Copywriting – 12 steps to writing a case study
Case studies are one of my favourite copywriting jobs. Interviewing clients is fun, and as an ex-journalist, I love writing long form copy. A reader has asked for an overview of different kinds of writing jobs, so here are some pointers on how to write a case study.
What’s a case study?
A case study is a marketing tool that showcases your client. It gives an authentic example of how they’ve helped a happy customer. Often, it will include direct quotes from the customer. Case studies are particularly great for services, which can be complex and bespoke. They can help to explain your client’s customer journey, and where they see added value. When case studies are done well, the happy customer does the marketing job for you.
So how do you get started with case studies? Here are the 12 steps I use:
1. Clarify what kind of case study
You client needs to choose case studies carefully. Don’t pick just any happy client. Decide what they represent, and the business goal. Maybe they illustrate a particularly good example of customer service in action. Or going the extra mile with bespoke specifications. Or solving a horrendous problem. Maybe the company has introduced a new service and wants a good example on their website. Or they need to illustrate B2B services for both start-ups and growth businesses. So, they’ll want a good case study for each. Encourage your client to think about market segments and find the best case study example for each.
2. Frame the customer’s problem
A case study shows how your client solved someone’s problems. Say, for example, they’re helping someone to build a home. Ask what problems the customer faced. Then describe how they were solved. Did they have to deal with planning regs? Difficult terrain? A flood on their site? Unusual specifications? Maybe they were entirely new to the process, and needed a helping hand every step of the way? Make a list. Problems and solutions are the backbone of your case study.
3. Find moments of value and transformation
With a case study, you’re describing a “before-after” situation. The aim is to show where a business helped their customer, added value, solved a problem or brought about transformation. So, note some questions to bring out that information. “Where did the company really solve a problem for you?” “Where did they go the extra mile?” “How was their offering different to that of other companies?” “What was special?”
4. Ask for supporting examples and evidence
Get examples. These help to underpin general answers, and add authority. You may need to ask pointed questions to dig into vague responses. “They were terrific! Really went the extra mile!” is lovely, but not informative about the specifics. You need answers like: “A supplier let us down, so they gave us the part from their own stores free of charge. We didn’t lose a single day.” “We struggled to find exactly what we wanted, and they offered a bespoke option.” Note how these examples show a problem, followed by a solution.
5. Dig into details
Details are great for authenticity, authority and colour. With a product, I might cut to the chase and say: “I need a description in your words. Can you give me some details?”. It can be useful to cover the different senses: “What does it look/feel like? Describe the experience.” With a service, I might ask: “Explain your situation before you came to the client. What issues did you have?”
Want more copywriting business tips? See below!
6. Interview a happy customer
This isn’t always possible, but makes a huge difference to the impact and authenticity of a case study. Happy customers can explain what the company did to help them, and how impressed they were. You’ll get their responses in their own words. Make sure you ask for a testimonial at the end of your fact-gathering chat. I usually ask: “What would you say to anyone thinking of choosing x’s services?’
If you can’t interview a customer, get a written testimonial, and interview your client. Ask them to explain what they did for the customer, and how they made an impact. Again, gather their own words, expressions and terminology, which will make the case study relatable for prospective customers.
7. Record the interview
I do this on Zoom. Tell the interviewee you’re recording. It saves notetaking and helps you concentrate fully on what the interviewee is saying. It also allows you to capture their authentic language, and avoid paraphrase. I put audio recordings through transcription software (Otter.ai), so that I can print it out and mark up quotes I want to use. With a long interview, this is a great help. It doesn’t matter if the transcription isn’t 100% correct – it’s great for orientation and listening back.
8. Use customer and client quotes
Don’t hesitate to use direct quotes. Verbatim material gives authenticity and is fun to read. It brings your writing to life, and is far more informative than anything you can invent. Just take care to follow journalism principles and not misrepresent the customer, change their meaning, or wrongly attribute what they say. Keep your notes. There’s no need to change their language or put it in your own words. Light editing to tidy up hesitations is fine. You’ll be running it past them for signoff, in any case.
9. Agree terms with the client and customer
Do a quick check-in about how and where the case study is going to be used. This is best practice and will reassure customers about your professionalism. Mostly, this is just saying, “it’s going to be on the website (or in a trade journal) – are you OK with that?” Also check in about whether you’re using names, places or other identifiers. The customer may prefer their identify to be anonymised. You need to take responsibility for asking this, as your client may not realise their obligation to protect customers.
10. Anonymise if required
If a case study is being posted on the internet, the customer might not want their name on view, their neighbours knowing their business, their aspirations or vulnerabilities exposed. With business-to-business (B2B) case studies, they may not want trade secrets revealed. Anonymity is often the best option for large projects and purchases, and sensitive services such as health and wellbeing. It’s easy to anonymize customers by removing identifiers and using generalisation. For example, rather than saying “Clare Bloggs from Sevenoaks in Kent”, say “a new homebuilder” or “a health sector manager”.
11. Get the case study signed off by the interviewees
Send the case study for checking and signoff. An interviewed customer is doing your client a great favour, and it’s important that they feel well represented. I rarely get back any changes, so it’s usually a formality. But again, it shows your professionalism, and is a chance to correct any misunderstandings or second thoughts.
12. Promote the case study on your site and social media
This is helpful for you and your client, as you both get SEO impact from link. Only cc the interviewee if it’s a non-sensitive topic, even if they’re happy to be named. I wouldn’t, for example, cc someone interviewed about their home insurance experience, or career counselling. But leisure and fun topics are fine.