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14 Market Research Examples

14 Market Research Examples

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter .

Example #1: National bank’s A/B testing

You can learn what customers want by conducting experiments on real-life customer decisions using A/B testing. When you ensure your tests do not have any validity threats, the information you garner can offer very reliable insights into customer behavior.

Here’s an example from Flint McGlaughlin, CEO of MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, and the creator of its  online marketing course .

A national bank was working with MECLABS to discover how to increase the number of sign-ups for new checking accounts.

Customers who were interested in checking accounts could click on an “Open in Minutes” link on the bank’s homepage.

Creative Sample #1: Anonymized bank homepage

Creative Sample #1: Anonymized bank homepage

After clicking on the homepage link, visitors were taken to a four-question checking account selector tool.

Creative Sample #2: Original checking account landing page — account recommendation selector tool

Creative Sample #2: Original checking account landing page — account recommendation selector tool

After filling out the selector tool, visitors were taken to a results page that included a suggested package (“Best Choice”) along with a secondary option (“Second Choice”). The results page had several calls to action (CTAs). Website visitors were able to select an account and begin pre-registration (“Open Now”) or find out more information about the account (“Learn More”), go back and change their answers (“Go back and change answers”), or manually browse other checking options (“Other Checking Options”).

Creative Sample #3: Original checking account landing page — account recommendation selector tool results page

Creative Sample #3: Original checking account landing page — account recommendation selector tool results page

After going through the experience, the MECLABS team hypothesized that the selector tool wasn’t really delivering on the expectation the customer had after clicking on the “Open in Minutes” CTA. They created two treatments (new versions) and tested them against the control experience.

In the first treatment, the checking selector tool was removed, and instead, customers were directly presented with three account options in tabs from which customers could select.

Creative Sample #4: Checking account landing page Treatment #1

Creative Sample #4: Checking account landing page Treatment #1

The second treatment’s landing page focused on a single product and had only one CTA. The call-to-action was similar to the CTA customers clicked on the homepage to get to this page — “Open Now.”

Creative Sample #5: Checking account landing page Treatment #2

Creative Sample #5: Checking account landing page Treatment #2

Both treatments increased account applications compared to the control landing page experience, with Treatment #2 generating 65% more applicants at a 98% level of confidence.

Creative Sample #6: Results of bank experiment that used A/B testing

Creative Sample #6: Results of bank experiment that used A/B testing

You’ll note the Level of Confidence in the results. With any research tactic or tool you use to learn about customers, you have to consider whether the information you’re getting really represents most customers, or if you’re just seeing outliers or random chance.

With a high Level of Confidence like this, it is more likely the results actually represent a true difference between the control and treatment landing pages and that the results aren’t just a random event.

The other factor to consider is — testing in and of itself will not produce results. You have to use testing as research to actually learn about the customer and then make changes to better serve the customer.

In the video How to Discover Exactly What the Customer Wants to See on the Next Click: 3 critical skills every marketer must master , McGlaughlin discussed this national bank experiment and explained how to use prioritization, identification and deduction to discover what your customers want.

This example was originally published in Marketing Research: 5 examples of discovering what customers want .

Example #2: Consumer Reports’ market intelligence research from third-party sources

The first example covers A/B testing. But keep in mind, ill-informed A/B testing isn’t market research, it’s just hoping for insights from random guesses.

In other words, A/B testing in a vacuum does not provide valuable information about customers. What you are testing is crucial, and then A/B testing is a means to help better understand whether insights you have about the customer are either validated or refuted by actual customer behavior. So it’s important to start with some research into potential customers and competitors to inform your A/B tests.

For example, when MECLABS and MarketingExperiments (sister publisher to MarketingSherpa) worked with Consumer Reports on a public, crowdsourced A/B test, we provided a market intelligence report to our audience to help inform their test suggestions.

Every successful marketing test should confirm or deny an assumption about the customer. You need enough knowledge about the customer to create marketing messages you think will be effective.

For this public experiment to help marketers improve their split testing abilities, we had a real customer to work with — donors to Consumer Reports.

To help our audience better understand the customer, the MECLABS Marketing Intelligence team created the 26-page ConsumerReports Market Intelligence Research document (which you can see for yourself at that link).

This example was originally published in Calling All Writers and Marketers: Write the most effective copy for this Consumer Reports email and win a MarketingSherpa Summit package and Consumer Reports Value Proposition Test: What you can learn from a 29% drop in clickthrough .

Example #3: Virtual event company’s conversation

What if you don’t have the budget for A/B testing? Or any of the other tactics in this article?

Well, if you’re like most people you likely have some relationships with other human beings. A significant other, friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, customers, a nemesis (“Newman!”). While conducting market research by talking to these people has several validity threats, it at least helps you get out of your own head and identify some of your blind spots.

WebBabyShower.com’s lead magnet is a PDF download of a baby shower thank you card ‘swipe file’ plus some extras. “Women want to print it out and have it where they are writing cards, not have a laptop open constantly,” said Kurt Perschke, owner, WebBabyShower.com.

That is not a throwaway quote from Perschke. That is a brilliant insight, so I want to make sure we don’t overlook it. By better understanding customer behavior, you can better serve customers and increase results.

However, you are not your customer. So you must bridge the gap between you and them.

Often you hear marketers or business leaders review an ad or discuss a marketing campaign and say, “Well, I would never read that entire ad” or “I would not be interested in that promotion.” To which I say … who cares? Who cares what you would do? If you are not in the ideal customer set, sorry to dent your ego, but you really don’t matter. Only the customer does.

Perschke is one step ahead of many marketers and business leaders because he readily understands this. “Owning a business whose customers are 95% women has been a great education for me,” he said.

So I had to ask him, how did he get this insight into his customers’ behavior? Frankly, it didn’t take complex market research. He was just aware of this disconnect he had with the customer, and he was alert for ways to bridge the gap. “To be honest, I first saw that with my wife. Then we asked a few customers, and they confirmed it’s what they did also. Writing notes by hand is viewed as a ‘non-digital’ activity and reading from a laptop kinda spoils the mood apparently,” he said.

Back to WebBabyShower. “We've seen a [more than] 100% increase in email signups using this method, which was both inexpensive and evergreen,” Perschke said.

This example was originally published in Digital Marketing: Six specific examples of incentives that worked .

Example #4: Spiceworks Ziff Davis’ research-informed content marketing

Marketing research isn’t just to inform products and advertising messages. Market research can also give your brand a leg up in another highly competitive space – content marketing.

Don’t just jump in and create content expecting it to be successful just because it’s “free.” Conducting research beforehand can help you understand what your potential audience already receives and where they might need help but are currently being served.

When Spiceworks Ziff Davis (SWZD) published its annual State of IT report, it invested months in conducting primary market research, analyzing year-over-year trends, and finally producing the actual report.

“Before getting into the nuts and bolts of writing an asset, look at market shifts and gaps that complement your business and marketing objectives. Then, you can begin to plan, research, write, review and finalize an asset,” said Priscilla Meisel, Content Marketing Director, SWZD.

This example was originally published in Marketing Writing: 3 simple tips that can help any marketer improve results (even if you’re not a copywriter) .

Example #5: Business travel company’s guerilla research

There are many established, expensive tactics you can use to better understand customers.

But if you don’t have the budget for those tactics, and don’t know any potential customers, you might want to brainstorm creative ways you can get valuable information from the right customer target set.

Here’s an example from a former client of Mitch McCasland, Founding Partner and Director, Brand Inquiry Partners. The company sold a product related to frequent business flyers and was interested in finding out information on people who travel for a living. They needed consumer feedback right away.

“I suggested that they go out to the airport with a bunch of 20-dollar bills and wait outside a gate for passengers to come off their flight,” McCasland said. When people came off the flight, they were politely asked if they would answer a few questions in exchange for the incentive (the $20). By targeting the first people off the flight they had a high likelihood of reaching the first-class passengers.

This example was originally published in Guerrilla Market Research Expert Mitch McCasland Tells How You Can Conduct Quick (and Cheap) Research .

Example #6: Intel’s market research database

When conducting market research, it is crucial to organize your data in a way that allows you to easily and quickly report on it. This is especially important for qualitative studies where you are trying to do more than just quantify the data, but need to manage it so it is easier to analyze.

Anne McClard, Senior Researcher, Doxus worked with Shauna Pettit-Brown of Intel on a research project to understand the needs of mobile application developers throughout the world.

Intel needed to be able to analyze the data from several different angles, including segment and geography, a daunting task complicated by the number of interviews, interviewers, and world languages.

“The interviews were about an hour long, and pretty substantial,” McClard says. So, she needed to build a database to organize the transcripts in a way that made sense.

Different types of data are useful for different departments within a company; once your database is organized you can sort it by various threads.

The Intel study had three different internal sponsors. "When it came to doing the analysis, we ended up creating multiple versions of the presentation targeted to individual audiences," Pettit-Brown says.

The organized database enabled her to go back into the data set to answer questions specific to the interests of the three different groups.

This example was originally published in 4 Steps to Building a Qualitative Market Research Database That Works Better .

Example #7: National security survey’s priming

When conducting market research surveys, the way you word your questions can affect customers’ response. Even the way you word previous questions can put customers in a certain mindset that will skew their answers.

For example, when people were asked if they thought the U.S. government should spend money on an anti-missile shield, the results appeared fairly conclusive. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed thought the country should and only six percent were unsure, according to Opinion Makers: An Insider Exposes the Truth Behind the Polls .

But when pollsters added the option, "...or are you unsure?" the level of uncertainty leaped from six percent to 33 percent. When they asked whether respondents would be upset if the government took the opposite course of action from their selection, 59 percent either didn’t have an opinion or didn’t mind if the government did something differently.

This is an example of how the way you word questions can change a survey’s results. You want survey answers to reflect customer’s actual sentiments that are as free of your company’s previously held biases as possible.

This example was originally published in Are Surveys Misleading? 7 Questions for Better Market Research .

Example #8: Visa USA’s approach to getting an accurate answer

As mentioned in the previous example, the way you ask customers questions can skew their responses with your own biases.

However, the way you ask questions to potential customers can also illuminate your understanding of them. Which is why companies field surveys to begin with.

“One thing you learn over time is how to structure questions so you have a greater likelihood of getting an accurate answer. For example, when we want to find out if people are paying off their bills, we'll ask them to think about the card they use most often. We then ask what the balance was on their last bill after they paid it,” said Michael Marx, VP Research Services, Visa USA.

This example was originally published in Tips from Visa USA's Market Research Expert Michael Marx .

Example #9: Hallmark’s private members-only community

Online communities are a way to interact with and learn from customers. Hallmark created a private members-only community called Idea Exchange (an idea you could replicate with a Facebook or LinkedIn Group).

The community helped the greeting cards company learn the customer’s language.

“Communities…let consumers describe issues in their own terms,” explained Tom Brailsford, Manager of Advancing Capabilities, Hallmark Cards. “Lots of times companies use jargon internally.”

At Hallmark they used to talk internally about “channels” of distribution. But consumers talk about stores, not channels. It is much clearer to ask consumers about the stores they shop in than what channels they shop.

For example, Brailsford clarified, “We say we want to nurture, inspire, and lift one’s spirits. We use those terms, and the communities have defined those terms for us. So we have learned how those things play out in their lives. It gives us a much richer vocabulary to talk about these things.”

This example was originally published in Third Year Results from Hallmark's Online Market Research Experiment .

Example #10: L'Oréal’s social media listening

If you don’t want the long-term responsibility that comes with creating an online community, you can use social media listening to understand how customers talking about your products and industry in their own language.

In 2019, L'Oréal felt the need to upgrade one of its top makeup products – L'Oréal Paris Alliance Perfect foundation. Both the formula and the product communication were outdated – multiple ingredients had emerged on the market along with competitive products made from those ingredients.

These new ingredients and products were overwhelming consumers. After implementing new formulas, the competitor brands would advertise their ingredients as the best on the market, providing almost magical results.

So the team at L'Oréal decided to research their consumers’ expectations instead of simply crafting a new formula on their own. The idea was to understand not only which active ingredients are credible among the audience, but also which particular words they use while speaking about foundations in general.

The marketing team decided to combine two research methods: social media listening and traditional questionnaires.

“For the most part, we conduct social media listening research when we need to find out what our customers say about our brand/product/topic and which words they use to do it. We do conduct traditional research as well and ask questions directly. These surveys are different because we provide a variety of readymade answers that respondents choose from. Thus, we limit them in terms of statements and their wording,” says Marina Tarandiuk, marketing research specialist, L'Oréal Ukraine.

“The key value of social media listening (SML) for us is the opportunity to collect people’s opinions that are as ‘natural’ as possible. When someone leaves a review online, they are in a comfortable environment, they use their ‘own’ language to express themselves, there is no interviewer standing next to them and potentially causing shame for their answer. The analytics of ‘natural’ and honest opinions of our customers enables us to implement the results in our communication and use the same language as them,” Tarandiuk said.

The team worked with a social media listening tool vendor to identify the most popular, in-demand ingredients discussed online and detect the most commonly used words and phrases to create a “consumer glossary.”

Questionnaires had to confirm all the hypotheses and insights found while monitoring social media. This part was performed in-house with the dedicated team. They created custom questionnaires aiming to narrow down all the data to a maximum of three variants that could become the base for the whole product line.

“One of our recent studies had a goal to find out which words our clients used to describe positive and negative qualities of [the] foundation. Due to a change in [the] product’s formula, we also decided to change its communication. Based on the opinions of our customers, we can consolidate the existing positive ideas that our clients have about the product,” Tarandiuk said.

To find the related mentions, the team monitored not only the products made by L'Oréal but also the overall category. “The search query contained both brand names and general words like foundation, texture, smell, skin, pores, etc. The problem was that this approach ended up collecting thousands of mentions, not all of which were relevant to the topic,” said Elena Teselko, content marketing manager, YouScan (L'Oréal’s social media listening tool).

So the team used artificial intelligence-based tagging that divided mentions according to the category, features, or product type.

This approach helped the team discover that customers valued such foundation features as not clogging pores, a light texture, and not spreading. Meanwhile, the most discussed and appreciated cosmetics component was hyaluronic acid.

These exact phrases, found with the help of social media monitoring, were later used for marketing communication.

Creative Sample #7: Marketing communicating for personal care company with messaging based on discoveries from market research

Creative Sample #7: Marketing communicating for personal care company with messaging based on discoveries from market research

“Doing research and detecting audience’s interests BEFORE starting a campaign is an approach that dramatically lowers any risks and increases chances that the campaign would be appreciated by customers,” Teselko said.

This example was originally published in B2C Branding: 3 quick case studies of enhancing the brand with a better customer experience .

Example #11: Levi’s ethnographic research

In a focus group or survey, you are asking customers to explain something they may not even truly understand. Could be why they bought a product. Or what they think of your competitor.

Ethnographic research is a type of anthropology in which you go into customers’ homes or places of business and observe their actual behavior, behavior they may not understand well enough to explain to you.

While cost prohibitive to many brands, and simply unfeasible for others, it can elicit new insights into your customers.

Michael Perman, Senior Director Cultural Insights, Levi Strauss & Co. uses both quantitative and qualitative research on a broad spectrum, but when it comes to gathering consumer insight, he focuses on in-depth ethnographic research provided by partners who specialize in getting deep into the “nooks and crannies of consumer life in America and around the world.” For example, his team spends time in consumers’ homes and in their closets. They shop with consumers, looking for the reality of a consumer’s life and identifying themes that will enable designers and merchandisers to better understand and anticipate consumer needs.

Perman then puts together multi-sensory presentations that illustrate the findings of research. For example, “we might recreate a teenager’s bedroom and show what a teenage girl might have on her dresser.”

