“You’re a scam artist”
A successful business owner I know got an email like that one day.
Rather than get into a whole back and forth trying to convince this guy otherwise, he did something smart.
He sent the guy a link to a half dozen case studies of people who had tremendous success using his products.
The reader did a complete 180. He apologized and went from “hater” to “fan” within a day.
That’s the power of case studies. They can completely change someone’s thinking.
No selling or “convincing” required.
A case study is the story that proves to your reader you’re the one who can get them what they want.
This guide will walk you through every step of building case studies. So you can deliver overwhelming proof to skeptical readers that your product is perfect for them.
It’s based off the exact process I used to help write copy for a dozen or so case studies for a multi-million dollar launch (You can see some of them at GrowthLab.com.) I’ve been using and refining these techniques ever since.
Here’s a quick look at what we’ll cover:
- Part 1: Why case studies are 8X more valuable than people think (and how the interview alone can transform your marketing)
- Part 2: The surprising truth to finding perfect case study participant (plus outreach scripts)
- Part 3: The 2 ways to collect case studies (one is super fast, the other gets you deep insight), plus techniques to get an emotionally compelling story
- Part 4: A proven 4-part story outline to write case studies fast
- Part 5: How to maximize the value of your case study (use them to attract leads, close sales, and come up with fresh content your readers will love)
- Bonus: Case study question vault: A list of questions you can ask, plus a sequence of 9 you send to customers right now to start collecting case studies.
Alright party people, let’s do this.
Part 1: Why case studies?: Hidden benefits that can transform your marketing
A woman I interviewed for a case study said she almost didn’t buy because she didn’t think she needed the product.
But during the interview, we learned there was something deeper holding her back. Something she may not even have been aware of until she saw it verbalized in a case study.
What she was really afraid of, deep down, was failure. She said (I’m paraphrasing):
“Watching the case study, I heard the guy talk about how he failed at first. That’s when I realized it was okay if I wasn’t successful right away.”
This is important for two reasons:
#1: Your readers may not even be aware of the deeper fears and barriers keeping them from buying.
They’re reasoning that “It’s too expensive” or “it’s not for me” can be covers for deeper doubt they’re not in touch with.
Here’s another example: Years ago, I had my mouse hovering over the “Buy” button of a $2,000 product. After scrolling through the sales page for the 47th time, I decided not to buy.
If you asked me why my answer would have been “It’s too expensive”. But the real, deeper answer was I didn’t think it could work for me. At that time, I was convinced the person selling it had some inner drive and motivation I lacked. That we were “wired differently”.
When you talk to your audience, or a case study participant, you uncover those deeper fears. You find out what’s really holding the back (hint, it’s not price, it’s that you haven’t proven why it’s the right choice for them). You discover what resonates and what readers need to hear to feel comfortable buying from you.
#2: What helped her identify her deeper barriers and overcome them was seeing a detailed story of someone else who’d gone through it and come out the other side.
This story came as the result of a 30-60min sit down interview in which they went deep into the customer’s experience. Had we been content to simply use a testimonial instead of a case study, this point about failing never would have been uncovered or used. And that sale may not have been made.
Case studies let you uncover the deeper fears and doubts holding your customers back. Then tell a story showing someone who overcame those exact fears/doubts to have success thanks to your product.
But that’s just the start of the power of a good case studies. There are hidden ways they can transform your entire marketing most people don’t even realize….
How a single case study can transform your marketing (a $200 million example)
Have you ever used Febreze?
When it first came out in 1998, few people used it.
The people at Procter & Gamble went to work to change that.
They talked to their best customers to find out why they bought, how they used it, and what they thought about the product.
What they learned doubled their sales within four months.
They thought the key to selling Febreze was to talk about the benefits — how it eliminated household odors without leaving any leftover smell.
Which makes sense. That’s that’s exactly what it was designed to do. But that’s not how people used it.
They interviewed one woman who’d use up a bottle within 2 weeks. When they asked what she liked about it she didn’t say “because it eliminates odors without leaving a smell”. She liked to spray it after cleaning because it “feels like a mini-celebration when I’m done with a room”.
So they changed their marketing. Instead of making it about eliminating odors, they made a commercial showing Febreze being used a mini-celebration marking the end of a cleaning.
That one insight doubled their sales through the summer and brought them to $230 million in revenue by the end of the year. (Source)
When you talk to your best customers about your product, you can find the hidden insights on how they think about and use your product that can fundamentally change how you market.
How to 7X the power of your case study
As you just saw, there are benefits to doing case studies beyond proving to a reader you can help someone in his specific situation.
Here’s a summary of the 7 unexpected benefits that can come from creating case studies:
1: Reposition your product
Like with Febreze, you might think people are buying for one reason. But when you talk to them, you find out the reason they buy is completely different.
Understand how people see you and why they buy from you and you can tweak your marketing so it resonate with what your people really want from you.
2: Uncover “trigger words” and phrases that resonate deep with your readers
Through interviews, you get to understand your best customer’s pains, doubts, fears, and desires on a deeper level.
For example, during one interview I learned one woman bought because while watching a case study she heard the phrase “build an artisanal business”. That little phrase, buried deep within the case study, made her realize this was the right program for her.
That was exactly what she wanted and nobody else phrased their product that way. When I rewrote the case study, I made sure to make that phrase more prominent (and also use it more in emails) because if it resonated with her, it would resonate with others, too.
3: Discover your REAL audience
Case studies help you identify who your target market actually is — which may be different from who you think it is.
For example, doing interviews for a company that helps people create deeper relationships, I discovered people weren’t buying the product to learn relating techniques and improve their love life (which was what we thought). They bought to sharpen the skills they already had so they can use them more at work and with friends.
