communications strategy, storytelling

Case studies: The Swiss Army Knife of brand storytelling

Christine O'Connor | June 2, 2022
Case Studies are the Swiss Army Knives of brand storytelling

Photo by Paul Felberbauer

Customer or client case studies are the Swiss Army Knife of brand storytelling—multiuse tools that can be repurposed for all your PR and marketing needs, serving as real-world illustrations for the media and proof points for business development.

Case studies are powerful credibility boosters

Writing a case study involves diving deep into a service or solution to reveal its application and impact from the perspective of those who’ve benefited. A library of case studies is worth its word count in grams of gold when it comes to supporting media outreach, sales and marketing: Case studies provide strong examples to pull from when pitching stories to reporters, writing thought leadership articles and proving value to potential customers.

Many of the case studies Thinkshift has written for RSF Social Finance, a financial services organization working to revolutionize how people relate to and work with money, have provided illustrations for future bylined articles. For example, a 2020 case study of Kreyòl Essence, a natural beauty company that works with Haitian farmers to sustainably produce black castor oil for its products, showed how integrated capital from RSF allowed Kreyòl Essence to pursue a market opportunity that propelled the company to success. In 2021, that case study served as an example in an article by RSF’s lending leader for Worth magazine on how social enterprise founders can find the right capital.

Case studies played a central role in our success at raising Optimum Energy’s brand profile. We created substantive customer case studies for the HVAC optimization innovator that not only served as examples in thought leadership pieces, but also ran as independent articles in numerous trade publications. One case study detailing how Optimum Energy’s platform helped the University of Maryland’s Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research cut energy use while increasing production was published in five trade outlets.

In addition to supporting bylines and media pitches, the case studies we create for LavaMaex, a nonprofit that teaches people around the world to bring mobile showers and other essential care services to the streets, illustrate how mentoring from LavaMaex helps budding service providers accelerate their launch and expand their services for unhoused people. The case study on Archangel Raphael’s Mission, for example, shows LavaMaex in action guiding a dedicated but inexperienced team in operating and maintaining a trailer, navigating local regulations and focusing its energy.

Effective case studies are built atop three key steps

Effective case studies aren’t just about how great an enterprise and its customers or clients are. The best provide a compelling narrative, show the relationship in action and demonstrate value. Following are three key steps to hitting that mark.

1: Think critically when selecting a subject

The right candidate will inspire you to answer YES to the following questions: Are we truly proud of our work with them? Can we talk about specific results? (Keep in mind that some customers are willing to say generally nice things but are leery of revealing details. If you’ve made the customer happy, but can’t point to any specific outcomes, your case study won’t be persuasive.) Is the client willing to talk to reporters? (This will be key if you plan to pitch the case study to the media or to use elements of it in future pitches.) Will prospects relate to this customer? Is this business representative of our market or a segment of it?

2: Inject personality

Canned, generic quotes make for bland, unmemorable stories. And the less genuine a case study sounds, the less credible it is. Great case studies incorporate actual quotes in a customer’s real voice, and possibly staff members’ real voices. They may even recount a stumble or two on the way to success. For example, check out this case study on the nonprofit accelerator Multiplier’s work with the National Science Policy Network (NSPN), an organization of early-career scientists working to catalyze their peers’ engagement in policy making.

3: Display your results

The more specific you can get about the benefits you delivered, the better. At the same time, it’s smart to think broadly about what constitutes a result—quantitative measures aren’t everything. What did your work enable the subject to do that they couldn’t have done otherwise? Are there benefits for the subject’s community? Did you help them do something innovative? Did you do something innovative?

Get all these elements right, and you’ll have a story with true value for multiple uses—even if you can’t open a bottle of wine or tighten a Phillips-head screw with it.

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