10 Basic Types of Case Studies

types of case studiesCase studies are a popular marketing tool these days because the word is out: They are one of the top three most influential types of content.

It’s easy to see why case studies are so influential when you realize that they are all about telling stories. And the best case studies tell a story in such a way that the reader, the target audience, can see themselves in the same position as the subject of the case study. If the idea is to tell how a person implemented a particular business strategy and succeeded, then the reader should be able to visualize herself implementing the same strategy and achieving success. If a case study can do that, then the case study has done its job.

Unfortunately, many case studies don’t. There are reasons for that, which I won’t go into here, but a good starting point with regard to case studies is knowing which type of case study is the best for achieving the goal you want to achieve. With that in mind, here are 10 basic types of case studies you should be familiar with.

10 Types of Case Studies Any Business Can Publish

10 types of case studiesIn a previous post, we talked about different ways to publish a case study. You can publish any of these 10 basic types of case studies in any of those six ways. You can also publish your case studies in a variety of formats. For instance, you can publish a case study as an interview or you can publish it as a narrative that focuses on the subject as a character within a story. Another way to publish a case study is to format it as a problem/solution scenario. Of course, you can always combine formats as these three case studies show (presenting a problem/solution and following it with a narrative).

Regardless of the format or the media through which you choose to publish, it helps to know the types of case studies at your disposal. So, without further ado, here are 10 basic types of case studies any business in any niche can publish.

  1. Success Story – Success stories are really easy. You find someone, or a company, that has been successful at something and interview them. This type of case study can be a personal success story, a story illustrating the success of an organization, or it can tell the story of a successful product. At the end of the story, the reader should come away with a clear idea of how the subject charted a path to success and achieved the goal.
  2. How-To/Instructional – Where success stories are more about the end result and the journey to the end result, instructional case studies are about the technical steps in getting from Point A to Point B. This type of case study should be used when you want your audience to understand the particular steps to take when accomplishing a certain task. You first have to define the task, then you interview the subject of the study and ask specific questions that help you uncover how to accomplish that task. Like the success story, your subject can be a person or it can be an organization, but I think it works better if the subject is an individual because organizations can’t act apart from their human agents acting on their behalf. It could work for an organization if your goal is to tell how a team of people–say, the board of directors or the C-suite staff–managed a project from beginning to end. In that case, you’ll need to be clear in the how-to framework as to who is performing which task and make sure the timeline is clear to the reader, as well.Instructional studies don’t work as well with products because products don’t perform tasks. If you want to show how your company produced a particular product, that might be a good subject for a case study as long as you don’t mind sharing the details. In that case, however, you’re not trying to show how your reader can do the same thing. Rather, you’re showing how your company did it, which might be interesting to your product’s biggest fans.
  3. Lessons Learned – The purpose of a Lessons Learned Case Study is to show what your subject learned while performing a task or undergoing a certain process. These three case studies illustrate how major corporations developed mobile apps and the lessons they learned in leading their industries into the mobile arena. A good Lessons Learned Case Study should show your audience a little bit of your success as well as some of your failure. The idea is to highlight the lessons you learned rather than the success you achieved, although there is nothing wrong with a case study that does both.
  4. impact case studyImpact Study – An impact study, as the name implies, tells how your organization implemented a project or initiative and what the impact of that was on a market, the competition, a demographic, or another target group. The impact could be positive or negative, but you want your audience to see how your actions affected someone or something else. Maybe you launched a product and it cannibalized sales of another product group; that would make a good impact study. Another example would be that you spun off a division of your company and that had a positive impact on the market by creating the appearance of competition. Impact studies can be powerful and present your company in a way that your customers and other important players in your industry have never seen you. But you do have to be careful that the case study itself doesn’t have a negative impact on your business, its brand, or the way your audience perceives you.
  5. Launch Study – The focus of a launch study is slightly different than the focus of an impact study. In a launch study, you are concerned with showing how you launched a new product line, division of your company, an imprint, or a service. You aren’t concerned so much with showing the impact of your new launch. Rather, the concern is the launch itself. Was it successful? If not, why not? Did you learn any lessons (could be a hybrid case study)? If so, what were they?
  6. Optimization Study – When you want to show your audience the best, most optimal way to do something, an optimization study is the right tool. Maybe you played around with the price of your product, or you underwent a new search marketing strategy and discovered some new keyword opportunities. Perhaps you explored a new marketing mix. Whatever the case, an optimization case study illustrates the optimal way to do something as opposed to the conventional way. It’s a great way to distinguish you from your competition simply by doing something different.
  7. Response StudyWe did this and the response was …. Maybe you rolled out a new product and your customers didn’t like it. Perhaps you implemented a new marketing strategy and your competition followed. Another way to use the response study is by showing how the market responded to a certain action you took. For instance, you changed the color of a key part of your product and it generated media buzz that led to a spike in sales. Whatever the case, a response study is focused on how your company implemented something new and you noticed a response that you want to highlight for your audience.When Coca-Cola changed its formula in 1985, there was a consumer backlash that criticized the company. That year, Coca-Cola learned some valuable lessons. You can read about that in this response study published on their website.

    One way to approach a response case study is to conduct a survey. Ask your audience what their response is to your action, then report on it. Of course, that’s just one way to approach the response case study.

  8. Growth Study – A growth study is a specific type of success story. You want to show how your grew your company from one stage in its life to another. Maybe you want to focus on sales, or perhaps you want to tell how you moved from 10% market share to 45% market share within a three year time span. The growth study is singularly focused on showing how you accomplished a growth goal.
  9. End Result Study – Unlike the growth study, the end result study is focused on the end result of a process. It could be positive or it could be negative. You want your audience to see how specific initiatives you implemented resulted in a certain outcome.
  10. Landscape Study – The landscape case study shows what is happening and where. Perhaps you want to highlight key competitors in your industry for your executives to analyze, or you may be more interested in surveying the market to see if there is room for a product your company is interested in launching. Landscape studies are generally more suited for insiders within your organization or niche, but you may find applications for marketing, as well.

How to Know Which Type of Case Study is Best for You

As you can see, there are different types of case studies and each one has its advantages and disadvantages. Before deciding which type of case study is right for your business at this time, first decide what you want to accomplish with your case study. Who is your target audience? What do you want your case study to say about your business? Choose the type of case study that will be most appropriate for your content goals, the needs of your audience, and the objective you want to achieve with your content.

When you’re ready, give me a call and I’ll consult with you on the type of case study that is most appropriate for your situation. Call 717-253-2306.

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Allen Taylor
Allen Taylor
Allen Taylor is a freelance writer, content strategist, and award-winning journalist. He is the author of "E-book Publishing: Create Your Own Brand of Digital Books," available in the Kindle, ePub, iBooks, and PDF formats.

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