This kind of insight is incredibly valuable because once you’re clear on exactly what your audience wants, all that’s left is showing how your product can fulfill that desire.
4: They sell even if nobody reads them
Your reader doesn’t need to read all your case studies. If they read one, then see dozens more offering the same detail of proof, it says a lot about you, your business, and what you can do for them.
If you want to close more sales, increase the quantity and quality of your proof. Overwhelm them with proof and it’ll be a no-brainer to buy from you.
Take Navid Moazzez, who helps people grow their online businesses through virtual summits. He has loads of in-depth case studies. After a handful of glowing reviews, you don’t need to read the rest.
Navid Moazzez uses lots of case studies
to prove credibility, grow his list, and boost sales
5: Amplify every phase of marketing
Case studies are too valuable to post once and then forget about. You can use them again and again. They can be lead magnets, emails in your evergreen funnel — you can even weave your customer’s story into your sales page to make it more compelling (more on that later).
6: They’re personal sales pitches
Case studies are basically full sales page you can target to a specific sections of your audience. All the key elements of a sales page — the hook, an emotionally compelling story, the exact words your audience uses to describe their deep doubts/fears/desires, and hard proof your product works — are all built into the case study.
7: They sell on accident
Remember the story of the woman who didn’t even realize her feel of failure was keeping her from buying until she saw a case study? That “fear of failure” wasn’t one of the main objections most people have so it wasn’t touched on much in our marketing.
Even if you know your audience well, case studies can help you identify more subtle and nuanced emotional triggers that can move your readers to buy. In fact, it can even hit on those triggers your audience doesn’t realize they have!
The more detail and experiences you share of your case studies, the more chances you have of coming across something that will resonate with your readers. Even if you (or they) don’t know what that is.
Part 1 summary
Case studies are way more valuable than people realize. Sure, they prove to skeptical readers you can help them by showing how you’ve helped people in similar situations. But simply conducting the interview gives you deep insight into your customers which can fundamentally change how you market your product.
Read on to learn how to do kickass case studies for your business.
Part 2: Interview prep: Set yourself up for success
Before you get started, you want to make sure your case study story will resonate with your audience. This chapter will help you find the customers with the most inspiring stories.
How to find the right person
The person who had the most success with your product/service may not be the best case study to use.
Reason being, your readers want to see someone like them, in the same position or worse who had success with your product.
By “like them” I don’t just mean age, race, and gender (although that does matter. If your buyers tend to be 40-year old women in big cities then 25 year-old Joe Smith from Kentucky may not be your best choice.)
I mean they also have the same experiences, fears, doubts and desires.
If those things vary because you have a bunch of different “buyer types” or avatars, don’t worry, that’s normal. It’s also why case studies are so valuable.
Because you can use case studies to target different avatars.
For example, let’s say you’re in the fitness market and 30% of your audience is busy, professional, 30-something women in big cities. Then there’s another 30% that’s stay-at-home moms with young kids living in the country.
You can have one case study of the “mom with 3 young kids who dropped 30lbs in 3 months” to prove to that group this is for them. Then target the other group with a case study of the 35-year-old CEO in Manhattan went from a size 8 to a 4.
You can also target readers based on inner fears, desires, and barriers.
For example, the two biggest objections your reader may have to buying are: 1) They don’t have time 2) They don’t know how to get started.
You can have one case study where the main focus is the busy woman being able to find time to work out. The other can be about a woman who had never exercised until she found your program.
The more targeted you can be, the better. For example, you can segment around both demographic info and objections. And create one case study for the 30-something professionals who are too busy, another for the stay-at-home moms who don’t know how to get started.
Instead of simply showing case studies targeted at certain demographics, target specific objections, pain points, and desires as well.
Part of a customer avatar I created for a client
Defining your audience
Before deciding who’d make a good participant, get clear on exactly who you’re writing to. That way you’ll know what kind of case study will work best with your audience.
Here are a few questions to help you get clear on your target audience.
After you’ve answered them, reach out to potential candidates and look for these three things:
- Had success with your product
- Are happy to talk about their success in a case study
- Most closely resemble the people you’re writing to (aka the people you describe in the exercise below)
Exercise: Mini-customer avatar
Answering these questions will help you identify the type of person you want to feature as a case study.
Who are they? (Age, location, job, marital status)
Rank their 3 biggest objections to buying
What is their desired outcome and why is that important to them?
We can go into way more depth and detail here. Creating avatars is an Ultimate Guide for another day. But this is a good enough place to start.
(If you can’t answer those questions, survey your audience and find out. In fact, survey them even if you know the answers. You can never know too much about your audience and don’t want to lose touch with what’s going on with them now.)
Once you know who you’re writing to, you can find quality candidates by asking past customers directly or having them fill out a survey to find out who would be best.
Here’s an example of a survey you can use to find quality candidates. Remember, the idea is to find someone who’s had success yet matches your overall avatar. (Note: The words in all caps are meant to be be replaced by the name of your product or service)
Survey for finding good case study candidates
-Please provide some general background information (name, age, location, job, marital status?
-Overall, how satisfied were you with PRODUCT/SERVICE (Scale of 1-10 from “not satisfied” to “very satisfied?
-What was your favorite part of THE PRODUCT?
-Can you tell us a specific instance where THE PRODUCT had a positive impact in your life?What convinced you to buy the PRODUCT/SERVICE?
-Did anything that almost stopped you from buying THE PRODUCT? What was it?
-Would you be willing to provide a testimonial or case study? If so, enter your name and contact information below and someone from our staff will be in contact in the next week or two.
