The 5 Mistakes that Kill Case Studies and How to Fix Them

Mediocre content is bad for business.
It takes exactly the same time, effort and budget to create as great content. But with none of the uplift in interest, traffic or sales.
That goes double for your case studies.
While great case studies elevate, differentiate and accelerate your business. Mediocre case studies simply tick a box.
The one marked ‘must get case studies’. And that’s about it.

What Makes a Case Study Great?

A great case study should answer your prospects most pressing question…Why Should I Choose You?
That’s important because, with so many options to choose from, your market needs a way to sort the wheat from the chaff.
They don’t just want any old supplier. They want the right supplier for them.
And when everything looks and sounds the same, a great case study says, ‘we can do what needs to be done and we can do it for you.’
In fact, when properly produced, a great case study should present your prospects with all the information they need to pick you as their perfect partner.
Problem is, despite their huge potential and the considerable time and effort that goes into developing them, many case studies end up being mediocre at best.
This is because of 5 critical mistakes that often occur during their development.
Let’s take a look at what they are, why they happen and what to do about them.

Mistake 1: Telling Your Story

You’d be forgiven for thinking that your case studies should be all about you. Your project, your story, right?
Thing is, telling the story from your perspective, doesn’t make for a magnetic narrative.
People are driven by ego and attracted to the things that have meaning for them. If there’s no personal stake, they lose interest.
And as every great storyteller knows, the reader is always looking for themselves in the narrative. They ask themselves, what would I do If I were in that person’s shoes? How would I react?
Telling your story, robs your case study of the emotional nourishment needed to engage and attract your reader. After all, it is not your story they are going to identify with.
How to fix this: Tell the story from your client’s perspective. When you do, you provide the reader with a relatable frame of reference from which to measure their own potential experience and success.
By comparing their own situation to your client’s story, the reader can use the case study to determine how relevant you are as a supplier and most importantly get an indication of the results they can expect to enjoy.
The more the reader can see themselves reflected in the story, the more persuaded they will be by it.
Ultimately, it’s got to feel like their story.

Mistake 2: Highlighting the Wrong Problem

When you tell your story, it changes the nature of the narrative in subtle ways that opens the door to mediocrity.
The Challenge section is typically where this is most problematic.
Telling your story means describing your challenge. Rather than what’s at stake, you tend to describe the objective of the exercise. Essentially, what you’ve been asked to do.
While outlining the brief is important, the real power of this section will come from describing the specific challenges faced by your client.
Not what they want you to do. But why they want you to do it.
Remember, prospects are not looking for a solution. They are looking for THE solution to their specific problems.
When the reader sees their own problems reflected back it ups the emotional ante and makes the resolution all the more compelling.
How to fix this: Focus on the specific issues that motivated your client to seek you out. The hurdles, the barriers, their fears and frustrations.
Highlight their core motivation. Was their time being deflected away from their key responsibilities? Was their career in limbo? Or was the business succumbing to competition?
When a prospect reads of someone with similar challenges to their own, they become committed to seeing how the story turns out and can’t help but read on.

Mistake 3: Going too Heavy on the Solution

It’s only natural to want to show prospects what your products and services are capable of. And the solution section feels like the perfect place to do so.
After all, it’s the bit you know most about. Because it’s the bit that you actually did.
The hope is that when your prospects witness the innovative features of your product or service, they will be falling over themselves to work with you.
It’s not surprising then, that the solution section ends up being the longest bit of any case study.
Which is a shame because, as tempting as it is to showcase the fantastic features of your product or service, in reality, this is not the stuff that’s going to wow your reader.
The reality is your prospects don’t really care about how you do what you do. At least not at first.
It’s why savvy TV salesmen don’t go into the intricacies of different screen technologies, sound formats or smart features when selling their wares.
Instead, they get a sense of what the customer wants the TV for, where it’s going to be in the house and the dimensions of the room.
They then switch on some TV(s) that best suits those needs and let’s them choose the picture the like most.
It’s the same here. Your prospect isn’t interested in what you did. They want to know how you met their specific needs.
How to fix this: The solution section is an excellent way to bridge the journey from challenge to result without being drawn into the detail.
Save the nitty gritty of what you did and how you did it for another time. It will only bog your document down.
To produce a punchy solution section, answer these three questions as concisely as you can:

  1. Why did your client choose you as their solution provider?
  2. How did your chosen solution fit your client’s specific problems?
  3. How did each intervention lead to each important outcome?

Mistake 4: Having No Impact

In many ways the results section is the single most important part of a case study. Your prospects are looking for evidence that you can deliver and this is the place they’ll find it.
However, despite its importance, it is often the most neglected bit. This happens because when you write something from your perspective, you can only say what you see.
Typically the results of what you did.
This might be expressed as some sort of cost or time saving or an increase in efficiency, traffic or profits.
For example, it’s not unusual for a PR company to highlight their results in terms of the number of media pieces, the column inches gained or the number of people that had the chance to see an article.
Unfortunately, this omits the most essential element. The impact. Which is a problem because it’s the impact that gives your results meaning.
Generating coverage isn’t what’s at stake. It’s what that coverage means to the person that makes it meaningful. If getting that coverage saves the business, then that’s what’s really important.
How to fix this: Describe the positive outcomes that your results helped achieve and the impact those outcomes have had on both the company and the individuals involved.
The focus here should be on why the results achieved were meaningful to your client. Remember you sell to people not businesses and they come with their personal motivations that have to be satisfied.
When they read that you have achieved those same motivations for someone else, why would they go anywhere else.

Mistake 5: Writing in Isolation

It’s not unusual to write case studies in isolation. By which I mean, with little input from the client. This typically happens because you don’t want to be a nuisance and feel the best approach is to put the case study together and then seek approval.
Your primary source of information is usually the people who worked on the project and the people who helped to sell it in the first place.
More often than not, these people don’t have the information you need because they don’t have the personal insights into the client’s situation that make a case study compelling.
It’s no wonder you end up telling your story.
The result is an emotionally flat sequence of events that highlights what happened but doesn’t do what’s needed to move the reader to action.
How to fix this: Speak to your clients. It’s the only way to get their perspective on the problems they were facing, how you helped solve them and the impact of the results you helped achieved.

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