This example was originally published in How to Get Your Company to Pay Attention to Market Research Results: Tips from Levi Strauss .

Example #12: eBags’ ethnographic research

Ethnographic research isn’t confined to a physical goods brand like Levi’s. Digital brands can engage in this form of anthropology as well.

While usability testing in a lab is useful, it does miss some of the real-world environmental factors that play a part in the success of a website. Usability testing alone didn’t create a clear enough picture for Gregory Casey, User Experience Designer and Architect, eBags.

“After we had designed our mobile and tablet experience, I wanted to run some contextual user research, which basically meant seeing how people used it in the wild, seeing how people are using it in their homes. So that’s exactly what I did,” Gregory said.

He found consumers willing to open their home to him and be tested in their normal environment. This meant factors like the television, phone calls and other family members played a part in how they experienced the eBags mobile site.

“During these interview sessions, a lot of times we were interrupted by, say, a child coming over and the mother having to do something for the kid … The experience isn’t sovereign. It’s not something where they just sit down, work through a particular user flow and complete their interaction,” Gregory said.

By watching users work through the site as they would in their everyday life, Gregory got to see what parts of the site they actually use.

This example was originally published in Mobile Marketing: 4 takeaways on how to improve your mobile shopping experience beyond just responsive design .

Example #13: John Deere’s shift from product-centric market research to consumer-centric research

One of the major benefits of market research is to overcome company blind spots. However, if you start with your blind spots – i.e., a product focus – you will blunt the effectiveness of your market research.

In the past, “they’d say, Here’s the product, find out how people feel about it,” explained David van Nostrand, Manager, John Deere's Global Market Research. “A lot of companies do that.” Instead, they should be saying, “Let's start with the customers: what do they want, what do they need?”

The solution? A new in-house program called “Category Experts” brings the product-group employees over as full team members working on specific research projects with van Nostrand’s team.

These staffers handle items that don’t require a research background: scheduling, meetings, logistics, communication and vendor management. The actual task they handle is less important than the fact that they serve as human cross-pollinators, bringing consumer-centric sensibility back to their product- focused groups.

For example, if van Nostrand’s team is doing research about a vehicle, they bring in staffers from the Vehicles product groups. “The information about vehicle consumers needs to be out there in the vehicle marketing groups, not locked in here in the heads of the researchers.”

This example was originally published in How John Deere Increased Mass Consumer Market Share by Revamping its Market Research Tactics .

Example #14: LeapFrog’s market research involvement throughout product development (not just at the beginning and the end)

Market research is sometimes thought of as a practice that can either inform the development of a product, or research consumer attitudes about developed products. But what about the middle?

Once the creative people begin working on product designs, the LeapFrog research department stays involved.

They have a lab onsite where they bring moms and kids from the San Francisco Bay area to test preliminary versions of the products. “We do a lot of hands-on, informal qualitative work with kids,” said Craig Spitzer, VP Marketing Research, LeapFrog. “Can they do what they need to do to work the product? Do they go from step A to B to C, or do they go from A to C to B?”

When designing the LeapPad Learning System, for example, the prototype went through the lab “a dozen times or so,” he says.

A key challenge for the research department is keeping and building the list of thousands of families who have agreed to be on call for testing. “We've done everything from recruiting on the Internet to putting out fliers in local schools, working through employees whose kids are in schools, and milking every connection we have,” Spitzer says.

Kids who test products at the lab are compensated with a free, existing product rather than a promise of the getting the product they're testing when it is released in the future.

This example was originally published in How LeapFrog Uses Marketing Research to Launch New Products .

Related resources

The Marketer’s Blind Spot: 3 ways to overcome the marketer’s greatest obstacle to effective messaging

Get Your Free Test Discovery Tool to Help Log all the Results and Discoveries from Your Company’s Marketing Tests

Marketing Research: 5 examples of discovering what customers want

Online Marketing Tests: How do you know you’re really learning anything?

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How to Do Market Research: The Complete Guide

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What are your customers’ needs? How does your product compare to the competition? What are the emerging trends and opportunities in your industry? If these questions keep you up at night, it’s time to conduct market research.

Market research plays a pivotal role in your ability to stay competitive and relevant, helping you anticipate shifts in consumer behavior and industry dynamics. It involves gathering these insights using a wide range of techniques, from surveys and interviews to data analysis and observational studies.

In this guide, we’ll explore why market research is crucial, the various types of market research, the methods used in data collection, and how to effectively conduct market research to drive informed decision-making and success.

What is market research?

Market research is the systematic process of gathering, analyzing and interpreting information about a specific market or industry. The purpose of market research is to offer valuable insight into the preferences and behaviors of your target audience, and anticipate shifts in market trends and the competitive landscape. This information helps you make data-driven decisions, develop effective strategies for your business, and maximize your chances of long-term growth.

Business intelligence insight graphic with hand showing a lightbulb with $ sign in it

Why is market research important? 

By understanding the significance of market research, you can make sure you’re asking the right questions and using the process to your advantage. Some of the benefits of market research include:

  • Informed decision-making: Market research provides you with the data and insights you need to make smart decisions for your business. It helps you identify opportunities, assess risks and tailor your strategies to meet the demands of the market. Without market research, decisions are often based on assumptions or guesswork, leading to costly mistakes.
  • Customer-centric approach: A cornerstone of market research involves developing a deep understanding of customer needs and preferences. This gives you valuable insights into your target audience, helping you develop products, services and marketing campaigns that resonate with your customers.
  • Competitive advantage: By conducting market research, you’ll gain a competitive edge. You’ll be able to identify gaps in the market, analyze competitor strengths and weaknesses, and position your business strategically. This enables you to create unique value propositions, differentiate yourself from competitors, and seize opportunities that others may overlook.
  • Risk mitigation: Market research helps you anticipate market shifts and potential challenges. By identifying threats early, you can proactively adjust their strategies to mitigate risks and respond effectively to changing circumstances. This proactive approach is particularly valuable in volatile industries.
  • Resource optimization: Conducting market research allows organizations to allocate their time, money and resources more efficiently. It ensures that investments are made in areas with the highest potential return on investment, reducing wasted resources and improving overall business performance.
  • Adaptation to market trends: Markets evolve rapidly, driven by technological advancements, cultural shifts and changing consumer attitudes. Market research ensures that you stay ahead of these trends and adapt your offerings accordingly so you can avoid becoming obsolete. 

As you can see, market research empowers businesses to make data-driven decisions, cater to customer needs, outperform competitors, mitigate risks, optimize resources and stay agile in a dynamic marketplace. These benefits make it a huge industry; the global market research services market is expected to grow from $76.37 billion in 2021 to $108.57 billion in 2026 . Now, let’s dig into the different types of market research that can help you achieve these benefits.

Types of market research 

  • Qualitative research
  • Quantitative research
  • Exploratory research
  • Descriptive research
  • Causal research
  • Cross-sectional research
  • Longitudinal research

Despite its advantages, 23% of organizations don’t have a clear market research strategy. Part of developing a strategy involves choosing the right type of market research for your business goals. The most commonly used approaches include:

1. Qualitative research

Qualitative research focuses on understanding the underlying motivations, attitudes and perceptions of individuals or groups. It is typically conducted through techniques like in-depth interviews, focus groups and content analysis — methods we’ll discuss further in the sections below. Qualitative research provides rich, nuanced insights that can inform product development, marketing strategies and brand positioning.

2. Quantitative research

Quantitative research, in contrast to qualitative research, involves the collection and analysis of numerical data, often through surveys, experiments and structured questionnaires. This approach allows for statistical analysis and the measurement of trends, making it suitable for large-scale market studies and hypothesis testing. While it’s worthwhile using a mix of qualitative and quantitative research, most businesses prioritize the latter because it is scientific, measurable and easily replicated across different experiments.

3. Exploratory research

Whether you’re conducting qualitative or quantitative research or a mix of both, exploratory research is often the first step. Its primary goal is to help you understand a market or problem so you can gain insights and identify potential issues or opportunities. This type of market research is less structured and is typically conducted through open-ended interviews, focus groups or secondary data analysis. Exploratory research is valuable when entering new markets or exploring new product ideas.

4. Descriptive research

As its name implies, descriptive research seeks to describe a market, population or phenomenon in detail. It involves collecting and summarizing data to answer questions about audience demographics and behaviors, market size, and current trends. Surveys, observational studies and content analysis are common methods used in descriptive research. 

5. Causal research

Causal research aims to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables. It investigates whether changes in one variable result in changes in another. Experimental designs, A/B testing and regression analysis are common causal research methods. This sheds light on how specific marketing strategies or product changes impact consumer behavior.

6. Cross-sectional research

Cross-sectional market research involves collecting data from a sample of the population at a single point in time. It is used to analyze differences, relationships or trends among various groups within a population. Cross-sectional studies are helpful for market segmentation, identifying target audiences and assessing market trends at a specific moment.

7. Longitudinal research

Longitudinal research, in contrast to cross-sectional research, collects data from the same subjects over an extended period. This allows for the analysis of trends, changes and developments over time. Longitudinal studies are useful for tracking long-term developments in consumer preferences, brand loyalty and market dynamics.

Each type of market research has its strengths and weaknesses, and the method you choose depends on your specific research goals and the depth of understanding you’re aiming to achieve. In the following sections, we’ll delve into primary and secondary research approaches and specific research methods.

Primary vs. secondary market research

Market research of all types can be broadly categorized into two main approaches: primary research and secondary research. By understanding the differences between these approaches, you can better determine the most appropriate research method for your specific goals.

Primary market research 

Primary research involves the collection of original data straight from the source. Typically, this involves communicating directly with your target audience — through surveys, interviews, focus groups and more — to gather information. Here are some key attributes of primary market research:

  • Customized data: Primary research provides data that is tailored to your research needs. You design a custom research study and gather information specific to your goals.
  • Up-to-date insights: Because primary research involves communicating with customers, the data you collect reflects the most current market conditions and consumer behaviors.
  • Time-consuming and resource-intensive: Despite its advantages, primary research can be labor-intensive and costly, especially when dealing with large sample sizes or complex study designs. Whether you hire a market research consultant, agency or use an in-house team, primary research studies consume a large amount of resources and time.

Secondary market research 

Secondary research, on the other hand, involves analyzing data that has already been compiled by third-party sources, such as online research tools, databases, news sites, industry reports and academic studies.

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Here are the main characteristics of secondary market research:

  • Cost-effective: Secondary research is generally more cost-effective than primary research since it doesn’t require building a research plan from scratch. You and your team can look at databases, websites and publications on an ongoing basis, without needing to design a custom experiment or hire a consultant. 
  • Leverages multiple sources: Data tools and software extract data from multiple places across the web, and then consolidate that information within a single platform. This means you’ll get a greater amount of data and a wider scope from secondary research.
  • Quick to access: You can access a wide range of information rapidly — often in seconds — if you’re using online research tools and databases. Because of this, you can act on insights sooner, rather than taking the time to develop an experiment. 

So, when should you use primary vs. secondary research? In practice, many market research projects incorporate both primary and secondary research to take advantage of the strengths of each approach.

One rule of thumb is to focus on secondary research to obtain background information, market trends or industry benchmarks. It is especially valuable for conducting preliminary research, competitor analysis, or when time and budget constraints are tight. Then, if you still have knowledge gaps or need to answer specific questions unique to your business model, use primary research to create a custom experiment. 

Market research methods

  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Focus groups
  • Observational research
  • Online research tools
  • Experiments
  • Content analysis
  • Ethnographic research

How do primary and secondary research approaches translate into specific research methods? Let’s take a look at the different ways you can gather data: 

1. Surveys and questionnaires

Surveys and questionnaires are popular methods for collecting structured data from a large number of respondents. They involve a set of predetermined questions that participants answer. Surveys can be conducted through various channels, including online tools, telephone interviews and in-person or online questionnaires. They are useful for gathering quantitative data and assessing customer demographics, opinions, preferences and needs. On average, customer surveys have a 33% response rate , so keep that in mind as you consider your sample size.

2. Interviews

Interviews are in-depth conversations with individuals or groups to gather qualitative insights. They can be structured (with predefined questions) or unstructured (with open-ended discussions). Interviews are valuable for exploring complex topics, uncovering motivations and obtaining detailed feedback. 

3. Focus groups

The most common primary research methods are in-depth webcam interviews and focus groups. Focus groups are a small gathering of participants who discuss a specific topic or product under the guidance of a moderator. These discussions are valuable for primary market research because they reveal insights into consumer attitudes, perceptions and emotions. Focus groups are especially useful for idea generation, concept testing and understanding group dynamics within your target audience.

4. Observational research

Observational research involves observing and recording participant behavior in a natural setting. This method is particularly valuable when studying consumer behavior in physical spaces, such as retail stores or public places. In some types of observational research, participants are aware you’re watching them; in other cases, you discreetly watch consumers without their knowledge, as they use your product. Either way, observational research provides firsthand insights into how people interact with products or environments.

5. Online research tools

You and your team can do your own secondary market research using online tools. These tools include data prospecting platforms and databases, as well as online surveys, social media listening, web analytics and sentiment analysis platforms. They help you gather data from online sources, monitor industry trends, track competitors, understand consumer preferences and keep tabs on online behavior. We’ll talk more about choosing the right market research tools in the sections that follow.

6. Experiments

Market research experiments are controlled tests of variables to determine causal relationships. While experiments are often associated with scientific research, they are also used in market research to assess the impact of specific marketing strategies, product features, or pricing and packaging changes.

7. Content analysis

Content analysis involves the systematic examination of textual, visual or audio content to identify patterns, themes and trends. It’s commonly applied to customer reviews, social media posts and other forms of online content to analyze consumer opinions and sentiments.

8. Ethnographic research

Ethnographic research immerses researchers into the daily lives of consumers to understand their behavior and culture. This method is particularly valuable when studying niche markets or exploring the cultural context of consumer choices.

How to do market research

  • Set clear objectives
  • Identify your target audience
  • Choose your research methods
  • Use the right market research tools
  • Collect data
  • Analyze data 
  • Interpret your findings
  • Identify opportunities and challenges
  • Make informed business decisions
  • Monitor and adapt

Now that you have gained insights into the various market research methods at your disposal, let’s delve into the practical aspects of how to conduct market research effectively. Here’s a quick step-by-step overview, from defining objectives to monitoring market shifts.

1. Set clear objectives

When you set clear and specific goals, you’re essentially creating a compass to guide your research questions and methodology. Start by precisely defining what you want to achieve. Are you launching a new product and want to understand its viability in the market? Are you evaluating customer satisfaction with a product redesign? 

Start by creating SMART goals — objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Not only will this clarify your research focus from the outset, but it will also help you track progress and benchmark your success throughout the process. 

You should also consult with key stakeholders and team members to ensure alignment on your research objectives before diving into data collecting. This will help you gain diverse perspectives and insights that will shape your research approach.

2. Identify your target audience

Next, you’ll need to pinpoint your target audience to determine who should be included in your research. Begin by creating detailed buyer personas or stakeholder profiles. Consider demographic factors like age, gender, income and location, but also delve into psychographics, such as interests, values and pain points.

The more specific your target audience, the more accurate and actionable your research will be. Additionally, segment your audience if your research objectives involve studying different groups, such as current customers and potential leads.

If you already have existing customers, you can also hold conversations with them to better understand your target market. From there, you can refine your buyer personas and tailor your research methods accordingly.

3. Choose your research methods

Selecting the right research methods is crucial for gathering high-quality data. Start by considering the nature of your research objectives. If you’re exploring consumer preferences, surveys and interviews can provide valuable insights. For in-depth understanding, focus groups or observational research might be suitable. Consider using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to gain a well-rounded perspective. 