As a bonus, even if you don’t get great candidates for case studies you can get some solid testimonials from these questions.
If that’s the case and you find a great quote you want to use as a testimonial, here’s what you do.
Polish it up (edit for grammar and length) then send that person an email asking if you can use it in your marketing material. Here’s an example of how that email can look:
Bonus: Testimonial Script
My name is NAME from COMPANY
Thanks so much for taking the time to fill out the survey. We read over your answers and one quote in particular stood out.
QUOTE THEY USED
Would you be willing to let us use this quote (which I modified slightly), along with your name and a headshot, in our marketing material?
If you’re okay with us using that could you let me know by tomorrow?
Setting up the interview
Once you’ve identified who you want to interview, you’ll want to contact them and set up a time to talk.
Before you ask, let them know what’s in it for them if they do this. If they stand to get something out of it that would be good for them make sure they know it. Then they’ll be more likely to agree.
Some examples of how this may benefit them include: Free publicity (they get their name or business out there), leads, credibility, recognition, or a chance to inspire others.
If you can’t offer any of that, it’s okay. If you had a big impact on their life and they view you highly, you can simply ask for this as a personal favor to you.
Here’s an email script you can use to ask someone to be a case study.
SUBJ: I thought of you first
Since you were one of my best students, I was hoping you’d help me with something.
We’re putting together success stories to share with our readers. We’d love to interview you and hear more about how you [RESULT THEY GOT].
Since you [STATEMENT ABOUT WHERE THEY ARE NOW, example: “passed the exam on your first try”] your story could be really inspiring and I’d love to share it if you’re cool with that.
Would you be able to hop on the phone and answer some questions for ~40min next week?
Preparing for the call
Once they’re ready, send them the list of questions ahead of time. (If you’ve done the survey then some of those questions will already be answered.)
This will save time on the call and let you start to dive deeper into the good stuff faster during the interview.
The number of questions you send depends a bit on the person. If they love you/your product you can get away with sending more questions (10-15). If they like you but aren’t raving fans you may want to keep it tighter to ~5, otherwise they may not bother answering them.
You can get the bones of the story with ~5 questions. But the more you ask the more gold you find. And you never know which questions will resonate with the person you’re interviewing. (I’ve had questions fall flat on some people but open up the floodgates for others.)
Personally, I like to send ~10. Though we may not cover them all on the call.
For a list of questions you can swipe right now to send to people you want to interview, check out the “9 proven questions you can email your customers now” section at the end of this guide inside the Question Vault.
Derek Halpern using different case studies to appeal to
different avatars: authors and trainers
Cover your ass, legally
Along with your questions, you’ll also want to send a release form. A simple document where they give you permission to use their name, photo, and explain how the case study will be used.
Exactly how the form looks can depend on your business, where you live, etc.
I won’t go into much detail here because I’m not a lawyer and taking legal advice from a copywriter is a poor life choice. But I wanted to put this on your radar as something to remember.
Part 2 summary
Select people who not only had success with your product but fit your main avatars. Go beyond demographics so you can create case studies that target specific doubts, barriers, and desires your readers face.
- Select your case study
- Create a list of 5-15 questions and send them to the interviewee before you talk to them
- Get a release form they can sign and make sure you’re covered legally
Part 3: The interview: Uncover the compelling, REAL story
Once you have the questions ready to go, you have one of two options for how to create the case study.
Option A is fast and can get you a lot of case studies quickly. Option B takes longer but you go deeper. It’s how you get all those extra side-benefits we talked about in section 1.
Let’s look at options A now.
The easy way to load up on case studies
An easy way to get a lot of quality case studies without taking up much of your time is to simply send the questions and have people answer them. Then make minor edits, get their approval, and let that sucker go live.
A great thing about this option is you can have them answer on video or in writing. Go with video if possible since it gives people a chance to see that this is a real person.
Here are examples of what this looks like when done well.
If you want to see how you can send questions and have people answer them on video for you, check out the Pavlok website. https://pavlok.com/pavlok-case-studies/
While this is a great method for getting quality proof, it’s too easy for someone to read case studies like this and say “sure that works for them but I could never do that because…”
Reason being, they don’t go deep enough. The only way to get that buried insight is with real life interview Which we’ll cover now.
Case studies that shock and delight
Live interviews are how you get the deeper doubts, fears, and desire your customers faced. Plus, gritty details on how they overcome them.
It helps the story resonate, feel real, gets skeptical readers to think, “If this person can do it, so can I!”
The reason they go deep is because you get to ask follow-up questions. These let you drill into WHAT their experience was and WHY it mattered to them.
Don’t take my word for it. Cal Fussman, who interviews top celebrities and world leaders for Esquire magazine’s “What I Learned” column, says great interviews are all about drilling deep with follow-up questions.
Here’s his process for uncovering compelling content for his column.
They will respond to my first question with a comment, and here’s where the real work lies. It’s in paying careful attention to their first response, so then I’m asking a second question based on their first response, and now that’s getting to a deeper answer. And then I’ll be listening to that second response, and I’ll ask a third question that gets even deeper, and that might be where the nugget of gold lies that appears on the page. – Cal Fussman
So what makes a good follow up question?
You can always rely on the flow of the conversation and follow your own curiosity. But here are two tricks you can fall back on.
Follow up Technique #1: Ask for examples
When you get a vague or general answer, ask for an example of what that means or what that looks like to them.
For example, when I sent a survey out, I asked a customer for an “ah-ha” moment she had using the course. She replied:
“Doing these practices and seeing relationships flourish around me”.
Okay, that sounds nice but doesn’t mean anything. It’s not going to excite readers because it’s so vague. So I asked for an example. She went off, spouting great lines like this:
“I got more clarity as to what type of environment and workplace I want. I left the job I was at and found another place that was much more in line with my values.”
