A simple guide to writing great case studies that sell, including the right questions to ask, and getting permission.
This guide can be viewed as a Webinar or you can read the full guide in this blog post.
What is case study?
A simple formula
It’s all in the Questions
Use of images
Getting Your Case Study Approved
What Is A Case Study?
A case study is a story of how your customer overcame a problem or challenge using your products or services. That could be overcoming a technical challenge through the design of a bespoke solution. It could be that your approach saved your customer time and money. Perhaps your skills and experience helped design or install a complex system, or your team played a part in a unique or high-profile building project?
Unlike a brochure or an advert, they’re written in a neutral and factual tone, rather than being 'salesy' or boastful. By including approved quotes from your customers, your achievements are effectively rubber-stamped. That’s what gives case studies such credibility and makes them a valuable sales tool. It’s a way of saying to other customers and prospects: ‘don’t just take our word for it, read what our customers say about us’. And that’s powerful stuff.
Once complete, you can use case studies on your website, as part of your PR campaign or as a sales leave behind. Produced as a word doc or PDF, they can build into a useful library for demonstrating your skills and expertise.
A Simple Formula
Just like all the best stories, a case study has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It also needs a logical flow:
Set the scene and explain the problem
Introduce your product and service – the hero
Describe how you worked with your customer and others in the project to overcome the problem
Sum it all up with a positive ending
Make the story interesting with facts that support your claims, quotes from the key players, and don’t be afraid to be technical. What would similar customers want to know about your story? What information and facts would convince others that you could help them?
A good case study should be short and easy to read. Aim for between 500 – 800 words, with the addition of key facts, diagrams and images.
It’s All in The Questions
Telling a good story is all down to the questions and answers you get from your customers and other key players in the project. Asking the right questions is crucial, as rich answers will help you write interesting copy and will give you more detailed quotes.
Once you’ve worked out the ‘story’ of your case study, you can pinpoint which customer in particular will be best to provide the ‘customer view’ and give you great quotes. It’s always worth explaining how the case study will benefit them and give them useful PR, as a way of encouraging them to take part.
You can interview your key customers and suppliers over the phone, face-to-face, or via video conferencing. If you’re able to record their answers using a smartphone or a built-in recording function on your conf call app, all the better. It’s far easier to go back to recording than to try and transcribe conversation as people speak.
Here are some useful questions that will deliver great quotes:
What were the biggest challenges on this project?
Why did you choose our product/service over alternatives?
How has our product/service provided a solution?
Was there anything we did to help that stood out?
Has the project met your objectives?
What learnings can you take away from the project?
Use of Images
We’re big advocates of taking images ‘in-house’ using a decent smartphone or digital camera, and this can work for case study photography. But if the project you’re writing about is very visual, or bigger than you can capture on a smartphone, it’s beneficial to call in an expert.
Using a commercial building photographer shouldn’t break the bank. An experienced photography will be able to meet you at the site and get all the images all in a couple of hours. So, booking a half day shoot (costs very but an approximate cost would be between £250 - £350) would be ample. You may be able to book photography services by the hour, reducing the cost further.
Sunshine and blue skies are the ideal backdrop for great case study photos so it’s often a case of watching the weather for a dry spell. If the building you’re photographing comes to life at dusk
when the lights are turned on, schedule your shoot to get afternoon sun and the drama of early evening. Large expanses of glass look even better when lit from within.
The benefits are a portfolio of attractive images from a range of interesting angles that can be used for your case study, for your website, for brochures, email campaigns, and social media. That’s a lot of mileage for a relatively low cost.
Getting Your Case Study Approved
Getting your case study approved for general publication is bar far the trickiest part. In the building and construction sector, the complexity lies in the ‘food chain’ of main client, main contractor, sub-contractors, fabricators, installers and end user.
Depending on which part you played in the delivery of the building project, you’ll need permission to mention project specifics and high-profile companies. The bigger the project, the more difficult it can get approval from the key players involved.
It can depend on the stage of the project as to how likely you are to get approval to publish a case study. Completed projects with a good outcome are your best bet. While it seems like a time investment, it’s often better to present a finished case study to the client whose permission you need. They can see that your content doesn’t reveal any sensitive data and will have chance to make changes if they wish.
Who Needs to Give Approval?
The customer you’ve interviewed has already given approval by taking part in the case study. Still, they will need to see and sign-off the finished article. They may be authorised to give overall approval, or they may need their internal marketing team or director to give final sign-off.
If you project is high-profile or of a sensitive nature, or if you wish to include comments from other suppliers or the end-user, you will need approval from an authorised individual within that company. Verbal agreements are flimsy so always opt for an email approval for your records.
It’s tempting to publish case studies without getting approval to save time and hassle. But if your reputation is important and you wish to continue working with reputable companies, it’s always advisable to seek permission and only publish once you have something in writing.
Top Tip: If you are using a professional photographer, offering to share the images can be a great incentive for your customer and others higher up in the chain to give approval.
To Sum Up...
Case Studies can demonstrate your skills and expertise to new and existing customers
Keep them factual and neutral, rather than salesy for maximum credibility
Do your research and ensure you ask the right questions for killer quotes
Invest in professional photos and use them across all your marketing
Ensure you get permission to share your case studies to safeguard your client relationships and reputation
FINALLY… Use your case studies every where you can – they are stories that sell!