Most communication professionals’ blood runs cold with the words, ‘Case Study’. The challenge, in my view, is not the effort that must go into writing a case study; it is the fear of creating something that won’t match up to the flawless case studies by the big Consulting firms. After trying to follow templates for years, and attempting to ‘echo’ the writing styles of the Big Fours, I ended up with dull drafts that no one wanted to read. But now, you can craft vibrant ones instead with these 6 tips.
“Case studies are highly overrated,” an ex-colleague once told me.
The reason for this presumptuous comment could have been plain fear. Somehow, even to this day, most communication professionals’ blood runs cold with the words, ‘Case Study’, as if he or she has just been awarded a life sentence.
The challenge, in my view, is not the effort that must go into writing a case study; it is the fear of creating something that won’t match up to the flawless case studies by the Big Fours and other Consulting firms. In other words, it may not be informative, adequately researched, well-crafted and contextual to business…so, uninteresting and irrelevant.
So what should we do when we have fabulous customer stories to tell? How do we do justice to everything that went into the project? In what other way do we showcase the learning, the strategy, the success and most importantly, the perspective that could enlighten and even change the direction of an industry and the business?
After trying to follow templates for years, and attempting to ‘echo’ the writing styles of the Big Fours, I ended up with dull drafts that no one wanted to read. But, you can craft vibrant ones instead now with these 6 tips.
1. Address the challenges
A case study should address a business challenge. It is important to identify a single compelling challenge or problem to make the case more focused and strong. There could be a list of sub-challenges that are linked to the core challenge. But, find the core challenge.
2. Talk about the solution (don’t brag)
The reader is looking for the solution, which is why he or she is reading the case study. If the problem statement is big enough, it is easy to keep a focused eye on writing about the solution. There could be more than one thing that attributes towards creating the full solution. However, even then, it is important to write clearly about all the parts that make up the whole.
3. Show the results
The case study is not just words; it could be many things – visuals, infographics, numbers, images – that convey the problem or challenge, and the subsequent solution based on which is the outcome. The outcome is critical and always must appear at the close of the case.
4. Important questions to ask
To get the best results, the customer or end-user should be asked specific questions related to the case (remember the single compelling challenge that the company was trying to solve?).
i) Figure out exactly what you want to get out of the case study.
ii) Is there a specific part of your product/solution you want to highlight?
iii) What kind of research do you need to incorporate to target a specific company size?
iv) What was the scenario before your customer started using your product or service?
v) What is the scenario post using the product/solution?
vi) What are the results of implementing that solution or launching the product?
5. Field intelligence Vs Armchair conjecture
If we talk authoritatively about how we helped the client, we will mostly focus on our own expertise, the inputs we gave, and also the aforesaid challenges we solved. But if we ask the client, sometimes in his ramblings, we may find a surprising new angle or perspective which can make a compelling story. (Remember, no bragging about your own company). The best way to gather an accurate amount of content for writing the case is to actually ‘study’ the problem and solution, and understand the outcome first-hand. This includes industry research so that you have a context prior to asking questions or writing. The end-user is the key to verifying the sanctity of the company’s efforts and the relevance of the solution that has been deployed. It is important you ask the questions yourself, because a conversation can reveal new insights, which your questions via email may not have led to.
6. Interview for answers
The conversation to gather content on the case could be via email or over phone. But, the best, and thus most effective style, would be an interview-style conversation, face-to-face, where you have a list of questions to begin with, and based on what you learn and hear, you ask more questions. This will help you gain clarity and make the writing process simpler (as you will logically follow the flow of the answers to make your first draft) and also faster (because you will have all the answers).
Some sample questions:
- Before: Single most compelling problem? Subsequent challenges? Top three pain points?
- What tactics were tried and tested earlier to address these three pain points?
- When did the epiphany or the big “ah-ha” moment happen in the company? (Enumerate the incident/situation)
- When did you decide to design and use the new solution? (Time frames/reference period)
- What were some of the top priorities while deciding upon the necessary outcomes? (Growth/HR/Profitability/Empowerment etc.)
- What are the top three things you liked about the new solution?
- What specific problems has this solution resolved for your company?
- Did you experience any direct “big win” business results immediately on implementing the solution? (Qualitative/Quantitative)
- What would be the single biggest reason you would recommend this solution to anyone else?
- What is the impact of the solution on other areas? (Environment/People etc.)
These questions could be applied to any case study you write. It is essential to have a definitive outcome in the form of clear metrics, and if these metrics are comparable to industry standards, all the better. Use business language. When adding tables, graphics, images etc., please attribute them correctly to the source. And, read some case studies before writing one.