You’ll also need to consider your budget. Think about what you can realistically achieve using the time and resources available to you. If you have a fairly generous budget, you may want to try a mix of primary and secondary research approaches. If you’re doing market research for a startup , on the other hand, chances are your budget is somewhat limited. If that’s the case, try addressing your goals with secondary research tools before investing time and effort in a primary research study. 

4. Use the right market research tools

Whether you’re conducting primary or secondary research, you’ll need to choose the right tools. These can help you do anything from sending surveys to customers to monitoring trends and analyzing data. Here are some examples of popular market research tools:

  • Market research software: Crunchbase is a platform that provides best-in-class company data, making it valuable for market research on growing companies and industries. You can use Crunchbase to access trusted, first-party funding data, revenue data, news and firmographics, enabling you to monitor industry trends and understand customer needs.

Market Research Graphic Crunchbase

  • Survey and questionnaire tools: SurveyMonkey is a widely used online survey platform that allows you to create, distribute and analyze surveys. Google Forms is a free tool that lets you create surveys and collect responses through Google Drive.
  • Data analysis software: Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are useful for conducting statistical analyses. SPSS is a powerful statistical analysis software used for data processing, analysis and reporting.
  • Social listening tools: Brandwatch is a social listening and analytics platform that helps you monitor social media conversations, track sentiment and analyze trends. Mention is a media monitoring tool that allows you to track mentions of your brand, competitors and keywords across various online sources.
  • Data visualization platforms: Tableau is a data visualization tool that helps you create interactive and shareable dashboards and reports. Power BI by Microsoft is a business analytics tool for creating interactive visualizations and reports.

5. Collect data

There’s an infinite amount of data you could be collecting using these tools, so you’ll need to be intentional about going after the data that aligns with your research goals. Implement your chosen research methods, whether it’s distributing surveys, conducting interviews or pulling from secondary research platforms. Pay close attention to data quality and accuracy, and stick to a standardized process to streamline data capture and reduce errors. 

6. Analyze data

Once data is collected, you’ll need to analyze it systematically. Use statistical software or analysis tools to identify patterns, trends and correlations. For qualitative data, employ thematic analysis to extract common themes and insights. Visualize your findings with charts, graphs and tables to make complex data more understandable.

If you’re not proficient in data analysis, consider outsourcing or collaborating with a data analyst who can assist in processing and interpreting your data accurately.

Enrich your database graphic

7. Interpret your findings

Interpreting your market research findings involves understanding what the data means in the context of your objectives. Are there significant trends that uncover the answers to your initial research questions? Consider the implications of your findings on your business strategy. It’s essential to move beyond raw data and extract actionable insights that inform decision-making.

Hold a cross-functional meeting or workshop with relevant team members to collectively interpret the findings. Different perspectives can lead to more comprehensive insights and innovative solutions.

8. Identify opportunities and challenges

Use your research findings to identify potential growth opportunities and challenges within your market. What segments of your audience are underserved or overlooked? Are there emerging trends you can capitalize on? Conversely, what obstacles or competitors could hinder your progress?

Lay out this information in a clear and organized way by conducting a SWOT analysis, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Jot down notes for each of these areas to provide a structured overview of gaps and hurdles in the market.

9. Make informed business decisions

Market research is only valuable if it leads to informed decisions for your company. Based on your insights, devise actionable strategies and initiatives that align with your research objectives. Whether it’s refining your product, targeting new customer segments or adjusting pricing, ensure your decisions are rooted in the data.

At this point, it’s also crucial to keep your team aligned and accountable. Create an action plan that outlines specific steps, responsibilities and timelines for implementing the recommendations derived from your research. 

10. Monitor and adapt

Market research isn’t a one-time activity; it’s an ongoing process. Continuously monitor market conditions, customer behaviors and industry trends. Set up mechanisms to collect real-time data and feedback. As you gather new information, be prepared to adapt your strategies and tactics accordingly. Regularly revisiting your research ensures your business remains agile and reflects changing market dynamics and consumer preferences.

Online market research sources

As you go through the steps above, you’ll want to turn to trusted, reputable sources to gather your data. Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Crunchbase: As mentioned above, Crunchbase is an online platform with an extensive dataset, allowing you to access in-depth insights on market trends, consumer behavior and competitive analysis. You can also customize your search options to tailor your research to specific industries, geographic regions or customer personas.

Product Image Advanced Search CRMConnected

  • Academic databases: Academic databases, such as ProQuest and JSTOR , are treasure troves of scholarly research papers, studies and academic journals. They offer in-depth analyses of various subjects, including market trends, consumer preferences and industry-specific insights. Researchers can access a wealth of peer-reviewed publications to gain a deeper understanding of their research topics.
  • Government and NGO databases: Government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and other institutions frequently maintain databases containing valuable economic, demographic and industry-related data. These sources offer credible statistics and reports on a wide range of topics, making them essential for market researchers. Examples include the U.S. Census Bureau , the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Pew Research Center .
  • Industry reports: Industry reports and market studies are comprehensive documents prepared by research firms, industry associations and consulting companies. They provide in-depth insights into specific markets, including market size, trends, competitive analysis and consumer behavior. You can find this information by looking at relevant industry association databases; examples include the American Marketing Association and the National Retail Federation .
  • Social media and online communities: Social media platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter (X) , forums such as Reddit and Quora , and review platforms such as G2 can provide real-time insights into consumer sentiment, opinions and trends. 

Market research examples

At this point, you have market research tools and data sources — but how do you act on the data you gather? Let’s go over some real-world examples that illustrate the practical application of market research across various industries. These examples showcase how market research can lead to smart decision-making and successful business decisions.

Example 1: Apple’s iPhone launch

Apple ’s iconic iPhone launch in 2007 serves as a prime example of market research driving product innovation in tech. Before the iPhone’s release, Apple conducted extensive market research to understand consumer preferences, pain points and unmet needs in the mobile phone industry. This research led to the development of a touchscreen smartphone with a user-friendly interface, addressing consumer demands for a more intuitive and versatile device. The result was a revolutionary product that disrupted the market and redefined the smartphone industry.

Example 2: McDonald’s global expansion

McDonald’s successful global expansion strategy demonstrates the importance of market research when expanding into new territories. Before entering a new market, McDonald’s conducts thorough research to understand local tastes, preferences and cultural nuances. This research informs menu customization, marketing strategies and store design. For instance, in India, McDonald’s offers a menu tailored to local preferences, including vegetarian options. This market-specific approach has enabled McDonald’s to adapt and thrive in diverse global markets.

Example 3: Organic and sustainable farming

The shift toward organic and sustainable farming practices in the food industry is driven by market research that indicates increased consumer demand for healthier and environmentally friendly food options. As a result, food producers and retailers invest in sustainable sourcing and organic product lines — such as with these sustainable seafood startups — to align with this shift in consumer values. 

The bottom line? Market research has multiple use cases and is a critical practice for any industry. Whether it’s launching groundbreaking products, entering new markets or responding to changing consumer preferences, you can use market research to shape successful strategies and outcomes.

Market research templates

You finally have a strong understanding of how to do market research and apply it in the real world. Before we wrap up, here are some market research templates that you can use as a starting point for your projects:

  • Smartsheet competitive analysis templates : These spreadsheets can serve as a framework for gathering information about the competitive landscape and obtaining valuable lessons to apply to your business strategy.
  • SurveyMonkey product survey template : Customize the questions on this survey based on what you want to learn from your target customers.
  • HubSpot templates : HubSpot offers a wide range of free templates you can use for market research, business planning and more.
  • SCORE templates : SCORE is a nonprofit organization that provides templates for business plans, market analysis and financial projections.
  • SBA.gov : The U.S. Small Business Administration offers templates for every aspect of your business, including market research, and is particularly valuable for new startups. 

Strengthen your business with market research

When conducted effectively, market research is like a guiding star. Equipped with the right tools and techniques, you can uncover valuable insights, stay competitive, foster innovation and navigate the complexities of your industry.

Throughout this guide, we’ve discussed the definition of market research, different research methods, and how to conduct it effectively. We’ve also explored various types of market research and shared practical insights and templates for getting started. 

Now, it’s time to start the research process. Trust in data, listen to the market and make informed decisions that guide your company toward lasting success.

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Marketing case study 101 (plus tips, examples, and templates)

Inserting image...

Summary/Overview

If you’re familiar with content lines like, “See how our fancy new app saved Sarah 10 hours a week doing payroll,” you’ve encountered a marketing case study. That’s because case studies are one of the most powerful marketing tools, showcasing real-world applications and customer success stories that help build trust with potential customers.

More than 42% of marketers use case studies in their marketing strategy. Let’s face it — we love testimonials and reviews. People love hearing customer stories and experiences firsthand. In fact, 88% of consumers view reviews before making a purchase decision. Case studies work similarly by providing prospective customers with real-life stories demonstrating the brand’s success.

Case studies provide a more in-depth view of how your product solves an existing problem — something potential buyers can relate to and learn from.

In this article, we take a closer look at what marketing case studies are, why they’re important, and how you can use them to improve your content marketing efforts. You’ll also learn the key elements of a successful case study and how to turn a good case study into a great case study.

What is a marketing case study?

A case study is a narrative that documents a real-world situation or example. A marketing case study is a detailed examination and analysis of a specific strategy, initiative, or marketing campaign that a business has implemented. It’s intended to serve as an all-inclusive narrative that documents a real-world business situation and its outcome.

Marketing case studies are tools businesses use to showcase the effectiveness of a particular tool, technique, or service by using a real-world example. Companies often use case studies as sales collateral on websites, email marketing, social media , and other marketing materials. They provide readers with a firsthand look into how your product or service has helped someone else and demonstrate the value of your offering while building trust with potential customers.

Some common key components of a marketing case study include:

  • Context: A case study begins by describing the business’s situation or problem. This often includes challenges, opportunities, or objectives.
  • Strategy: An outline of the tactics or strategy utilized to address the business’s situation. This includes details such as the target audience, messaging, channels used, and other unique aspects of the approach.
  • Implementation: Provide information about how the strategy was implemented, including timeline, resources, and budget.
  • Results: This is arguably the most crucial part of a marketing case study. Present the results through data, metrics, and key performance indicators (KPIs) to demonstrate the impact of the strategy. The results section should highlight both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Challenges and Solutions: A great case study not only focuses on the successes but addresses any obstacles faced during the campaign. Make sure to address any challenges and how they were overcome or mitigated.
  • Customer Feedback: Including testimonials or quotes from satisfied clients is a great way to add credibility and authenticity to a case study. Choose customer feedback that reinforces the positive outcomes of the strategy taken.
  • Visuals: Compelling case studies include visuals such as graphs, charts, images, videos, and infographics to make the information presented more engaging and easier to understand.
  • Analysis: An optional way to conclude a case study includes discussing key takeaways, insights, and lessons learned from a campaign.

Case studies can help you connect your product to the customer’s needs by providing a real world examples of success and encouraging conversions.

Benefits of marketing case studies

Some of the key benefits of using case studies in your marketing efforts include the following:

  • Building trust and credibility. You build trust and credibility with potential clients or customers by demonstrating real world success stories. In-depth looks at how your products or services have helped other businesses or people achieve success can increase customer loyalty and encourage repeat business.
  • Learn best practices. Learn from strategies employed in successful case studies and apply similar approaches to future campaigns.
  • Enhancing sales and conversions. By highlighting the real world results your products or services have delivered, case studies can be a powerful tool for boosting sales. They can help demonstrate the value of your offering and persuade your target audience to make a purchase.
  • Explain how your business generates results. Case studies are a compelling way to share key takeaways with your target audience and showcase your brand.
  • Use them as content marketing material. Use case studies as content for marketing purposes on websites, social media, and beyond.

Case studies can help your business stand out and achieve success. By highlighting the real world results you’ve delivered, you can use case studies to boost sales, build customer loyalty, and compellingly showcase your business.

Tips on how to write an effective marketing case study

Are you ready to write a compelling case study? Get started with these tips.

Develop a clear and compelling headline

You have about 10 seconds to communicate your value proposition to keep customer attention. Whether you’re designing a new landing page or making a long-term plan for your brand’s content marketing strategy , the headline is the most crucial part.

A compelling title should capture readers’ attention and make them want to read more. To craft a compelling headline:

  • Understand your audience: Before crafting a headline, ensure you know your target audience — what are their pain points, interests, and needs?
  • Highlight the most significant result: Focus on the most impactful result achieved in the case study. What was the primary outcome of the strategy implemented?
  • Keep it brief: Keep your headline concise and to the point. Try to keep your headline under 12 words.
  • Use action words: Incorporate action verbs such as “achieved,” “transformed,” or “boosted” to convey a sense of accomplishment.
  • Include data: Numbers make your headline more credible. For example, if the case study achieved a 75% increase in sales, include that in the headline.
  • Emphasize benefits: Focus on the positive changes or advantages the implemented strategy brought to the client or business. Use these as selling points in your headline.
  • Make it unique and memorable: Avoid generic phrases to make your headline stand out from the competition.
  • Use keywords wisely: Incorporate relevant keywords that align with the case study and your target audience’s search interest to improve search engine visibility through search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Consider subheadings: If you cannot fit all the necessary information in a headline, consider adding a subheading to provide additional context or details.

Here are some examples of clear and convincing case study headlines:

  • “Achieving a 150% ROI: How [XYZ] Strategy Transformed a Startup”
  • “How Optimized SEO Tactics Skyrocketed Sales by 80%”
  • “Mastering Social Media: How [ABC] Brand Increased Engagement by 50%”
  • “The Power of Personalization: How Tailored Content Quadrupled Conversions”

Write relatable content

Almost 90% of Gen Z and millennial shoppers prefer influencers who they consider relatable. Relatability is part of building trust and connection with your target audience.

When writing your case study, make content that resonates with readers and speaks to their pain points. The best marketing doesn’t just increase conversion rates — it also serves your customers’ needs. To write content that really resonates with your target audience, make sure to:

  • Understand your audience: To successfully write relatable content, you first need to understand your target audience — their interests, pain points, and challenges. The more you know about your target audience, the better you can tailor your content to their needs.
  • Identify pain points: As mentioned above, identify challenges your target audience may face. Make sure to highlight how the product or service in the case study can effectively address these pain points.
  • Tell a story: Create a narrative that follows a standard story arc. Start with a relatable struggle that the customer or business faced and describe its associated emotions.
  • Use real customer feedback: Incorporate quotes or testimonials from actual customers or clients. Including authentic voices makes the content more relatable to readers because they can see real people expressing their experiences.
  • Use relatable language: Write in a tone to which your audience can relate. Only include overly technical terms if your target audience solely consists of experts who would understand them.
  • Use social proof: Mention any recognitions, awards, or industry acknowledgments that may have been received by the customer or business in the case study.
  • Encourage engagement: Urge readers to share their own challenges or experiences related to the subject matter of the case study. This is a great way to foster a sense of community.

Outline your strategies with corresponding statistics

Whether you’re showing off the results your marketing team achieved with a new strategy or explaining how your product has helped customers, data and research make it easier to back up claims.

Include relevant statistics in your case study to provide evidence of the effectiveness of your strategies, such as:

  • Quantitative data: Use numerical data to quantify results.
  • Qualitative data: Use qualitative data, such as customer testimonials, to back up numerical results.
  • Comparisons: Compare the post-campaign results with the pre-campaign benchmarks to provide context for the data.
  • Case study metrics: Include specific metrics relevant to your industry or campaign if applicable. For example, in e-commerce, common metrics could include customer acquisition cost, average order value, or cart abandonment rate.

