Do You Make These 5 Case Study Mistakes?

Written by Katie DaggettAre You Making These 5 Case Study Mistakes?


Case studies can be an excellent marketing tool; in fact, they are one of the most credible, effective weapons in any marketer’s arsenal. However, too many case studies are either so dry and boring that they don’t get read, or they are devoid of the measurable results that can influence your prospects to buy. Watch for the following five mistakes if you want to create a winning case study that compels and sells.

1)     You don’t tell a story. The function of storytelling is what separates the case study from all other marketing materials. The difference is that while most marketing materials center on you telling customers how great your product or service is, a case study adds third-party credibility, because it is essentially a customer testimonial in story form.

To add interest and engage your customers, your case study should follow the standard story structure:

a.  Challenge: Set the scene with a description of your customer and the problem(s) they faced before discovering your solution.

b.  Solution: Explain why the customer chose your solution and describe how it was implemented. Include any challenges that arose during the implementation process and how they were addressed.

c.  Results: Describe the results the customer achieved after implementing your solution. Include as many concrete details as possible, rather than using vague statements about how things improved. The results section is also an excellent place to feature a customer quote about the benefits they received.

When a prospect hears the story of how your solution helped a similar company overcome the same challenges they are now facing, it carries more weight than a brochure touting your product’s features and benefits.

2)     You don’t provide details. Details not only make case studies more compelling, they help to answer specific questions your reader may have. If you talk in generalizations, like: “The solution cut costs dramatically”, or “Reduced production times significantly”, your case study will carry less weight than if you offer measurable results.

Try to include statements such as: “After implementing the solution, Company A cut its annual costs by 40 percent”, or “After implementing the new solution, Company B was able to reduce turnaround times from 3 to 4 days to less than 24 hours.”

A well-written case study can help counter generalizations used in other marketing materials by giving specifics and providing examples of your solution in action. Providing detailed, measurable results serves as credible proof and lets your prospect visualize how your solution could provide them with similar results.

3)     You aren’t speaking to your audience. Your company may have a solution that appeals to different types of companies and industries, giving you multiple audiences to address. It is important when writing a case study to select just one of these audiences to speak to. Once you have chosen your target audience, sketch out a persona or bio and write your case study for them. Things to include in the bio are job title, gender, goals, needs, and challenges. When writing your case study, focus only on the details that this person would care about, and speak to their specific needs and problems. Again, if your product has the ability to solve many different problems, chose just one to focus on to give your case study clarity.

4)     You don’t have a compelling focus. Before writing a case study, choose a compelling angle to focus on. Ideally, the angle you choose will match your goals in writing the case study, with the needs and goals of your prospect. If your product offers several benefits to prospects, select one benefit to focus on for each case study. This will keep your case studies from all sounding the same. Plus, it will provide a case study that speaks to the benefit a particular prospect finds most important.

Possible angles you might choose include:

  • Cost savings
  • Time savings
  • Energy savings
  • Faster deployment
  • Easier maintenance
  • Being innovative

5)     You don’t have customer quotes. Case studies without quotes from the customer are lifeless and don’t entice prospects to read on. Telling the story in the customer’s voice and from the customer’s perspective lends valuable credibility – and interest – to your story.

To generate compelling quotes, it is vital that you interview real customers – don’t just make them up – even if your customer is going to approve them. Quotes generated by a marketing team will sound flat and artificial compared to what your customer will say in his or her own words.

Try to include specific details in your quotes – dollar amounts, the amount of time or energy saved, etc. You’ll also want to create quotes that can stand alone, so that you can use them in other marketing materials or as testimonials on your website.

Ideally, quotes will tell a mini-story, following the “challenge, solution, results” structure. As for which quotes to include, you can strengthen your case study by including the following three types of quotes:

  1. A quote that describes the customer’s challenge or pain
  2. A quote that explains why the customer chose your company’s solution
  3. A quote that describes the number one benefit the customer experienced as a result of implementing your solution.

6)     You don’t have story signposts. Signposts help to guide readers through your case study and reinforce your message. Start with an active, descriptive headline that draws the prospect in and compels them to read more. If possible, include measurable results in your headline, such as: “How Company X increased its profits by 45 percent in just 6 months”.

Strong subheads serve as guides throughout the case study and help to reinforce your message.  If you don’t have to follow a standard template (such as Challenge, Solution, Results), or even if you do, try to write subheads that highlight important points throughout your story. As with headlines, it helps to call out compelling details where you can.

Finally, sidebars are a critical element to include in every case study. They can serve as a summary, outlining the challenge, solution and results, and give your readers an at-a-glance look at your story.

Avoid these mistakes and you should be able to create a strong case study that engages your target audience and ultimately helps you to close the sale. If you are new to writing case studies, or need some help adding life to your existing ones, I’d be happy to help. Give me a call to discuss your project at 970.556.1294 or email

P.S. – I’m planning a series covering the various aspects of writing content for the web. Visit my home page and sign up for my email newsletter so that you don’t miss a single installment. As a bonus, you’ll also receive a free copy of my content marketing white paper.