Case studies have been used for almost 150 years to solve problems in the context of research, social sciences and personality assessments. When it comes to online marketing, however, the case studies take on a whole new meaning. You can use case studies to boost the credibility of your business, prove the value and benefit of your products and/or services and retain customers. Case studies can actually be seen as a special type of storytelling that enriches your content and marketing strategies with a valuable tool. But more than virtually any other content marketing tool, case studies require a particularly careful approach and some knowledge to apply them correctly.
A case study is a description of a typical case taken from the real world. As a representative example, general insights can then be derived from a single case.
It’s alleged that case study methodology was pioneered in 1870 by an unknown young lecturer at Harvard Law School in the United States. He introduced the case-study method due to a belief that he had identified laws within the legal sciences that could be conveyed by practical court situations based on specific examples. This new methodology was intended to replace the previously common frontal lecture method with example-based teaching. In order to ensure the efficiency of his new method, the unknown inventor of the case study instead resorted to the Socratic method. As early as 1920, Harvard Business School adapted the new approach and the case study found its place in the field of economics. Indeed, it continues to demonstrate its effectiveness in this area of application to this very day.
Today, the average marketing case study is mainly used to sell stories of success and cement the credibility of a product, a company, or even specific individuals. In times of online marketing with its countless temptations, offers and channels, traditional advertising methods are losing their impact. The customer of today isn’t as easily lulled by sugary suggestions and hollow promises. Instead, they’re seeking hard facts and tangible evidence before they commit to a purchase decision. Internet users commence their own individual customer journeys , eventually leading them to a destination and decision that’s been carried out at their own pace.
Clearly presented case studies are a highly effective tool for convincing potential customers that your offer is the best solution for their specific problem. Most successful online businesses carry out single case studies and multiple case studies. When these are used in the correct manner, they can significantly enhance customer confidence in a company, with boosts to reach of content, conversions and revenue potential.
What you’ll learn on this page:
The case study: some definitions
Depending on the field of application, case studies can be defined as teaching methods, research methods or reference tools for marketing. They are also used in the context of personnel selection procedures.
In education applications, case studies are used primarily as didactic tools. For example, pupils or students should develop approaches to solving certain problems on the basis of given scenarios. This can involve finding a specific solution within the framework of the case study or developing methods for solving problems without a specific result being assumed. In this way, practical experience can be gained. In addition, the solutions that have been worked out as well as the solution paths can be discussed afterwards by teachers, trainers, trainees and pupils. In job interviews, case studies of a similar nature are often used to test an applicant’s problem-solving skills on the basis of concrete examples within fixed time periods. Resilience, i.e. the ability to withstand stress and deliver strong results under pressure, is also tested in this way.
Case studies in didactics:
You can find the the following types of case studies in didactics:
Case studies in research
When it comes to research, case studies are used as a methodology tool. The key focus is on empirical research in medicine and social sciences. Case studies relating to research have four distinct approaches:
No theory should be assumed for a case study so that it can be carried out unencumbered and unaffected by any prior knowledge.
Gaps in existing theories are to be filled through the use of case studies.
Case studies can be a social construction of reality.
Case studies can serve as a method for identifying anomalies.
Case studies and reference marketing
As case studies are rooted in tangible reality, we don’t have to delve too deeply into the realms of theory and scientific terminology. The case study definition we’ve included for you in this article contains all key aspects of user-friendly and comprehensible case study formats that you can use for content marketing strategies. Therefore, what we’ll focus on is reference marketing using case studies. This scenario is when a so-called reference customer tends to have their say. A customer and their project might be described, with information provided covering the initial situation, potential solution approaches and solution methods. Alternatively, a customer describes how they would solve such problems themselves with the support of products or services of a provider. This type of marketing case study can be broader in scope than others, with the potential for several reference customers to provide their individual option.
The “reference” aspect of the case study is therefore the individual associated with the brand or company in question. Most of the time, this is a (reference) customer. Partners or service providers of a larger company can also provide a reference, or instead be referred to as a reference in the proceedings. A company, single product or individual service offer is examined in detail, evaluated carefully and otherwise described from the perspective of the reference customer.
The following approaches are very common in reference marketing, utilising the support of case studies or used to create case studies:
The simple naming and listing of references:
Many agencies and service providers supplement their Internet presence with reference pages, on which the names and logos of their customers are listed. Of course, the information content here is rather low, because it is usually not clear which work was done to what extent. Although some well-known brands listed as customers creates an instant impression, in an ideal world these references should be substantiated with links to concrete cases. Take a web agency as an example. Here, such an agency could provide links to the websites it has created for each and every customer.
