces?
Feel free to consider other questions here too. What’s important is really to give your marketing case study reference, context and purpose – in its own right, but also as part of your bigger strategy.
2. A marketing case study should also have a target audience.
And you should consider them while creating it.
As part of the questions asked above, we’ll add the following: who is this case study going to be for? And what exactly would they expect from the case study you’re creating? Feel free to go in-depth here and create the entity known in the marketing world as the buyer persona (ominous soundtrack starts playing in the background). Demographics, education, job, company details (especially when considering how to write a marketing case study for B2B customers), interests, social media channels used, products and services of choice – anything that’s going to help you get a clearer picture of who you’re considering as your target audience.
Since digital marketing case studies are detailed and thorough content pieces containing lots of information – and since they aren’t exactly easy to complete – this should be an important step in your process. Precisely because it will help to develop a much more focused and efficient case study.
Let’s say, for instance, that your target audience (or buyer persona) relies heavily on a social media platform like LinkedIn to obtain information (that would be pretty much the case if you’re dealing with a B2B case study, we think). That would certainly be a top-priority channel to publish your case study on. See where we’re going with this?
3. And did you know that digital marketing case studies also need goals?
Sure they do. Like every other content marketing initiative, case studies will be able to get better results when created with achievable goals in mind. And by achievable goals, we mean both specific goals and broad ones as well. Brand awareness, traffic, better rankings, social followers, leads, conversions, sales – your marketing case study can help with these and much more. Or maybe you only want to increase your company’s credibility and trust – that’s fine too. What’s important here is to have clear objectives before you begin. They will shape your case study through and through.
Tediousness alert: it’s also important to think about scope and type when considering how to write a marketing case study. Even though it’s a marketing one, it still needs to follow some very specific guidelines. Some of the questions that need to be answered before starting (we’ll provide more guidelines later):
- What is the purpose of the case study? Will it be covering a product or a service?
- What is the theoretical background to support it? (Even if you’re trying to prove something new or bring fresh perspectives, it’s important to have some references to help.)
- What will the research method be: quantitative (number-focused) or qualitative (interviews)?
- How will the data be collected? And how will it be analyzed – again, in a quantitative (or statistical) approach or in a qualitative, more “open-to-interpretation” way?
- Will it investigate similar cases or will it focus on “outliers”?
- Will it be a single case study or will it be part of a series?
One more thing to keep in mind: case studies don’t always need to reach crystal-clear results. In this case, the project would be of a more descriptive nature, where the investigation itself is the goal. Sure, for digital marketing case studies, concrete results are always helpful, but it all really depends on the essence and original purpose of the project.
That’s more or less it. We understand it might be a bit intimidating, but please don’t be discouraged. With these definitions all cleared up, you’re not just going to know how to write a case study – you’ll definitely reach much higher standards.
4. Should your marketing case have a format? Maybe definitely. Or not.
Apologies for the snappy title. While the truth is that every case study does follow a predefined format, there is some degree of freedom to create different things – within the realm of what’s possible, of course. The simple, clear format would go along the lines of: 1) problem, 2) analysis/investigation, 3) actions, 4) results. While this may be an oversimplification, it’s also a very good reminder to keep your case study simple.
The length, for instance: some will say that 500 words is enough; others will argue that a long case study is necessary (precisely because there’s a great deal of things to talk about). We’re going to leave this up to you, because we don’t want to be dictators on how to write a case study. We just want to explore the best ways to do it.
In any case, your case study should at least work with a template and some very important items, such as:
- Title – it might be a good idea to actually mention the results right in the title. This will draw attention to the case study and invite the user for a closer look.
- The client, or the brand – a clear introduction to the subject of the case study (their area of activity, for example).
- The problem – as mentioned before, the very definition of the issue the case study is trying to solve, whom it is affecting and how, and why investigating it is relevant.
- The action/solution – what exactly was done to overcome the problem, and how. It’s important that this step is considered against the backdrop of the goals/objectives.
- The results – here is where you demonstrate the solution with palpable results (provided that this is aligned with the objectives, of course). Always important to add data as proof that your actions contributed to the outcome – but more on that later!
- Text elements – headers, lists, quotes, calls to action – these are all things you can use to make your case study more attractive.
- Images, infographics and visual elements – because big walls of text aren’t that attractive. And also because it might help to prove your case in point.
- A conclusion with your main findings and a nice call to action – not only to wrap it all up, but also to invite the reader to engage with your brand or business (given that this is what you expect from your case study).
5. Your marketing case study will very likely need interviews.
Here are some important tips on how to do them in the best possible way.
Interviews or quotes will be one of the most important parts of your market case study. Why? Because if we consider a case study as the essential trust-building content piece, then the interviews are at the heart of this trust. There’s nothing like stories from real clients to provide a thick layer of authenticity to any case study. So here are some cool tips on interviews:
- Prepare for the interview in advance: the “do your homework” advice. Learn about the person being interviewed – relevant information such as their role in the organization at hand and how they are related to the topic you’re investigating, for example. A very clear overview of the entire case is also hugely beneficial, as it will save time with important insights that can be quickly connected to anything the interviewee says.