Already we’re getting more concrete on how this impacted her life. These details alone make her story more compelling.
I continued to follow-up on how these practices impacted her work life, and got this gem:
“When I first joined [my new job] there was animosity among team members. People didn’t want to share information… I brought these relating games in and team members became more open and honest with each other. It increased productivity by 200%. And I have the numbers to prove it.”
How about that!?
Concrete proof that the relating games she learned in the course not only helped her create better relationships at work, but it made her better at her job and double her team’s productivity!
She didn’t say anything close to this on the survey. And it took 30 minutes on the phone to get to this point.
But it proves the value of our the product. It even showed us uses for it that we didn’t expect which would resonate with readers and show how it can benefit their life.
Follow-up technique #2: The Wine Connoisseur
Another technique for breathing life into your case studies is called the “wine connoisseur”.
People like me will describe a wine as either “good” or “bad”. That’s not interesting or particularly useful. But a connoisseur can give you the subtle nuance. She’ll tell you it’s good then describe how it has ”a smooth mouthfeel with a dry oaky finish”
Specific, descriptive language like that will bring your case study to life and connect more than vague, general statements.
For instance, when you ask people how they felt when they got results, they’ll often say “amazing”.
That doesn’t mean much. It’s like saying wine is “great”.
Your job is to be like a wine connoisseur and dig deeper into what “amazing” means for them — the distinct flavor and emotions they experienced. Those specifics will lead to a more interesting story with a deeper emotional impact.
For example, one woman I interviewed told me she felt “amazing” the first time she used our program to make $10,000 in one month. So I asked what exactly she meant by amazing. Was it relief? Excitement? Gratitude?
She opened up and this beautiful line fell out:
When I made that first $10,000 in less than 30 days it felt amazing… I stood there in my kitchen thinking, Oh my God I’ll never have to worry about money again!”.
You can see her case study here.
(And if you’re an introverted single guys who
wants more dates, check out her site IntrovertedAlpha)
Compare a line like that to the generic and overused “It felt amazing!” It’s clear which packs a stronger punch.
Don’t take your customer’s answers at face value or assume you know what they mean. Dig deep to get the real life examples; What they were really thinking, feeling, and experiencing.
If they say they felt “hopeless” you can ask: “Hopeless? What do you mean? Was it a crushing, depressed kind of hopelessness? Or a lighter, “Well, no point worrying about that because there’s nothing I can do” kind of hopelessness? Or something else?
That’s when you get answers like “I was depressed. I couldn’t get out of bed and listened to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” on repeat crying alone in my room”.
And those details are going to make your case study a hell of a lot more compelling.
But you’ll only get them by following up on your questions.
Another example of following up
Here’s an excerpt from an interview to show you how follow-up questions work, what they can do, and how you don’t even have to be smart or articulate to make this work.
For context, this is a woman I was interviewing for a product to help people pass an exam for accountants.
Me: “Earlier you said you wanted to pass the exam to get an “extra leg of credibility”. The way you said that I feel like there’s more… I’m curious to know more about it but don’t have a clear question…
Interviewee: “Yeah, well, I used to get in arguments with a past manager. I wanted to want to be able to point at the wall and say “this is why I’m right.”… And at the end of the day, I want to make an impact. I don’t want to just be overhead.”
When there’s a lot of emotional charge around something, it only takes a little poke from you to make it erupt. My question wasn’t even articulate, but because this was such an emotionally-charged topic for her she went off and gave me a bunch of great material. (What you see is only a fraction of what she said.)
Her quotes about “this is why I’m right” and “being more than overhead” are going to be great material for the upcoming sales funnel we’re building. Because it touches on the exact thoughts and emotions our readers feel and uses the same language they use. (That combination is how you get people to email you saying things like, “Oh my gosh it’s like you’re in my head!”)
5 tips for finding the real story and getting customers to open up
Getting the deeper story means your customer needs to be willing to open up. But they may feel nervous, uncomfortable, or simply need guidance to let loose and give you the REAL story.
Here are a few tricks I’ve picked up both from doing case study interviews and taking a $8,000 course on creating deep connection with people.
#1: Don’t assume you know the angle of the story going into it
You may go into an interview thinking “Okay, this case study is going to be for “busy moms”. But as you dig deeper, you find that angle doesn’t actually work with that person. Or there’s another angle that’s even better.
I went into one case study interview assuming it would be a “rags to riches” story. One that people who were in a tight spot financially could identify with and use for inspiration.
Except once we started talking, it became clear this angle wouldn’t work. She had done well financially before doing our program. If I took that angle, it’d be disingenuous.
As the interview went on, I noticed the word “introvert” kept popping up in our talk. So we dug deeper into that. Turns out, this was a massive barrier for her early on. She thought that, being an introvert, our product wouldn’t work for her.
I then learned people emailed her regularly, thanking her for proving introverts can be successful entrepreneurs!
Clearly this was a major pain point — and we weren’t addressing it! So instead of making this a “rags to riches” story, it became a story of an introvert who made it in an industry seemingly dominated by extroverts.
That term “introvert” even earned a spot in the headline.
While it’s good to have a sense of what pain point you’ll address with a specific case study, keep an open mind and let the story to reveal itself. It’s less work and will lead to a more compelling case study since it’s raw truth.
2) Tell them they don’t have to answer any question if they don’t want to
You’d think saying this would prime them to not answer. But it has the opposite effect. When you give people the choice to not answer, they feel free to open up.
In the past, I’ve done case studies where the interview started off stiff. Then I’d say, “By the way, if anything is too personal and you don’t want to answer, you don’t have to.”
