Effective Case Studies

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Effective Case Studies: Best Practices, Part 1

Best practices for creating effective case studies include careful consideration and selection/articulation of the content, format, presentation, organization, and use of different forms of media, among other things. Three best practices for creating effective case studies have been discussed below.

Make It Relatable

  • Case studies that customers find relatable are more likely to perform better as opposed to the ones that customers cannot relate to. This can be done by identifying the ideal customer to target for a given case study. If a case study is relatable, the customer that reads it will feel that the provider is proficient in the relevant area.
  • Making a case study relatable starts at the planning phase, even before selecting a case. It is achieved by targeting the right customer segment and clearly defining the goals.
  • Once the target customer segment and goals have been defined, a relevant case that suits both should be selected to prepare a case study.
  • Finally, the case study should be designed such that it is relatable to the defined goals and target customers. One way to achieve this is to focus on the customer rather than focusing too much on the product. This develops customer confidence in the brand/product, as they are able to relate to the case presented in the case study.

Select the Right Media and Format

  • It should be kept in mind that viewers/readers have varying preferences of media and format when it comes to case studies. It is, therefore, best to design case studies that attract all types of visitors.
  • Case studies may be designed using text, audio, video, and/or infographics. While some formats are easy to share, others are easy to digest, e.g. bullet points.
  • An ideal case study would, therefore, include both text and visuals. This can be achieved by creating text-based case studies and also making a video out of it, however, care should be taken to ensure that the text is not directly copy-pasted in the video or vice-versa.
  • It would also benefit to "repurpose" case studies into different formats, for sharing purposes. For example, a text-based case study can be converted into an infographic, a SlideShare presentation, a press release, and other formats, and then shared across multiple platforms.

Offer Specifics in the Case Study

  • Case studies should be very specific and offer valuable information to readers/viewers. Case studies that are vague are likely to make the readers feel like something is being purposely hidden from them, which should be avoided at all costs.
  • This can be achieved by citing data and specific improvements, e.g. increased sales/productivity.
  • This is also a chance to showcase the products leveraged to solve that particular problem. This can be done by mentioning the products/services that helped the customer mentioned in the case study and the way they helped them.
  • The facts/statistics mentioned in the case study should be relevant to the problem solved, the solution provided, and the results.
  • An example of a vague explanation is to say, "our online marketing services led to these results". Whereas a well-articulated explanation for the same notion would be, "it was a combination of a three-month dedicated social media campaign focusing on Facebook & YouTube and five months of link building that led to an increase in rankings plus brand exposure that led to these results."

Research Strategy

Our research turned up some useful results and several best practices for creating effective case studies. Although the best practices relate to a diverse set of attributes, we have selected those that focus on some of the most important areas and their potential impact on the effectiveness of the case study is considerable. In order to ascertain that the best practices selected are indeed best practices, we consulted several credible sources that have some authority in this space. Each case study presented in this research has turned up in at least three credible sources.
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Effective Case Studies: Best Practices, Part 2

Three additional best practices for creating effective case studies are 1) reading with a solution, 2) tailoring to the audience, and 3) telling a story.

1. Leading with a Solution

  • According to Forbes Agency Council, one of the biggest mistakes made by companies while creating a case study is focusing on their company, processes, or motivation, instead of making it about the results that these efforts created.
  • John Gumas, from Gumas Advertising, explained that a great case study usually starts describing the results and then elaborating on more detail about the approach and strategy that led to said results.
  • The solution can also be included in the case study's headline, capturing the reader's attention from the start, instead of using only the company's name or "Case Study." An example of a solution-focused headline is "Upgrading an Aging Rockwell-Based Control System with Minimal Downtime."
  • Stefan Pollack, Pollack PR Marketing Group, said that writing about the problems their leads might be experiencing, how the company has fixed similar issues, and using entertaining formats, like audio media or video, makes the case not boring and engaging.
  • Another mistake made by companies is trying to impress their audience with cases about big brands, when there isn't enough information to describe the solution and results. It is better if the details are minimum, to use those brands as testimonials and not as case studies.
  • Dean Trevelin from Trevelino/Keller adds that a great way to write a case study focused on the solution is to create an abstract concept that covers: 1) challenges and customer's industry; 2) company's expertise; 3) solution delivered; 4) why was that solution innovative.