- Get interested participants: if you’re asking people to answer a detailed online survey, or if you’re going to spend a while interviewing someone about a particular product or service, it’s going to be best to get people who are actively concerned with this topic. If it’s a user, for example, be sure to go after participants who have a certain degree of usage and familiarity with the product. A good way to do this is to offer cool incentives. Cash rewards, discounts, coupons, recognition – something to provide that extra amount of willingness to join in and give good feedback.
- Be generous and make it an easy experience for the interviewee: as they are generously making time for you and your project, the idea is to keep it simple for them. Making sure they understand what the interview is about, sending the questions beforehand, being flexible with times, catering to their preferences, asking for their feedback afterwards, etc. In short, adding an extra degree of “niceness”. And asking them if it’s OK to follow up afterwards – in case you need to clarify anything after the interview is completed.
- Work on your questions: this one could be part of the first bullet point, but it deserves special mention. If you ask simple questions, you’ll get very simple answers that won’t help your marketing case study. Focus on insightful, open-ended questions that:
- Make people provide more elaborate answers (not simply “yes” or “no”)
- Help identify and explain how the initial problem was solved
- Relate to results observed after the resolution of the problem
- Elaborate on the benefits/advantages perceived while using the product or service
- Are aligned overall with the story you want to tell
- Listen more than you speak: this one is a staple. Make your interviewee as comfortable as possible by giving them plenty of space to speak and elaborate on their answers. Avoid trying to control the conversation and steer it towards the answers you expect to hear. Analyze the answers and see if you can pick up more insights from them too. And, of course, allow some time in between questions – this will lead to more thinking and better answers.
- Look into the necessary approvals: since the main ingredient of a good case study is credibility, you need to be able to show the reader that you’re dealing with real people in real situations. To that end, get them to give the necessary approval for them to be featured in your case study. And do it before the interview, otherwise you might waste your time – and theirs as well.
6. Just because it's a digital marketing case study doesn't mean it has to be dull.
That’s right. It’s still a piece of content, is it not? So it has to be engaging, exciting, compelling – all those nice adjectives that you, the content marketer, already know. Yes, we know it’s based on evidence, research, data, interviews and everything else. Still, it can be perfectly structured as a very interesting and readable story.
Earlier, we covered the basic format of the case study: problem > investigation > actions > results. Well, there you already have some pretty nice ingredients to tell a story worth reading. Remember, no one’s asking you to write the next best Hollywood screenplay – just to work with what you have and to create a powerful marketing case study. Consider the style, tone, wording, the hooks that will keep people interested – every trick in the “great content” book. Remember, it needs to be relatable.
And, for reference, keep the 5 W’s in mind when creating your case study: who, what, when, where and why. These should steer any piece of content focused on problem-solving – such as the marketing case study should be.
7. It's still a case study, so results are a must. Show them!
- The actual outcomes: we understand that this one is going to depend on several factors: the goals, the theoretical background, the research method, the data collection, etc. However, there’s no point studying how to write a marketing case study if it’s not going to be based on real results. They just have to be there. Sure, there are different types and formats of case studies, as we’ve mentioned before – maybe of a more qualitative approach, for instance, which deals with more interpretation and less statistical data. But even so, results are going to be needed – either in the form of hard numbers or as coherent conclusions and insights (which will also be supported… by data and numbers).
Let’s try to be more specific. If you’re dealing with a digital marketing case study, you’re very likely going to be backed up by numbers to prove your point. Things like traffic, conversions, rankings, return on investment, backlinks, social media followers, etc. – there are many KPIs to be used as a reference here. The ideal case study will be able to demonstrate how the proposed solution helped a particular group of customers with their issue.
However, it doesn’t always have to be all numbers. Think of how a contextualized, authoritative quote can be considered as a powerful result as well. Go back to your interviews and find truly important answers that show how the solution actually made a difference to someone.
- Being upfront (about results and issues): it’s a marketing case study with some specific goals behind it, which means the desire to be absolutely positive is big. However, it’s important to mention the problems too, and not to brag about unrealistic outcomes. If you’ve stumbled upon hurdles while collecting or analyzing the data, conducting the interviews or studying the outcomes, being specific about these topics will add more credibility to your case study. Credibility and trust are, after all, what we’re going for here. Don’t treat the reader as simple-minded, or your marketing case study won’t go far.
- Credit where credit is due: if you’ve employed tools and applications while working on your case study, we think it’s a good idea to mention them. Not only will it make your project more useful to readers, but it will also create yet another opportunity for visibility for it – to the companies that make those very tools, which could be interested in referring potential customers to your case study!
- Showcasing the solutions: how are you going to effectively demonstrate the solution to the problem? Don’t forget: the main objective here is to show the reader how the product or service solved the problem at hand – in the most detailed way possible. It’s not enough to have the results and the data; it’s paramount to draw attention to it, publicize it, show it in the best possible way.
