We are often asked, “How long should a case study be?” Our answer: it depends. The important thing is that you tell the right story for the situation. (Speaking of which, are you looking for guidance on how to write effective case studies? We wrote about that in our 5 elements of great case studies post.)
Four Case Study Formats
Below, we’ve outlined four case study formats and included possible use cases for each.
- Long Form: This is the most thorough case study. It tells the complete story with complementary graphics. It can also be adapted for many different uses, such as a proposal, your agency website, or a video.
- Short Form: This tells the story in a slightly truncated manner, often with few graphics. It includes enough information to instill confidence in your strategic process but focuses on the Challenge, Insight, Strategy, and Results. Sections dedicated to Research and Execution can be minimized or eliminated, as long as the others are still clearly tied together. This is appropriate for your agency website, as well as a proposal or presentation. (see 5 elements of great case studies for more on these sections)
- Caselet: A summary of the story highlights told in only a couple of lines or points. A caselet includes just enough information to intrigue prospects and demonstrate past results. The focus is on the challenges your agency met for the client and the results created from your strategy. This can effectively be used on your website. It is also a great format to use for presentations and proposals. Caselets don’t take up a lot of real estate in the pitch that isn’t specifically focused on the prospect’s needs.
- Droplet: A one-sentence description highlighting past work that is relevant to the prospect. The droplet includes the brand you supported, the business challenge, the strategy or tactic used, and the outcome. An example: “Our recommendation is similar to how we helped Firedisc shift to a new family-focused target audience and increase ecommerce sales by +573%.” These types of cases can be sprinkled into any conversation you have with a prospect. You can refer to them in a Q&A or a pitch. This wil add weight to your words while letting you tout your successes in brief.
The Insight Is Key
Regardless of the format or length, our advice for what makes an effective case study remains the same. The real strength of a case study lies in the story and how it is presented. The most important piece of that story for the two longer forms is the insight. For the two shorter forms, the strategy and results are the key.
For the longer formats, be sure to include the insight.
- What’s that one nugget of truth you discovered that led to all that great work and your outstanding results?
- And why was your agency, with its particular process and people, able to get at a truth that other agencies may not have seen?
If you can tie the whole story together (from challenge to results) with the insight as the lynchpin, you have a truly intriguing case study. This is a case study that readers will be eager to read (and, we all hope, follow up on).
For the shorter formats, you want to make an impact with the agency strategy (what did you shift?) and results. It’s not going to be storytelling at its finest. Much like the best ad copy, there is strength in brevity. Highlight only what’s most effective. If that changes (e.g. from higher social engagement to awareness lift) based on who you’re talking to, even better.
Barry O’Neil, a Senior Consultant at Mercer Island Group, has led numerous agency/vendor searches and client/agency relationship management 360 review processes. He has led efforts for clients such as CFA Institute, U.S. Cellular, Ulta Beauty, Clarisonic, CenturyLink, CustomInk and many others. He has also participated in corporate restructuring initiatives, client process realignment initiatives, and agency new business reviews and pitch/positioning consulting.