Michael O'Neill

Count me among the content creators who entered this line of work out of a strong affinity for storytelling. While it’s not exactly the same thing as plotting out a swashbuckling adventure on the high seas or editing dialogue for a heady psychological thriller, writing a marketing case study still entails plenty of drama and suspense. Even better, it can be a highly effective component of your overall marketing plan.

What is a marketing case study and why is it important?

Simply put, a marketing case study is a story that helps your prospective clients understand, from the beginning to the end and in a tangible way, how you helped a current or previous client accomplish their goals. It’s a crucial tool for helping sales reps demonstrate to their leads how your company can produce real results.

As part of your larger content marketing strategy, it helps middle-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel leads to connect your products and services with real-world outcomes. If you’re able to highlight some of your better-known customers in the process, a marketing case study can also bolster your brand.

What separates a good case study from a great case study?

A good case study gets its point across, but a great case study does so with style.

Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean it always has to be flashy or highly visual, though aesthetically pleasing design can be a big bonus.

Here, by style, we mean that the case study:

  • Features specific details and inspiring outcomes that enhance a strong narrative.
  • Communicates in a way that is relevant to its intended audience.
  • Presents the potential customer with a clear opportunity for further engagement.

As part of a holistic marketing strategy, a great case study is also an instrumental asset for ongoing, targeted campaigns.

How do you create a compelling case study?

The principal ingredients for a compelling case study aren’t that different from other forms of content marketing.

Great case studies require you to:

  • Conduct thoughtful research.
  • Sculpt raw intel into a captivating story.
  • Frame the content in a way that’s certain to generate interest.

For further detail, we can break this process down into the five key steps necessary for producing a first-rate marketing case study.

1. Know the product or service and its place in the market

Here’s a typical scenario. You get an email from the Vice President of Sales. She’s overjoyed about a recent customer success story, and she wants to know if you can create a case study based on it.

What’s the first thing you do?

Our recommendation is to make sure you have a firm grasp of everything about the product or service that the case study will highlight. Well, technically, the first thing you should probably do is respond to that email. And when you do, don’t forget to ask for clarification if it isn’t clear what product will be central to your marketing case study.

To brush up on the product, service or offering, take a closer look at materials like:

  • Existing sales sheets and landing pages.
  • Related social media posts or email campaigns.
  • Internal product documents.

Keep in mind how this case study will play into ongoing marketing campaigns and efforts. Also, take a moment to examine how the type of customer you’re about to profile will map up with strategies for targeting specific personas.

2. Line up an interview with the client’s resident brand champion

A strong case study often involves the enthusiastic participation of individuals from the client company who are responsible for managing the vendor partnership. If you can schedule some time to talk to this person, you’ll benefit for two reasons:

  1. You’ll hear the story from their angle, which can add color, texture and truly valuable proof points.
  2. You’ll benefit from their infectious gratitude for the product. Too often, content creators have to rely on a set of well-crafted pitches instead of seeing the real-world impact of their products.

That said, sometimes this step is easier said than done. Why?

First of all, your clients may be busy. See if you can reach them at off-peak times or when they have some more flexibility in their schedule

Secondly, nondisclosure agreements are the norm in some industries. Customer contacts can be wary about answering questions, even if they know the company’s name and logo won’t be used. Try to reassure these clients from the beginning by showing them examples of other case studies you’ve done.

No matter what difficulties you encounter, there are always strategies you can follow to ask for reviews, testimonials and other support for your marketing case study. Some of our tried-and-true techniques include:

  • Automating as much of the process as possible: Work with the sales or products teams to build feedback into the customer acquisition and retention processes.
  • Focus on top customers: Emphasize high-profile clients that will bring greater brand awareness to your company or highly engaged partners who are eager to sing your praises.
  • Emphasize the cross-promotional aspect of marketing case studies: Some companies need a reminder that this could be further exposure for their brand and additional content they could share in their own campaigns.

3. Gather details and comb through the data

Interviewing client contacts for a marketing case study is an art unto itself. Even the most excited and energetic sources will need some prompting and guidance in order to give you the material you need.

As such, we find that it’s helpful to start the conversation with a basic structure for your case study content in mind. A rough outline should look something like this:

  1. Background information about the client.
  2. A problem that the client experienced. Keep in mind, some people will need reassurance that the case study won’t paint the organization in a negative light.
  3. An exploration of how your product or service helped address the problem.
  4. Results from the implementation of this new solution.
  5. A description of how the client will proceed forward with this new experience under their belts.

Remember to listen carefully and remain flexible, but focused, during the interview. Put your reporter’s hat on to ask leading questions based on new information. At the same time, if your subject is particularly chatty, you may occasionally need to pull the interview back to its intended purpose.

While you’re taking notes, be sure to highlight any particularly noteworthy or emotional lines as they come up. This can be a real timesaver when you’re looking for pull quotes later.

In addition to the interview, ask for project documentation that can help you understand the scope of the client’s problem and the impact of the support provided by your company. Oftentimes, clients will have metrics that they’re eager to share. After all, they’ve probably already reported these results to internal stakeholders. Even if that’s not the case, ask for any relevant recent reports or raw data you could explore for some brag-worthy numbers.

