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Case studies are a valuable asset for a startup. They’re “social proof” that highlights your wins and the value you create for customers. If you’re talking to a large US retailer and you send them two case studies of other large US retailers, that’s a huge credibility boost right there.
Now, more than ever, is a good time to invest in writing case studies. Customers who were totally happy with your product may be cancelling or downsizing their engagement because of the impact of coronavirus. They may be open to helping you out by giving a testimonial or doing a case study. They may also have more time on their hands as business slows down and they’re working from home. And a great case study is a tremendous resource that will serve you well once things get back to normal.
Case study creation process
- Identify the right stakeholder: your champion or your buyer, someone intimately familiar with how your product is being used.
- Set up an interview with her, and send her the interview questions in advance. Here’s our list of case study questions. Set up a 60-minute meeting – the interview will probably be shorter, but better be on the safe side (and allow some time for chitchat).
- Record the interview (after asking for permission). Video is best.
- Using the interview materials, create the case study draft, including a quote from your interviewee (whether lifted directly from the interview or one that you draft for them). Here’s our case study template.
- If you’re not a writer or a native English speaker, have a professional writer edit your draft.
- Send the customer the draft for editing, review, and approval.
- Design the case study in various formats: 1-pager PDF people can download or share via email, a shortened web version (few paragraphs), and a 1-paragraph summary.
- Publish! A new case study merits a marketing campaign – see our checklist for making the most of it.
Case Study examples
Here are a few examples of case studies we created or were involved with:
Custora + Bonobos
Custora + Crocs
OpenLegacy + Veterinary Cooperative (good example for an anonymous case study)
OpenLegacy + Insurance (good example for an anonymous case study)
Keywee + New York Magazine
Case Study Frequently Asked Questions
When should I ask a customer for a case study?
Timing really is everything with case studies. Too early and you have no results to share. Too late and your champion might have moved on, or the customer might be asking for more and no longer happy. Try to time it so that you just completed a project milestone, you have some quantifiable results to share, and the customer is super happy.
How should I ask for it?
Make sure to mention those recent successes or milestones. Use Positive Framing and present what’s in it for the customer. Here’s more.
Who should write the case study?
We believe you don’t have to be a professional writer or content marketer to write a case study. Even technical founders can take a stab. That said, make sure you run your case study draft by a pro writer or copyeditor before you send it for your customer to review, and before you publish the final version.
How long should a case study be?
Aim for a 1-pager (about 500 words, single spaced). If it’s longer, create an additional 1-page version. We also recommend creating a 3-4 paragraph version for the web, and a one-paragraph version for email / social media, and for documents that include a few case studies.
Consider incorporating images as well: a screenshot from your software, key graphs or other data visualization, photos of the factory or product if applicable.
How long does it take to complete a case study?
Anything from a few weeks to a few months. Interviewing your champion and writing up the draft is usually quick: 1-2 weeks, depending how busy you both are. The rest of the time is customer revisions, and getting the case study approved for publishing… more on that in the next question.
What if I don’t get approval to publish?
First off, don’t give up. We have threads of 50+ emails trying to finalize approvals for a case study. In the end, having an approved case study with a killer quote is worth it.
That said, if you’re being told you won’t get an approval (maybe your champion left, or the company tightened its policy), don’t despair. We recommend fully anonymizing the case study for external publication. That way, the story and benefits will still be there. And during private sales conversations you can hint or mention the actual company in the case study.
Yes, an anonymized case study isn’t nearly as powerful as a full one. But it’s better than nothing, not to mention all the hours you invested in creating it.
Should case studies be gated (behind a lead generation form)?
A common question is whether case studies should only be accessible after a lead submits their contact information. Some say they should be gated, like any other content. Some say they shouldn’t, because they’re much more sales-y and bottom-of-the-funnel compared to top-of-the-funnel educational content. Our recommendation? Somewhere in the middle. Create a shortened version of the case study to post on the web, and let leads who are interested access the full case study by submitting their contact info. That way, you ensure that everyone is exposed to the “win” described in the case study, and those with a particularly strong interest self-qualify themselves by submitting their details.
How many case studies should I write?
There’s no such thing as “too many case studies.” Capture all the wins that you can. Every case study is an opportunity to appeal to similar leads. For example, a Japanese regional bank will appreciate a case study of another Japanese regional bank, much more than a case study of a European regional bank.
Case studies are also pretty much evergreen, so they will serve you for years to come. It’s a worthwhile investment of time, and a negligible investment of direct $.