Remember that book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? It applies to case studies, too. My list is a little different from Robert Fulghum’s, though. As my own kindergartener comes home full of stories, I’m adopting what she says to apply to writing a good case study.
If you’ve ever had a kindergartener, you know how curious they are. They ask “why” all the time, look at things with their hands, and want to know everything that’s going on. (Mine likes to creep out of bed to make sure we’re not binge-watching Shimmer and Shine, drinking all the cran-apple juice, and eating all the Oreo cookies overnight.)
When it comes to writing case studies, leverage the curiosity of a kindergartener. If you’re getting information from your sales team about a customer, ask why: why did this customer choose our solution? What were their challenges? When talking to customers, just keep asking: why us? What did you want to accomplish? What’s it like now?
Tell a Good Story.
Oh my goodness, I know you hear this ad nauseam, but to write a good case study, you absolutely must tell a story. And it must be a good story, at that. The stories favored by my child’s classmates have superheroes, princesses, and small but consistently annoying problems to conquer. Think about the individual Frozen books: in one of them, Elsa wants her sister Anna to have a magical birthday. But Elsa gets sick and sneezes little snowmen. So there are two problems: Elsa being sick, and the hundreds of little snowmen. And both problems are solved: Anna tucks Elsa into bed lovingly, and the snowmen are brought to Elsa’s old snow palace to live happily ever after.
Someone implementing a great piece of software isn’t quite as moving as Elsa and Anna. But in case studies, there is always a hero (your customer), always a problem (legacy software, a business problem that requires software to solve it), and a solution (your product, your awesome support team). That never changes.
My kindergartener came home with a project completed school, a hand-drawn poster with symbols of Texas. I said, “That’s a great picture of a cow!” I was immediately corrected: “That’s not a cow, Mom! That’s a Longhorn.” My kindergartener is specific.
Case studies also need to be specific. I know you’ll be specific in terms of the solution set your customer picked. But also be specific about the industry problem your solution solved. For example, does WidgetAnalytics 2.0, your new cloud-based data analytics tool integrate seamlessly into legacy ERP systems, which are often the norm in large companies?
When you’re finding a customer who will speak with your case study writer, say please. In kindergarten, we learn to say please all the time: when we’re asking for crayons or permission to use the bathroom. Ask nicely, and to take it a step further, tell your customer how her company will benefit (becoming an industry thought leader, for example).
Kindergarteners are awesome at being playful. They turn pretty much any situation into something amusing. I’ll be gritting my teeth in traffic, then I’ll look in my rearview mirror and see my kindergartener making goofy faces.
Even in B2B technology, you can be playful with case studies. It may not involve crossed eyes or stuck-out tongues, but you can be a little punny. For example, if you’re writing about how your software helped a construction company grow its revenue, you can pepper the case study with references to buildings, scaffolding, or other construction references.
Take a Nap.
Some kindergarteners get a nap every afternoon. While as marketers we don’t have that luxury, we can step away from the case study and take a break. Do it. If you’re having trouble writing it or getting the customer on the phone, step away. Work on another project. Grab a cup of coffee. Often, you’ll come back to it with fresh eyes and a new perspective on how to tackle it.
Once you’ve written the case study, don’t hoard it! Kindergarteners share everything: paper, crayons, tissues, and unfortunately germs. (Ask me sometime about how I brought chicken pox home from kindergarten and shared it with my little brother and father.)
Case studies aren’t germs, and they’re great for sharing. Give them to your sales team to use when they’re easing prospects down the funnel. Post them on your website (and track how they’re being consumed), but not behind an email capture form. Print them out and bring them to trade shows. Use them as the basis for press releases and blog posts. Incorporate snippets into white papers.
Get Help When You Need It.
There’s always going to be that time when you just can’t handle the case studies. You’ll want someone else to write them for you. While kindergarteners only have the luxury of asking for help when they’re trying to reach something on a high shelf (or need juice poured, or lunch… well, you get the idea), you can budget for case study writers and hire one to help you out.