Case studies are such a powerful B2B marketing tool that I didn’t want to stop with the five case study tips I gave you last month. So today, I have five more for you. I hope you'll find them useful.
1. Give your story a compelling title.
If you want your case study to get the attention it deserves, you need to give it an attention-getting title. All too typical are titles like, "How ABC Company Improved Testing Efficiency with XYZ Technologies' MegaWidget". Boring!
A good case study title tells prospects what they most want to know: "What results can I get?" It should emphasize the most important benefit the customer gained from your product or service (without sounding overly enthusiastic). And it should be very specific.
State customer facts and figures in you title. How much did they improve? In what timeframe? At what cost? These specifics make your title more compelling, because they make it more believable.
2. Leave your brand name out of the title.
In last month's article, I emphasized the importance of not introducing your solution until you've talked about your customer, their challenge, and the journey that led them to you. That advice goes for your title, as well.
As I've said many times, your prospect doesn't care about you, or your product or service. Mentioning the name of your company or offering in your case study title just distracts the reader from what he's really interested in: the benefits your customer obtained. And it puts his anti-marketing defenses on high alert for an incoming sales pitch.
But the biggest advantage of leaving your product or service out of the title, is that it leaves you more room to make it truly compelling. One easy way to do that is to add a secondary benefit to the title, linking it to the primary benefit with "while" or "and". Here are two examples:
How ABC Company shortened test cycles by 31%, while reducing testing costs by 24%
How XYZ Technologies slashed development cost and schedule on their new
MegaWidget® by more than a third... while increasing its reliability by 43%
Compare these examples with the one in the previous tip, and I think you'll have to agree that these two are far more specific and compelling.
3. Consider alternative formats.
Most case studies follow the same classic format: Customer / Challenge / Solution / Results – four headings with a block of text under each.
Now, there's nothing wrong with that formula. But with some added creativity, you can attract wider readership.
Consider your audience. Some may not be in the habit of downloading case studies, for example, but may be avid readers of industry trade journals. And if you publish a lot of case studies, you may simply want to give your readers some variety.
Here are a few alternative formats for B2B case studies...
The Feature Story. Adapting your case study to a feature article format is a good way to get you customer stories published in trade journals. This format doesn't divide the story into the classic case study blocks, but uses journalistic techniques – like an attention-getting headline, strong lead paragraph, descriptive subheads and illustrations with captions – to draw readers in, and move the story along.
The Press Release. This is just an abbreviated version of the feature story, presented in classic press release format. Be sure to mention there's a feature-length version of the story available: trade journal editors will be more likely to pick it up.
The Q&A. This is a more personal format that focuses on a single individual, rather than an organization as a whole. It tends to work well with hard-core technical audiences, who are often distrustful of anyone but their peers. Straight-forward and low maintenance, the Q&A uses interview questions and responses verbatim or with minimal editing. The success of this format depends on the question sequence used to structure the story, and the interviewer's skill in drawing out good answers.
4. Use descriptive subheads and other “scanner-friendly” devices.
If a story is engaging and relevant to them, some prospects will read every word. But others will scan for the highlights, only stopping to read if something really grabs their attention. Like most other marketing materials, case studies should be written for both readers and scanners.
Even if you use the classic case study format, don't limit yourself to the standard one-word section headings (Customer, Challenge, etc.). Make your subheadings descriptive.
Descriptive subheads help scanners get the gist of your story, and also help draw them into it, so they'll read more. Create one-line synopses of each section. Add some drama. Give your prospect a hint of why she should read on, why she should care. You'll make your story more memorable.
Make sure to add other scanner-friendly elements, as well:
Descriptive captions under photos and illustrations get high readership.
Pull quotes – customer quotes highlighted in the page margin or a text box – draw scanners attention to the most important parts of your story.
Sidebars can be used to present an overview of the story, a customer profile, or a summary of results.
5. Flesh out an angle.
What makes a story interesting and compelling to its reader is its angle – its unique theme or focus.
"If every customer success story or case study sounds exactly the same, then it won't support sales, marketing and PR objectives as effectively," says case study writer Casey Hibbard, author of Stories that Sell.
"Customers have different needs and challenges, buy products and services for various reasons, and use those solutions in differing ways," she adds. "The best stories identify each customer's unique situation and then detail how the solution helped them arrive at positive results." 
Sales reps want an arsenal of customer stories told from a variety of angles. When faced with a particular prospect's challenge, they want to be able to quickly lay their hands on a success story of a customer who’s faced a similar challenge.
The problem is, for any product or customer story there will be multiple angles to choose from. And it’s tempting to talk about as many as possible. But trying to cover all your bases will make your story generic, hard to follow, and too much like a sales pitch.
