Case studies are stories describing how a customer’s business has benefitted from using a product (or service). They can be in written, podcast (audio file) or video format.
Aside from actually talking to potential customers, case studies are a great way of showing off what you do well and getting your business noticed. They can be used on your website, newsletter or brochures, but I want to focus on using written case studies for public or press relations (PR) because getting coverage in places like websites, magazines and newspapers is a fantastic way to generate leads and build brand awareness.
What makes a good story?
Marketing case studies are often too ‘hard sell’ for putting in the media. Editors like a subtle approach with only one or two direct references to the product and the story tightly focused on the customer’s experience.
A good case study needs three basic elements: a business challenge faced; the solution found; and, most important, the benefits gained.
But you must also engage your readers and tell a story with a strong angle. Find something topical, like Polished Bliss who has flourished in the recession, or Stinkyink.com who overcame online fraud problems. Maybe combine a business interest with a human element, such as fulfilling a lifetime dream, or how a company overcame a major obstacle as The Cake Store did when it beat off competition from local supermarkets.
Having decided on your ideal customer and storyline, ask if the company is happy to co-operate – explain the mutual benefits, such as free publicity.
Who should write the case study?
You can always hire a freelance copywriter, a PR specialist or journalist who knows your field. They may cost a few hundred pounds, but it’ll be money well spent. To find one, ask for recommendations at networking events or on social media sites – you’ll be inundated. Always ask for samples of a writer’s work, to check their style. Ensure that one rewrite is included in the fee. Not even an expert will get it right first time.
Once you’ve chosen a writer, give them a clear brief. Tell them the length/word count (typically 500-750 words); the product(s) you want promoted; and the benefits you want highlighted. Fix a deadline for the first draft and then introduce the writer to your customer personally. After that you can leave it to them to arrange the interview.
Of course, if you want to write it yourself, if you have the ability, it’s a great way to get to know your customers. Once written, get someone you trust to check it over, because we become blind to our own mistakes. Try not to be upset by any criticism; ask if the piece ‘reads well’ and makes your point.
DIY writing tips
- Case studies can be in the first person (“I”) or the third (“he/she”), but if you use “he/she” pep it up with quotes from the customer, to make the story easier to read.
- An alternative style to prose is using a question and answer format, as in this piece on Plain Lazy’s use of social media for marketing.
- Give it a strong title that encapsulates the story, such as: “Acme Co grows customer base by 100 per cent using Nuclear Plastiwidgets”.
- Use statistics to show the difference the product has made and the benefits gained. Ballpark figures are fine.
- Avoid jargon and terms such as ‘market leading’ and ‘unique’ – no one believes them! Write out any acronyms in full the first time followed by the abbreviation in brackets, for example, Internet Service Provider (ISP).
- Include your website and contact details for more information.
- Show the case study to your customer before you send it off, both as a courtesy and to check the content is accurate. Maybe they could use it in their own marketing?
- Many editors like to use ‘boxes’ highlighting the key facts, for example, industry sector, size, location, date of founding and the benefits covered in the story in condensed form.
- You need good photography. Ask your customer if they have any “high-resolution” photos (ie 300 dots per inch). You need interesting angles and not just boring, front-on headshots. Look at photo libraries online for inspiration or (if you have enough budget) hire an experienced professional photographer. They’ll cost less than the writer and a good picture makes people want to read on. If possible, give the editor a choice of pictures.
Where to publish
Your target is the publication most relevant to your real audience: your customers and prospects.
Write a summary of your key points and email it to the editor. Only approach one publication at a time, to avoid being accepted in two places. You can try the story in more than one place, but only if you target titles in different sectors using different angles. Editors want “exclusive” stories.
Once accepted, you may be asked to shorten the piece to suit the space available.
Now it’s over to you…
Don’t forget to put your case study on your own website and refer to it in your customer communications. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, post a link.
Now go out and find a satisfied customer – one who’s happy to talk about the benefits your product has given. Let me know how you get on.
Jane Lee from Dexterity is an independent PR consultant specialising in IT companies and small businesses.