You already know case studies inspire hope, prove you’re credible, and give your reader that “If they can do it, so can I!” feeling that makes them take action.
But done right, they can do a whole lot more.
They can uncover objections and fears you didn’t realize your audience had. And ensure you write laser-focused copy that resonates deeply with your best prospects.
Whether you’re a business owner looking to increase conversions or a freelancer who wants a specialty to offer client, this is a valuable skill to master.
When I started as a copywriter years ago, I had no clue how to write these.
I didn’t know what questions to ask or how how to structure it. But after helping to create case studies that supported multi-million dollar launches, I found a 4-step system that works.
It starts with having the right mindset for the interview. Then knowing what questions to ask and how to dig into the “real story”. Finally, it helps to have a simple framework for telling an authentic, compelling story.
This article will cover the 4 steps for creating high-impact case studies. So you can uncover hidden thoughts and feelings you didn’t know your customers had. And quickly whip up stories that connect with your readers.
Step 1: The right mindset (find shocking insights that can transform your marketing)
Imagine you sell an online cooking course. Your audience is made up of two very different groups: busy moms who can already cook but want to get better, and millennials trying to make something edible without burning the house down.
If your course solves both problems, you’ll obviously want at least two types of case studies. One geared towards the busy moms, another for millennials.
But what if there was a third, hidden group you didn’t know about?
Even if you’ve been in business 10+ years, there’s always a chance the dialogue going on in your customer’s mind isn’t what you think it is. After all, people and markets change over time.
An easy way to keep your finger on the pulse of that change is through your case study interviews. It’s a perfect opportunity to dig deep into the minds of your best customers.
The trick is to approach your interviews with an open mind. You might think you’re about to get a story that will resonate with “busy moms”. But you may find a new angle you didn’t expect that can have a huge impact on your marketing.
Here’s an example.
I went into one case study interview assuming it would be a “rags to riches” story. One that people who were in a tight spot financially could identify with and use for inspiration.
Except once we started talking, it became clear this angle wouldn’t work. She had done well financially before doing our program. If I took that angle, it’d be disingenuous.
So I took a step back and remembered a tip from John Carlton: How copywriters are detectives always asking “Where’s the story?”
As I asked myself that question, I noticed the word “introvert” kept popping up in our talk. So we dug deeper into that. Turns out, this was a massive barrier that kept her from buying the product. She thought that, being an introvert, it wouldn’t work for her.
By digging even deeper, I learned people emailed her regularly, thanking her for proving introverts can be successful entrepreneurs!
Bam! There’s the story. This was a major pain point that clearly needed more attention. So instead of making this a “rags to riches” story, it became a story of an introvert who made it in an industry seemingly dominated by extroverts.
That term “introvert” even earned a spot in the headline.
While it’s good to have a sense of what pain point you’ll address with a specific case study, keep an open mind and let the story to reveal itself. It’s less work and will lead to a more compelling case study since it’s raw truth.
Step 2: Uncover the “real story” with laser-focused questions
So what questions do you ask to uncover those hidden fears and barriers? How do you find the real story?
Here are 7 questions I use to get the ball rolling. I cobbled these together by studying what Tim Ferriss, Entrepreneur on Fire, Kevin Rogers, Ramit Sethi and others asked to get great material out of their interviews.
I kept these general so you’ll want to tweak them a bit to fit your product.
- What made you decide to join the program?
- What was your goal when you joined the program? (If they’ve reached it follow up with: ‘What’d it feel like when you hit that point?”)
- What was the biggest challenges you faced and how’d you overcome it?
- What does having [RESULT THEY GOT WITH YOUR PRODUCT] do for you that wasn’t possible before?
- What was the most surprising thing you learned going through our program? Did you have any “Ah-ha” moments that changed the way you see yourself or the world?
- What advice would you have for your old self right before you joined the program?
- Can you tell me a little moment you had that led you to say to yourself something like “I love my live” or “I can’t believe this is happening” that would not have been possible without the program?
This isn’t a comprehensive list but will get things moving.
I’ve found it best to have these questions, along with a few others, ready to go. Certain questions will resonate strongly with some people but not others. So it’s good to have options to choose from.
Step 3: Follow-up questions (where the gold is buried)
The above questions can help you get your interview going. But the real gold comes from the follow-up questions.
Cal Fussman, who interviews top celebrities and world leaders for Esquire magazine’s “What I Learned” column, says great interviews are all about drilling deep with follow-up questions.