By incorporating relatable outcomes — such as cost savings from new automation or customer responsiveness from your new social media marketing campaign — you can provide concrete evidence of how your product or service has helped others in similar situations.

Use multiple formats of representation

People love visuals . It doesn’t matter if it’s an infographic for digital marketing or a graph chart in print materials — we love to see our data and results represented in visuals that are easy to understand. Additionally, including multiple representation formats is a great way to increase accessibility and enhance clarity.

When making a case study, consider including various forms of representation, such as:

  • Infographics: Use infographics to condense critical information into a visually appealing, easy-to-understand graphic. Infographics are highly sharable and can be used across marketing channels.
  • Charts: Use charts (bar charts, pie charts, line graphs, etc.) to illustrate statistical information such as data trends or comparisons. Make sure to include clear labels and titles for each chart.
  • Images: Include relevant photos to enhance the storytelling aspect of your case study. Consider including “before and after” pictures if relevant to your case study.
  • Videos: Short videos summarizing a case study’s main points are great for sharing across social media or embedding into your case study.
  • Tables: Use tables to help organize data and make it easier for readers to digest.
  • Data visualizations: Include data visualizations such as flowcharts or heatmaps to illustrate user journeys or specific processes.
  • Screenshots: If your case study involves digital products, include screenshots to provide a visual walkthrough of how the product or service works.
  • Diagrams: Use diagrams, such as a flowchart, to explain complex processes, decision trees, or workflows to simplify complicated information.
  • Timelines: If your case study involves a timeline of specific events, present it using a timeline graphic.

Use a consistent design style and color scheme to maintain cohesion when incorporating multiple formats. Remember that each format you use should serve a specific purpose in engaging the reader and conveying information.

Get your case study in front of your intended audience

What good is a compelling case study and a killer call to action (CTA) if no one sees it? Once you’ve completed your case study, share it across the appropriate channels and networks your target audience frequents and incorporate it into your content strategy to increase visibility and reach. To get your case study noticed:

  • Take advantage of your website. Create a dedicated section or landing page on your website for your case study. If your website has a blog section, consider including it here. Optimize the page for search engines (SEO) by including relevant keywords and optimizing the meta description and headers. Make sure to feature your case study on your homepage and relevant product or service pages.
  • Launch email marketing campaigns. Send out the case study to your email subscriber list. Be specific and target groups that would most likely be interested in the case study.
  • Launch social media campaigns. Share your case study on your social media platforms. Use eye-catching graphics and engaging captions to draw in potential readers. Consider creating teaser videos or graphics to generate interest.
  • Utilize paid promotions. Use targeted social media and search engine ads to reach specific demographics or interests. Consider retargeting ads to re-engage visitors who have previously interacted with your website.
  • Issue a press release. If your case study results in a significant industry impact, consider issuing a press release to share the exciting news with relevant media outlets or publications.
  • Utilize influencer outreach. Collaborate with influencers who can share your case study with their followers to increase credibility and expand your reach.
  • Host webinars and presentations. Discuss the case study findings and insights through webinars or presentations. Promote these events through your various marketing channels and make sure to encourage participation.
  • Utilize networking events and conferences. Present your case study at industry-related conferences, trade shows, or networking events. Consider distributing printed or digital copies of the case study to attendees.
  • Utilize online communities. Share the case study in relevant online forums and discussion groups where your target audience congregates.
  • Practice search engine optimization (SEO). Optimize the SEO elements of your case study to improve organic search ranking and visibility.

Remember, the key to successfully promoting your case study is to tailor your approach to your specific target audience and their preferences. Consistently promoting your case study across multiple channels increases your chances of it reaching your intended audience.

Marketing case study examples

Let’s look at some successful marketing case studies for inspiration.

“How Handled Scaled from Zero to 121 Locations with HubSpot”

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Right away, they lead with compelling metrics — the numbers don’t lie. They use two different formats: a well-made video accompanied by well-written text.

The study also addresses customer pain points, like meeting a higher demand during the pandemic.

“How AppSumo grew organic traffic 843% and revenue from organic traffic 340%”

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This case study from Omniscient Digital leads with motivating stats, a glowing review sharing a real user experience, and a video review from the AppSumo Head of Content.

The case study information is broken down into clearly marked sections, explaining the benefits to their target audience (startups) and providing plenty of visuals, charts, and metrics to back it up.

“How One Ecommerce Business Solved the Omnichannel Challenge with Bitly Campaigns”

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Download this Bitly case study from their site to see the details of how this company made an impact.

Not only is it well designed, but it also tackles customer challenges right away. The most compelling types of case studies serve their audience by showing how the product or service solves their problems.

Bitly nails it by listing obstacles and jumping right into how the brand can help.

Marketing case study template

Use this basic template to better understand the typical structure of a business case study and use it as a starting place to create your own:

Case Study Title

Date: [Date]

Client or Company Profile:

  • Client/Company Name: [Client/Company Name]
  • Industry: [Industry]
  • Location: [Location]
  • Client/Company Background: [Brief client or company background information.]

Introduction:

  • Briefly introduce the client or company and any necessary context for the campaign or initiative.
  • Problem statement: Describe the specific challenge or problem faced by the client or company before implementing the campaign or initiative.
  • Strategy: Explain the strategy that was implemented to address the challenge. Include details such as target audience, objectives, goals, and tactics.
  • Implementation: Provide a timeline of the strategy’s implementation, including key milestones and other notable considerations taken during execution.
  • Outcomes: Present the qualitative and quantitative results achieved through the implemented strategy. Include relevant metrics, statistics, and key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Comparative data: Compare the post-campaign results to pre-campaign benchmarks or industry standards.

Analysis and Insights:

  • Key insights: Summarize insights and lessons learned from the campaign and discuss the campaign's impact on the client or company’s goals.
  • Challenges faced: Address any obstacles encountered during the campaign and how they were mitigated or overcome.

Conclusion:

  • Conclusion: Summarize the campaign’s overall impact on the client or company. Highlight the value that was delivered by the implemented strategy and the success it achieved.
  • Next Steps: Discuss potential follow-up actions, recommendations, or future strategies.

Testimonials:

  • Include quotes or testimonials from the clients or customers who benefitted from the campaign.
  • Incorporate relevant visuals to illustrate key points, findings, and results.

The above template is a great way to get started gathering your ideas and findings for a marketing case study. Feel free to add additional sections or customize the template to match your requirements.

Craft a compelling marketing case study for your business

Are you ready to make your marketing case study shine? With Adobe Express, you can make high-quality infographics and presentations that take your case studies to the next level.

Choose from our library of designed templates, or make it yourself with powerful tools and a library of ready-to-use graphic elements.

Get started with Adobe Express today to make compelling marketing case studies that engage your audience and drive conversions.

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What Customers Want from the Collaborative Economy

  • Alexandra Samuel
  • October 08, 2015

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The Elements of Value

  • Eric Almquist
  • John Senior
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Ready to create case studies? If you’re a B2B business (or a B2C business with long sales cycles), you should be. Case studies fuel a host of marketing and sales activities, from PR and content marketing to outbound sales enablement.

But, volume matters. The more case studies you have that represent a wide variety of industries, use cases, and benefits, the more you can pick the right story for the right context.

Thankfully, you can scale case study creation with classic market research approaches. Because case studies are, at their core, tailored one-to-one interviews , you can templatize the approach and create a case study arsenal in as little as 2-3 months.

Why Create Case Studies

Creating case studies takes time. We won’t dispute that! But, the benefits of creating case studies is so great that it’s well worth it. Check out some of the benefits most organizations derive from building up their arsenal:

PR Opportunities

After a business launches a new product or service, there isn’t much “newness” to announce. This means you have to make news. Finding great customer wins gives PR teams something worthwhile to pitch. These stories talk to the business’ products or services in an intersting, not too business-centric way, offering great PR fodder.

Marketing Nurture Activities

In longer sales cycle businesses, you need to keep you product top of mind. Using case studies throughout your nurturing and bottom-of-funnel outreach activities gives you targeted content to do just that.

Top-Of-Funnel Marketing Activities

Most companies need to fuel their social media, blog, and email marketing activities to attract new attention. Slicing and dicing case studies into smaller content pieces lets a marketing team produce top-of-funnel content for months on end.

Outbound Sales Materials

For those businesses doing outbound sales, case studies serve as valuable entry tools. Citing a customer name and the the business benefits they enjoyed builds credibility and gives an outbound sales team the chance to pitch a prospect on a meeting or demo.

In sum, when you create case studies, you create a content marketing and sales activation engine.

Start With The Case Study Output Template

Using market research to create case study libraries means developing a scaleable approach. That’s why we always say start from the end and then work backwards. When it comes to case studies, that means start with your final template or output layout. Once you know what you want your output to look like, you’ll know what information you’ll need to fill it in.

Create Case Studies With Market Research Tactics

As you can imagine, there are a lot of ways to build out your case study template. Nevertheless, the example on the left is a standard approach we like. This is because it includes a few key components:

  • Skimmable Text : Most prospective customers are in a hurry. This means they may not want to read a full story. Having a column or area that makes it easy to glean the case study content solves this problem. With a bulleted text and results area, readers absorb the story quickly. From there, they can read the fuller story or move on.
  • Long-Form Story : For prospects that want the entire story, include the main body area. This is paragraph-based text that offers a synopsis of the customer’s background, how they approached their problem using the solution, and the tangible benefits received.
  • Individual Quote : Social proof matters. There are few things more impactful than a person willing to give their name and likeness to another company for marketing purposes. That’s why, if possible, include a customer quote.

Design Your Case Study Questions

Obviously, the questions you ask will depend on the nature of what your product or service does. You’ll need some amount of question tailoring. That said, if we look at our template above, you’ll see you need to ask questions around three key areas:

Business Background

These are questions that isolate the business challenges a customer had, and what led them to look for your solution in the first place.  Typical questions include:

  • • Tell me a little about your organization (e.g. employee number/background, what people are tasked with, core KPIs, etc.)
  • • What challenges did you have that ultimately led you to seek out a solution?
  • • Why were these issues so problematic?
  • • What was your go-to approach to addresses this before you starting using our product?

This is where you marry the customer’s problem with your solution. These questions let you illustrate how people use your solution to address a variety of needs. Some sample questions include:

  • • What was it about our product that led you to pick it?
  • • How did you first go about using it?
  • • Were there certain features in particular you / your team found critical? If so, which ones and why?
  • • What was especially beneficial / useful about the experience?

Especially important are tangible, quantifiable benefits that let you tout really clear product wins. Some questions we often use include:

  • • Tell us about [time savings, cost savings, faster resolution times, faster throughput times, etc.] you got from using the product. How did that come about?
  • • Thinking about broader business goals, how did this fit in? How did the product help you meet those objectives?
  • • Were there any unexpected benefits you received from using the product?

Structure Your Outreach & Production Workflow

Once you finalize your questions, you’re ready to gather up your case study interviews. This means developing a process for reaching out to customers, gathering their stories, and formalizing the stories into complete case studies.

The typical workflow includes the following approach:

1. Develop An Outreach List : First, build a list of all the customers you hope will give you a story. This usually means working with sales or customer service reps to build out an initial list. As they enter in names, also ask them to include a “Why.” That is, what do they know about this customer that makes them a great case study opportunity.

2. Perform Outreach : With your list finalized, it’s time to reach out and request a case study interview. We suggest developing email templates and phone scripts for your sales and customer service teams. This lets them spend their time on outreach, not on figuring out how to ask for the interviews in the first place.

Include an explanation of what the process is, why you’re doing it, and what they may get in return. This is also where you mention any incentive you wish to offer.

3. Schedule The Interviews : Once a customer says “yes,” get them scheduled! You can do this manually or with a tool. For example, we like using Calendly , a scheduling tool that lets you streamline scheduling and get meetings faster.

4. Complete The Interviews : This is the part where you get to use your interview questions with each and every customer. It’s also where you can go a bit off script. As you listen to answers, don’t be afraid to probe for more details. Each story is a little different, and therefore may require some tailored questions.

5. Draft The Story & Get Approval : With the full story recorded, clean it up and draft it into your standardized case study template. Because you are likely using customer names, you’ll need to share the document and get their approval. Or, get their feedback and make necessary edits.

6. Finalize Design & Publishing Approach : With approval in-hand, you can finally share the story. At the simplest level, this likely means putting it into a PDF for easy shareability and pushing it live on your website. However, it should also include sharing it with your content and sales teams and letting them consider how they can leverage it for their particular needs.

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16 Important Ways to Use Case Studies in Your Marketing

Siobhán McGinty

Updated: September 08, 2020

Published: July 30, 2020

When you're thinking about investing in a product or service, what's the first thing you do?

hand and notepad presenting case studies in marketing

Usually, it’s one or both of the following: You'll likely ask your friends whether they've tried the product or service, and if they have, whether they would recommend it. You'll also probably do some online research to see what others are saying about said product or service. Nowadays, 90% of consumers used the internet to find a local business in the last year , and 82% of consumers read online reviews. This shows that the majority of people are looking to peers to make a purchasing decision. Most customers know that a little online research could spare them from a bad experience and poor investment of your budget.

Download Now: 3 Free Case Study Templates

What Is a Marketing Case Study?

A case study is the analysis of a particular instance (or "case") of something to demonstrate quantifiable results as a result of the application of something. In marketing, case studies are used as social proof — to provide buyers with the context to determine whether they're making a good choice.

A marketing case study aims to persuade that a process, product, or service can solve a problem. Why? Because it has done so in the past. By including the quantitative and qualitative outcomes of the study, it appeals to logic while painting a picture of what success looks like for the buyer. Both of which can be powerful motivators and objection removers.

Why Use Case Studies?

In essence, case studies are an invaluable asset when it comes to establishing proof that what you're offering is valuable and of good quality.

According to HubSpot's State of Marketing Report 2020 , 13% of marketers name case studies as one of the primary forms of media used within their content strategy. This makes them the fifth most popular type of content, outshined only by visual content, blogs, and ebooks.

a graph that shows results from the question "what are the primary forms of media used within your content strategy?" with videos being the highest at 19%, followed by blogs, ebooks, infographics, and case studies. White papers, checklists, interviews, and "other" trail behind.

Okay, so you know case studies work. The question is, how  do they work? And how can you squeeze the most value out of them? 

When to Use a Case Study

Here are the ways you can market your case studies to get the most out of them.

As a Marketing or Sales Asset

1. use a case study template to create pdfs for email or downloads . .

Do not underestimate the value of providing social proof at just the right time in order to add value and earn their business. Case studies are extremely effective in the consideration stage of the buyer's journey when they are actively comparing solutions and providers to solve a problem they're experiencing. 

For this reason, case studies in an independent PDF format can be helpful in both marketing and sales. Marketers can use these PDFs as downloads in web content or email campaigns. Sales reps can utilize these assets in demonstrations, in a follow-up, or to overcome objections. 

example of a case study template in Microsoft Word with graphs and sections for "how product helped" and "results"

The easiest way to create PDF case studies is by using a case study template . Doing so can decrease the amount of time you spend creating and designing your case study without sacrificing aesthetics. In addition, you can ensure that all your case studies follow a similar branded format. 

We've created a great case study template (and kit!) that's already locked and loaded for you to use. All you have to do is input your own text and change the fonts and colors to fit your brand. You can download it here .

On Your Website

2. have a dedicated case studies page..

You should have a webpage exclusively for housing your case studies. Whether you call this page "Case Studies, "Success Studies," or "Examples of Our Work," be sure it's easy for visitors to find.

Structure on that page is key: Initial challenges are clear for each case, as well as the goals, process, and results.