And, of course, what better way to show data to an audience – and drive a point home – than visually? Annotated charts, infographics, custom graphics (which can be shared on social media, for instance) – anything that will make the message sink in and state your results unequivocally.
8. Let's talk about the conclusion – the one for your case study,
not the one for this article, by the way.
OK, so you’ve gone through all the necessary steps. The problem, the investigation, the data analysis, the results and the lessons that surfaced. Now it’s time to wrap it all up and reach a conclusion. And what’s left for the conclusion? One word: strategy.
It’s not only about showing how your product or service took care of the problem. It’s also about offering new perspectives, new ways of handling similar issues in the future. This part is so important because it’s where you actually draw the crucial insights from the entire process – strategies to be used in future. And this will help make your content much more interesting to its audience. Some thoughts to help with this specific part:
- Key findings from the analysis and the solution(s)
- Considerations that everyone needs to know before taking a similar course of action
- Obstacles faced during the entire process
- Necessary tools and resources needed to reach similar outcomes
Remember, you’re trying to tell a story here. And the end of the story needs to be as satisfying and compelling as everything that came before, and that you’ve worked so hard to create. Otherwise, the feeling will be similar to a very good TV show that drops the ball on the last season. Right?
9. Make sure your marketing case study is sharply dressed
– i.e. employ amazing visuals and other resources.
Even if your case study isn’t related to a design issue, it’s still very important to make it visual – by including graphic resources and varied mediums as much as possible. Hey, we’re talking about marketing here, so it has to be attractive, right?
We’ve already mentioned that data is better presented to an audience in visual mediums. Let’s take that a step further and recommend you use product videos, images, pictures from your customers (authorized by them, of course), testimonials, etc.
And let’s not forget that by doing this you will definitely increase the chances of people sharing your content on social media. Especially when it comes to videos and infographics, which are known for being favorites of social media users.
10. This isn't even my final form – there are still some SEO features to be considered!
Digital marketing case studies can be powerful inbound traffic tools by the grace of SEO. Just like any other type of web content out there – provided it’s useful and optimized. Think about it: a good case study is useful content in its essential form. It has big potential for getting very relevant backlinks from authoritative websites. So why not optimize it to its full SEO glory?
So go ahead and turn the SEO dial to eleven. Do your keyword research, work on your URL, fix your title and headers, polish your meta description, get a good keyword density going. It’s going to help – a lot – in the long run. As good SEO always does.
11. The amazing power of social proof can help your marketing case study too
By social proof here we basically mean people influencing other people, something that’s been happening since the dawn of mankind. And which continues to be valid for case studies as well. Customer reviews, sharp and helpful quotes, video testimonials, feedback about your business or product – all this will count, and potentially make a difference.
If possible, try to choose quotes that focus on the problem the customer faced, what led them to decide on the solution in question, and what benefits they got from it. These will help other potential customers to make a decision.
12. Is it really good? Like, really? Then promote it!
By now you should have a good idea of how to write a case study. But do you know how to market it? Just like you should do with every other piece of your great content marketing puzzle?
Do some good old outreach and make your case study reach new audiences – and gather some backlinks as well (which are pretty important, by the way). Post it on your social media channels. Share it with the involved stakeholders and companies. Create some other content pieces to go along with it (more on this below). Hire a marketing agency to conduct the outreach process for you – if you have the budget for it, of course. And ask for feedback as well. You might get some further interesting insights and quotes that can be used in the future.
13. Your case study is a Swiss army knife of content.
Being such a rich source of useful information, your case study can be used as a source for other pieces of content within your marketing strategy. That is, apart from promoting it, you can use it in different content forms to reach new users. Think about the possibilities:
- YouTube videos
- Blog posts
- Optimized landing pages/category pages
- Email newsletter campaigns
- Press releases
- Conferences and keynote speeches
The list goes on and on, but we do recommend that you organize your case study (or studies) in a special part of your company’s website, preferably on a landing page. That’s going to help a lot of interested users to reach it organically, interact with your company’s website, learn about your products or services and – you’ve guessed it – provide you with valuable leads.
14. The real conclusion: if case studies aren’t content marketing,
we really don't know what else is.
So, you already know how to write a case study. Now let’s do a bit of a recap here – just in case you’re still not convinced. Great case studies are so important to content marketing strategies because they:
- Show how successful a company can be at a particular solution – with actual evidence
- Present users with helpful, convenient content related to a specific query they have
- Offer trustworthy stories that the audience can relate to – with quotes and interviews
- Bring insightful and practical conclusions that can be applied to future situations
- Act as a strong source of inbound traffic to your website – and as a source of plenty of other content initiatives
- And, obviously, with all of these qualities, they open the door to new leads
That’s content marketing at its finest. Wouldn’t you agree? So go ahead and start to get your amazing marketing case prepared. It will be a worthwhile investment.