So how do you choose your angle?
The best angle will become clear during the customer interview. You’ll normally find it in the one or two main benefits that were most important to the customer. But it may not be what you expected. Bear in mind that the angle you want may not be what's best for this particular story. There may not be enough substance to support the angle you'd hoped for. Take what works best for the story at hand.
Then, once you have that unique angle, be sure to feature it prominently in your title, sidebars, pull quotes, and throughout your case study.
Footnotes: Hibbard, Casey, The 10 Biggest Mistakes Case Study Writers Make, Compelling Cases Inc., 2008.
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This set of guidelines provides both instructions and a template for the writing of case reports for publication. You might want to skip forward and take a quick look at the template now, as we will be using it as the basis for your own case study later on. While the guidelines and template contain much detail, your finished case study should be only 500 to 1,500 words in length. Therefore, you will need to write efficiently and avoid unnecessarily flowery language.
These guidelines for the writing of case studies are designed to be consistent with the “Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals” referenced elsewhere in the JCCA instructions to authors.
After this brief introduction, the guidelines below will follow the headings of our template. Hence, it is possible to work section by section through the template to quickly produce a first draft of your study. To begin with, however, you must have a clear sense of the value of the study which you wish to describe. Therefore, before beginning to write the study itself, you should gather all of the materials relevant to the case – clinical notes, lab reports, x-rays etc. – and form a clear picture of the story that you wish to share with your profession. At the most superficial level, you may want to ask yourself “What is interesting about this case?” Keep your answer in mind as your write, because sometimes we become lost in our writing and forget the message that we want to convey.
Another important general rule for writing case studies is to stick to the facts. A case study should be a fairly modest description of what actually happened. Speculation about underlying mechanisms of the disease process or treatment should be restrained. Field practitioners and students are seldom well-prepared to discuss physiology or pathology. This is best left to experts in those fields. The thing of greatest value that you can provide to your colleagues is an honest record of clinical events.
Finally, remember that a case study is primarily a chronicle of a patient’s progress, not a story about chiropractic. Editorial or promotional remarks do not belong in a case study, no matter how great our enthusiasm. It is best to simply tell the story and let the outcome speak for itself. With these points in mind, let’s begin the process of writing the case study:
Title: The title page will contain the full title of the article. Remember that many people may find our article by searching on the internet. They may have to decide, just by looking at the title, whether or not they want to access the full article. A title which is vague or non-specific may not attract their attention. Thus, our title should contain the phrase “case study,” “case report” or “case series” as is appropriate to the contents. The two most common formats of titles are nominal and compound. A nominal title is a single phrase, for example “A case study of hypertension which responded to spinal manipulation.” A compound title consists of two phrases in succession, for example “Response of hypertension to spinal manipulation: a case study.” Keep in mind that titles of articles in leading journals average between 8 and 9 words in length.
Other contents for the title page should be as in the general JCCA instructions to authors. Remember that for a case study, we would not expect to have more than one or two authors. In order to be listed as an author, a person must have an intellectual stake in the writing – at the very least they must be able to explain and even defend the article. Someone who has only provided technical assistance, as valuable as that may be, may be acknowledged at the end of the article, but would not be listed as an author. Contact information – either home or institutional – should be provided for each author along with the authors’ academic qualifications. If there is more than one author, one author must be identified as the corresponding author – the person whom people should contact if they have questions or comments about the study.
Key words: Provide key words under which the article will be listed. These are the words which would be used when searching for the article using a search engine such as Medline. When practical, we should choose key words from a standard list of keywords, such as MeSH (Medical subject headings). A copy of MeSH is available in most libraries. If we can’t access a copy and we want to make sure that our keywords are included in the MeSH library, we can visit this address: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov:80/entrez/meshbrowser.cgi
Abstract: Abstracts generally follow one of two styles, narrative or structured.
A narrative abstract consists of a short version of the whole paper. There are no headings within the narrative abstract. The author simply tries to summarize the paper into a story which flows logically.
A structured abstract uses subheadings. Structured abstracts are becoming more popular for basic scientific and clinical studies, since they standardize the abstract and ensure that certain information is included. This is very useful for readers who search for articles on the internet. Often the abstract is displayed by a search engine, and on the basis of the abstract the reader will decide whether or not to download the full article (which may require payment of a fee). With a structured abstract, the reader is more likely to be given the information which they need to decide whether to go on to the full article, and so this style is encouraged. The JCCA recommends the use of structured abstracts for case studies.
Introduction: This consists of one or two sentences to describe the context of the case and summarize the entire article.
Case presentation: Several sentences describe the history and results of any examinations performed. The working diagnosis and management of the case are described.
