03 Jan How To Avoid Writing Bland Case Studies
Case studies are a valuable part of any pitch. Yet, despite their critical role to showcase your track record of success, they may not always be given the attention they deserve. In fact, I dare to say, sometimes case studies can even be incredibly bland; merely providing facts devoid of story, or a bloated story devoid of facts.
Either way, for a client reviewing multiple options during a pitch process, a poorly selected case study risks raising questions about your ability to deliver, and you don’t want a prospective client or partner to question your ability when it comes to decision time.
There can be many reasons for bland case studies. Perhaps the most common one is leaving case studies to the last minute so they become rushed and soulless. Sometimes they fall down because they are for projects which are old and no-one can remember what happened, or they were written by someone who didn’t work on the project, or perhaps you didn’t quite get the results you hoped for so you try to mask the reality (but still want to show-off the brand you did the work for).
Whatever the reason for a poor case study, the reality is a prospective client will likely see straight through this and you could get tripped up when they ask you questions in the pitch itself.
So to help you avoid bland case studies, here are some tips for writing case studies that have impact.
1. Make sure your case study subject is relatable & relevant
Before you even start to write or compile your case study to include in your proposal and/or pitch make sure you choose the right ones to include. Even the most brilliantly written case study out there, which is full of proof points and compelling, won’t help you if it isn’t relevant to the client. I have seen it many times over that businesses (and especially agencies) include case studies of work with major brands, to show off that they have worked with that brand, but it bares no link to the project they are pitching for. So think hard about what is relevant to the client, and the problems you have solved that are relatable to the challenges the client is facing now. The people you are pitching to will want to feel reassured you can help them with their current problem, and that you know what you are doing, so choose carefully and tell a story relevant to them.
2. Make it real
All case studies are little short stories. So don’t be too descriptive, but do describe the reality of the challenges you faced, and the outcomes of your work i.e. not just what you did, but what you achieved.
You want the person reading or listening to your case study to see themselves in the story. So don’t just list facts, make sure you weave a story that explains how you helped identify a problem, overcame a challenge, brought success to your client and, if possible, did something no-one else could have done.
Ultimately, you want your case study to go beyond facts and tell a human story (even if you are selling plastic widgets) because, as the old adage goes “Facts Don’t Sell”. For example: “We had never conceived how our service could ever impact the lives of single mothers until we met Mary…”
3. Context is key
Aim to describe the context of the challenge you faced before you got involved, including the expectations of your client, and how you went above and beyond the call of duty to exceed them. Making sure everything is in context means you can help your prospective client understand what success really looked like.
Imagine you write a case study that only states the facts out of context. For example, take a fictional case where your service drove an increase in your client’s sales by 0.5%. That’s good but might not sound that great.
Now put the fictional case study into context and it can become a completely different story. For example, expanding the case study with context could explain that your innovative approach helped your client end a steady decline in sales, achieving an increase in sales worth $5 million (equivalent to an increase of 0.5%) which was their highest figures for five years, and enabled them to put an office closure on hold. This tells a completely different story simply by adding some context to the situation.
4. Get permission and a testimonial
With any case study, you will need to get permission from your former client to use it. So if you need to get in touch with them, don’t just ask for permission to use the case study, ask them for a testimonial too. The chances are that the case study was very positive they will be happy to give you a quote.
Taking this a step further, consider organising video testimonials with your existing clients too. More often than not, they will be more than happy to wax-lyrical about how great you were on camera. Don’t forget, clients are people too and have their own career ambitions and egos, so offering to come to their office, with a mini film crew, to video them about a project they did which was successful can be beneficial to them too. Video testimonials can be linked to from your proposal or inserted into the pitch presentation. Either way, having your existing clients say how great you are is more powerful than you saying it.
5. Show, not tell
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this couldn’t be more true for case studies. Aim to visualise your case study where possible, this could be through nicely designed charts showing your client’s financial success, photos of their customers loving your product, or simply you and your client working together as a team.
6. Don’t leave it to the end
Yes, I get the irony this is the last point in the list! There are two meanings to this statement. Firstly, don’t leave writing your case studies until the last minute. I talk about this in our professional pitch series guide ‘How To Win: The Ultimate Professional Pitch Guide, where I strongly recommend creating a pitch bank where you keep case studies, awards, financial information etc. This is particularly important if you have a lot of clients and case studies (for example, if you are an agency) as it will save you time and make sure you pick the right case study for the proposal or pitch you are developing.
Secondly, don’t leave your case studies until the end of the proposal or pitch either. Where possible, try to filter your success stories throughout your document or presentation to bring your ideas, services or products to life. Even just a glancing remark or anecdote to share that you have successfully completed the same activity before can help reassure a prospective client that you know what you are doing. Waiting until the end to do a big reveal of your previous successes may be too late to convince the audience you are the right partner for them.
7. The Devil Is In The Detail
It is not uncommon for the person in-house writing a case study to be completely disconnected from the original project or activity. Sometimes this translates into a junior person gathering the key facts second hand from any source they can find, and then writing them up with no passion or context into the final case study.
This approach can often lose the important nuances and details of the story behind the case study. So try to get the people involved in project or activity to share their stories at that time for future reference, whilst it is fresh in their minds. This can be as simple as a video interview, or audio recording of their experience. This approach can take just a matter of minutes but will provide incredible value for the future. This approach enables other team members to get a better sense of the activity, but also allows the person writing the case study to tell the whole story, including the personal nuances, of what made it a success.
For example, over the years I have worked with clients to approach their case study development like writing a book. Whereby a ghostwriter interviews team members and create compelling stories that bring everything to life. This is also a powerful way to uncover previously lost insights from projects that would otherwise be overlooked.
There are many ways to write a case study, and each industry will require different specific details, but if you implement the tips above you will no doubt have an edge on your competition and showcase your true value to prospective clients.
If you recognise any of the challenges above for your case studies and need some support to improve your content, then get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 029 3739. Alternatively, you can book a free consultation call here.