7 Essential Elements of Successful Case Studies

Case studies are essentially problem – solution narratives. However, to flesh out a case study and make sure it communicates the messages  you want to get across to  your target audience, your case study must include these 7 essential elements. 

1.  The problem or challenge
Define the problem clearly. Detail the situation the company (or customer) was in. What does the customer have to overcome? What stood in the way?  Grappling with a problem adds conflict – an essential element to any good story. To heighten impact, conflict needs to be meaningful  so highlight the stakes involved. Why was it so necessary for  the company  to overcome this challenge?

2. The customer or company
Whether the case study centers on a person or a company, they become a character a protagonist in the story. Add details that develop the character. How long in business? Does the person have an intriguing background? What about setbacks, ups and downs?  When the reader becomes interested in a character (person or company) the chances for a successful case study are much higher.

3. Process
What did the customer go through to find a solution? Highlighting the solutions that did not work is a way to contrast your  product or service with the competition.

4. Discovery 
How did the customer find out about solution? The discovery moment is not just another fact. It’s a classic moment in storytelling that adds dimension to the journey the protagonist went through to find an effective solution.

5. Solution 
Here is the opportunity to put a spotlight on your product, service or company. Show what it can do. Detail some of the top features and benefits, but be careful to keep it educational instead of promotional.
6. Implementation
How long did it take before the solution was up and running? How much training was involved? Were there any rough patches? These are details your potential customer wants to know and answering them honestly will only add to your credibility in their eyes.

7. Results
Of course this is the part of the story that people really want to see. Be as concrete as possible. Use measurements that are  meaningful to the audience or which paint the solution in a brighter light. For instance, EBITDA may be very important for some audiences while revenue gains may have more impact to others.
The specifics of  case studies will differ, but  making sure your case studies  contain all these essential elements can help ensure  they do the job you want them to do.

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Case Studies: Traditional vs. Feature Story Format

Most case studies follow one of two main formats. Either a traditional or a feature story format. Each has its advantages.  It’s important for the company to either pick one case study  format and have the writer follow it or have the writer choose one that seems appropriate for the company’s purposes.

Traditional format

The traditional format follows a basic progression and generally uses a set pattern of subheads: Company/customer profile; background; challenge; solution; results.  There can be variations on the exact wording of the subheads and sometimes “challenge” comes first, but it is essentially a set formula.

The main advantage of this format  is that the reader knows exactly what to expect and where to find specific  information.  Company info is here, challenge is there, etc.  This format makes works with   either short or long case studies.

Feature story format

In the feature story format  the same elements appear in generally the same order. However,  the case study reads more like a feature story in a magazine. The lead ( first sentence and paragraph) take you right into the story. It is meant to capture your attention from the beginning and get you engaged as a feature story might do.

Rather than follow a formula, the subheads are more descriptive and story oriented.  They develop the narrative and pull the reader through.

The feature story format is usually more engaging and more interesting to read.  The reader can also glean much of the story by  skimming through the subheads since they are part of the narrative.

The disadvantage of the feature story format  is that they take more skill to write. So the company must make sure to use writers who can communicate the case story in this way.

Whether you use a traditional or feature story it is important to stick to one format  when presenting multiple case stores within a document or web page. The consistency makes it easier for the reader to go through a number of case studies in one sitting and absorb the points the company wants to communicate.

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