05007 Guest Article: How to Write a Case Study

I’d like to showcase an entertaining and useful article that recently appeared in the newsletter from the Boston Product Management Association (BPMA). It is written by Mike Urbonas, Contributing Editor for the BPMA newsletter and can also be found online at www.bostonproducts.org. I encourage you to take a look at the site and some of the content available there.

The article is called How to Write a Case Study (Without “Putting Your Eye Out”). Read on for a helpful article about writing a case study.


How to Write a Case Study (Without “Putting Your Eye Out”)

— By Mike Urbonas

Remember Ralphie in the classic holiday film A Christmas Story? A boy in the 1940’s, Ralphie desperately wanted a BB gun for Christmas. Pursuing every opportunity to make his Christmas wish a reality, Ralphie wrote a school essay about the BB gun he wanted so badly. Ralphie envisioned his teacher being enthralled with his words, which he could then share with his parents and earn his BB gun. Instead, his unimpressed teacher gave him a mediocre grade with the devastating admonishment, “You’ll put your eye out!”

Poor Ralphie felt the frustration experienced by anyone who has ever researched or written a case study that failed to yield interest and curiosity from the intended target audience, eliciting instead an indifferent shrug, or even worse, a negative reaction like that of Ralphie’s teacher. By following a customer-focused, time-focused template when researching and writing case studies, we can instead impress readers with our customer’s success, and motivate them to learn more.

When developing a case study with an existing satisfied customer, I suggest working through a simple series of questions focusing on the customer’s experience with your product or service at three key points in time. The final written case study will follow the same time line:

  1. Before your product or service: the drudgery your customer had previously endured.
  2. The customer’s moment of epiphany — when the customer realized your product or service was the right one.
  3. After your product or service: drudgery gone, replaced with success.

First, what was the customer doing before your product or service? The more intolerable drudgery we can genuinely convey here, the better. Quantifying the drudgery our customer experienced in this before stage is also essential: how many dollars or man-hours were being lost by your customer? Less tangible but no less real consequences of this drudgery are welcome as well; for example, what business decisions might have been compromised due to the unacceptable status quo?

Next, focus on the customer’s moment of epiphany — that moment when your customer realized, “Yes! This is the right solution for us! The dark days of our drudgery are numbered! Help is on the way!” I’m only half-kidding here: we must convey to the reader in compelling fashion what triggered the customer’s decision to buy; what emboldened the customer with confidence that your product or service is uniquely capable of solving their problems. It is important to note that only those unique technical features of your product or service relevant to this moment of epiphany should be detailed in the case study.

Now, focus on the after phase: your product or service has been implemented for the customer, leaving a trail of roses in your path. Again, I’m only half-kidding: we must convey that the customer now knows their decision was a winner. What new success has replaced the old drudgery? Take the time to carefully walk through with your customer one or more specific, mission-critical, and formerly laborious and error-ridden business processes. How has your product or service resolved the drudgery that once plagued this business process? What measurable savings in money or time has the customer since realized, thanks to those previously noted unique features of your product or service?

Good questions to wrap up the case study research process include: what plans does the company have to expand the use of your product or service? Are there any other thoughts or opinions the customer thinks are important that have not yet been raised?

I offer two final suggestions for writing a good case study. First, quote the customer directly wherever possible. Direct quotes from the customer proclaiming the virtues of your product or service will always earn far more attention and credibility from your readers than any narrative text. Second, try to begin with some kind of humorous or otherwise engaging lead for your case study to encourage the reader to keep reading. You will find the task of writing the case study will flow more easily once you have an interesting lead to kick off the story.

Even those who have never seen A Christmas Story can probably guess whether Ralphie, in spite of his unsuccessful writing effort, still got his prized BB gun on Christmas Day, and avoided “putting his eye out” as his teacher had warned. Of course, Product Managers or Product Marketing Managers must rely on more than good fortune to get the favorable attention of potential new customers. Compelling case studies are a great avenue to do so. By asking your customer time-focused questions and actively listening, the customer will essentially tell you what relevant information belongs in the case study; before, during and after their decision to select your product or service to solve their business problems.

About the Author

Mike Urbonas is currently Product Marketing Manager for Datawatch Corporation’s family of Monarch report mining, data ETL and information delivery solutions. Please contact Mike with questions or comments on this article via email at: mikeurbonas@go.com.

This article copyright (c) 2005 Mike Urbonas. All rights reserved.


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