After that, the conversation flowed easier and more freely.
2) Tell them their job is to be honest and share their experience — they don’t need to try and sell anything
If you’ve delivered amazing results, your customer will want to sing your praises and make you look good.
This can be a problem. Customers will over-analyze their answers to your questions because they want to make sure they paint you in a good light.
But if they’re analyzing their words, then they’re not tapping into the emotion they felt before, during, and after they used your product. So you’re not getting emotionally compelling stories or quotes. You’re getting stiff, calculated answers they think you want to hear and will help you sell.
But it’s the deeper truth — their inner experiences that doesn’t get talked about or shared much — that’s going to make your case study compelling.
So tell your customer their job is simply to be honest and share their experience. They don’t have to worry about making the story sound nice because that’s your job (or your copywriter’s job).
3) Stay positive, relax, and smile
This may be obvious but is worth reminding. Your state will impact how they feel. If you’re tense because you haven’t got great info yet, they’ll feed off that and tighten up themselves. And you’ll be less likely to get great material.
But if you’re relaxed, smiling, and trusting that your questions will give you the information you need, then the customer can follow your lead.
4) Be their cheerleader
Again, most people you interview want to be good case studies. But they have no idea if their answers are “good” or not unless you tell them. So throughout the interview, let them know they’re doing great and you appreciate the information.
I’ll frequently tell people I’m interviewing “This is gold!” after a great story or quote.
Even if the information seems weak, I’ll still say things are going great because it is! The information I’m getting is at least keeping me from taking the wrong angle for the story. And some pieces may prove surprisingly valuable later when I look over my notes.
For example, one woman I interviewed wouldn’t credit our program with her financial success. At first, I thought this was a problem, but then found a new angle that made the story just as compelling (it was about the importance of the community we had in the program.) It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because now we got to show the value of a certain part of our product that had been glossed in other parts of our marketing.
5) Take notes and record the interview!
You’ll want a recording for your records or in case you miss anything. Be sure they know it’s being recorded and are cool with it.
Also, take notes as you write. I find it helpful to mark the time every 5min or so in my notebook. That way I know what is said when and can re-listen to a certain section more easily.
Part 3 summary
Use follow-up questions to get the REAL story from your reader. Do what you can to help them feel safe, comfortable and relaxed so they can talk freely and get carried away in the moment.
Review the answers your case study participant wrote to your questions. What jumps out at you? What do you want to know more about? If nothing does, put yourself in the mind of your prospect. What would THEY want to know more about? What kind of proof or stories do they need to hear so buying becomes the obvious choice?
Part 4: Drafting your case study fast
Okay! Now you’ve got a 30-60min recorded phone call and a pile of notes.
What do you do with all that?
How do you turn it into a compelling case study? Let me show you:
4 steps to turn your pile of notes into a polished case study
Step 1: Create an outline
I’ll space out these 4 sections on a piece of paper, then start adding info from the call in the section that makes sense.
The identity is the shortest. It’s where you introduce the person in a way your audience can relate to. Back to the “introvert” example, she could have been introduced as a “business and publicity strategist”. But more people would identify with “introvert”, so we went with that.
For struggle, you want to look over your notes and identify the key pain point this person faced. It could by mental (doubt or fear) or external (“My wife thought I was nuts!”) It may also be different from what you initially expected or hoped. That’s okay because it represents what your buyers actually face.
The discovery is the part of your product that helped them through that particular struggle.
What part of your product or service did they find most helpful? What surprised them? What lessons did they learn?
Finally, there’s the results section. One thing I like to include is both tangible and intangible results. Like the example earlier, you can say your product helped someone make $10,000 (tangible) and feel like she never has to worry about money again (intangible).
Step 2: Filling in the outline
Now it’s time to start filling the points and quotes into the outline.
The identity section is short and straight-forward. You’re simply introducing who the person is. So we’ll focus on the other three sections for now.
Look over the notes of your case study. What is the ONE BIG problem they faced that your product helped them overcome?
Keeping your case study focused on one main problem and one solution will keep things simple and organized for the reader. It’ll also help you write faster and clearer.
Now, you’re case study may have had a bunch of problems. For example, here’s a list of the problems a customer faced before working with one of my clients, Ross O’Laughlin, who helps business owner find their unique selling proposition. (You can check Ross out at conversionengineering.co)
- Her team wasn’t closing sales
- Her copy wasn’t focused and clear
- There was no clear, consistent explanation of why people should buy their product over the competition
- She didn’t think she should need help finding a unique selling proposition because she’s a copywriter and already knows that stuff
- She was afraid asking for outside help from a company she already knew would make her look bad.
- She’d hired agencies to help with this but was underwhelmed with the results
Whew! Lot’s of problems! How do you choose one?
Easy. What’s the big main problem that brought here here in the first place? What’s the one that others are experiencing right now so it’ll resonate?
The answer in this case was the company’s trouble closing sales.
If that problem went away, none of the others would matter.
So what do you do with all the other problems?
Your big problem is like a tree: it’s the center of your story. The other problems are like branches. They’re hanging around poking people in the face as they walk by.
So you want to introduce the other problems in a way that deepens the pain of that initial problem. Show how they build off one another.
Her team not closing sales and the messaging being off is the start of the problem. Her attempts to get this fixed through hiring agencies takes the problem a layer deeper. And her fear she’d look bad and the feeling she should be able to do it herself take it deeper still.
The first half of your case study is where you dive into these problems. You want to set up an amazing transformation. Show the reader what a difficult spot the person was in.
