Even if you understand basic case study structure, there are still all of those pesky sentences you need to fill in. The customer will do a lot of it for you, with the quotes that you have artfully arranged, but there’s still a lot of information you need to wrestle into the right spots.
Here is a paragraph by paragraph breakdown of a simple case study. Short of writing your case studies for you, I can’t make it any easier than this.
In the About section, you need to strike a balance between basic facts about the customer, and just enough fluff to make him or her happy. To achieve this, your first sentence should be a matter-of-fact. Take this example of what not to write: “The mission of Pronto Pies is to create happy customers by cooking up the most delicious, mouth-watering pizzas on the face of the planet.” That may be true, but it’s over-the-top marketing-speak that doesn’t really say much about the company itself. Instead, I would write something like this, “Pronto Pies offers gourmet pizzas made with the highest quality ingredients at several restaurants across Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.”
My rewrite indicates what the company is (a chain of pizza places), and where it is (in and around Chicago) while still saying something nice about the food (gourmet with good ingredients). It provides both the facts and the fluff.
As I explained earlier, the Challenge section is where you talk about the—wait for it—business challenge that the customer was facing. But, you need to take a step back and think about how that challenge might be interesting to other readers, namely, your prospects. Let me explain and make that clearer. This is a challenge: “Luigi Mozzarello, CEO of Pronto Pies, needed to sell more pizzas, but his point-of-sale technology was slow and buggy.”
Clearly, Mozzarello has a problem, but as written, the challenge isn’t very compelling. Here is a broader challenge that has greater appeal: “Operating a restaurant is fraught with challenges, from demanding customers to razor-thin margins. Luigi Mozzarello, CEO of Pronto Pies, thought he could rely on his point-of-sale technology to give him a competitive edge, but it was slow and buggy.”
The revised challenge situates Mozzarello’s specific problem—bad technology—in the larger restaurant industry and infers a universal business theme, which is competitive differentiation. It does this by starting with a sentence that provides context for the reader. The first sentence of your case studies should always speak to a broad business issue and provide context for the reader. When you start a case study this way, there’s a much better chance that prospects will identify with the broader challenge, even if they are not in the customer’s specific vertical or business (in this case, the restaurant industry or pizza sales).
You should also try to end the Challenge section on a forward-looking or even “suspenseful” note. It’s completely contrived, but adding a little uncertainty works to compel readers to the next section. Something like:
“Luigi was opening a new store and only had three weeks to get a new point-of-sale technology up and running. He started his search for a new product not knowing if he could meet this hard deadline.” Or simply: “Luigi began his search for a lower-cost point-of-sale solution that was easier to use.”
Will he be able to find one? Heavens, I just don’t know! I guess I’ll have to read the Solution section to see how this all plays out.