Get Inspired:  Google’s Think With Google  is an example of a really well structured case study page. The copy is engaging, as are the goals, approach, and results.

think with google case study outlining sections for goals, approach, and results

3. Put case studies on your home page.

Give website visitors every chance you can to stumble upon evidence of happy customers. Your home page is the perfect place to do this.

There are a number of ways you can include case studies on your homepage. Here are a few examples:

  • Customer quotes/testimonials
  • A call-to-action (CTA) to view specific case studies
  • A slide-in CTA  that links to a case study
  • A CTA leading to your case studies page

Get Inspired: Theresumator.com  incorporates testimonials onto their homepage to strengthen their value proposition.

customer testimonials on theresumator homepage

Bonus Tip: Get personal.

Marketing gurus across the world agree that personalised marketing is the future . You can make your case studies more powerful if you find ways to make them “match” the website visitors that are important to you.

People react to familiarity -- for instance, presenting someone from London with a case study from New York may not resonate as well as if you displayed a case study from the U.K. Or you could choose to tailor case studies by industry or company size to the visitor. At HubSpot, we call this "smart content."

Get Inspired: To help explain smart content, have a look at the example below. Here, we wanted to test whether including testimonials on landing pages influenced conversion rates in the U.K. The landing page on the left is the default landing page shown to visitors from non-U.K. IP addresses. For the landing page on the right, we used smart content to show testimonials to visitors coming from U.K. IP addresses.

comparison of a and b versions of a split test that tested case studies as a landing page element

4. Implement slide-in CTAs.

Pop-ups have a reputation for being annoying, but there are ways to implement that that won't irk your website visitors. These CTAs don't have to be huge, glaring pop-ups -- instead, relevant but discreet slide-in CTAs can work really well.

For example, why not test out a slide-in CTA on one of your product pages, with a link to a case study that profiles a customer who's seen great results using that product?

Get Inspired:  If you need some help on creating sliders for your website, check out this tutorial on creating slide-in CTAs .

5. Write blog posts about your case studies.

Once you publish a case study, the next logical step would be to write a blog post about it to expose your audience to it. The trick is to write about the case study in a way that identifies with your audience’s needs. So rather than titling your post “Company X: A Case Study," you might write about a specific hurdle, issue, or challenge the company overcame, and then use that company's case study to illustrate how the issues were addressed. It's important not  to center the blog post around your company, product, or service -- instead, the customer’s challenges and how they were overcome should take centre stage.

For example, if we had a case study that showed how one customer generated twice as many leads as a result of our marketing automation tool, our blog post might be something along the lines of: "How to Double Lead Flow With Marketing Automation [Case Study]." The blog post would then comprise of a mix of stats, practical tips, as well as some illustrative examples from our case study.

Get Inspired:   Check out this great example of a blog post from Moz , titled "How to Build Links to Your Blog – A Case Study."

6. Create videos from case studies.

Internet services are improving all the time, and as a result, people are consuming more and more video content. Prospects could be more likely to watch a video than they are to read a lengthy case study. If you have the budget, creating videos of your case studies is a really powerful way to communicate your value proposition.

Get Inspired: Check out one of our many video testimonials for some ideas on how to approach your own videos.

7. Use case studies on relevant landing pages.

Once you complete a case study, you'll have a bank of quotes and results you can pull from. Including quotes on product pages is especially interesting. If website visitors are reading your product pages, they are in a "consideration" mindset, meaning they are actively researching your products, perhaps with an intent to buy. Having customer quotes placed strategically on these pages is a great way to push them over the line and further down the funnel.

These quotes should be measured, results-based snippets, such as, “XX resulted in a 70% increase in blog subscribers in less an 6 months” rather than, “We are proud to be customers of XX, they really look after us."

Get Inspired: I really like the way HR Software company Workday incorporates video and testimonials  into its solutions pages.

workday's use of testimonial in the top left corner of a product page

Off Your Website

8. post about case studies on social media..

Case studies make for perfect social sharing material. Here are a few examples of how you can leverage them on social:

  • Share a link to a case study and tag the customer in the post. The trick here is to post your case studies in a way that attracts the right people to click through, rather than just a generic message like, “New Case Study ->> LINK." Make sure your status communicates clearly the challenge that was overcome or the goal that was achieved. It's also wise to include the main stats associated with the case study; for example, "2x lead flow," "125% increase in X," and so on.
  • Update your cover image on Twitter/Facebook showing a happy customer. Our social media cover photo templates should help you with this!
  • Add your case study to your list of publications on LinkedIn.
  • Share your case studies in relevant LinkedIn Groups.
  • Target your new case studies to relevant people on Facebook using dark posts. ( Learn about dark posts here. )

Get Inspired: MaRS Discovery District  posts case studies on Twitter to push people towards a desired action.

Mars Discover District tweets showing their promotion of case studies

9. Use case studies in your email marketing.

Case studies are particularly suited to email marketing when you have an industry-segmentable list. For example, if you have a case study from a client in the insurance industry, emailing your case study to your base of insurance-related contacts can be a really relevant addition to a lead nurturing campaign.

Case studies can also be very effective when used in product-specific lead nurture workflows in reactivating opportunities that have gone cold. They can be useful for re-engaging leads that have gone quiet and who were looking at specific areas of your product that the case study relates to.

Get Inspired: It's important that your lead nurture workflow content includes the appropriate content for where prospects are in the sales cycle. If you need help on how to do this, check out our post on how to map lead nurturing content to each stage in sales cycle .

Pro tip: When sending emails, don't forget about the impact a good email signature can make. Create your own using our free Email Signature Generator .

10. Incorporate case studies into your newsletters.

This idea is as good for your client relations as it is for gaining the attention of your prospects. Customers and clients love feeling as though they're part of a community. It’s human nature. Prospects warm to companies that look after their customers; companies whose customers are happy and proud to be part of something. Also, whether we are willing to admit it or not, people love to show off!

Get Inspired: Newsletters become stale over time. Give your newsletters a new lease of life with our guide on how to create newsletters that don't suck .

11. Equip your sales team with case studies.

Tailored content has become increasingly important to sales reps as they look to provide value on the sales call. It's estimated that consumers go through 70-90% of the buyer's journey before contacting a vendor. This means that the consumer is more knowledgeable than ever before. Sales reps no longer need to spend an entire call talking about the features and benefits. Sales has become more complex, and reps now need to be armed with content that addresses each stage of the buyer’s process. Case studies can be really useful when it comes to showing prospects how successful other people within a similar industry has benefited from your product or service.

Get Inspired: Case studies are just one type of content that helps your sales team sell. They don't always work by themselves, though. Check out our list of content types that help sales close more deals .

12. Sneak a case study into your email signature.

Include a link to a recent case study in your email signature. This is particularly useful for salespeople. Here's what my email signature looks like:

signature of hubspot employee that features a case study link at the bottom of the email signature

Get Inspired: Did you know that there are lots more ways you can use your email signature to support your marketing? Here are 10 clever suggestions  for how you can do this.

13. Use case studies in training.

Having customer case studies is an invaluable asset to have when onboarding new employees. It aids developing their buy-in, belief in, and understanding of your offering.

Get Inspired: Have you completed our Inbound Certification course  yet? During our classes, we use case studies to show how inbound marketing is applied in real life.

In Lead-Gen Content

14. include case studies in your lead gen efforts..

There are a number of offers you can create based off of your case studies, in the form of ebooks, templates, and more. For example you could put together an ebook titled “A step-by-step guide to reaching 10,000 blog subscribers in 3 months…just like XX did.” You could create a more in-depth version of the case study with access to detailed statistics as an offer. (And don’t forget, you can also u se quotes and statistics from case studies on the landing page promoting the ebook, which adds credibility and could increase your conversion rates.) Or, you could create a template based on your customer's approach to success.

Get Inspired:   If you think you need to be an awesome designer put together beautiful ebooks, think again. Create ebooks easily using these customisable ebook templates .

You can also use case studies to frame webinars that document how to be successful with X. Using case studies in webinars is great middle-of-the-funnel content and can really help move your leads further down the funnel towards becoming sales qualified leads.

Get Inspired: Webinars are really effective as part of a lead nurturing workflow. Make sure your next webinar is spot on by following these simple webinar tips.

15. Create a bank of evergreen presentations.

It’s important to build up a bank of evergreen content that employees across your organisation can use during presentations or demos. Case studies are perfect for this.

Put together a few slides on the highlights of the case study to stir people’s interest, and then make them available to your sales and customer-facing teams. It's helpful if the marketer who created the presentation is the one who presents it to anyone who might use them in the future. This ensures they can explain the presentation clearly and answer any questions that might arise.

Get Inspired: What to create presentations people want to use? Here's a list of tools to make your presentations great.

16. Create SlideShares based on case studies.

Following on from a few short slides, you could also put together a more detailed presentation of the case study and upload it to SlideShare. After all, not only is SlideShare SEO-friendly (because Google indexes each presentation), but there is a huge pre-existing audience on SlideShare of over 60 million users you can tap into. SlideShare presentations are also easy to embed and share, and allow you to capture leads directly from the slides via a lead capture form.

Get Inspired:   Want to generate more leads with SlideShare, but not sure how to get started? Check out this blog post .

hubspot slideshare on "how to grow with inbound marketing" that is an in-depth case study

Now that you understand the value of a marketing case study and the different ways that they can be used in your content marketing (and even sales) strategy, your next step is to think about what would convince your target audience to do business with you. 

Have you recently accomplished something big for a client? Do you have a process or product with demonstrable results? What do your potential clients hope that you'll do for them? 

The answers to those questions will help you craft compelling content for your case study. Then, all that's left is putting it into your audience's hands in formats they want to consume.

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Editor's note: This post was originally published in January 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Don't forget to share this post!

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Showcase your company's success using these free case study templates.

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How to write a case study — examples, templates, and tools

How to write a case study — examples, templates, and tools marquee

It’s a marketer’s job to communicate the effectiveness of a product or service to potential and current customers to convince them to buy and keep business moving. One of the best methods for doing this is to share success stories that are relatable to prospects and customers based on their pain points, experiences, and overall needs.

That’s where case studies come in. Case studies are an essential part of a content marketing plan. These in-depth stories of customer experiences are some of the most effective at demonstrating the value of a product or service. Yet many marketers don’t use them, whether because of their regimented formats or the process of customer involvement and approval.

A case study is a powerful tool for showcasing your hard work and the success your customer achieved. But writing a great case study can be difficult if you’ve never done it before or if it’s been a while. This guide will show you how to write an effective case study and provide real-world examples and templates that will keep readers engaged and support your business.

In this article, you’ll learn:

What is a case study?

How to write a case study, case study templates, case study examples, case study tools.

A case study is the detailed story of a customer’s experience with a product or service that demonstrates their success and often includes measurable outcomes. Case studies are used in a range of fields and for various reasons, from business to academic research. They’re especially impactful in marketing as brands work to convince and convert consumers with relatable, real-world stories of actual customer experiences.

The best case studies tell the story of a customer’s success, including the steps they took, the results they achieved, and the support they received from a brand along the way. To write a great case study, you need to:

  • Celebrate the customer and make them — not a product or service — the star of the story.
  • Craft the story with specific audiences or target segments in mind so that the story of one customer will be viewed as relatable and actionable for another customer.
  • Write copy that is easy to read and engaging so that readers will gain the insights and messages intended.
  • Follow a standardized format that includes all of the essentials a potential customer would find interesting and useful.
  • Support all of the claims for success made in the story with data in the forms of hard numbers and customer statements.

Case studies are a type of review but more in depth, aiming to show — rather than just tell — the positive experiences that customers have with a brand. Notably, 89% of consumers read reviews before deciding to buy, and 79% view case study content as part of their purchasing process. When it comes to B2B sales, 52% of buyers rank case studies as an important part of their evaluation process.

Telling a brand story through the experience of a tried-and-true customer matters. The story is relatable to potential new customers as they imagine themselves in the shoes of the company or individual featured in the case study. Showcasing previous customers can help new ones see themselves engaging with your brand in the ways that are most meaningful to them.

Besides sharing the perspective of another customer, case studies stand out from other content marketing forms because they are based on evidence. Whether pulling from client testimonials or data-driven results, case studies tend to have more impact on new business because the story contains information that is both objective (data) and subjective (customer experience) — and the brand doesn’t sound too self-promotional.

89% of consumers read reviews before buying, 79% view case studies, and 52% of B2B buyers prioritize case studies in the evaluation process.

Case studies are unique in that there’s a fairly standardized format for telling a customer’s story. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for creativity. It’s all about making sure that teams are clear on the goals for the case study — along with strategies for supporting content and channels — and understanding how the story fits within the framework of the company’s overall marketing goals.

Here are the basic steps to writing a good case study.

1. Identify your goal

Start by defining exactly who your case study will be designed to help. Case studies are about specific instances where a company works with a customer to achieve a goal. Identify which customers are likely to have these goals, as well as other needs the story should cover to appeal to them.

The answer is often found in one of the buyer personas that have been constructed as part of your larger marketing strategy. This can include anything from new leads generated by the marketing team to long-term customers that are being pressed for cross-sell opportunities. In all of these cases, demonstrating value through a relatable customer success story can be part of the solution to conversion.

2. Choose your client or subject

Who you highlight matters. Case studies tie brands together that might otherwise not cross paths. A writer will want to ensure that the highlighted customer aligns with their own company’s brand identity and offerings. Look for a customer with positive name recognition who has had great success with a product or service and is willing to be an advocate.

The client should also match up with the identified target audience. Whichever company or individual is selected should be a reflection of other potential customers who can see themselves in similar circumstances, having the same problems and possible solutions.

Some of the most compelling case studies feature customers who:

  • Switch from one product or service to another while naming competitors that missed the mark.
  • Experience measurable results that are relatable to others in a specific industry.
  • Represent well-known brands and recognizable names that are likely to compel action.
  • Advocate for a product or service as a champion and are well-versed in its advantages.

Whoever or whatever customer is selected, marketers must ensure they have the permission of the company involved before getting started. Some brands have strict review and approval procedures for any official marketing or promotional materials that include their name. Acquiring those approvals in advance will prevent any miscommunication or wasted effort if there is an issue with their legal or compliance teams.

3. Conduct research and compile data

Substantiating the claims made in a case study — either by the marketing team or customers themselves — adds validity to the story. To do this, include data and feedback from the client that defines what success looks like. This can be anything from demonstrating return on investment (ROI) to a specific metric the customer was striving to improve. Case studies should prove how an outcome was achieved and show tangible results that indicate to the customer that your solution is the right one.

This step could also include customer interviews. Make sure that the people being interviewed are key stakeholders in the purchase decision or deployment and use of the product or service that is being highlighted. Content writers should work off a set list of questions prepared in advance. It can be helpful to share these with the interviewees beforehand so they have time to consider and craft their responses. One of the best interview tactics to keep in mind is to ask questions where yes and no are not natural answers. This way, your subject will provide more open-ended responses that produce more meaningful content.

4. Choose the right format

There are a number of different ways to format a case study. Depending on what you hope to achieve, one style will be better than another. However, there are some common elements to include, such as:

  • An engaging headline
  • A subject and customer introduction
  • The unique challenge or challenges the customer faced
  • The solution the customer used to solve the problem
  • The results achieved
  • Data and statistics to back up claims of success
  • A strong call to action (CTA) to engage with the vendor

It’s also important to note that while case studies are traditionally written as stories, they don’t have to be in a written format. Some companies choose to get more creative with their case studies and produce multimedia content, depending on their audience and objectives. Case study formats can include traditional print stories, interactive web or social content, data-heavy infographics, professionally shot videos, podcasts, and more.

5. Write your case study

We’ll go into more detail later about how exactly to write a case study, including templates and examples. Generally speaking, though, there are a few things to keep in mind when writing your case study.