Think of the end of Lord of the Rings: The men are surrounded by Orcs, Frodo’s lost the ring and his finger, Sam is knocked out and can’t help…
Aim to make your case study as compelling/entertaining as Lord of the Rings
All hope is lost. There’s problem on top of problem.
That’s the kind of feeling you want to instill. “How could they possibly turn things around!? How will our hero get out of this one!?”
For a powerful case study, here’s a high-level outline of how that struggle section can look:
- Identify problem (not closing sales)
- Get into the the deeper (often internal/emotional) problem (afraid getting help could hurt her reputation)
- The solutions they tried before that didn’t work. (If possible, mention the emotional impact or toll it took. For example, “I tried everything but nothing worked. I felt hopeless and defeated”)
- How they came across your product.
- What fears/doubts they had before buying
This is pretty advanced. If you’re just starting, know that so long as you’re getting into the struggle they initially faced — and using their words to describe it — you’ll be in a great spot.
What happened after your customer bought your product? What was the turning point that brought them from where they were to where they are now?
That’s what you want to cover in this section. What helped them, how, and what’s special about your product that made it help them have success where other options failed.
Here’s an example from a case study I wrote about the woman who needed help finding her company’s unique selling proposition (USP).
In this section, we briefly outlined the 5-step process for finding a USP. Then showed the 2 parts of the program that had the biggest impact with quotes on what made those steps so powerful and what they were like.
We also included quotes on what made this process special (the depth of the work involved) and how it was unlike anything else other agencies offered.
This is where you show what life is like now thanks to your product.
Share the result they got and include pictures whenever possible.
There are a few types of results you want to share here. The first is the result they were hoping for. Continuing with the previous example, the main result they wanted to was to find their USP and close more sales. So that was the first result we talked about.
You’ll also want to touch on all the other problems brought up in the “struggle” section and how those have been resolved. For example, that deeper problem of not wanting to ask for help because she’s afraid she’ll look bad got resolved by her actually looking good because she solved this problem for her company.
Along with sharing results of how the previously mentioned problems have been resolved, you’ll also want to tack on unexpected positive results. Things they didn’t see coming that may be even better than the initial result they were going for.
For example, in the USP study, they found a method for finding their USP they can now use for all their products and even teach to their own customers.
By doing this, you’re pumping up the value of your program. And by showing tangible and intangible results, you’re showing the wide range of ways you improve people’s lives.
Step 3: Headline and subheads
You want a powerful headline to hook readers in. Luckily, that should be easy. If you have a story of someone like your reader doing something amazing which they’re dying to accomplish too, they’ll automatically want to know more.
For case studies, a great headline will give a before and after. The general headline formula can be something like:
How (ordinary person) did (amazing thing) using (your product/service/something they learned from you).
Or “How (ordinary person) overcame (BIG PROBLEM) without (having to do thing they don’t want to do)” (Such as: “How a stay at home mom lost 20lbs in 3 months without dieting”)
Some real life examples:
From Tim Ferris:
Aside from before and after, another cool trick is to use a quote highlighting your customer’s struggle at their lowest point. Here’s an example from one of the case studies for DDP Yoga:
A dramatic quote highlighting your reader’s struggle and/or achievement is a great way to grab attention.
People are going to skim your case study. This means you want to give them the gist of what it’s about and pull them in with compelling subheads.
Rather than give a whole copy lesson on subheads, I’ll share a trick I use.
I like to use a quote that describes the section they’re about to read.
This does two things. First, it makes it easy to show what each section is about. Second, it reflects the reader’s own thoughts, struggles, and desires. This can draw them in more because they’ll project themselves onto the story.
Let’s use the example we talked about earlier: The case study of the woman who found her company’s USP.
Her main struggle was not closing sales. So for the opening subhead, I went with “We were struggling to close sales”.
Boom. You know exactly what the problem was. And there are plenty of people in a similar position, with that thought rattling in their head, who will want to learn more.
Later on, I used this quote from her as a subhead when introducing the ‘discovery” section:
“It’s a scientific way to find out why customers buy from you”.
This also enters the conversation going on their head. From the case study interview, I learned a big problem with finding a USP was the lack of a scientific approach. So this was a big selling point for the this product because it was what the customer was looking for.
This being a scientific approach is definately a message this guy wanted to get across. And a subhead is a great place to make sure readers see that important information.
Finally, one of the last sections has this subhead:
“I know they’re going to be closing some sales”
By those subheads alone you see the problem, the discovery, and the result. You get the gist of the story just by skimming.
Draw them in with a quick-hits introduction
Giving your reader a bit more information quickly can help draw them in to read the entire story. So under the headline, before you dive into the story itself, it may help to have a quick summary of this person’s story.
Briefly introduce the person and their big problem, how your product helped them, and the result.
Here’s an example of how that looks from Ryan Levesque’s Ask Funnel Case studies.
The first section, titled “The Story”, introduces Peter and his struggle: The needed for a step-by-step process to build high-converting cold traffic funnel.
The “Experience” sections talks about the unique features of the Ask method that helped him do this: personalized feedback combined with a quiz funnel.
And the “Results” section hits on the tangible results and what that makes possible going forward: 9,000 leads in 7 days and potential for a 7-figure launch.
Here’s the actual copy for reference:
Peter has a successful offer in the Astrology niche, and was looking to launch a new offer using paid advertising. He needed a step-by-step process to follow to build a high converting funnel on cold traffic.
With personalized feedback from Ryan and the team of Ask Method specialists, Peter worked fast to launch a new Quiz Funnel to gather leads, and was surprised beyond all his expectations.
With over 9,000 leads in less than 7 days, Peter now has a warmed up launch list for a new product he is about to release and he knows the Quiz he built has the potential to be a 7 figure funnel.
