Your case study is ready to publish. At last.
You’ve interviewed your customer for over an hour. You’ve written down their story and carefully proofread the text.
Soon the world will hear what a great job you do.
But in the back of your mind lurks a nagging fear. Perhaps your case study is a little… dull? Will anyone read it?
Or can you make it more engaging, more inspiring, more persuasive?
Yes, you can.
Case studies can be enthralling stories that grip readers from start to finish and win business.
How? It’s easier than you think.
The following 6 tips will help you transform drab case studies into sales-boosting stories, with minimal effort.
1. Whip Your Story into Shape
Boring case studies are often little more than flabby testimonials. They’re saggy and slow.
Your reader, in contrast, wants to move quickly. Give her a story that plods and she’ll zoom off to the next tab on her browser.
To make your case studies compelling, follow a simple plan. Tell your customer’s story by painting a “before and after” picture.
Email marketing provider Aweber, for instance, features a case study showing how Crazy Egg gained more and happier email subscribers.
Start by describing their problem: Crazy Egg’s subscribers didn’t like receiving emails every day. “Irritation turned into a negative brand perception that needed to change — and fast.”
Then explain the solution: They set up two email lists — one for daily emails and one for weekly. “As soon as readers had a choice, complaints stopped and subscription rates went up.”
Finish by revealing the results: Use facts and figures as proof. “Crazy Egg’s daily email list has tripled to over 6,000 subscribers. Its new weekly list started with 2,958 subscribers in 2014 and has nearly doubled in the last year.”
This three-step structure helps you ask the right questions when interviewing and stay focused when writing. Create flab-free stories that move readers along quickly and smoothly.
2. Grab Readers by the Eyeballs
In the hunt for unique and valuable content, case studies often get overlooked.
Yet they can be as engaging and useful as a blog post. Give them a sparkling headline and they’ll win readers (and business!).
Attract attention by explaining how readers can benefit from your case study. Look at your customer’s results and highlight their biggest gain. How has their life been transformed?
The benefit in this Mint headline is clear and compelling:
And for this story about copywriter Belinda Weaver, Copyblogger describes a lifestyle its readers crave:
Notice that both headlines begin with How. This little word tells readers they can follow your customer’s path to success. Add How to your biggest benefit and you’ll have a headline that makes readers hungry for the answer.
3. Insert a Beating Heart
What stories do you enjoy?
Fantasy, horror, sci-fi, romance, thrillers?
Most stories have one thing in common — they’re about people.
People bring stories to life. We relate to other people. We imagine ourselves in their shoes. We feel their joy and share their pain.
Many case studies drone on about faceless businesses. They’re cold and colorless. Readers quickly get bored and move on.
To hook readers, give your story a pulse. Introduce your customers. And let them speak.
When interviewing, record details and listen for comments that:
- Paint vivid pictures
- Provide colorful examples
- Describe your customer’s thoughts or feelings
Ask questions to draw out these responses: Can you describe that? How did it make you feel? What did you think? Can you give me an example?
Quote your customer, but be careful not to overdo it. We want them to be engaging so don’t let them ramble. Pick a few vivid phrases and let them sparkle.
In this Apple case study, a comment from teacher Kristi Meeuwse adds life to an example of using iPads:
Meeuwse went on to create books on subjects like spiders, dirt bikes, and baby animals. “My students are excited when they can tap on a button and make a spider move across the page,” says Meeuwse. “Or when, as they count to ten, an image rotates and counts with them. None of the print books in our center have any of this.”
Her comments take us into her classroom. We see the children using the books and experience their reaction.
4. Make Them Cling to Your Words
You know the feeling.
You’re nearing the end of a chapter in your book. It’s late and you’ve told yourself you’ll stop here. But the final sentence changes everything. And now your mind is swirling with questions. Can you resist the temptation to read on?
Gripping stories feed our curiosity. We have to discover what happens next.
Dull stories are predictable and uninspiring. We don’t care what happens next.
To stop your readers from getting bored and clicking away, use a familiar tactic from TV and books — the cliffhanger.
A cliffhanger is a sentence that suggests something important is about to be revealed.
Apple’s story about Kristi Meeuwse contains a simple cliffhanger:
Since she couldn’t find these types of materials, she decided to create them.
Now the reader wants to know how this teacher writes her books, and dives into the next paragraph to find out.
Another Apple case study, about a UK school, cleverly builds tension. Look at how the first four paragraphs end:
- “Parents like mine believed that, if you went there, you were never going to succeed,” says Badat.
- More than 70 percent of students were failing their classes, and Hayward School was at risk of being shut down.
- “Every minute we weren’t making a difference to our young people, it was costing the community lives,” says Badat.
- But it would not be enough to turn the school around.
What changed? How did the school survive? If we were watching a TV program about the school, these would be the lines we’d hear before the commercial breaks.
To create a cliffhanger, look for moments of drama in your story – feelings and emotions, low points, vulnerability, and turning points. Then end your paragraph where the tension is greatest.
The desire to learn how the drama concludes creates an itch readers must scratch.
5. Remember the Chocolates
It’s nice to feel appreciated, isn’t it?
Often all it takes is a small gesture.
Imagine arriving at a hotel, tired from a long journey, and finding a plate of Belgian chocolates in your room with a handwritten note from the manager wishing you a relaxing stay.
You can leave a thoughtful gift for your readers, too — a little bonus they can take away and use.
What would your readers find useful? What advice would they seek from your customers?
You can show gratitude to your customer, too.
Copyblogger links to Belinda Weaver’s business, directing readers not only to her homepage but to her testimonials page and her podcast.
Small, thoughtful gifts show you care. They boost your credibility and demonstrate the value of your service.
6. Turn Readers into Customers
Your reader’s just finished your story. She’s inspired. She’s energized. She’s ready to act.
But does she know what to do next? We don’t want her to click away. Not when a gentle nudge could turn her into a customer.
So suggest the next step with a clear call-to-action.
Offer an email sign-up box, for example, or direct readers to your blog.
Are you ready to start learning? Start a free trial.
At Skillshare, we believe anyone can teach. Yes, that includes you! Follow in Mary Kate’s footsteps and sign up to teach a class of your own today.
Don’t be pushy. Simply point readers in the right direction.
Start Celebrating Success
Most case studies are dull. Their authors miss a huge opportunity to win business. Because they don’t realize the value of engaging stories.
And that’s great.
Because you can do better.
Let others settle for an inflated testimonial or worse… a jargon-filled pile of waffle that fails to entice prospects. You can now write a sparkling story that sells.
So what are you waiting for?
Get out your phone.
Call your customers.
And tell their inspiring stories.
About the Author: When not dodging kangaroos and wildfires in the Australian countryside, Richard Padgett works as a copywriter.