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Tell Me a Story: How to Write a Great Case Study

Tell-Story-Case-Studies

By Doug Stern and Vanessa Schaefer

You may have noticed that many law firms, architects and other professional service web sites look and sound a lot alike. They say the same things. “We do the best work, we went to the best schools, and we care the most about our clients.”

Other firms and practices, however, set themselves apart and make their sites more engaging by sharing stories about how they’ve created value for a client. So, instead of merely asserting your capabilities and value, client stories demonstrate them.

The question is, How do you present a great client success story? How do you write, format and illustrate an engaging description that relates to a client’s problems and needs at least as much (or more) than it talks about you and your strengths?

First and foremost, be strategic

Client stories are a good way to illustrate:

  1. Services and industries in which you specialize
  2. Expertise and other capabilities your team members possess

Therefore, when you’re picking a project or matter to showcase, begin by thinking strategically. Consider the specific service or industry that you want to highlight and select a case or project accordingly. If you want to showcase an individual’s or a teams’ responsiveness, choose a situation where you met very tight, critical deadlines that were crucial to the client’s success.

A recipe

We prefer a simple, four-part summary that generally looks like this:

Title: “A catchy, seven-or-eight-word headline goes here”

  1. Who was the client? Make sure to get necessary permissions to use your client’s name and photos. Sometimes it’s necessary to generally describe the client and avoid the issues that come with naming names.
  2. What was the problem? The client needed something when they called you. What was it? For instance: “When a university wanted to expand its tech transfer program, it knew it needed legal support. (Add a sentence or two to flesh out the issue, if necessary.) Or: “A local college was in the early planning and fund-raising stages for a new, on-campus dorm project. The site presented interesting challenges and opportunities (describe these in a sentence or two). The president of the college wanted something from us that would be a source of pride for the school’s stakeholders and that would inspire donors.”
  3. What did you do about it? Here is where you demonstrate your added value to your clients. For instance: “We began with a thorough review and assessment of the institution’s IP goals and objectives as well as the agreements it had in place.” (Again, elaborate sparingly…if at all.) Or: “We kicked off our process with a public charrette for students and others in the college and nearby residential neighborhood, using social media to build interest and awareness. We leveraged donor interest through the schematic designs, development of presentation materials and general budgeting, collaborating closely with the college’s admin and development people.” Here’s your chance to provide a sense of how you work, your methods, style and personality.
  4. The results. Maybe something along the lines of: “Thanks to a better IP footing, the university attracted tech transfer projects that it was reluctant to seek or undertake in the past, thereby adding new revenue and prestige to its brand.” Or: “The college raised $X million in record time, and construction of its new dorm began sooner than anticipated.”

Remember to keep everything facing the client and how you benefit them…not just boasts about your excellence.

Another word (or two) about writing style

First, the title ought to be catchy, but not cute or too clever. Compose something with one or two keywords in it that relate to the story content and arrest the eye. Such as: “Tech transfer gets a solid legal footing, enhances university’s revenue and brand,” or “Charrette helps launch successful dorm project.”

When you select an image (or images) pick something that relates specifically to the copy. If there’s a way to incorporate a caption, remember that it may be the first thing that a reader reads. Make it count.

Keep your content short. Probably under 250 words. The Neilsen Effect is why. As in Jakob Neilsen, a Danish software engineer considered to be one of the foremost user experience gurus. Neilsen and others have found, among other things, that we read online content 25 percent slower than we read the same content in hard copy. As Neilsen characterizes this and other Web visitor behaviors, “[U]sers are selfish, lazy and ruthless.”

Brevity has become even more important as more of us experience the Web on portable devices.

The client comes first

The more client-facing your client story and other sales and marketing content, the more readable and engaging. The more readable and engaging your content, the longer a prospect or client might spend with it. The longer your visitor spends with your story, the more trust you establish. The more trust you establish, the greater the chances that you’ll get hired. Remember: It adds variety when you don’t over-rely on “our,” “the company,” “we” and their repetitive variations.

Scalability

Sometimes we adapt our recipe for short, bullet-list project summaries. Such as…

  • A university hired us to put its tech transfer program on a solid IP footing, which helped attract projects that were strategically and financially important.

Or

  • A local college hired us at the fund-raising stage of a dorm project, which helped interest donors and get the project started in record time.

However it’s applied, a great client success story sets you apart, connects with your client or prospect and moves you closer to getting hired. What more could you want?!


Doug and Vanessa’s article first appeared in SMPS Boston’s Outlook, March 16, 2016.

About Doug Stern: Doug Stern (doug-stern.com) is an award-winning freelance writer-editor-strategist. He writes and edits marketing content for businesses all over the world…and remembers when the IBM Selectric was considered really high tech.