  • Be clear and concise. Readers want to get to the point of the story quickly and easily, and they’ll be looking to see themselves reflected in the story right from the start.
  • Provide a big picture. Always make sure to explain who the client is, their goals, and how they achieved success in a short introduction to engage the reader.
  • Construct a clear narrative. Stick to the story from the perspective of the customer and what they needed to solve instead of just listing product features or benefits.
  • Leverage graphics. Incorporating infographics, charts, and sidebars can be a more engaging and eye-catching way to share key statistics and data in readable ways.
  • Offer the right amount of detail. Most case studies are one or two pages with clear sections that a reader can skim to find the information most important to them.
  • Include data to support claims. Show real results — both facts and figures and customer quotes — to demonstrate credibility and prove the solution works.

6. Promote your story

Marketers have a number of options for distribution of a freshly minted case study. Many brands choose to publish case studies on their website and post them on social media. This can help support SEO and organic content strategies while also boosting company credibility and trust as visitors see that other businesses have used the product or service.

Marketers are always looking for quality content they can use for lead generation. Consider offering a case study as gated content behind a form on a landing page or as an offer in an email message. One great way to do this is to summarize the content and tease the full story available for download after the user takes an action.

Sales teams can also leverage case studies, so be sure they are aware that the assets exist once they’re published. Especially when it comes to larger B2B sales, companies often ask for examples of similar customer challenges that have been solved.

Now that you’ve learned a bit about case studies and what they should include, you may be wondering how to start creating great customer story content. Here are a couple of templates you can use to structure your case study.

Template 1 — Challenge-solution-result format

  • Start with an engaging title. This should be fewer than 70 characters long for SEO best practices. One of the best ways to approach the title is to include the customer’s name and a hint at the challenge they overcame in the end.
  • Create an introduction. Lead with an explanation as to who the customer is, the need they had, and the opportunity they found with a specific product or solution. Writers can also suggest the success the customer experienced with the solution they chose.
  • Present the challenge. This should be several paragraphs long and explain the problem the customer faced and the issues they were trying to solve. Details should tie into the company’s products and services naturally. This section needs to be the most relatable to the reader so they can picture themselves in a similar situation.
  • Share the solution. Explain which product or service offered was the ideal fit for the customer and why. Feel free to delve into their experience setting up, purchasing, and onboarding the solution.
  • Explain the results. Demonstrate the impact of the solution they chose by backing up their positive experience with data. Fill in with customer quotes and tangible, measurable results that show the effect of their choice.
  • Ask for action. Include a CTA at the end of the case study that invites readers to reach out for more information, try a demo, or learn more — to nurture them further in the marketing pipeline. What you ask of the reader should tie directly into the goals that were established for the case study in the first place.

Template 2 — Data-driven format

  • Start with an engaging title. Be sure to include a statistic or data point in the first 70 characters. Again, it’s best to include the customer’s name as part of the title.
  • Create an overview. Share the customer’s background and a short version of the challenge they faced. Present the reason a particular product or service was chosen, and feel free to include quotes from the customer about their selection process.
  • Present data point 1. Isolate the first metric that the customer used to define success and explain how the product or solution helped to achieve this goal. Provide data points and quotes to substantiate the claim that success was achieved.
  • Present data point 2. Isolate the second metric that the customer used to define success and explain what the product or solution did to achieve this goal. Provide data points and quotes to substantiate the claim that success was achieved.
  • Present data point 3. Isolate the final metric that the customer used to define success and explain what the product or solution did to achieve this goal. Provide data points and quotes to substantiate the claim that success was achieved.
  • Summarize the results. Reiterate the fact that the customer was able to achieve success thanks to a specific product or service. Include quotes and statements that reflect customer satisfaction and suggest they plan to continue using the solution.
  • Ask for action. Include a CTA at the end of the case study that asks readers to reach out for more information, try a demo, or learn more — to further nurture them in the marketing pipeline. Again, remember that this is where marketers can look to convert their content into action with the customer.

While templates are helpful, seeing a case study in action can also be a great way to learn. Here are some examples of how Adobe customers have experienced success.

Juniper Networks

One example is the Adobe and Juniper Networks case study , which puts the reader in the customer’s shoes. The beginning of the story quickly orients the reader so that they know exactly who the article is about and what they were trying to achieve. Solutions are outlined in a way that shows Adobe Experience Manager is the best choice and a natural fit for the customer. Along the way, quotes from the client are incorporated to help add validity to the statements. The results in the case study are conveyed with clear evidence of scale and volume using tangible data.

A Lenovo case study showing statistics, a pull quote and featured headshot, the headline "The customer is king.," and Adobe product links.

The story of Lenovo’s journey with Adobe is one that spans years of planning, implementation, and rollout. The Lenovo case study does a great job of consolidating all of this into a relatable journey that other enterprise organizations can see themselves taking, despite the project size. This case study also features descriptive headers and compelling visual elements that engage the reader and strengthen the content.

Tata Consulting

When it comes to using data to show customer results, this case study does an excellent job of conveying details and numbers in an easy-to-digest manner. Bullet points at the start break up the content while also helping the reader understand exactly what the case study will be about. Tata Consulting used Adobe to deliver elevated, engaging content experiences for a large telecommunications client of its own — an objective that’s relatable for a lot of companies.

Case studies are a vital tool for any marketing team as they enable you to demonstrate the value of your company’s products and services to others. They help marketers do their job and add credibility to a brand trying to promote its solutions by using the experiences and stories of real customers.

When you’re ready to get started with a case study:

  • Think about a few goals you’d like to accomplish with your content.
  • Make a list of successful clients that would be strong candidates for a case study.
  • Reach out to the client to get their approval and conduct an interview.
  • Gather the data to present an engaging and effective customer story.

Adobe can help

There are several Adobe products that can help you craft compelling case studies. Adobe Experience Platform helps you collect data and deliver great customer experiences across every channel. Once you’ve created your case studies, Experience Platform will help you deliver the right information to the right customer at the right time for maximum impact.

To learn more, watch the Adobe Experience Platform story .

Keep in mind that the best case studies are backed by data. That’s where Adobe Real-Time Customer Data Platform and Adobe Analytics come into play. With Real-Time CDP, you can gather the data you need to build a great case study and target specific customers to deliver the content to the right audience at the perfect moment.

Watch the Real-Time CDP overview video to learn more.

Finally, Adobe Analytics turns real-time data into real-time insights. It helps your business collect and synthesize data from multiple platforms to make more informed decisions and create the best case study possible.

Request a demo to learn more about Adobe Analytics.

https://business.adobe.com/blog/perspectives/b2b-ecommerce-10-case-studies-inspire-you

https://business.adobe.com/blog/basics/business-case

https://business.adobe.com/blog/basics/what-is-real-time-analytics

How to write a case study — examples, templates, and tools card image

Case Studies:  Market Research

Commercial Strategy

Market Research

Payer Strategy/ Reimbusement Planning

Business Development

Competitive Intelligence

Portfolio Planning/ Indication Scans

1. Case Study

Demand modeling and scenario planning for a novel, mass-market cardiovascular agent, the problem.

  • A small but highly-valued biopharma client sought to quantify the opportunity for a new hypercholesterolemia product across 6 patient segments and 3 physician specialties
  • More specifically, they wanted to know which product attributes will drive share uptake vs. the market-leading statins and the classes in late-stage development (PCSK9i and CETPi)

What We Did

  • Hypothesized most likely competitive sets to orient around strategically
  • We conducted a quantitative conjoint study with n=300 physicians across 3 specialties; as well as 20 qualitative payer interviews
  • Using this primary data, we created an annual revenue forecast capable of flexible scenario planning

Our Results and Insights

  • Understand baseline patient segmentation
  • The benefit of LDL lowering was shown to vary by drug class (statins vs. non-statins) – a critical, new insight
  • Conjoint design recognized strong awareness of entrenched and pipeline competition
  • Conjoint sensitivity analyses showed that outcomes data and LDL reduction had different upsides across segments
  • Using this new insight, respondents were re-segmented, unlocking new insights about commercial strategy
  • The net share difference between a downside and an upside profile was larger than initially thought; the drivers of this difference were used for commercial resource allocation

2. Case Study

Patient journey for an orphan disease state with multiple stakeholder touch points.

  • A small public biotech company wished to increase their understanding of the patient experience for an orphan indication – including emotions and needs across the disease lifecycle
  • In addition, they wished to identify sources of information patients use (pre- and post-diagnosis) and assess patients’ preferences for corporate resources
  • Qualitative primary research with patients was conducted to elucidate emotions and motivations around disease burden, financial pressures, flow through the healthcare system, and relationships with health care providers
  • Secondary research was conducted to quantify the market characteristics
  • Results were used to inform future pre-commercial investment decisions
  • Respondents were recruited to represent a fair balance across the spectrum
  • Diagnosis was often delayed; the patient-physician relationship varied by specialty
  • The emotional impact of patient symptoms were mapped
  • Patient fear and uncertainty was due to HCP under-education, siloed treatment, and lack of effective options
  • Mapped the financial burden across the patient lifecycle; identified high leverage areas for improvement

3. Case Study

Demand modeling for a novel rna technology in a mass market: using conjoint to inform partnership discussions.

A small, privately held clinical stage biotech sought to quantify the dynamics at play in a mass market cardiovascular indication in the US, with an emphasis on a recently launched franchise that they would be competing against with their RNA technology

Their goal was to inform a launch forecast, clinical development decisions, and help in partnership negotiations

  • Designed and executed an Internet survey with academic and community cardiologists in the US
  • Used conjoint to create a user-friendly “what-if” scenario modeling tool to forecast scenarios across various patient and physician segments in 2 and 3 and 4 product markets
  • Uncovered the dynamics behind a key relationship between 2 product attributes that had previously been hidden, leading to a re-thinking of clinical development
  • Identified key attributes at play; structured conjoint scheme to run parallel studies spanning 3 patient types
  • Designed a concise conjoint grid spanning attributes and levels of highest competitive importance
  • Modeled a series of 2, 3, and 4 product markets across various patient types, uncovering unexpected pockets of opportunity
  • Conducted sensitivity analyses to uncover hidden relationships between product attributes across segments
  • Integrated sensitivity analyses across patient segments in visually compelling ways
  • Synthesized data into a series of actionable insights; uncovered the dynamics behind a key relationship between 2 attributes that had previously been hidden, leading to a re-thinking of clinical development

4. Case Study

Launch messaging and positioning for an orphan specialty product.

  • A mid-sized pharma client wanted to evaluate quantitatively the impact of launch messaging and positioning for an orphan specialty product (messages spanned efficacy, safety, reimbursement, and enrollment)
  • In addition, they wanted to ensure the messaging is complementary to the messaging for related products in their portfolio
  • Quantitative market research study with high-volume prescribing physicians, nurses, and pharmacy directors
  • Maxdiff methodology was chosen to collect the large amount of feedback needed with low respondent fatigue 23 messages across 5 categories were examined and a positioning statement was devised
  • Motivation scores were first determined at the message category level across respondent segments
  • Detailed quantitative feedback (what score and why) was collected for all messages
  • Scores showed significant variation across segment, suggesting the need for segment-level positioning and messaging
  • Feedback was integrated with existing messages (for other products) and customized by stakeholder segment

New launch messaging insights:

Messages in the “Convenience” category received the highest overall scores, with “Formulation” and

“Administration” messages receiving the lowestThe decision was made to position the drug based on convenience rather than efficacy or tolerability – a decision counter to the team’s initial hypothesis

Messages were tweaked for nurses and payers; a single positioning statement spoke to all

Launch beat internal forecasts and minimal cannibalization of the franchise was observed

5. Case Study

Reimbursement support services optimization for orphan specialty product portfolio.

  • A mid-sized pharmaceutical client desired multi-year support to help define, implement, and market a suite of reimbursement support services for their portfolio of premium-priced orphan specialty products
  • Support services included enrollment, financial/ reimbursement, patient education, and monthly lab monitoring
  • Therapeutic area highly competitive with multiple competitive launches expected during the project timeframe
  • 12 primary market research projects over a 3-year period across 4 stakeholder groups (physicians, nurses, payers, patients)
  • Recommendations integrated findings across multiple channels (online, specialty distributor, and nurse visits)
  • Helped increase compliance with treatment and lab monitoring
  • Helped client maintain leadership position in highly competitive area
  • Clarified landscape of needs and satisfaction levels with current offerings
  • Optimized branding for portfolio of services to increase awareness and use
  • Identified set of competitively differentiated service messages
  • Recommended focusing lab monitoring services on top accounts with differentiated set of online offerings
  • Determined mix of service outreach that would maximize convenience at low investment to client
  • Quantified the impact of service changes on product switch rates; worked with client to devise tactics to minimize this

6. Case Study

Diagnostic strategy for novel oncology drug (focus on next-generation sequencing (ngs) vs. ihc).

  • A mid size biotech company was developing a drug targeting a rare, pan-tumor cancer mutation and wanted a go-to-market diagnostic test strategy
  • Specifically, they wanted to map the current usage and likely future adoption of different molecular diagnostic platforms (single analyte (IHC, ISH), NGS and liquid biopsy)
  • They also wanted to quantify the impact of each of the future adoption scenarios on uptake of their agent, and who would need to be influenced for each
  • Determined treatment flow and current use of molecular diagnostics platforms
  • Conducted primary market research with broad array of US stakeholders (oncologists, pathologists, and payers across several clinic business models)
  • Mapped the adoption rate of diagnostic platforms (single analyte, NGS, liquid biopsy) in academic vs commercial laboratories, and how each scenario would affect product uptake of their novel agent
  • Delivered a comprehensive companion diagnostic strategy to support launch in a pan-tumor indication
  • Mapped the patient flow and diagnostic test process across several clinic business models
  • Determined the drivers and barriers for NGS adoption
  • Hypothesized likely future use of NGS, liquid biopsy, and IHC
  • Companion diagnostic strategy recommendation and alternatives

7. Case Study

Global oncology demand study and biomarker testing strategy for indication expansion.

  • A large international pharmaceutical client wanted to measure and maximize demand for their novel targeted agent based on the completion of a Phase 3 global study in a new tumor type
  • They wanted to estimate their product share by line of therapy, determine the source of business, develop a biomarker testing strategy and an attitudinal battery for customer typing. Their goal was to optimize how to position their product amidst a growing set of powerful competitors targeting overlapping biomarker profiles, including immunotherapy agents

Mixture of global quantitative and qualitative research, spanning 7 countries (US, Asia, EU) and more than 400 respondents

Quantitatively determined across geographies: current practice patterns, anticipated share by line of therapy, source of business, biomarker testing rate, full attitudinal battery, drivers and barriers, and a physician and patient segmentation for use in future promotional targeting and positioning

Results informed future resource investment allocation decisions as well as future messaging and positioning efforts

  • Mapped the current 2nd line landscape, with pros and cons by treatment by geography
  • Quantified the key determinants of treatment selection in each geography
  • Quantified gain of share by patient segment, physician segment, line of therapy, and geography
  • Synthesized attitudinal battery into a typing tool to identify likely early adopters and high prescribers
  • Devised a strategic map of the competitive landscape, identifying key battleground areas by geography and how to win in each
  • Results provided insight for future resource investment allocation decisions as well as future messaging and positioning research

8. Case Study

Patient journey in a therapeutic area spanning cash-pay and insurance-pay drugs.

