Kick-Ass Content: How to Create a Compelling Case Study in Five Acts
March 27, 2012
This is the first post in a new content marketing strategy series that offers tips to help you create dynamic content that resonates with customers and prospects and drives revenue.
Imagine a customer comes to you with a problem: he can’t do this or she needs help with that. After assessing the situation, you’re able to diagnose what’s going on, pinpoint the underlying issues, and deploy the right combination of products and services to save the day. The problem is solved and the customer is happy. Case closed, right?
Maybe, but if the story ends there you’re missing a real opportunity.
After all, the challenges an organization faces are rarely unique. Unless you’ve cornered the market, there are bound to be other prospects you can convert into customers. To do so, however, you not only have to get their attention, but also quickly demonstrate that you have experience successfully solving the kinds of problems they face. For content marketers, a great way to do this is by creating case studies.
Case studies come in lots of different flavors, from the social sciences variety (think psychology) to the ones MBA students spend hours dissecting (think Harvard Business Review). No matter what form they take, case studies always explain a problem and create a framework for analyzing and resolving that problem. To be an effective content marketing tool, they also need to tell a story.
That’s why when I create a case study, I often think about it like a dramatic work (truthfully I’m thinking TV dramas, not Shakespeare) and divide it up into parts or acts. I also always make sure my case studies include a protagonist with a conflict, a few plot twists and turns, and ultimately a memorable resolution. As with most content, storytelling is key.
To make your case studies impactful, be sure to include the following elements:
Act I: An Exposition (i.e., The 20,000-Foot View of the Situation)
Just like every episode of Law and Order SVU starts off with a character dealing with a problem, a case study should begin with a high-level overview of a customer (the protagonist) and their specific problem — preferably one that doesn’t require DNA evidence to solve. This set up should be concise (not much more than a paragraph) and engaging, capturing your prospects’ attention and giving them a reason to keep reading.
Act II: Rising Action (i.e., Explain the Problem and Introduce the Supporting Characters)
Now you’re getting into the body of the case study and need to flesh out the problem your customer faced. Why did they have the problem and how did they try to resolve it themselves? How significant of an issue was it and what implications did it have? Which executives were involved? Be sure to include quotes from those executives to give your case study more credibility and personality.
Act III: A Climax (i.e., An Account of How You Helped the Customer)
Having now fully described the problem, it’s time to explain what you did to solve it. How did you approach the problem? What kinds of resources did you put against it? How did you work with the customer to address the matter? Which of your products and services did this entail? Carefully recount what you’ve done to resolve the issue, weaving in first-hand accounts from your executives and those of your customer. It may not be as suspenseful as SVU, but when it comes to case studies, solving the problem is as climactic as it gets.
Act IV: Falling Action (i.e., Describe the Changes that Ensued)
Having solved the problem, what were the immediate results? At this point of the case study, it’s time to talk about how things have changed for your customer thanks to the work you did. Add in some stats to illustrate your point and to make the piece more factual and compelling.
Act V: A Dénouement (i.e., A Conclusion to Wrap Things Up and Describe the Current State of Affairs)
Having resolved the issue, it’s time to bring closure to the case study by explaining where things stand today. How much better off is the client now than they were before you helped? What’s their plan going forward? While wrapping things up, gently remind your prospects of your competitive advantage and why they should consider coming to you when they need help.
While I like my approach to case studies, for those of you looking for a more traditional how-to guide, check out this great post from Marketing Scoop.
Check out the other posts in this series, including guides to creating kick-ass reports, business blogs, press releases, speeches, and a content marketing style guide.