Case study best practices: 4 tips for compelling project showcases

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Your business has been around a while now. The days of scratching and clawing for projects, and sweating out making payroll, are in the past (though some days it doesn’t feel this way). 

Your organization has earned a strong reputation by consistently delivering results that help your clients succeed. You now have a track record and a long line of clients that are advocates for your brand.

Word-of-mouth leads and referrals keep coming, but you’re ready to grow into new markets beyond your immediate sphere of influence. And as you move away from your core markets, awareness of your track record and strong reputation gets weaker and your word-of-mouth momentum gets slower.

So, how do you showcase your work to potential clients that are less familiar with your history?

Case studies are a great way to provide potential customers with a snapshot of your capabilities along with testimonials championing your organization’s performance. Case studies are not lead generation tools, per se; rather, they can be used after some rapport has been built and the relationship is progressing toward a decision point.

What makes an impactful case study? Here are 4 case study best practices to follow when developing your project showcase library.

Define terms.

Internally, the team members working on developing case study content need to be on the same page with what a case study actually is. The terms project summary, case study and white paper get tossed around interchangeably, but they’re not really the same deliverable.

  • A project summary is akin to a fact sheet, offering project overview details and a brief synopsis of a single, specific engagement. In print, a summary or fact sheet might be one, single-sided 8.5 x 11 page. Online, the summary might be an image, a list of project specs and a paragraph of moderate length.
  • A case study is a more substantial piece of content that recounts the chronology, challenges, solutions and outcomes of a single, specific project. Case studies in print tend to be 3-4 pages in length, include strong graphic design and visual elements, as well as substantiating quotes from team members and the client. Online, case studies can be deployed as full web pages, landing pages or downloadable assets. Case studies are often used during the proposal stage of new business development rather than as a lead generation tool, though they can serve this purpose as well.
  • White papers tend to be longer than case studies and focus on new solutions, processes or the benefits of a specific service or suite of services. While specific projects can be referenced, a white paper does not feature the project. The focus is on the service,  process or benefit. White papers tend to be about general education and are longer, perhaps 5-10 pages in length, similar to that of an eBook deliverable. A white paper is best used as a lead generation tool early in the new business development process.

Each deliverable has its place and function. Before embarking on the work of developing a library of case studies, make sure the project team is clear on the end product to avoid confusion and inefficiencies.

Use Data and Graphs.

Your case study narrative might be very compelling. But just telling the story is not enough. Potential customers need some sense of your results. Saying you produced great results is one thing, but showing it through legitimate, documented data points is another. If you say you increased leads, show a graph illustrating the increase over time. If you highlight a jump in sales performance, provide context for the improvement through numbers. Simply saying you did something is not enough. A case study is the adult version of show and tell. You need both for your case study to be persuasive.

Get Your Client Involved.

Get permission from your client to develop a case study about your work together early in the process. In addition, ask them about their willingness to provide testimonial quotes to support your case. What’s more, let them know that they will be a key part of the editing and approval process. Reassure them that nothing will be distributed without their input and sign off.

NEVER post, print or share a case study without client involvement and permission. Doing so can damage your relationship and reputation, and, in some cases and in some industries, there could be legal ramifications as well.

Continue to be a great partner through the case study development process by providing your client with a sense of control, ownership and peace-of-mind as you collaborate with them to showcase your joint success.

Mix It Up.

Your case study needs to strike a balance between images, graphs, copy and whitespace. It needs to be easy to digest so the audience can absorb the salient points without struggle. Your content is important, but how that content is packaged is equally important.

  • A CEO or c-suite executive reviewing potential proposal packages, which will likely include a set of pertinent case studies, does not have time to dig for what they’re seeking.
  • The same rules apply if you use a case study on your website, or as a downloadable asset. The harder you make it for your prospect or key decision-maker, the less impact your case study will have.

That’s it. Define terms. Use data. Get your client involved. And present your success story in an easily digestible and visually appealing format.

You’ve reached a great level of success. Show it off using these 4 case study best practices and win new customers.

If you’re finding it difficult to carve out time to develop case studies, reach out to us. We have a staff of expert writers poised to help you develop the content you need to grow your business.

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