  • A newly-public clinical stage biotech client desired a detailed patient journey to map the important touchpoints in a market that is highly patient driven and a mix of cash-pay and insurance-pay
  • Client wanted to understand the high-leverage touchpoints, clinical decision-makers, and a high-level buying process in order to guide future clinical and pre-commercial investment decisions
  • Mapped the patient flow from symptoms to diagnosis to therapeutic treatment to surgery
  • Devised a semiquantitative flowchart of treatments to understand sequencing
  • Uncovered a novel mapping of patient segments and prioritized their relative value to client given their unique offering
  • Put the patient flow and segmentation into a buying process context to understand the financial drivers
  • Placed client’s product in the treatment algorithm to visualize potential future positioning options
  • Crafted a set of actionable, pragmatic recommendations for the clinical development team as well as to inform future commercial investment decisions
  • Combined primary and secondary data sources (qualitative market research with clinicians, payers and patients, scientific literature and payer literature) to triangulate on a semi-quantitative patient journey map
  • Uncovered a complex flow that spanned several clinician types, several broad classes of competitors (devices and drugs, OTC and prescription), and 2 main reimbursement models (cash-pay and reimbursed)
  • Identified opportunities to position client’s drug. Results served to inform future clinical and commercial investment decisions

9. Case Study

Launch demand study in niche hematology oncology indication.

  • A small biotech client had recently completed Phase 3 study of their lead asset and was preparing to file for FDA approval in a niche hematology oncology indication
  • The company sought to clarify patient segments, quantify expected treatment outcomes, assess physician reactions to the asset and the importance of its mechanism of action, and understand what drives physician decisions to taper dose
  • Conducted 32 qualitative, in-depth KOL interviews and 150 quantitative on-line surveys with hemoncs, segmented by location of care
  • Analysis included: patient segments and lines of therapy, treatments and response rates, likelihood to prescribe, and drug attribute importance by segment
  • Final recommendations were pragmatic and helped guide launch investment allocation decisions
  • Identified which physician segments expected to treat new patients in a year
  • Assessed physician perceptions about their likelihood to prescribe the client’s therapy to different patient subpopulations
  • Gained insights into duration of patient responses to different therapies
  • Identified and ranked important drivers of decisions to taper

10. Case Study

Global quantitative study to optimize advertising concepts for wound care support services.

  • A global leader in wound care wanted to assess three advertising concepts globally and determine which was most effective at communicating key messages related to service and support
  • Concept needed to be effective across a variety of HCP types and across multiple geographies

Conducted quantitative research to determine best concept across 7 metrics across all geographies along with overall preference

Analyzed open-ended responses to identify most important areas for concept improvement

Identified country-level and segment level differences that informed more targeted campaigns; concept was considered a significant driver of future

  • Presented 3 concepts to respondents across 3 segments (MDs, RNs, Administrators) and 8 countries
  • Aggregated potential areas of improvement for each concept
  • Overall segment level differences were meaningful and suggested need for closer scrutiny
  • Identified preferred concept overall and across 7 key metrics and 5 respondent segments
  • Identified best concept for each region and specialty as well as key overall areas for concept improvement; concept was considered a significant driver of future sales

11. Case Study

Franchise positioning and messaging: unlocking the power of a portfolio using a linchpin product.

  • A mid-sized medical device client sought to understand the drivers of product selection in wound care and how to leverage its portfolio to increase product usage across categories
  • To achieve this, they wanted to understand how physicians and nurses assess and treat wounds across a wide range of patient segments and locations of care
  • In addition, they sought to develop a series of core messages and visuals to differentiate their portfolio and increase share
  • Conducted a brainstorming workshop with client to generate a series of hypotheses regarding customer pain points, the product selection process, and messaging / positioning of both the franchise and products
  • Executed 25 qualitative interviews across 2 treater segments (MDs and RNs) and 2 locations of care (acute and post-acute)
  • Uncovered a key dynamic in the product selection process that could be used to guide messaging, positioning, and portfolio strategy
  • Clarified the disconnect between the stages of wound healing and product selection
  • Understood customer motivation by mapping a hierarchy of needs
  • Mapped the wound lifecycle and clarified its impact on wound care treatment
  • De-mystified the complexity of product selection by uncovering the “linchpin product” that dictated treatment path
  • Using this key insight, generated a series of portfolio-level and product-level messages and prioritized their impact
  • Recommended a specific set of messages for a “linchpin product” that could serve as a foundational treatment and unlock the potential of the portfolio

12. Case Study

Integrating physician and payer dynamics in infectious disease to arrive at a realistic peak year revenue.

  • A top 50 global pharma company wanted to know how they could reach $500MM US peak sales for a Phase 2/3 asset treating latent tuberculosis infections (LTBI)
  • In addition, they sought advice on how to re-frame the large and ill-defined literature prevalence to a more realistically addressable number of patients
  • Primary qualitative and quantitative market research (conjoint design) with physicians across 6 specialties (n=350), and payers (n=50)
  • Market, revenue forecast, and business case (NPV) analysis Analytically combined conjoint preferences across physicians and payers to represent the full buying process; identified a realistic path to $500MM
  • We identified the most attractive patient segments
  • Mapped gatekeepers and high prescribing physician segments over time
  • Identified opportunities to increase product demand
  • Quantified MD demand across various product profile scenarios
  • Integrated MD demand with payer utilization management to forecast uptake and prioritize the key obstacles…
  • …and recommended actionable steps to overcome those obstacles

13. Case Study

War gaming (competitive simulation), view the case.

A mid-sized biopharma company with a successful specialty product was facing a competitive launch for the first time from an aggressive competitor and wanted to refine and pressure-test their messages and objection handlers in a real-world simulation. Aquest designed and moderated a series of 90 minute 1-on-1 sessions with physicians, playing the role of moderator, sales rep A, and sales rep B sequentially, for a truly controlled experiment. Recommendations were rolled out at the next POA meeting, ensuring a well-prepared field force.

14. Case Study

Publication strategy.

A large biotechnology company decided to re-evaluate the investments it made in publications, both advertising and research articles. They commissioned Aquest to conduct a large quantitative survey with community oncologists, nurses, and clinical pharmacists to learn not only the publications they respected most, but also the publications they read most. The research uncovered new avenues for more productive advertising and article placement, offering the potential for hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings on publication investments.

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Research Method

Home » Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

Table of Contents

Case Study Research

A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination and analysis of a particular phenomenon or case, such as an individual, organization, community, event, or situation.

It is a qualitative research approach that aims to provide a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the case being studied. Case studies typically involve multiple sources of data, including interviews, observations, documents, and artifacts, which are analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, and grounded theory. The findings of a case study are often used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Types of Case Study

Types and Methods of Case Study are as follows:

Single-Case Study

A single-case study is an in-depth analysis of a single case. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand a specific phenomenon in detail.

For Example , A researcher might conduct a single-case study on a particular individual to understand their experiences with a particular health condition or a specific organization to explore their management practices. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a single-case study are often used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Multiple-Case Study

A multiple-case study involves the analysis of several cases that are similar in nature. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to identify similarities and differences between the cases.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a multiple-case study on several companies to explore the factors that contribute to their success or failure. The researcher collects data from each case, compares and contrasts the findings, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as comparative analysis or pattern-matching. The findings of a multiple-case study can be used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Exploratory Case Study

An exploratory case study is used to explore a new or understudied phenomenon. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to generate hypotheses or theories about the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an exploratory case study on a new technology to understand its potential impact on society. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as grounded theory or content analysis. The findings of an exploratory case study can be used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Descriptive Case Study

A descriptive case study is used to describe a particular phenomenon in detail. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to provide a comprehensive account of the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a descriptive case study on a particular community to understand its social and economic characteristics. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a descriptive case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Instrumental Case Study

An instrumental case study is used to understand a particular phenomenon that is instrumental in achieving a particular goal. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand the role of the phenomenon in achieving the goal.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an instrumental case study on a particular policy to understand its impact on achieving a particular goal, such as reducing poverty. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of an instrumental case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Case Study Data Collection Methods

Here are some common data collection methods for case studies:

Interviews involve asking questions to individuals who have knowledge or experience relevant to the case study. Interviews can be structured (where the same questions are asked to all participants) or unstructured (where the interviewer follows up on the responses with further questions). Interviews can be conducted in person, over the phone, or through video conferencing.

Observations

Observations involve watching and recording the behavior and activities of individuals or groups relevant to the case study. Observations can be participant (where the researcher actively participates in the activities) or non-participant (where the researcher observes from a distance). Observations can be recorded using notes, audio or video recordings, or photographs.

Documents can be used as a source of information for case studies. Documents can include reports, memos, emails, letters, and other written materials related to the case study. Documents can be collected from the case study participants or from public sources.

Surveys involve asking a set of questions to a sample of individuals relevant to the case study. Surveys can be administered in person, over the phone, through mail or email, or online. Surveys can be used to gather information on attitudes, opinions, or behaviors related to the case study.

Artifacts are physical objects relevant to the case study. Artifacts can include tools, equipment, products, or other objects that provide insights into the case study phenomenon.

How to conduct Case Study Research

Conducting a case study research involves several steps that need to be followed to ensure the quality and rigor of the study. Here are the steps to conduct case study research:

  • Define the research questions: The first step in conducting a case study research is to define the research questions. The research questions should be specific, measurable, and relevant to the case study phenomenon under investigation.
  • Select the case: The next step is to select the case or cases to be studied. The case should be relevant to the research questions and should provide rich and diverse data that can be used to answer the research questions.
  • Collect data: Data can be collected using various methods, such as interviews, observations, documents, surveys, and artifacts. The data collection method should be selected based on the research questions and the nature of the case study phenomenon.
  • Analyze the data: The data collected from the case study should be analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, or grounded theory. The analysis should be guided by the research questions and should aim to provide insights and conclusions relevant to the research questions.
  • Draw conclusions: The conclusions drawn from the case study should be based on the data analysis and should be relevant to the research questions. The conclusions should be supported by evidence and should be clearly stated.
  • Validate the findings: The findings of the case study should be validated by reviewing the data and the analysis with participants or other experts in the field. This helps to ensure the validity and reliability of the findings.
  • Write the report: The final step is to write the report of the case study research. The report should provide a clear description of the case study phenomenon, the research questions, the data collection methods, the data analysis, the findings, and the conclusions. The report should be written in a clear and concise manner and should follow the guidelines for academic writing.

Examples of Case Study

Here are some examples of case study research:

  • The Hawthorne Studies : Conducted between 1924 and 1932, the Hawthorne Studies were a series of case studies conducted by Elton Mayo and his colleagues to examine the impact of work environment on employee productivity. The studies were conducted at the Hawthorne Works plant of the Western Electric Company in Chicago and included interviews, observations, and experiments.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment: Conducted in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment was a case study conducted by Philip Zimbardo to examine the psychological effects of power and authority. The study involved simulating a prison environment and assigning participants to the role of guards or prisoners. The study was controversial due to the ethical issues it raised.
  • The Challenger Disaster: The Challenger Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. The study included interviews, observations, and analysis of data to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.
  • The Enron Scandal: The Enron Scandal was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Enron Corporation’s bankruptcy in 2001. The study included interviews, analysis of financial data, and review of documents to identify the accounting practices, corporate culture, and ethical issues that led to the company’s downfall.
  • The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster : The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the nuclear accident that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in 2011. The study included interviews, analysis of data, and review of documents to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.

Application of Case Study

Case studies have a wide range of applications across various fields and industries. Here are some examples:

Business and Management

Case studies are widely used in business and management to examine real-life situations and develop problem-solving skills. Case studies can help students and professionals to develop a deep understanding of business concepts, theories, and best practices.

Case studies are used in healthcare to examine patient care, treatment options, and outcomes. Case studies can help healthcare professionals to develop critical thinking skills, diagnose complex medical conditions, and develop effective treatment plans.

Case studies are used in education to examine teaching and learning practices. Case studies can help educators to develop effective teaching strategies, evaluate student progress, and identify areas for improvement.

Social Sciences

Case studies are widely used in social sciences to examine human behavior, social phenomena, and cultural practices. Case studies can help researchers to develop theories, test hypotheses, and gain insights into complex social issues.

Law and Ethics

Case studies are used in law and ethics to examine legal and ethical dilemmas. Case studies can help lawyers, policymakers, and ethical professionals to develop critical thinking skills, analyze complex cases, and make informed decisions.

Purpose of Case Study

The purpose of a case study is to provide a detailed analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. A case study is a qualitative research method that involves the in-depth exploration and analysis of a particular case, which can be an individual, group, organization, event, or community.

The primary purpose of a case study is to generate a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the case, including its history, context, and dynamics. Case studies can help researchers to identify and examine the underlying factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and detailed understanding of the case, which can inform future research, practice, or policy.

Case studies can also serve other purposes, including:

  • Illustrating a theory or concept: Case studies can be used to illustrate and explain theoretical concepts and frameworks, providing concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Developing hypotheses: Case studies can help to generate hypotheses about the causal relationships between different factors and outcomes, which can be tested through further research.
  • Providing insight into complex issues: Case studies can provide insights into complex and multifaceted issues, which may be difficult to understand through other research methods.
  • Informing practice or policy: Case studies can be used to inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.

Advantages of Case Study Research

There are several advantages of case study research, including:

  • In-depth exploration: Case study research allows for a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. This can provide a comprehensive understanding of the case and its dynamics, which may not be possible through other research methods.
  • Rich data: Case study research can generate rich and detailed data, including qualitative data such as interviews, observations, and documents. This can provide a nuanced understanding of the case and its complexity.
  • Holistic perspective: Case study research allows for a holistic perspective of the case, taking into account the various factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the case.
  • Theory development: Case study research can help to develop and refine theories and concepts by providing empirical evidence and concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Practical application: Case study research can inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.
  • Contextualization: Case study research takes into account the specific context in which the case is situated, which can help to understand how the case is influenced by the social, cultural, and historical factors of its environment.

Limitations of Case Study Research

There are several limitations of case study research, including:

  • Limited generalizability : Case studies are typically focused on a single case or a small number of cases, which limits the generalizability of the findings. The unique characteristics of the case may not be applicable to other contexts or populations, which may limit the external validity of the research.
  • Biased sampling: Case studies may rely on purposive or convenience sampling, which can introduce bias into the sample selection process. This may limit the representativeness of the sample and the generalizability of the findings.
  • Subjectivity: Case studies rely on the interpretation of the researcher, which can introduce subjectivity into the analysis. The researcher’s own biases, assumptions, and perspectives may influence the findings, which may limit the objectivity of the research.
  • Limited control: Case studies are typically conducted in naturalistic settings, which limits the control that the researcher has over the environment and the variables being studied. This may limit the ability to establish causal relationships between variables.
  • Time-consuming: Case studies can be time-consuming to conduct, as they typically involve a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific case. This may limit the feasibility of conducting multiple case studies or conducting case studies in a timely manner.
  • Resource-intensive: Case studies may require significant resources, including time, funding, and expertise. This may limit the ability of researchers to conduct case studies in resource-constrained settings.

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Artificial intelligence in strategy

Can machines automate strategy development? The short answer is no. However, there are numerous aspects of strategists’ work where AI and advanced analytics tools can already bring enormous value. Yuval Atsmon is a senior partner who leads the new McKinsey Center for Strategy Innovation, which studies ways new technologies can augment the timeless principles of strategy. In this episode of the Inside the Strategy Room podcast, he explains how artificial intelligence is already transforming strategy and what’s on the horizon. This is an edited transcript of the discussion. For more conversations on the strategy issues that matter, follow the series on your preferred podcast platform .

Joanna Pachner: What does artificial intelligence mean in the context of strategy?

Yuval Atsmon: When people talk about artificial intelligence, they include everything to do with analytics, automation, and data analysis. Marvin Minsky, the pioneer of artificial intelligence research in the 1960s, talked about AI as a “suitcase word”—a term into which you can stuff whatever you want—and that still seems to be the case. We are comfortable with that because we think companies should use all the capabilities of more traditional analysis while increasing automation in strategy that can free up management or analyst time and, gradually, introducing tools that can augment human thinking.