Testimonials of reference customers:
Genuine testimonials from customers expressing high levels of satisfaction with services provided can add significant value to references. They can also paint a more comprehensive picture of the service provided. The more widely known the reference customer or their brand, the greater the psychological effect on potential new customers. It’s worth pointing out that positive reviews from more anonymous end users can also help in this regard. Here, every happy customer counts.
Classic case study with reference customer:
This type of case study is a representation of a service provided or a joint project with the reference client that’s intended for print media and web views. In this scenario, the case study is conveyed exclusively from the point of view of the reference customer in their own words. This case study type has a distinctly factual and analytical tone.
Advertising Case Study (Success Story):
This is essentially the same as the classic case study, although it utilises more advertising-focused language. It focuses less on things like technical implementation and other aspects found in the foreground. Instead, it puts a spotlight on customer experience and added value in everyday language and a perspective from the point of the view of the customer.
These are those case studies where the reference customer involved outlines and describes a specific case of application of a particular product. A case study format like this one may have the tone and character of a user guide. A case study publication like this is suitable for blog and video platforms.
Public appearances by reference customers:
In many cases, having reference customers make public appearances to make their testimonials can be a very effective marketing tool. Such events can be carried out in the context of lectures or demonstrations at trade fairs, podium speeches and all manner of public and promotional events.
Sending case studies:
Upon the request of interested parties, case studies can be dispatched individually or as part of larger reference folders in PDF or printed form.
Over the phone, case studies are described and other useful information is provided. However, in this instance, the discussion is not with the reference customer, but rather the company or service provider who has supplied the reference.
There’s arguably no better way to convince new customers than to showcase the effectiveness of a product or service in a live context. Curious parties can express their interest and request an invite to attend such an event.
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The white paper and its variants
Case studies often form a crucial part of white papers and are regularly used for public relations purposes. The term has its origin in the “White Paper”, which is to be understood in a historical context as a collection of documents for the development of political procedures. Today’s white paper, on the other hand, is mainly used in IT, but also in other sectors of the economy. It’s a problem-solving tool . In most cases, a specific subject area is comprehensively analysed and described with relevant pros and cons to add useful insights. A white paper is composed with an objective mindset and takes a factual stance, ignoring marketing gimmicks and emotive language. Instead, it maintains focus on how best to serve advertising purposes. It is tailored to the desired target group with the aim to win trust through objective argument and to generate leads. It’s why case studies are such a staple of white papers. Variants of the white paper include:
In addition to lead generation and marketing, case studies in the form of white papers and their variants are also used internally by agencies and organisations to categorise target groups or for market research purposes..
Case studies as proof of quality and competence
A case study is an essential component of reference marketing as they serve as assurance of quality and competence with a degree of effectiveness you’ll struggle to find with almost any other marketing tool.
Companies can use such case studies to demonstrate tangible detail and quantifiable successthat’s been achieved with or for a particular client. In addition to presenting the results themselves, there’s also the working methods, processes and plans that have contributed to overall success demonstrated in such studies. When you can present business cases with agreeable metrics like this, well-known companies become considerably more cooperative.
Case studies are a significant storytelling tool that help breathe life into your achievements and promote your products passionately. As with any good story, you should think in terms of a beginning, a middle and an end when considering how to structure a case study effectively. There are conflicts and unexpected twists, but ultimately there’s a welcome resolution that fixes the problem that kicked off the whole thing in the first place. When you think about how to write a case study, consider the excellent opportunity you have to make even complex products and facts easily understandable when delivered in context. They grant your customers a much better understanding of what you can do for them. When looking to clinch new business deals, they also serve as solid proof you’ve cut through similar obstacles successfully for other clients before.
When you have a quality business case study at your disposal, you can use it to make an immediate impact. The reason why these publications are so effective in impressing across the board is that they are not the self-promotion of the company itself, but rather the satisfied assurances of customers. Prospective parties interested in doing business with you can look at your company through the objective eyes of someone from their side of the equation. While business case studies are published by you or your business, all the content to be found within is squarely focused on the customer experience. Clients will look to your case studies and consider you with confidence thanks to the quotations, statistics, infographics found within these documents. What’s more, the unbiased opinion of a satisfied customer is incredibly valuable when it comes to securing new business, with such content helping potential clients see the added value of your offer.