7 Ways to make your case study fun and easy to read
Here are a few quick tips on how to write case studies that draw readers and get them reading every word.
1: Make it skimmable. People should get the gist through headlines and subheads
2: Let the quotes tell the story. I like to use as many quotes as possible. The copy you write is to set up and frame the story and transition from one section to another.
3: SHOW the journey with visuals. If it’s weight loss, add before/after pictures. If it’s business, show an actual screenshot of their revenue growth (even if they make you blur out the exact numbers) or the impact they made on clients. If it’s productivity, show the mom happily playing with her kids thanks to her extra free time. (You’ll have to email the participant to get that after the case study).
Bushra Azhar, of The Persuasion Revolution,
shows the results of her journey in the form of happy client testimonials
4: Have a call to action. After they’ve read this, give them a chance to learn more. Give them a helpful PDF and get them on your list. Ask them to call you for a consultation. Send them to a sales page or even a checkout page.
Call to action on a Mindvalley case study
5: Get specific. Don’t let the customer get away with vague generalizations like “I used to struggle with weight loss”. Get into the personal details. “I spent $150 on a gym membership but would walk in and had no idea what to do. I felt so uncomfortable that I’d just get on the treadmill then leave after 30 minutes”.
Those details are what makes the story interesting, believable, and connect with the reader.
6: Don’t overload the reader. This is about telling a story, not throwing a bunch of information at the reader. You’ll have a lot of great quotes and material that doesn’t fit into your case study story. We’ll talk about what to do with all that in the next section
7: Video: If you videotape the interview and have a good editor cut it for you, that’s great. Another alternative, get a brief testimonial video where you ask the reader 1) What was life was like before using [YOUR PRODUCT]? 2) What it was like to use [YOUR PRODUCT[? 3) How is life better after having used [YOUR PRODUCT]?.
Then go deeper in the written case study.
Part 4 summary
Having a structure for the story will help you draft quickly, keep it engaging and easy to read.
Use the 4-part 60-second sales hook formula to outline your case study. Fill in the blanks using quotes from your interview to drive the story.
Part 5: Leveraging your case study for all it’s worth
Your case study is done! Woooooo!
Now this is where a lot of people stop. They publish the case study and move on.
But there’s a lot you can do both with the case study itself and the data you collected during the interview.
After all, you just spent up to an hour going deep into your customer’s experience. It’d be silly not to get the most out of that time and those insights as possible.
Here are 4 tricks you can do to get the most from our time spent on that call.
5 tricks to get the most out of your case study
#1: Add a bonus section
You’re going to have a bunch of great quotes, stories, and sound bites that don’t fit your case study.
One thing you can do is add a bonus section. For example, after one case study I still had all this great audio with quotes I wanted to use. So I added a section called: “5 Surprising Lessons from Finding your USP”.
Then wrote a 1-2 sentence bullets enticing the reader to click the audio and hear more about the customer’s experience.
Here are 2 of the bullets we used:
- “The 3 big benefits of having a USP (and why it’s so important to have a strong USP before running A/B tests). Click here to listen.
- Why hiring a company to find your USP for you is a mistake (and who specifically should go through this process — hint, it’s not for lazy people). Click here to listen.
This gives us a chance to share additional information that didn’t fit the flow of the story but could provide that nudge the reader needs to finally buy.
#2: Turn unused material into fresh content
The case study itself can be used as a blog, email, landing page, sales page, lead magnet, and more.
The guys at Trafficandfunnels.com use video testimonials for FB ads.
This one has 1.3k views
But you can also take the unused material and turn that into all new content for your blog.
For example, I did an interview where I learned the case study participant got emails all the time from people saying they didn’t think the product would work for them because of their accent. There was no way to include that in the cases study but it could be an entire blog post.
#3: Create a “Customer Language Guide” for getting in your reader’s head
Some companies have “style guides” that make it easy for new writers to nail the company voice and brand. You can create something similar, except instead of it being your language it’s your customer’s language.
Then when you write copy, you can refer to this to make sure you’re talking about what they care about in their words. This let’s them see how deeply you understand them.
To do this, make a list of the words and phrases they use to describe their problem, desires, and barriers. When you go to talk about that stuff in other parts of your copy (emails, a sales page, etc.) you can grab their exact language from your style guide.
For example, take that interview from the woman who needed help passing her accounting exam. The quotes about how she wanted the certification so she could “point to the wall and say ‘that right there is why I’m right” can be used in emails when describing the value of the course.
Instead of using vague language like “this certificate will help you win the respect at work” we can use more descriptive, emotional language like “next time your boss tries to argue you can point to your certificate and say “that right there is why I’m right”.
The difference there is subtle but massive. The first instance pays lip-service to what your reader wants. The second uses their language to reflect back their thoughts on the subject. It packs a stronger emotional punch because it’s more descriptive, precise, and closer to what’s actually going on in their head.
#4: Weave it into your sales page
You can also weave these stories into your sales page. Here’s an example from the top selling weight loss product on Clickbank, The Fat Diminisher
Early in the sales page, they touch on the benefits you’d expect any weight-loss product to cover: lose weight, feel confident, etc.
Then, halfway through the sales video, story of a 40-something woman who, all of a sudden, felt severe chest pain when running.
Screenshot from the Fat Diminisher sales video
It kept getting worse, so she went to the doctor the next day. There she learned that, because of her weight, she was at risk for heart disease.
After her visit, they share a specific moment from the next morning. She stood on the front porch as her daughter left for school and she asked herself “How many more mornings do I get to enjoy this sight?”
They then go on to talk about how their product changed her life.