2. Tailoring to the Audience

  • When writing a case study, companies need to put themselves in the customers' shoes and narrate the scenarios as they would like to read them. It's important to remember that most people will skim through long cases and focus on the success section, so it's better to avoid adding too many irrelevant details.
  • Writing about unusual customers attracts more attention, but even in these cases, it's good to find which needs make them relatable to the wider audience.
  • Companies should avoid saturating the space with stories that don't portray clear results. It's better to be selective of the customers and experiences that will be relevant to the target audience.
  • According to Emilie Tabor from the Influencer Marketing Agency, even if the case study is generic, the company should always know the audience they are targeting, understand their common needs and problems, and highlight how they provide the solution for these specific needs.
  • Knowing the audience also includes knowing when to insert the case studies in a sales campaign to avoid losing their value.

3. Telling a Story

  • Telling a story allows the audience to connect with the scenario and understand how it mirrors their own needs, it also makes the experience more enjoyable.
  • Some questions that should be answered in the story are the type of customer, what the customer does, what are the goals and needs the customer had, if the company was able to meet those needs, etc.
  • Beth Noymer Levine, a member of the Forbes Agency Council and SmartMouth Communications, explained that the most successful case studies created by companies focus on telling a story, instead of only in data points or chronological facts.
  • To do so, she recommends starting by making the arc of the story to describe the situation, using sentences that highlight "dramatic tension" or follow the dramatic arc narrative and finish the story by narrating how the resolution provided by the company provided value to that situation, product, or service.
  • When choosing an engaging story, a compelling angle, and an interesting customer are a good strategy.
  • According to Bernard May from National Positions, another way to narrate an engaging story is by creating a client profile, explaining the challenge, results, the strategy followed, and finish with future expectations.
  • Another form to gain trust from the readers is following up with the customer months later to add details of how the solution helped them long term. This gives the reader the confidence that the company cares about their long term needs.

Research Strategy

To determine the best practices to create effective case studies, we looked through multiple marketing and business websites for articles with the tips, most used, and more effective techniques when creating case studies. Then, we identified the three repeated most often across most sources and used these as our three additional best practices.
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Effective Case Studies: Best Practices for Manufacturing or Chemicals

In the chemical industry, case studies are scientific reports that present real incidents that should be chronologically presented with several "facts reports". For a complete chemical health and safety case study, 4Cs are considered. These are information on chemicals, chemistry, chemists, and relevant conditions. These and other details are presented below.

Important Sections to Include for an Effective Chemical-Related Case Study

  • Most case studies in the chemical industry are safety-related. Chemical health and information on safety help prevent similar events in the future by educating and alerting chemical practitioners of adverse outcomes and hazards, or by providing best practices in operation and handling.
  • According to ACS Chemical Health & Safety, case studies in this sector "are not research reports" that follow the scientific method. They are scientific reports that should present real cases or real incidents involving health and safety practices, chemical accidents, and even innovative safety programs.
  • For an effective chemical health and safety-related case study, it should initially include a comprehensible description of the specific case or incident being studied, the background of the case, and analysis of the factors associated with the incident.
  • The presentation of the background section should be in chronological order to clearly state the sequence of events before an incident.
  • Case studies for chemical accidents have several "facts reports". These may include medical reports, police reports, and evidence reports that are immediately published to alert the public of a chemical's potential hazard.
  • A separate list of "key lessons" or learning points should also be presented only when the investigation is already completed. This will allow others to examine the incident, have an understanding of the causes that contributed to the incident, and learn from that specific experience.
  • Conclusion or recommendation section is also an important part as it can help prevent future recurrence and help chemical companies and practitioners employ operational adaptations.
  • The US Chemical Safety Hazard Investigation Board or CSB publishes excellent examples of such case studies.
  • Another list of examples of case studies in the chemical industry is published by the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council. Each case study presents the incident's description, possible causes and contributing factors, causal analysis, and recommendations and learning points sections.

"4C's" for a Complete Chemical Health and Safety Case Study

  • For this type of case study, it must be presented as a complete report on a specific incident or observation.
  • Complete information about the involved chemical should be included. This includes the chemical name, the CASRN or the Chemical Abstract Service Registry Number, its source, purity, and packaging.
  • The study should include details pertaining to chemical reactions, chemical procedures, and processes.
  • It should also note deviations by conducting interviews to establish the details from the actual processes.
  • Human factors are considered key information in making case studies for this sector.
  • It is also important to document the work experience of the chemist since some case studies on chemical incidents relate to the lack of experience or training.
  • For a complete case study, relevant conditions when an incident occurred should also be documented. This should be factual data. Examples are laboratory hygiene, environmental factors, equipment conditions, and room occupancy.
  • This section may also include the presence or the absence of documentation and records and other regulatory compliance.