4. Find the story

Not everybody is an expert storyteller. Some people are prone to add in irrelevant details, deliver information out of order or even to leave out important context. There’s a good chance that you’ll have to rearrange some of the information you learned during your client call. You may also have to conduct additional research or excise some out-of-place meanderings.

Internal subject matter experts can also help you refine the narrative arc for your marketing case study. They’ll clue you into the strategies they use for selling this service and supporting its implementation. Plus, they’ll be able to share their insights about questions that prospective clients might ask.

Make sure that the client is at the center of the story, but don’t be shy about highlighting the contributions of your own organization.

5. Highlight proof points

The story comes first, but proof points can transform your marketing case study from a possible puff piece into an exhilarating example for your target audience.

Whatever claims you make in the text, you should be able to back them up with evidence. At the same time, the proof points you do use should align with the bigger picture.

Obviously, facts, figures and statistics make for some of the most compelling kinds of evidence. However, sometimes the data isn’t in yet. In other scenarios, the qualitative advantages that have been gained are more important than percentages or points on a line graph.

In these situations, quotations and brief customer testimonials can provide additional support for the claims you’ve made.

But how do you handle quotes? Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Where possible, use a direct quote that is original, interesting and engaging. Think about claims that would only be credible if they came straight from the speaker.
  • You may have leeway to finesse the speaker’s language. Resist the temptation to wordsmith their speech except in cases that are truly confusing. Informal expressions can add a touch of authenticity.
  • Some situations may require you to write the quote and then have it approved by the person to whom it will be attributed. Try to capture the nuances of their perspective as best you can, and never run the quote without getting a final confirmation.

What are some great case study examples to model after?

B2B and B2C marketing case studies come in all shapes and sizes. Here are a few recent examples that embody all of the strategies we’ve outlined above. If you’re looking for a compelling case study to model your own content after, check out these models.

‘How PayPal empowers people and businesses in a global marketplace’

This PayPal case study profiles how the company uses services from Google Cloud to support more than 300 million customers who use 100 different currencies.

Source: Google Cloud

It’s structured as a landing page that’s well designed and easy to navigate based on the storyline. It also highlights some impressive and relevant proof points right off the bat.

The text and graphical elements are also augmented by a video in which the customer’s voice takes center stage.

At the heart of this story is the notion that finding a reliable digital partner can help your company scale. As such, PayPal is a great aspirational client example, and its story speaks to the hopes that many prospective customers will have about their own business.

We also appreciate how easy Google makes it for potential clients to find additional examples and to take the next step by reaching out to a sales rep.

Source: Google Cloud

‘Disney+ Brand Launch’

It’s hard to think of a recent product launch that received more hype than the highly influential debut of streaming service Disney+. Behind the hype were companies like Midnight Oil, a California-based creative agency.

In this marketing case study for Disney+, the firm pairs succinct text with high-quality pictures that display Midnight Oil branding collateral in action.

Source: Midnight Oil

In this instance, the company was able to leverage the sky-high visibility of its brand partner to help tell the story. Everybody already knows that the launch of Disney+ was a rousing success, so the creative agency gets to focus a little more on highlighting its own contributions.

And showing is always better than telling. Still, the company makes sure that you don’t forget the 10 million subscribers the client achieved on its first day.

Source: Midnight Oil

If you want to grow revenue by expanding your potential subscriber base using targeted branding efforts, Midnight Oil makes a compelling case that the agency can help.

‘Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Messages Their Way To Success’

Who says that digital marketing case studies can’t shred?

For our last case study example, we’re going to shine the spotlight on HubSpot’s righteous work with a venerable Cleveland institution.

This in-depth landing page frontloads a quick summary of the premise and some eye-catching stats.

Source: Hubspot

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame used HubSpot’s integration with Facebook Messenger to develop a strategy that allowed the museum to connect better with its fans.

A slickly produced video with lots of custom footage sheds light on how the Rock Hall’s content leader found a way to bring out the best from both automation and one-to-one connections.

This case study succeeds because it has an exciting hook, an interesting story and some real results.

How do you distribute case studies? Where do they work best?

How to distribute your case study depends on the audience you’re trying to reach, the story you need to share and the role that this case study plays in your overall marketing strategy.

Take a lesson from the marketing case study examples above. You need to be where your fans are. If your potential customer is on social media, make sure your content is shareable, and consider using a Facebook ad to promote your brand.

But let’s back up one more step.

As our examples illustrate, your marketing case study doesn’t just have to exist as one kind of asset. A custom landing page is a great place to start, but you can spin out content for video and other channels, too. Case studies can be delivered to prospects individually, distributed over social media or shared as part of an email drip campaign. Optimizing your case study landing page for search will help organic traffic find your content, too.

Where marketing efforts meet solid storytelling

It should be clear by now that marketing case studies are more than just a mishmash of numbers, quotes and splashy illustrations. They can take many different forms, but regardless of the media in which they’re found, they’re about creating a story around customer relationships. At the end of the day, aren’t stories what we live for?