With these business cases, you can include examples taken from everyday life in the real world. Positive customer reviews are absolutely essential for online businesses looking to secure sustainable levels of success. Can you deliver genuine and comprehensible examples of your performance, along with glowing testimonials from your customers or service users to increase confidence in your business and attract new clients? Generally speaking, even those who stand undecided and reluctant to commit are more willing to trust in a provider once they’ve seen evidence that previous customers have been left satisfied, and even more agreeable when they see evidence of expectations being exceeded. You’ll witness a similar effect at trade fairs. Most visitors don’t have the confidence to be the first in a crowd of spectators, but once even only a handful of people converge and begin to engage, the crowd becomes progressively bigger with curious attendees.
You can look at each and every case study as an example of valuable word of mouth. Because you have to obtain consent to use the data provided by each reference customer, their inclusion in the company’s processes can often lead to enthusiastic advocacy. It’s not uncommon for a customer to become a staunch brand ambassador in this way.
Reports from reference customers must remain authentic and genuine if a case study is to be taken seriously. Maintaining this integrity is of paramount importance. However, this doesn’t dictate that reference customers are required to define the case study structure themselves. You can write their case study input on their behalf, provided you’ve obtained consent. If the reference itself is a brand, it brings big benefits to the scope of the study.
Conduct interviewsso you can elaborate on detailed statements as much as possible, but do so understanding these should represent the actual opinion of the reference customer by the end of the case study report period. If you limit transcripts of customer statements to bullet points and abbreviated detail, you run the risk of falsifying their insights. The case study should always reflect their opinion and observations as accurately as possible.
If you’re finding the prospect of writing a case study daunting, you can always have it written by someone else. To ensure that an external freelancer or suitable author from a content creation agency can successfully deliver what you’re after, it’s vital that reference customers are extensively interviewed in advance. Even if you’re confident about writing a case study yourself, you might want to consider the helpful insights and experience a freelancer can bring to the table. For example, freelancers can help you create more meaningful interview questions.
How do you create a case study?
To meet the requirements as laid out above, case study needs to be conducted to a set of ideal standards. You’ll most certainly need a reliable partner for every study undertaken. The collaboration should not only pay off for you, but also deliver desirable results for your partner. You’ll of course need to obtain the explicit consent of the customer involved before commencing the study.
Choose exemplary business cases where you can use your skills for the benefit of the customer. When it comes to deciding how to conduct a case study, there’s two ways to go. Either you start at the end and work together with the client on an already completed case for the study. Or you can opt for a live study by clearly declaring the beginning of the project duration, while also informing all involved that the processes, decisions and activities of the project will be recorded for study purposes. In the marketing world, most case studies are reviewed after the fact. It’s far easier to select a closed case that proved very successful than achieve perfect implementation of a live and running case. Admittedly, live case studies do provide an audience the opportunity to follow events and progress in a documentary fashion.
Ideally, you won’t be choosing new customers as reference candidates for your case study research. However, you will need to contact customers who have been working with you for a period of time. It’s also worth your while to check the result of a case study before getting in touch with the customer. Successful outcomes in every respect is what you’re hoping for before reaching out. After all, approaching a potential reference customer who was not completely happy with your accomplishments could very well lead to red faces all round. You should also refrain from making a request when a new deal is about to be made with the client. Unless, of course, you’re planning a live case study.
Always allow enough time when conducting a case study. Although some case studies can be completed quickly, the ultimate benefit the scientific research data might yield requires patience and care when interpreting it. You should always keep your chosen reference customer as close as possible and always try and communicate clearly with them. Remember, they will ideally be vouching for your performance credentials in the future with their name and that of their company adding weight to the praise. Therefore, make sure you inform the customer how much time you will need to spend on the study. Do this with as much advance warning as possible.
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How do you write a case study?
A case study should show the success of your company in dealing with its customers and solving their problems. But writing a case study is about more than celebrating your own success. In fact, the case study should avoid ego-stroking and instead focus on helping your customers understand how you can benefit them with your services. Yes, business case studies involve a lot of work, but the effort is certainly worth it.
Not everyone takes to the market researcher role with ease. As such, we’ve divided our case study writing guide into three essential steps you should follow, along with a further two additional steps you can consider as an optional extra resource.
Preparation: Which business case is best?