Research Strategy:

The details included in this research are focused on the chemical industry. As most information on the best practices in effectively creating case studies is presented in a general view, we primarily used articles and publications only from sources focused on the chemical industry, especially those that publish related case studies. We have included examples of such kind of case studies in order to have a reference on how case studies in the chemical sector were presented, how important sections of the report are tied up together, and what specific details should be included for a "complete and effective" case studies.
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Effective Case Studies: Boutique Consulting Best in Class

Censeo Consulting, The Chartis Group, Eagle Hill Consulting, Cornerstone Research, and LeapPoint are boutique consulting firms that have produced best-in-class case studies. Five examples of case studies produced by the consulting firms have been provided below.

Censeo Consulting: Applying Category Management in the Cloud Software Market

  • A prominent Federal department wanted to migrate some of its important software applications to the cloud. The department sought out Censeo’s expertise to ensure that it acquired new cloud resources at optimal cost.
  • Censeo was tasked with helping the department in activities, such as negotiating a win-win contract, facilitating vendor discussions, collecting requirements, developing an acquisition strategy, and conducting market research.
  • As a result of Censeo’s guidance for more than nine months, the department saved $40 million.
  • The case study is selected as best-in-class because it provides a detailed account of the approach Censeo used to meet its client’s needs and the overall impact of the solutions provided by the firm . In addition, quantitative results are provided and the information presented is easy to digest.

The Chartis Group: Michigan Medicine

  • Internal surveys at Michigan Medicine revealed that the organization had 42% faculty burnout. To reduce these levels, the management with the help of the Chartis Group launched an initiative where it could understand the reasons for the burnout levels and test the hypothesis that transformational and operational changes could have a positive impact on the faculty experience.
  • A coordinated program for supporting and overseeing medical assistant recruitment was launched. The program would oversee aspects of recruitment, such as analysis, projection, sourcing, selection, screening, training, and development.
  • Faculty response as a result of the program was enthusiastic and the leadership eventually understood the operational factors affecting faculty experience.
  • The case study is considered best-in-class since it is very detailed yet simple to digest the information presented. In addition, the challenges, approach and outcomes are discussed in depth.

Eagle Hill Consulting: Conducting a technology assessment to inform strategic planning for public media

  • The case study by Eagle Hill Consulting focuses on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s need to assist member stations get equipment upgrades.
  • To help member stations, CPB needed to have an understanding of the current state of technology in all the public radio and television stations it served.
  • Eagle Hill assisted CPB to develop an outreach plan and survey that almost doubled the target response rate, which helped CPB gain valuable insights from the data gathered to build a sustainable public media system.
  • The case study by Eagle Hill is considered best in class because it is compelling and easy to digest since it is presented in video format. Furthermore, information in the video is presented using animations, therefore, making it visually appealing.

Cornerstone Research: Zilo Corporation Case Study

  • After conducting a successful IPO and trading approximately at $60 in less than a year, the Zilo Corporation’s stock price plummeted after losing two of its major clients, which prompted some shareholders to file a lawsuit against the company directors. According to the suit, Zilo’s managers were aware that they were having bad relations with their main clients and failed to inform the shareholders, which was a breach of contract.
  • Cornerstone Research was tasked with “preparing a finance professor to testify as an expert on the subject of valuation and its implications for shareholder damages.”
  • As a result of what the Cornerstone Research team found, a settlement was reached.
  • The case study is selected as best-in-class because it is compelling and clearly explains the legal issues, the approach, and the outcomes of the case being discussed.

LeapPoint Case Study

  • A federal civilian agency depended on mismatched IT in terms of data, software, and infrastructure for its business operations, which led to low confidence in the IT department meeting the organization’s needs.
  • LeapPoint offered transformational support to mobilize, modernize, and simplify the inefficient IT system.
  • The agency is currently transitioning into one where information technology is proactively managed and used to improve operations. It is shifting towards a unified IT portfolio that will enable it to save money and achieves business goals.
  • The case study is considered best-in-class since it uses headers for different topics, therefore, making it easy to digest. In addition, infographics have been used, which makes the information easy to understand. Also, the challenge, approach, and outcomes are discussed extensively.
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Effective Case Studies: Big 4 Consulting Best in Class

Some of the best case studies produced by the Big Four consulting firms include Marathon Oil by Deloitte, Suffolk Construction at KPMG, a private transportation industry being hacked that was rescued by Ernst & Young, and a global industrial manufacturer and a global electronics company who engaged PwC. An analysis of these case studies showed that, besides being clearly written, easy to read and short, the following were required for compelling case studies: the value to the client must be clearly expressed, even if there is no quantitative data available; providing the information in multiple formats — for example, web page, downloadable brochure and video of client testimony makes the study more compelling; and embedding in the case study items that show the depth and breadth of the team and the skill set available to a client is a powerful message and marketing tool.

