In the pantheon of content types, the case study takes a special place. While blog posts and white papers are often for consumer education purposes, the case study is one of the best ways to shine a spotlight on your brand, services, differentiators and successes.
It’s one of the more direct content marketing assets, and ideal for leads who are further down the funnel. The case study is used to explain exactly how you helped solve a problem for a client or customer, and thus tell your story and demonstrate your value or return on investment.
But while writing a case study may seem like a breeze, there’s a lot of strategy and effort that goes into producing great case studies – the type that can help convince potential customers to do business with you.
Fortunately, for any readers interested in case study examples to take a cue from, the internet is littered with customer case studies that illustrate exactly how to craft an effective asset.
Here are some tips on case study design, as well as seven examples you can use as models.
What is a marketing case study?
A case study is essentially a narrative of how your business met a need, solved a problem or helped in a project. They act almost like customer reviews in that the case study relays what the product or service is, how it was used and what the impact was. Case studies are effective in both B2B and B2C marketing.
The ultimate takeaway for readers should be an understanding of your business and the benefits you can deliver – and there’s no better source of that material than real-world wins. To start on the case study writing process, begin by:
- Scouting for customer successes to share.
- Reaching out to previous or existing clients.
- Arranging a case study interview (if you can).
- Identifying your target audience.
- Thinking about case study design concepts.
- Devising a preliminary social media campaign.
When you sit down to write a case study, it’s important to know the general format. While there’s no hard-and-fast case study template, a commonly used format is: overview, challenge/opportunity, solution, outcome:
- Overview: Paint the overall picture and explain what the scenario is, who is involved, what the parameters of a project were; provide any other needed contextual details.
- Challenge/opportunity: Outline the key business challenge, consumer problem or market opportunity.
- Solution: Talk about the product or service you provided and how you deployed tools or strategy.
- Outcome: Describe the positive impact of your product or service, whether it was an improved customer experience or client return on investment.
Try to include quotes from customers, client contacts, or internal staff wherever possible so that the real-world use case resonates with the reader.
The end result should be a polished asset that answers any remaining questions that potential customers might have. And to give you some insight as to what that looks like, here are seven B2B and B2C case study examples.
Aware is a leading global provider of software products and solutions for biometric identification and authentication, a product that may be difficult to understand in practical applications. But the company’s case study “The World’s Largest Employer Uses a Web-Based Platform for Biometric Identity Proofing” is a primary example of what to do right when writing a case study.
This case study follows the generally recommended template of overview-problem-solution-outcome, and conveys Aware’s story in clear terms that expertly explain the product and benefits. Of course, having the world’s largest employer (the U.S. Department of Defense) as a case study subject lends credibility to Aware, which can explain how it succeeded on one of the highest levels, thereby creating a persuasive asset.
Right off the bat, HubSpot lets readers know the main benefits with data. The title doesn’t mess around, basically pulling the conclusion all the way up. The case study itself follows closely along the overview-problem-solution-outcome format, creating a natural progression for the story and the reader to follow along with.
One of the best elements of this example is the case study design. The overview is set in a shaded box that draws the attention of the reader; functionally, this helps ensure they have context for what’s about to follow. From there, screenshots help add a visual touch that reinforces the product use case, and emphasis is added on tangible takeaways like “saving up to 50 hours each quarter on manual processes.”
Another cue to take from HubSpot is building up a library of case studies. Armed with dozens of customer stories, HubSpot can share sector-specific content that plays well with a target audience.
3. Walmart Labs – Seamless Returns Experience
For an example from the B2C marketing world, we turn to Walmart Labs, a division of the retail multinational that incubates innovation. It also has quite a few handy case studies for how Walmart is using technology to drive better customer experiences and operational efficiency.
Its “Seamless Returns Experience” case study is a succinct examination of the issue at hand and what Walmart is doing to find a solution.
One of the things this case study does particularly well is drawing out and highlighting the salient points. It makes for an easy read, but also a compelling case study. Readers come away with direct knowledge of what Walmart is doing to solve pain points in the returns process, and how successful its initiatives have been at making for a more streamlined customer experience.
4. Consero – How private equity-backed AppleCare leveraged Finance as a Service to accelerate growth
You’ve likely heard of Software-as-a-Service, but have you heard of Finance-as-a-Service? After reading this case study from Consero, you’ll get a clear picture of exactly how outsourced finance and accounting can help businesses grow or seize opportunity. The table of contents helps set the stage for the journey and what readers should expect.
The art in Consero’s case study is the narrative it creates using quotes from a client contact. They help bring personality to the piece, as well as authority. The design of the case study makes ample use of pull quotes, which pump up the effect even further. Combined with the linear progression of overview-challenge-solution-outcome, the artful storytelling provides insights as well as evidence.
Sometimes the case study challenge doesn’t have to be financial or operational; it can also be an exploration of a company’s efforts to advocate sustainability, social responsibility and corporate governance.
That’s what Coca-Cola took the opportunity to do in producing this case study of the brand’s efforts to support and train workers in Brazil, as well as innovate solutions for underserved communities.
While this B2C marketing example is a bit more long form, the depth and knowledge it provides are key for the reader, whose understanding of the material is helped along by graphical elements. The technical explanations don’t come at the sacrifice of personality, however, as the stories of Brazilian youth are documented with quotes and anecdotes to help humanize the piece, which is, after all, a case study in how Coca-Cola is pursuing social and economic growth for foreign communities.
Well hey, look who made the list. If you’re looking for a sample case study to model a first draft off, this example can help provide the roadmap you need to get started. All the elements of strong construction are here: straightforward structure that outlines the four core pillars (overview, challenge, solution, outcome), punchy quotes and sleek design.
Don’t be afraid to add emphasis to what plays well for you. You want readers to come away with an impression that your business is knowledgeable, has a track record of success and can deliver solutions that align with their personal pain points.
Google has no shortage of high-profile customer stories to share, but its case study of Swarovski is one of the most lustrous examples. The multimedia element stands out as what sets this asset apart from others.
The two-minute, 42-second YouTube video — an ideal time length for the modern online reader — positioned at the top of the content is the perfect companion to the text. Google also makes sure the performance data is up top and highly visible so that the reader knows the positive impact.
Here’s the video from their case study:
What to remember when writing a case study
These examples all demonstrate the value of a case study, as well as the value of multiple such assets you can deploy. Once you get in a rhythm of case study iteration, you’ll find yourself with a content marketing arsenal that’s highly effective in driving leads and potential customers further toward a purchase decision.
Use these tips on what makes great case studies to power your content ideation and production:
- The exact structure doesn’t matter as long as the four cornerstones of overview, challenge, solution, outcome are addressed in some way.
- Quotes are great if you can get them. When conducting a case study interview, ask questions that get to the heart of the problem and the impact the product or solution played.
- Have a social media strategy for the rollout of the case study, as well as a follow-up plan for recirculation and repurposing. Ask participating partners to share the case study when it’s finished, too.
- Use creative formatting so the case study design has clear takeaways and emphasizes key quotes.
Do you have opinions about what makes a good case study? Or want to share an example of a particularly well-done case study you’ve seen? Drop a comment below.