Joanna Pachner: AI has been embraced by many business functions, but strategy seems to be largely immune to its charms. Why do you think that is?

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Yuval Atsmon: You’re right about the limited adoption. Only 7 percent of respondents to our survey about the use of AI say they use it in strategy or even financial planning, whereas in areas like marketing, supply chain, and service operations, it’s 25 or 30 percent. One reason adoption is lagging is that strategy is one of the most integrative conceptual practices. When executives think about strategy automation, many are looking too far ahead—at AI capabilities that would decide, in place of the business leader, what the right strategy is. They are missing opportunities to use AI in the building blocks of strategy that could significantly improve outcomes.

I like to use the analogy to virtual assistants. Many of us use Alexa or Siri but very few people use these tools to do more than dictate a text message or shut off the lights. We don’t feel comfortable with the technology’s ability to understand the context in more sophisticated applications. AI in strategy is similar: it’s hard for AI to know everything an executive knows, but it can help executives with certain tasks.

When executives think about strategy automation, many are looking too far ahead—at AI deciding the right strategy. They are missing opportunities to use AI in the building blocks of strategy.

Joanna Pachner: What kind of tasks can AI help strategists execute today?

Yuval Atsmon: We talk about six stages of AI development. The earliest is simple analytics, which we refer to as descriptive intelligence. Companies use dashboards for competitive analysis or to study performance in different parts of the business that are automatically updated. Some have interactive capabilities for refinement and testing.

The second level is diagnostic intelligence, which is the ability to look backward at the business and understand root causes and drivers of performance. The level after that is predictive intelligence: being able to anticipate certain scenarios or options and the value of things in the future based on momentum from the past as well as signals picked in the market. Both diagnostics and prediction are areas that AI can greatly improve today. The tools can augment executives’ analysis and become areas where you develop capabilities. For example, on diagnostic intelligence, you can organize your portfolio into segments to understand granularly where performance is coming from and do it in a much more continuous way than analysts could. You can try 20 different ways in an hour versus deploying one hundred analysts to tackle the problem.

Predictive AI is both more difficult and more risky. Executives shouldn’t fully rely on predictive AI, but it provides another systematic viewpoint in the room. Because strategic decisions have significant consequences, a key consideration is to use AI transparently in the sense of understanding why it is making a certain prediction and what extrapolations it is making from which information. You can then assess if you trust the prediction or not. You can even use AI to track the evolution of the assumptions for that prediction.

Those are the levels available today. The next three levels will take time to develop. There are some early examples of AI advising actions for executives’ consideration that would be value-creating based on the analysis. From there, you go to delegating certain decision authority to AI, with constraints and supervision. Eventually, there is the point where fully autonomous AI analyzes and decides with no human interaction.

Because strategic decisions have significant consequences, you need to understand why AI is making a certain prediction and what extrapolations it’s making from which information.

Joanna Pachner: What kind of businesses or industries could gain the greatest benefits from embracing AI at its current level of sophistication?

Yuval Atsmon: Every business probably has some opportunity to use AI more than it does today. The first thing to look at is the availability of data. Do you have performance data that can be organized in a systematic way? Companies that have deep data on their portfolios down to business line, SKU, inventory, and raw ingredients have the biggest opportunities to use machines to gain granular insights that humans could not.

Companies whose strategies rely on a few big decisions with limited data would get less from AI. Likewise, those facing a lot of volatility and vulnerability to external events would benefit less than companies with controlled and systematic portfolios, although they could deploy AI to better predict those external events and identify what they can and cannot control.

Third, the velocity of decisions matters. Most companies develop strategies every three to five years, which then become annual budgets. If you think about strategy in that way, the role of AI is relatively limited other than potentially accelerating analyses that are inputs into the strategy. However, some companies regularly revisit big decisions they made based on assumptions about the world that may have since changed, affecting the projected ROI of initiatives. Such shifts would affect how you deploy talent and executive time, how you spend money and focus sales efforts, and AI can be valuable in guiding that. The value of AI is even bigger when you can make decisions close to the time of deploying resources, because AI can signal that your previous assumptions have changed from when you made your plan.

Joanna Pachner: Can you provide any examples of companies employing AI to address specific strategic challenges?

Yuval Atsmon: Some of the most innovative users of AI, not coincidentally, are AI- and digital-native companies. Some of these companies have seen massive benefits from AI and have increased its usage in other areas of the business. One mobility player adjusts its financial planning based on pricing patterns it observes in the market. Its business has relatively high flexibility to demand but less so to supply, so the company uses AI to continuously signal back when pricing dynamics are trending in a way that would affect profitability or where demand is rising. This allows the company to quickly react to create more capacity because its profitability is highly sensitive to keeping demand and supply in equilibrium.

Joanna Pachner: Given how quickly things change today, doesn’t AI seem to be more a tactical than a strategic tool, providing time-sensitive input on isolated elements of strategy?

Yuval Atsmon: It’s interesting that you make the distinction between strategic and tactical. Of course, every decision can be broken down into smaller ones, and where AI can be affordably used in strategy today is for building blocks of the strategy. It might feel tactical, but it can make a massive difference. One of the world’s leading investment firms, for example, has started to use AI to scan for certain patterns rather than scanning individual companies directly. AI looks for consumer mobile usage that suggests a company’s technology is catching on quickly, giving the firm an opportunity to invest in that company before others do. That created a significant strategic edge for them, even though the tool itself may be relatively tactical.

Joanna Pachner: McKinsey has written a lot about cognitive biases  and social dynamics that can skew decision making. Can AI help with these challenges?

Yuval Atsmon: When we talk to executives about using AI in strategy development, the first reaction we get is, “Those are really big decisions; what if AI gets them wrong?” The first answer is that humans also get them wrong—a lot. [Amos] Tversky, [Daniel] Kahneman, and others have proven that some of those errors are systemic, observable, and predictable. The first thing AI can do is spot situations likely to give rise to biases. For example, imagine that AI is listening in on a strategy session where the CEO proposes something and everyone says “Aye” without debate and discussion. AI could inform the room, “We might have a sunflower bias here,” which could trigger more conversation and remind the CEO that it’s in their own interest to encourage some devil’s advocacy.

We also often see confirmation bias, where people focus their analysis on proving the wisdom of what they already want to do, as opposed to looking for a fact-based reality. Just having AI perform a default analysis that doesn’t aim to satisfy the boss is useful, and the team can then try to understand why that is different than the management hypothesis, triggering a much richer debate.

In terms of social dynamics, agency problems can create conflicts of interest. Every business unit [BU] leader thinks that their BU should get the most resources and will deliver the most value, or at least they feel they should advocate for their business. AI provides a neutral way based on systematic data to manage those debates. It’s also useful for executives with decision authority, since we all know that short-term pressures and the need to make the quarterly and annual numbers lead people to make different decisions on the 31st of December than they do on January 1st or October 1st. Like the story of Ulysses and the sirens, you can use AI to remind you that you wanted something different three months earlier. The CEO still decides; AI can just provide that extra nudge.

Joanna Pachner: It’s like you have Spock next to you, who is dispassionate and purely analytical.

Yuval Atsmon: That is not a bad analogy—for Star Trek fans anyway.

Joanna Pachner: Do you have a favorite application of AI in strategy?

Yuval Atsmon: I have worked a lot on resource allocation, and one of the challenges, which we call the hockey stick phenomenon, is that executives are always overly optimistic about what will happen. They know that resource allocation will inevitably be defined by what you believe about the future, not necessarily by past performance. AI can provide an objective prediction of performance starting from a default momentum case: based on everything that happened in the past and some indicators about the future, what is the forecast of performance if we do nothing? This is before we say, “But I will hire these people and develop this new product and improve my marketing”— things that every executive thinks will help them overdeliver relative to the past. The neutral momentum case, which AI can calculate in a cold, Spock-like manner, can change the dynamics of the resource allocation discussion. It’s a form of predictive intelligence accessible today and while it’s not meant to be definitive, it provides a basis for better decisions.

Joanna Pachner: Do you see access to technology talent as one of the obstacles to the adoption of AI in strategy, especially at large companies?

Yuval Atsmon: I would make a distinction. If you mean machine-learning and data science talent or software engineers who build the digital tools, they are definitely not easy to get. However, companies can increasingly use platforms that provide access to AI tools and require less from individual companies. Also, this domain of strategy is exciting—it’s cutting-edge, so it’s probably easier to get technology talent for that than it might be for manufacturing work.

The bigger challenge, ironically, is finding strategists or people with business expertise to contribute to the effort. You will not solve strategy problems with AI without the involvement of people who understand the customer experience and what you are trying to achieve. Those who know best, like senior executives, don’t have time to be product managers for the AI team. An even bigger constraint is that, in some cases, you are asking people to get involved in an initiative that may make their jobs less important. There could be plenty of opportunities for incorpo­rating AI into existing jobs, but it’s something companies need to reflect on. The best approach may be to create a digital factory where a different team tests and builds AI applications, with oversight from senior stakeholders.

The big challenge is finding strategists to contribute to the AI effort. You are asking people to get involved in an initiative that may make their jobs less important.

Joanna Pachner: Do you think this worry about job security and the potential that AI will automate strategy is realistic?

Yuval Atsmon: The question of whether AI will replace human judgment and put humanity out of its job is a big one that I would leave for other experts.

The pertinent question is shorter-term automation. Because of its complexity, strategy would be one of the later domains to be affected by automation, but we are seeing it in many other domains. However, the trend for more than two hundred years has been that automation creates new jobs, although ones requiring different skills. That doesn’t take away the fear some people have of a machine exposing their mistakes or doing their job better than they do it.

Joanna Pachner: We recently published an article about strategic courage in an age of volatility  that talked about three types of edge business leaders need to develop. One of them is an edge in insights. Do you think AI has a role to play in furnishing a proprietary insight edge?

Yuval Atsmon: One of the challenges most strategists face is the overwhelming complexity of the world we operate in—the number of unknowns, the information overload. At one level, it may seem that AI will provide another layer of complexity. In reality, it can be a sharp knife that cuts through some of the clutter. The question to ask is, Can AI simplify my life by giving me sharper, more timely insights more easily?

Joanna Pachner: You have been working in strategy for a long time. What sparked your interest in exploring this intersection of strategy and new technology?

Yuval Atsmon: I have always been intrigued by things at the boundaries of what seems possible. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s second law is that to discover the limits of the possible, you have to venture a little past them into the impossible, and I find that particularly alluring in this arena.

AI in strategy is in very nascent stages but could be very consequential for companies and for the profession. For a top executive, strategic decisions are the biggest way to influence the business, other than maybe building the top team, and it is amazing how little technology is leveraged in that process today. It’s conceivable that competitive advantage will increasingly rest in having executives who know how to apply AI well. In some domains, like investment, that is already happening, and the difference in returns can be staggering. I find helping companies be part of that evolution very exciting.

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Busy People Love Leftovers

A community-based social marketing campaign aims to reduce food waste in Denver.

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Reducing food waste is an important climate change solution. Since household food waste collectively accounts for more than 40 percent of U.S. food waste, NRDC teamed up with the city and county of Denver to pilot an outreach program that encourages residents to reduce food waste at home by eating more of their leftovers. As described in our report, this program provided important lessons in maximizing future outreach programs to reach the most households and in collecting data on effectiveness.

Up to 40 percent of all the food in the United States is lost or wasted every year, along with all of the water, nutrients, energy, labor, and money used to grow, process, distribute, and dispose of that food. Because households are such a large contributor to U.S. food waste, it is imperative that we find solutions that help families stop wasting their food. Yet there is relatively little research into the causes of and solutions to household food waste, particularly the strategies to aid racially and economically diverse communities. 

To test potential outreach efforts, NRDC partnered with the city and county of Denver to pilot a program that was designed to help residents reduce their food waste at home through educational outreach aimed at specific changes to eating habits. We followed the principles of community-based social marketing (CBSM) in designing our project. There are many avenues to reducing household food waste; this effort focused specifically on encouraging residents to eat more of their leftovers or previously prepared meals, which are among the most commonly wasted type of edible food in households. 

A covered glass food container with a sticker on the side that reads "Eat This First"

We mailed packets to 600 residents in Denver’s northeastern neighborhoods of Montbello and Green Valley Ranch. The packets contained an informational booklet, an erasable magnet board to attach to the fridge with a marker intended to help people list their leftovers, and cling stickers with the phrase “Eat this first” to attach to leftover containers. Because these neighborhoods have high concentrations of Spanish speakers, all materials were provided in both English and Spanish. To evaluate the effectiveness of our study, we looked at people’s trash, we mailed surveys, and then, when few surveys were returned, we knocked on doors to ask our survey questions. However, we know that surveys may not be the best way to assess behavior because food and waste are intrinsically tied to our culture, values, and lifestyle image; respondents may answer surveys with what they perceive to be a socially correct answer rather than with an unbiased response. Therefore, we supplemented our assessment with audits of trash bins to see whether household food waste tossed in the bins decreased after households received the intervention materials.

Most survey respondents who said they received the intervention packets found them to be helpful, particularly the fridge magnet and “Eat this first” stickers. Unfortunately, many survey respondents reported that they did not receive the packets. Additionally, while the trash audits showed consistently lower food waste for the group that received our intervention compared to the control group, there were no statistically significant differences and there was no clear trend in levels of leftover food waste. Our sample size was small, and our measurement results had limitations, which made it difficult to assess the direct impact of our pilot project. However, the high rate of survey respondents identifying as African American or Black and the number of responses submitted in Spanish suggest that our outreach plan—utilizing the principles of CBSM—to include Denver’s diverse population was successful in reaching these communities. 

We offer the following recommendations and lessons for future studies measuring food waste behavior change in households:

  • Interactive interventions are valued by households , including diverse audiences that are often left out of research, such as the Spanish-speaking and Black or African American households in our sample region. Both the informational booklets and the interactive interventions (the magnetic leftovers list and the stickers) were well received by English- and Spanish-speaking survey respondents across varying demographics.
  • Blind, snapshot-in-time, curbside waste audits may not be a useful indicator of waste habits. Although they are viewed as the gold standard because of their comprehensive nature, waste audits at the curb may not tell a straightforward tale about weekly waste behaviors, in part because blind audits from the curb may not reflect a single week’s worth of food waste per pickup. 
  • Mailed materials must be very visually appealing. Many survey respondents said that they did not receive our materials in the mail. Future studies should emphasize the importance of any mailed interventions with eye-catching and attractive envelopes or other means of ensuring they are seen and opened.
  • Door-to-door engagement may be the best way to reach households that are similar to our sample. In-person survey sampling had a much higher rate of response than paper or electronic surveys did in our study. Door knocking was not excessively expensive compared with postage but had a much higher rate of return. Furthermore, door-to-door engagement could be expanded beyond the survey component of the study to include more information sharing and participant feedback at the outset.
  • Some households are tossing enormous quantities of food, including edible foods and other items, that researchers could not determine any flaw in. Despite our knowledge of the shocking statistics about how much food is wasted in the United States, we were still surprised by the very large quantities of food (i.e., greater than 50 pounds) found in some garbage bins that seemed to be of perfectly good quality to the researchers. We were further resolved in our work to educate and engage households about the value of saving food and finding alternative means of preserving, sharing, and ultimately consuming food rather than dumping it in the garbage.

Though the study was small, the outcome of our pilot project suggests that social marketing materials may help households to consider eating leftovers rather than tossing them in the trash. We offer additional insights and recommendations for future research throughout the project description, results, and discussion, and we hope to see additional research build on the lessons we’ve learned.

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