Best Case Studies

  • Best Case Studies are defined by the Bluleadz Marketing Agency as using the following format.
    • "Introduction: Provide a context for the story.
    • Challenge: Describe the primary issue being faced.
    • Solution: Identify the product or service being used.
    • Benefit: Emphasize the most impactful advantages.
    • Result: Detail the specific outcomes the customer earned."
  • These criteria, along with others including the magnitude of the change in the company, the value to the client, the importance of the consulting firm to the success and the ease of accessibility of the solution, and the case-studies closest to the current markets of Audere Partners, were criteria used to make the following selections from the Big 4 consulting firms of Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG, and PwC.


1 — Marathon Oil — Going further, doing more: Drilling data to unearth shareholder value.

Synopsis of Case Study

  • Marathon Oil needed to be able to attract heavyweight investors, so its primary overriding goal was increasing shareholder value.
  • For years, it was heavily focused on downstream activities. When it decided to split the company into two, with an exploration and production arm and a refining arm, its goal was to improve capital allocations and to restructure its reporting and analysis processes to realize efficiencies.
  • The solution was seen as ensuring a standard platform from a business process, technology, and data collection and reporting perspective.
  • Its current platform was not able to support the more dynamic needs of an independent E&P company.
  • "Marathon Oil knew it needed access to highly-integrated data so that it could adjust its portfolio and quickly understand the impact the changes would have on the bottom line."
  • Driven by the business and IT and supported by Deloitte, Marathon spent two years implementing SAP Hana for big data.
  • This was a huge risk for Marathon. As their CFO said, "We had to decide: Are we going to lean forward and be one of the first to implement SAP HANA With Deloitte as our trusted adviser, we understood both the risk and reward of that decision."
  • After two years, Marathon experienced the following improvements :
    • "Greater reporting clarity: Marathon can now drill down to an asset level and get more immediate information about how that asset is performing, and share that information with investors.
    • Improved efficiency: Standardized real-time reports from the SAP systems have dramatically reduced the support needed to run previous highly-specific queries and now provide a level of granularity that supports the nimble E&P environment.
    • Increased growth rate: Marathon has successfully shifted its focus from international projects to building a substantial inventory of resource plays in the United States."

Reason for selection.


2 — Suffolk Construction: Creating an adaptive culture

Synopsis of Case Study

  • Suffolk Construction has evolved to be an innovative construction company. It was not easy.
  • According to their Chairman and CEO John Fish "We underestimated the challenge of becoming an adaptive culture. At first, we tried to force the issue, but we soon realized that moving the needle would take a lot longer than we ever thought — not least because we have several generations within our workforce, and everyone learns differently."
  • Working with KPMG and their data scientists, Suffolk Construction spent four years creating what Fish calls "a clean data lake".
  • The company created a digitization platform enhanced with artificial intelligence. One key investment was in safety programs with visualization on job sites, to identify and outline risky behaviors.
  • The case study also addressed the required internal environment to begin and complete an initiative of this magnitude. Fish stated "You need strong, fully committed leadership. You need a strong enough balance sheet to make capex investments. And you must overcome any fear of failure, as some initiatives won’t deliver. You’re bringing together small groups of people willing to get out of their comfort zones in a small, ‘incubator’ environment. And then you have to socialize the success or failures of that experiment."

Reason for selection

Ernst and Young

3 — Hackers off the road — How EY’s Cybersecurity team beat a hacktivist group and implemented a long-term cybersecurity transformation plan for a Canadian transportation company.

Synopsis of Case Study

  • EY's client was a private transportation industry that was threatened by a hacktivist group. The group issued a threat during the company's peak revenue industry. The hackers threatened to hack the client's ticket sales platform software. This would have resulted in colossal revenue and reputation loss. Emergency assistance was engaged from EY’s Cybersecurity group.
  • Within one day, EY had put together a team and quickly set up a "honey pot website", which appeared to the hackers to be real company software. This allowed the EY team to study the hackers' penetration methods.
  • By the time the hackers realized they were attacking a phony site, their methods were known and the real site was protected from their efforts.
  • Not only was the short term threat dealt with, but the company engaged EY in a three-year project to develop and implement a comprehensive cybersecurity transformation plan.
  • Tips for potential clients to analyze their existing cybersecurity were provided.