They will respond to my first question with a comment, and here’s where the real work lies. It’s in paying careful attention to their first response, so then I’m asking a second question based on their first response, and now that’s getting to a deeper answer. And then I’ll be listening to that second response, and I’ll ask a third question that gets even deeper, and that might be where the nugget of gold lies that appears on the page. – Cal Fussman
So what makes a good follow up question?
You can always rely on the flow of the conversation and your own curiosity. But here are two tricks you can fall back on.
First, after you get a reply ask for an example.
Earlier this year, when writing copy for a launch, I asked a customer for an “ah-ha” moment she had using the course. She replied:
“Doing these practices and seeing relationships flourish around me”.
Okay, that sounds nice but doesn’t mean anything. So I asked for an example. She went off, spouting great lines like this:
“I got more clarity as to what type of environment and workplace I want. I left the job I was at and found another place that was much more in line with my values.”
One of the key selling points for this course was that it’d help you get clarity and find your purpose. So having a quote like this to include in our case study helped us prove our point.
Another technique for a more compelling case study is called the “wine connoisseur”.
People like me will describe a wine as either “good” or “bad”. That’s not interesting or particularly useful. But a connoisseur can give you the subtle nuance. She’ll tell you it’s good then describe how it has ”a smooth mouthfeel with a dry oaky finish”
You can do the same thing to bring your case studies to life.
For instance, when you ask people how they felt when they got results, they’ll often say “amazing”.
That doesn’t mean much. It’s like saying wine is “great”.
Your job is to be like a wine connoisseur and dig deeper into what “amazing” means for them — the distinct flavor and emotions they experienced. Those specifics will lead to a more interesting story with a deeper emotional impact.
For example, one woman I interviewed told me she felt “amazing” after her first $10,000 month. So I asked what exactly she meant by amazing. Was it relief? Excitement? Gratitude?
She opened up and this beautiful line fell out:
“When I made that first $10,000 it was like, Oh my God I’ll never have to worry about money again!”.
Compare a line like that to the generic and overused “It felt amazing!” It’s clear which packs a stronger punch.
Drill deeper into your interviewee’s answers, and you’ll dig up the quotes and stories that turn a good case study into a high-impact one.
Step 4: A simple framework for fast, easy drafting
Alright, after chatting for 20-40 minutes and diving deep into their story, you have more gold than you know what to do with. More stories and insights than you can possibly cram into a single case study.
Case study interviews = marketing gold
Which is great good news. The extra material can be used in emails, blog posts, or even become a central part of your sales page.
But how do you know what to use? And how do you put it together?
An easy format I use (Ryan Levesque does something similar) is Kevin Roger’s 60-second sales hook.
I’ll space out these 4 sections on a piece of paper, then start adding info from the call in the section that makes sense.
For identity, you want something your audience can relate to. Back to the Selena example, she could have been introduced as a “business and publicity strategist”. But more people would identify with “introvert”, so we went with that.
For struggle, you want to look over your notes and identify the key pain point this person faced. It could by mental (doubt or fear) or external (“My wife thought I was nuts!”) It may also be different from what you initially expected or hoped. That’s okay because it represents what your buyers actually face.
The discovery is the part of your product that helped them through that particular struggle.
Finally, there’s the results section. One thing I like to include is both tangible and intangible results. Like the example above, you can say your product helped someone make $10,000 (tangible) and feel like she never has to worry about money again (intangible.)
By using this outline, you create a compelling narrative that takes the reader on a journey. One they can see themselves on, too.
High-impact case studies don’t merely state how your customer had success with your product. They give you fresh insight that can change the way you market. They share detailed, emotion-driven stories that connect deep with your readers. And use a compelling narrative that draws the reader in and keeps them engaged.
To write high-impact case studies like these yourself, follow these four steps:
- Go into your interview with an open mind. It’s okay to have an idea of what angle you need but don’t let that block the real story from emerging.
- Keep the 7 questions above available and use them to get the ball rolling.
- Dig deeper into the answers you get from those questions. Ask for an example or use the “wine connoisseur” technique. The more specific detail you get, the more compelling your case study will be.
- Once you have the material, create a 4-part outline using the 60-second sales hook. Fill it in with the information you’ve gathered and use the additional material for blog posts, etc.
Special bonus: Getting customers to spill their guts
No matter how good your questions or follow-ups are, if your customer is closed off, the entire session will be like pulling teeth. You’ll be stuck with very little to work with.
But there are things you can do to make even the most tight-lipped customers open up like you’re their best friend.
I’ve put them together in this brief report: 8 Tips for Creating Must-Read Case Studies: How to find the hidden stories that’ll resonate with your readers.
It’s a special gift for Copy Chief readers. So if you want to learn how to get your customers to open up, spill their guts, and thank you for the opportunity to do so, click here.