How to Write a Case Study Brief

BY Laurie Zottmann
September 1, 2022

When creating a case study, a solid brief makes a world of difference.

Whether you’re collaborating with writers and videographers on the project or DIY-ing things, a brief encourages you to carefully think through the context, priorities, and goals you have for the piece.

But filling out a detailed case study brief can also be daunting. Especially if you’re not clear on how to use the brief to guide things.

To help you understand what makes a brief brilliant, and how to make sure yours hits the bullseye, we’ve compiled few tips and used our own briefs as a backdrop to help.

Here are 3 simple Dos and Don’ts to help you complete a strong case study brief:

  1. Don’t Try to Attract Everyone… DO Follow the Rule of One
  2. Don’t Assume Your Goals are Understood… DO Clarify Your Priorities
  3. Don’t Choose the Wrong Customer… DO Vet the Story

1. Don’t Try to Attract Everyone… DO Follow the Rule of One

Defining the focus of the case study is the ultimate purpose of the brief.

But sometimes, marketers resist narrowing the scope of the story. They want to use one case study to appeal to every type of audience and share every possible benefit or advantage of every part of the product or service.

That’s a problem. Because an unfocused brief can create a rambling narrative that lacks compelling tension and fails to put you closer to your goals. A collection of really nice testimonial quotes is not a case study.

Case studies make their magic by defining a particular problem and demonstrating how the solution fits key-in-lock to drive a thrilling win in story format.

To focus your brief and keep the story compelling, follow The Rule of One:

  • Speak to ONE customer persona
  • Deliver on ONE promise (i.e. that solution X will solve problem Y)
  • Give leads ONE call to action

If there are two or more important goals you need to serve, then you likely need multiple case studies, or to tell that same story in a slightly different way in multiple deliverables.

2. Don’t Assume Your Goals are Understood… DO Clarify Your Priorities

When we create your case study, our job is to make sure the story aligns with your goals. If you’re creating a case study, you’ve got to accomplish the same.

It might sound odd to spend time laying out your goals for the piece, but there’s a huge upside:

  • It forces you to focus your ideas and energy
  • It prompts you to ask: “how will this align with business and revenue goals?”
  • It encourages you to think about specific angles or opportunities that would be MOST valuable to you and others within your company

You can be intentional about the stories you tell and the points you hit on.

But if you don’t explicitly lay out your case study goals and strategy in the brief, you’re rolling the dice. There’s a risk that the story uncovered in the interview won’t fit your needs. or that you’ll wind up missing out on your chance to ask important questions you wish you would’ve thought of ahead of time.

As an example:

When working with us, we need those targeting details to guide the interview in the right direction.

Because we have limited time with your customer, we need to maximize it by going deep on the story beats that matter most.

So instead of asking a general questions like, “What were you struggling with before you found this solution,” a great brief equips us to ask: “How was your old agency’s narrow field of expertise hindering your attempts to scale?”

The more specific the goals, the more impactful the soundbites.

To focus the customer story brief, follow The Rule of One.

Another pitfall of a fuzzy customer story brief is that it might elicit responses you can’t use.

If you want examples of how your product provides strong ROI, then let us (or your interviewer!) know that in the brief. If you want details on how your product saves time and boosts team morale, let us know THAT in the brief. Otherwise, the conversation can go down the wrong path, even though all parties are doing the best they can with the information they have.

In short, to make sure your case study hits the right notes, be explicit in your brief about your priorities:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What key pain point do you want to illustrate?
  • Which aspects of your solution (i.e. features/benefits) are you trying to feature?
  • What is the MOST important story arc to focus on?
  • What KPIs are you MOST interested in featuring (if they’re available?)

3. Don’t Choose the Wrong Customer… DO Vet the Story

Choosing the best interview candidate is also essential for creating a strong case study. That’s why our brief template asks you to provide background information about the story before the case study creation process gets rolling—which includes gathering as much context as you can on the story you want to tell.

Part of that means lightly vetting what your interviewee is likely to say.

Otherwise, you may be surprised to find they credit their success to something other than your solution. Or they may describe your solution as problematic, and claim they only succeeded in spite of it. That’s not something you want to discover late in the game!

The more specific the goals, the more impactful the soundbites.

Other problems can emerge when the person being interviewed doesn’t have direct experience with your solution.

You may think that if your buyers are CTOs, we should interview the CTO. But if that person wasn’t involved in the selection, implementation, or day-to-day use of your solution, the interview may not surface the details you’re looking for. You’ll get more compelling commentary from someone closer to the story.

Similarly, interviewing the Head of Sales might be a big win… unless the story you want to tell is about marketing wins.
It sounds obvious, but it’s a common case study mistake.

To make sure you’ve chosen the right interview candidate for your case study, ask yourself:

  • Was this person a decision-maker (if you need them to have that insight?)
  • Does this customer’s experience and insight align with your goals for the piece?
  • Is this person in a good position to describe the impact of your solution?
  • If you’re capturing a video testimonial, is the candidate charismatic, well-spoken, or comfortable on camera?

Don’t skip the brief!

In the rush to tell customer success stories, you might think you can wing it—but we promise, taking the time to create a thoughtful, detailed brief will come with MASSIVE payback.

We’re always happy to help guide you through the process to make sure your case study deliverable is everything that you hoped for, and much more.

Want help telling focused, compelling, HUMAN customer success stories?

Our team is passionate about planning and crafting case studies and video testimonials that fit your goals like a glove.

Contact us to get started producing smart, strategic, and sales-pumping case study campaigns.


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