Exactly how they found that story I don’t know. But it very well could have been a case study where they realized “wait, this story is amazing and needs to be part of our sales page.” By talking to your customers, you may find their stories for why people should buy and use your product are more persuasive than your own!
There’s a couple reasons to do this:
1: It can raise the emotional stakes. Including a story like the one in the Fat Diminisher makes this about more than losing weight — it’s life and death.
2: It connects with your reader. If your reader sees you as some kind of “guru” it can be especially hard for them to connect with you. They read your story but don’t believe what you’re selling can help mere mortals like them. Having a case study that shows you helping a normal person facing the same obstacles as the reader, and embedding that in your sales page, can prove right there your product can work for them, too.
#5 Create a “Case Studies” page
It’s amazing how few companies actually have this.
New readers are going to be skeptical of you. Putting all your case studies on one easy-to-find page makes it easy for them to see you’re both legit and can help their specific situation.
George Zennon of BoomingBusiness.com has 3 pages of case studies showing how he helps people scale their online business.
Part 4 summary
Your interview will leave you with tons of great material that won’t fit in the case study itself. Use that material in other parts of your marketing.
- Create a list of blog ideas based around the fears/barriers/experiences your case study interviewee had but you couldn’t fit into the story
- Create a list of trigger words, phrases, and mini-stories that reflect how your customer views your product service. Keep that handy to uplevel your marketing material.
Bonus: Case study question bank
You never know what questions will strike a nerve with different people
I once asked 8 case study participants the same question via email. Many people skipped it and had nothing to say.
But one person wrote a thoughtful answer that produced a great line which then became the opener for the case study. You can see it below.
Now when it comes to what questions to ask, there are 3 main areas you want to cover: What life was like before they bought, what it was like to use the product, what life is like as a result of your product.
Below are questions you can choose from that’ll help you get at those 3 areas. How many you choose is up to you, I suggest at least 1-2 per section.
After that, you’ll see additional questions to target certain objections and more that serve as a “catch-all” to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
At the end of the question bank, you’ll see 9 questions you can use right now for your case studies. This is what I refer to when I’m using questions for a case study. If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to think too much about it send them to your customer and you’ll be off to a great start.
(Note: I replaced the actual product names with “YOUR PRODUCT” so you know where to enter the name of your own product).
What it was like before your product
- How did you find out about [YOUR COMPANY/PRODUCT]?
- What made you decide to join the program?
- What did you want to get from [YOUR PRODUCT]?
- What was your goal when you joined the program?
- Were you skeptical about buying? How so?
- What was going on in your mind when you bought the product?
- What made you decide to join this program over others available?
What it was like using your product
- How long until you had results?
- What surprised you most about [USING THE PRODUCT or END RESULT?]
- While using the program, did you have any “ah-ha!” moments that changed the way you saw yourself or the world?
- What was your #1 favorite part of [THE PROGRAM/PRODUCT/WORKING WITH US]?
- What was the biggest challenges you faced on this journey and how’d you overcome it?
- Was there ever a time you wanted to quit? How’d you push through them?
What it was like after your product
- How has [YOUR PRODUCT] changed your life?
- How is your life better now that you’ve [RESULT THEY GOT]?
- How did you try to achieve this result before using our program?
- How has your business/life changed since using the program?
- What does having [RESULT THEY GOT WITH YOUR PRODUCT] do for you that wasn’t possible before?
- What’s an average day like for you now? How does that compare to before the program?
- Can you tell me a little moment you had that led you to say to yourself something like “I love my live” or “I can’t believe this is happening” that would not have been possible without [YOUR PRODUCT]?
These are questions that address the biggest objections your readers have to using your product. For example, if you know people aren’t buying your product because they “don’t have time” you may want to ask a question like:
- “How’d you make time for this? And how much time did you dedicate to it?
- What would you say to someone who was on the fence about joining but has an already busy schedule?
There was another interview where the person went to business school. Since the program was for starting a business, I felt it relevant to ask how our program compares to that, so I asked the following and got a great answer that was worth turning into a blog:
- “How does this compare to [SPECIFIC ALTERNATE OPTION] (example: “business school”)
Finally, there are questions you can throw out there to pick up any important information your questions have missed.
- What advice do you have for someone thinking about buying?
- Anything else you’d like to share?
- What advice would you have for your old self right before you joined the program?
9 proven questions you can email customers now
Now you may be thinking, “Okay Brian, that’s way too many questions to sift through. Can you please just give me a handful I can email to customers right now?”
Yep, sure can.
Here’s a list of questions you can email to your customers right now. The answers will give you great material for a case study. You can then hop on the phone, go deeper into their answers, and get even better material for both your case study and marketing in general.
- How did you find out about YOUR COMPANY/PRODUCT
- What made you decide to join the program?
- What did you want to get from [YOUR PRODUCT]
- What surprised you most about [USING THE PRODUCT] or [END RESULT]?
- How has [PRODUCT] changed your life?
- How is your life better now that you’ve [RESULT THEY GOT]?
- Were there any little moments where you thought “Oh my god, I can’t belief this is happening” that wouldn’t have been possible without the program?
- What advice do you have for someone thinking about doing this/who wants this result?
- Anything else you’d like to share?
Free Case Study Checklist: The 13 key points all case studies need
Whew! That was a lot.
If you’re worried you’re going to have a zillion things to think about next time you write your case study, I got your back.
Here’s a free download of a 13-point case study checklist.
After you write your case study, consult to the checklist to see if anythings missing. So long as you have all the points mentioned (which were all covered in this guide) then you’re going to have a pretty darn good case study.
It’s a whole lot easier than trying to keep all this stuff in your brain.