Before you start work on creating your case study, you’ll need to single out a rewarding topic to anchor it around. The first step in selecting a concrete topic is to decide which of your business cases is best suited for discussing in a study. The outline of your case study should include the following elements:
Writing the case study itself
Once you have determined the topic of your study, the writing can begin. At the beginning of the process, you’ll need to decide in which form you wish to write – in the first person directly i.e. from the customer’s point of view, or opt for the more neutral third person. Whatever writing form you opt for must be maintained throughout the duration of the report. That being said, some variety is possible and often useful. For example, adding customer quotes in the third person to a study written in the first person. Remember to mark these clearly with the use of quotation marks and, if necessary, italics.
Give your case study an interesting and insightful title that makes an impact and captures the attention of the reader. Success rates and percentages are ideal things to include if you want to make it immediately clear that the case study is a success story. Here are some illustrative examples:
How company X increased its turnover by 80% in only 6 months
John Smith: So I sold 3 x more eBooks per month
The secret to 500% higher conversation rates in e-commerce
You’ll find that “real” numbers are hugely important to the case study overall. What we mean by this is: Write important key figures not as words, but as numbers. For example, “100% more sales” rather than “sales doubled”. In the context of case studies, using numbers like this is simply more effective.
Write in simple and accessible language. Complicated technical terms should appear as little as possible. After all, you are not targeting industry insiders, but potential new customers. The easier it is to understand, the easier it is for new readers to empathise with the subject described.
We already discussed how case studies can be considered a form of storytelling. So make sure you write chronologically as best you can from beginning to end of the study. This allows the reader to maintain a better understanding of when and why problems might have arisen, as well as how these issues have been overcome. Crises and moments of weakness are an expected and unavoidable part of every project and should not be intentionally left out. Instead, see them as an opportunity to demonstrate how important your help was for the reference customer.
Finish the case study with all relevant information included
A case study like this should be available to a wide range of consumers after its publication. It’s therefore pivotal you include all contact details and other relevant company information at the end of your report. This makes it easier for companies, customers and other interested parties to contact you about the case study and make it available to other readers. In addition to standard data such as phone, email and web addresses, references to your social media profiles can also be useful to include.
Let experienced copywriters bring the business case studies to a close
Even if you’ve thoroughly prepared for your case study, it’s still possible to overlook details and make mistakes. Clear language and correct spelling are definitely the order of the day when dealing with a serious business case study.
Let the professional layout staff design the study
An excellent case study also requires a professional layout. Unless you are a layout professional yourself, consider commissioning one to handle the design of your study. In addition to the pure text layout, other elements such as images, infographics and tables must be taken into account. All these elements should be neatly packaged in a consistent style, preferably with a beautiful title picture or cover matching the theme. Layout is a key element for case studies that appear as a printed work, as well as for PDF or e-book files that are to be read on compatible devices. No matter how well your case study is written, it will suffer if the design doesn’t match the quality.
Publication of the case study
Congratulations! Now you’ve created a case study, it needs to be published. You should select channels and media that are most commonly used by your audience. As well as delivering the publication in print, you can use your own blog as a good starting point for promoting readership. Ideally, you’ll want to be actively using social networking and email marketing to increase the overall reach of your case study to as wide an audience as possible. Setting up your own landing page for the study also makes a lot of sense.
It’s also worth thinking about reformatting your case study for other media types. How about an extensive info video or a series of clips on YouTube? Showcasing the essence of the study in a single, yet extensive infographic can make for an interesting resource for consumers who are more visually-oriented. Remember that infographics are often shared by many users and can potentially increase the chance of your case study going viral.
The case study should be published relatively quickly to be as up to date as possible. Your reference customer, who has also invested time and effort, will also be interested in seeing the result as soon as possible. In many cases, your clientele can benefit from the advertising effect of the case study being released. However, first make sure that they agree with all the representations and phrases used in your case study.
Getting your own case study going
Whether you wish to use case study marketing for your own business requirements or you’re acting on behalf of customers or supervisors in the retention and acquisition of new customers, you’re dealing with a powerful tool. The case study islabour intensive content but, if you do your job well, it will pay off in the long run. Ensure the agreement of the participants involved and let your reference customers participate in the creation of the case study. Do this, and you’ll have satisfied brand ambassadors, as well as some impressive credentials that will help increase your reach across channels and show your business in the best light.
Successful case studies are particularly popular in the media world. Mass media or influencers may also be interested in your results. Once you have successfully used one or more case studies, the interest of other customers in participating in future studies should also increase.
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