Management and Outcome: Simply describe the course of the patient’s complaint. Where possible, make reference to any outcome measures which you used to objectively demonstrate how the patient’s condition evolved through the course of management.
Discussion: Synthesize the foregoing subsections and explain both correlations and apparent inconsistencies. If appropriate to the case, within one or two sentences describe the lessons to be learned.
Introduction: At the beginning of these guidelines we suggested that we need to have a clear idea of what is particularly interesting about the case we want to describe. The introduction is where we convey this to the reader. It is useful to begin by placing the study in a historical or social context. If similar cases have been reported previously, we describe them briefly. If there is something especially challenging about the diagnosis or management of the condition that we are describing, now is our chance to bring that out. Each time we refer to a previous study, we cite the reference (usually at the end of the sentence). Our introduction doesn’t need to be more than a few paragraphs long, and our objective is to have the reader understand clearly, but in a general sense, why it is useful for them to be reading about this case.
Case presentation: This is the part of the paper in which we introduce the raw data. First, we describe the complaint that brought the patient to us. It is often useful to use the patient’s own words. Next, we introduce the important information that we obtained from our history-taking. We don’t need to include every detail – just the information that helped us to settle on our diagnosis. Also, we should try to present patient information in a narrative form – full sentences which efficiently summarize the results of our questioning. In our own practice, the history usually leads to a differential diagnosis – a short list of the most likely diseases or disorders underlying the patient’s symptoms. We may or may not choose to include this list at the end of this section of the case presentation.
The next step is to describe the results of our clinical examination. Again, we should write in an efficient narrative style, restricting ourselves to the relevant information. It is not necessary to include every detail in our clinical notes.
If we are using a named orthopedic or neurological test, it is best to both name and describe the test (since some people may know the test by a different name). Also, we should describe the actual results, since not all readers will have the same understanding of what constitutes a “positive” or “negative” result.
X-rays or other images are only helpful if they are clear enough to be easily reproduced and if they are accompanied by a legend. Be sure that any information that might identify a patient is removed before the image is submitted.
At this point, or at the beginning of the next section, we will want to present our working diagnosis or clinical impression of the patient.
Management and Outcome: In this section, we should clearly describe the plan for care, as well as the care which was actually provided, and the outcome.
It is useful for the reader to know how long the patient was under care and how many times they were treated. Additionally, we should be as specific as possible in describing the treatment that we used. It does not help the reader to simply say that the patient received “chiropractic care.” Exactly what treatment did we use? If we used spinal manipulation, it is best to name the technique, if a common name exists, and also to describe the manipulation. Remember that our case study may be read by people who are not familiar with spinal manipulation, and, even within chiropractic circles, nomenclature for technique is not well standardized.
We may want to include the patient’s own reports of improvement or worsening. However, whenever possible we should try to use a well-validated method of measuring their improvement. For case studies, it may be possible to use data from visual analogue scales (VAS) for pain, or a journal of medication usage.
It is useful to include in this section an indication of how and why treatment finished. Did we decide to terminate care, and if so, why? Did the patient withdraw from care or did we refer them to another practitioner?
Discussion: In this section we may want to identify any questions that the case raises. It is not our duty to provide a complete physiological explanation for everything that we observed. This is usually impossible. Nor should we feel obligated to list or generate all of the possible hypotheses that might explain the course of the patient’s condition. If there is a well established item of physiology or pathology which illuminates the case, we certainly include it, but remember that we are writing what is primarily a clinical chronicle, not a basic scientific paper. Finally, we summarize the lessons learned from this case.
Acknowledgments: If someone provided assistance with the preparation of the case study, we thank them briefly. It is neither necessary nor conventional to thank the patient (although we appreciate what they have taught us). It would generally be regarded as excessive and inappropriate to thank others, such as teachers or colleagues who did not directly participate in preparation of the paper.
References: References should be listed as described elsewhere in the instructions to authors. Only use references that you have read and understood, and actually used to support the case study. Do not use more than approximately 15 references without some clear justification. Try to avoid using textbooks as references, since it is assumed that most readers would already have this information. Also, do not refer to personal communication, since readers have no way of checking this information.
A popular search engine for English-language references is Medline: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi
Legends: If we used any tables, figures or photographs, they should be accompanied by a succinct explanation. A good rule for graphs is that they should contain sufficient information to be generally decipherable without reference to a legend.
Tables, figures and photographs should be included at the end of the manuscript.
Permissions: If any tables, figures or photographs, or substantial quotations, have been borrowed from other publications, we must include a letter of permission from the publisher. Also, if we use any photographs which might identify a patient, we will need their written permission.
In addition, patient consent to publish the case report is also required.