Reasons for selection

Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC)

4 — With an advanced digital architecture in place, a global industrial manufacturer is soaring

Synopsis of Case Study

  • PwC's client was a leading global industrial manufacturer. Because of a series of acquisitions, the company was a "fragmented archipelago of divisions and business units, each with its own business model, IT landscape, data architecture, manufacturing processes and terminology and toolsets."
  • Many months of effort later, the company still struggled to align the company into a single, unified strategy. The client challenge was shown in the graphic below.

Reason for Selection

5 — How a global electronics company leveraged technology to overcome integrity and internal control lapses related to fraud and corruption

Synopsis of Case Study

  • PwC worked with the client to develop "new policies, procedures, internal controls and technology solutions to address integrity risks on a global scale."
  • The client was facing corruption charges when it came to light that salespeople at one of its subsidiaries was concealing payments to third parties, among other unethical and illegal activities. The client was hit with significant fines.
  • The company engaged PwC to review its anti-corruption compliance program and assist the client in strengthening its working protocols as well as actively demonstrating "its position as a transparent company with high integrity around its business practices, safeguarding the company’s brand and reputation"
  • The case study outlines the multiple skills of the handpicked PwC team which included "a broad level of knowledge and skills, including extensive technical, regulatory, and industry experience."
  • In the explanation of the work, PwC highlighted its proprietary web-based tool called Third Party Tracker and its Global Intelligence team.
  • Once the assessment was complete, PwC was engaged to assist the company in the implementation of its recommendations.

Reasons for selection

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Case Study Click Journey

Website visitors have to make one to two clicks to access case studies on the websites for Insight Sourcing Group, Ignyte Group, Putnam Associates, Deloitte, KPMG, and PwC. However, it was noted that a cluttered website such as Deloitte's makes it comparably more difficult to find case studies. The case study 'click journey' was much simpler and shorter on websites such as PwC's and KPMG's that provide explicitly-named tabs/links to case studies on their homepages.

Insight Sourcing Group

  • Website visitors can access three of the latest case studies at the bottom of the homepage for Insight Sourcing Group. They are listed among 'Recent Insights,' and each of the three latest case studies is accessible with only one click.
  • Clicking on 'SEE ALL' Case Studies on the homepage takes website visitors to the "Who we Serve" page where they find case studies for the six industries that the firm serves regularly, i.e. Retail, Manufacturing, Colocation, Private Equity, Healthcare, and Financial Services.
  • On the "Who we Serve" page, website visitors need to make only one more click to access case studies for each industry. For example, clicking on Retail takes the website visitor to the "Retail Case Studies" page and opens the 'Retail 1' case study automatically.
  • There are five, five, one, four, four, and five case studies listed for Retail, Manufacturing, Colocation, Private Equity, Healthcare, and Financial Services, respectively, and clicking on each opens a different case study without leaving the page.
  • Therefore, it only takes one click to access any of the three latest case studies from the homepage, and a minimum of three clicks to access case studies for each of the six industries that the firm serves regularly.

Ignyte Group

  • On Ignyte Group's homepage (under Success Stories), website visitors can access summaries of case studies for six of the firm's service offerings namely, "IT Portfolio Analysis," "Social Media Marketing," "Website and Branding Redesign," Data Visualization, and Operational Strategy. Case studies for each can be accessed with a single click.
  • Clicking on the 'Learn More' or 'Work' tabs on the homepage redirects visitors to the 'Work' page where there are previews of 16 case studies for each of the firm's service offerings, including the six that can be accessed on the homepage. Clicking on "See Ignyte's Impact" under each service offering redirects to a page with a summary of the case study. However, visitors have to sign up using their names and email address to access the full version of any case study on Ignyte Group's website.
  • While it takes one to two clicks to access summaries of case studies for the firm's service offerings, website visitors have to sign up to download or read the full versions.

Putnam Associates



PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)

  • On PwC's homepage, website visitors can find the link to case studies by clicking on the 'About Us' page and selecting 'Case Studies' on the drop-down menu. Alternatively, they can click on 'About Us' on the same drop-down menu to get to the 'About Us' page where they can click on the link labeled "Client Case Studies."
  • After landing on the 'Case Studies' page, visitors can click on any of the featured 100 success stories. Furthermore, the success stories can be filtered by Topic (e.g. Corporate Finance and Forensic Services), by Industry (e.g. Automotive and Financial Services), and by Region (e.g. Asia and the Americas).
  • It takes a minimum of two clicks to access any case study on the PwC website. Providing a link to the 'Case Studies' page on the 'About Us' drop-down menu has shortened the case study 'click journey' for website visitors. Additionally, placing all case studies on a single page has further simplified the process.

From Part 06