10 rules for perfect case studies

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Case studies work. They persuade prospects that your products and services are credible and fit for purpose. In sales, they can make the difference between a blind date and a sure thing.

But most case studies are done badly. And writing them is like having teeth pulled.

I have written hundreds of case studies for clients such as Microsoft, HP, LinkedIn and others. Here are my top tips:

  1. Work fast. I’ve done a few case studies in a day – from first contact to client sign-off. That’s the ideal. If it takes more than a couple of weeks, it’s much more likely that the fish will wriggle off the hook. So everyone has to be prepared to move fast.
  2. One point of contact. The client should talk to one person from start to finish, ideally the writer. The more parties to the conversation, the longer the conversation takes. See point 1!
  3. Keep it short. 400-500 words is fine. Bullet points are fine. Anything more than about 750 words is wasted. Nobody reads it. Who has the time? Find out how to slim down obese copy.
  4. Tell a story. Your customers are used to reading newspapers and magazines. Their brains are wired for a story. So use place, time, personality, description, narrative flow. Start with ‘problem, solution, benefits’ but try to deepen the traditional format.
  5. Interview the customer. If a customer doesn’t want to do an interview, drop the case study. Trust me on this. Case studies without customer interviews are horrible.
  6. Use real quotes. Don’t make up frankenquotes. Nothing destroys credibility quicker. Use real people’s real words.
  7. It’s not for your boss. Case studies are about customers for customers. Avoid quotes from your own managers. Beware hyping something simply because it’s on the company agenda. If the customer likes feature X and the company wants to talk about feature Y, go with X every time.
  8. Avoid corporate BS. Hype undermines credibility. Avoid it. So does inflationary language.
  9. Keep PR out of it. When a client says that they have to pass a case study to their PR department, it usually means delays, pointless rewrites and an increase in corporate BS. Avoid it if you can, even if this means going rogue and dealing with people a few rungs down the ladder.
  10. Templates are for guidance. All my clients have some kind of case study template. Fine but sometimes the case study doesn’t quite fit the pattern or you can get a better result with a different structure. If so, do it. The objective is to convince readers, not comply with rules.

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  1. Five websites that will help improve your writing skills - Jeremy Porter - April 25, 2013

    [...] I have been reading Matthew’s blog for many years. His writing is punchy and sharp. He offers great advice: productivity tips, writing advice, dealing with journalists – and that’s only scratching the surface. It’s hard to pick just one article, but I think this is the article I found most useful when I was writing an annual report: 10 rules for perfect case studies. [...]

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