I’ve written several articles about case studies. Each one has included recommendations for how to design a more effective marketing case study layout. But my recommendations have changed over the years as my thinking about what makes a case study has changed. More importantly, what I have observed about how prospects engage with case studies has also changed.
In this article, I will update my recommendations for case study layout and share with you some thoughts on how prospects should engage with them.
What a Case Study is For
First, it’s critical to understand the purpose of a case study. A case study’s job is not to describe an engagement in detail so that a prospect will know and understand every step you might take to get them from Point A to Point B. That kind of case study might give away too much. It also might be too much work to produce.
A case study’s job is to describe an outcome you made possible for your client. It should do this in a way that will appeal to prospects who need what your client needed.
Long vs. Short
At one time, I was enamored with the truly long-form case study. Inspired by the stories of the now-defunct Teehan+Lax, I regularly recommended writing 1,500-3,000-word case studies. And I regularly counseled clients who said they couldn’t write that much that, yes, they could…if they just tried hard enough. There is a place for the long-form case study. But for the vast majority of experts, this type of case study is not the easiest or most productive form to produce.
So, a few years later, I revised my opinion. I cut down the word-count and placed a greater emphasis on format that prioritized results and brevity.
I still believe in this approach.
The Art of the Case Study
Case studies are a continually evolving form. They’re almost an art form, really. A case study must reflect the desired future state that our prospects dream of. That’s a real challenge to do. You need to know what prospects want, yes, but you really need to know what they need. What prospects need is constantly changing, which means how you frame a case study will change, too.
What a Prospect Needs from a Case Study
When your prospects become clients, they are not buying a process. They’re buying an outcome. Ask any of your best clients why they signed on with you. It’s because you described a future for them that they needed. And it’s because you made them believe you could get them there.
You may have also described a process. But it was probably not the process that compelled them. It may have reassured them, and that is important, no doubt. But your ability to diagnose their present state and illuminate a future that may not have even been fully crystalized in their mind was why they hired you. That is your sales reality. Since a case study’s job is to facilitate an easier sale, it should do this same thing.
Prospects Need to See Results
Put simply, a case study should primarily describe results. Results can be measured qualitatively and/or quantitatively. If you can do both, even better. As for process, use information about how you deliver to support the results you describe when necessary. But be brief — you don’t want to give away the magic.
Now let’s get in to how to structure your case study layout.
The Case Study’s Narrative
A case study exists to frame the problem a prospect has, describe the form your solution takes, and, most importantly prove your worth by documenting the results. You must make clear the impact you’ve had on your client. These requirements represent the essential elements of a case study layout.
That may look like this:
That’s pretty straightforward. Most case studies, essentially, follow this outline (although I do have three rules for writing a good case study). But an effective case study needs a few other pieces of information to support this story and the right prospect action.
The Case Study’s Place in the Prospect’s Narrative
A case study is the end of the road in our positioning-focused content experience, which means that the primary action we want those who read it (and have also read the other pages about our capabilities andservices) to take is to get in touch with you directly. For prospects that begin their sessions on your website here, we want them to understand how the outcomes and impact you describe are connected to the services you offer. We want to graduate them from researchers to evaluators and qualified buyers. So we design our case study to make the importance of both of those things obvious, and acting on them simple and easy.
The Four Essential Elements of a Case Study Layout
So let’s look at the structure of these pages. The most effective and convincing case study layout has 4 key attributes:
- ~500+ words of indexable content with an editorial focus on the impact of your work
- client testimonial
- easily scannable list of related services. We don’t relate other case studies here. We want our prospects to transition from research mode to understanding how our business works, not get caught in a content cul de sac.
- buyer-friendly call to action to set up a meeting, get in touch about a project, etc.
If you nail each of those four key qualifications, you won’t need to seduce readers with case studies that are thousands of words longer than anyone will read or elaborate slideshows of shiny pictures. By focusing on impact, you will attract the right kind of attention and efficiently make the best use of it.
This article is the seventh in a series that will guide you through applying the principles of Prospect Experience Design for yourself.
Next in the series is a guide to designing an effective content hub.