The four steps to creating compelling life science case studies

To simply the challenge of creating compelling case studies, tackle four smaller challenges: topics, content, structure and language.

Creating any life science case study can be a chore. Creating a compelling life science case study (such as the ones I’ve been describing in recent issues) can seem like an especially daunting task, particularly if you try to write the case study from scratch. Trying to do that will leave you juggling many different issues, including: finding the right topic and story to tell, gathering the right content to tell the most compelling story, structuring the information effectively, and then creating compelling public-facing language. To make the process easier, I suggest you break the challenge into four parts, which you should tackle in this order: topics, content, structure and language.

First, decide on the number and type of life science case studies you need. This is a general step that will apply to all your case studies. Once you’re ready to create individual life science case studies you can take the remaining steps: second, gather the content for the first case study; third, define the structure of the case study by writing a case-study synopsis; fourth, write the case study. Then: repeat steps two through four, for as many case studies as you plan to create. In this way you’re separating one big, hairy challenge into four easier challenges.

In this issue, I’ll give you tips and tricks that will make all four tasks easier. Follow along as I lay out a recipe for creating compelling life science case studies.

Step 1: Decide upon topics. How many case studies do you need, and what should they cover?

By revealing how your products or services have helped previous customers, your life science case studies will help your potential customers visualize their lives being transformed for the better. Remember, these prospects have challenges, and they’re searching for solutions.

There are three ways to think about how many case studies you need.

How many life science case studies do you need? You probably need fewer case studies than you think, at least to start. You certainly don’t need a case study for every single customer you’ve ever had, whether you’re part of a service organization or a firm that sells life science products. Of course, once you’ve got a few life science case studies ready to go, you can always add more case studies that highlight different products, services or capabilities.

There are three ways to think about how many case studies you first need.

Approach A: To determine the number of life science case studies you need at first, focus on your organization’s offerings 

First, you can take an approach that focuses on your organization. To do this, count the number of distinct offerings you have. That would be maximum number you need to get started—one case study per offering. You can probably reduce the number, because one case study can cover several distinct offerings. For example, if your organization makes scientific instruments, then in any one product line you probably have a higher priced offering and several lower priced offerings. All these perform similar functions, so it’s possible that one case study would serve the entire line.

Approach B: To determine the number of life science case studies you need, focus on your customer’s needs

Second, you can take an approach that focuses on your customers. To do this, count the number of distinct needs that your prospects have. As you do this, consider the major needs, not every single minor or secondary need. Again, that would be the maximum number—one case study per distinct need. As in the approach above, you can probably reduce this number, because one case study can cover several distinct needs, if they’re linked. For example, for organizations that do fill-finish, it’s rare for one client to only need one service, without also needing other services upstream or downstream.

Approach A is an inside-out approach; it focuses on what you can offer your customers. Approach B is an outside-in approach; it focuses on the needs of your customers. The next approach marries the two; it focuses on the overlap between your customers’ needs and your solutions.

Approach C: To determine the number of life science case studies you need, focus on the challenges you face

Third, you can take an approach that focuses on the difficult issues that you face as you serve your customers. This may be redundant with some of the approaches from the two lists above. To do this, count the number of difficult challenges that you face regularly. This approach will dovetail nicely with the use of the And…But…Therefore structure, which I’ll cover in just a bit.

These three approaches are complimentary. So I recommend that you do a quick tally for all three approaches. The number of life science case studies you’ll begin with is somewhere between these three numbers. For instance, we’ve worked with companies that revamped their case studies and applied them first to their sales presentation. They had between 4 and 6 case studies. You don’t need dozens, at least not to start.

Over time, of course, you’ll augment your collection of life science case studies, filling in any gaps that appear. Let’s revisit the hypothetical organization that does fill-finish: they’ve probably done fill-finish for many large-molecule compounds. Writing a case study focusing on just one of those molecules would allow them to demonstrate their large molecule fill-finish capabilities to almost any prospect that had a large molecule. But once that first case study is complete, they may want to create additional life science case studies that highlight different capabilities, such as quick turnaround, or small fill volume, or extremely large runs, etc.

Where in the buying cycle should you focus your case studies?

Your life science case studies will be reaching prospects at all different stages of the buying cycle. Depending upon the stage, they’ll need education, inspiration or reassurance to support them in their buying journey.

In many cases—for example, with anonymous web site visitors—it’s impossible to know exactly what stage your prospects occupy. In theory, an ideal case study would be able to fulfill all three needs; in practice, this is difficult. Does this mean that you need three different “flavors” of each case study: an educational one, an inspirational one, and a reassuring one? Again, in theory, this would be ideal, but in practice this can be a lot of work. And even then, how can we be certain that the correct flavor of each case study will be seen by the appropriate audience?

To deal with this uncertainty, I recommend that you segment your life science case studies by their location. Case studies on your web site should lean towards education and inspiration. These will be be shorter, more high level, and focus more on your unique value. Life science case studies in your sales presentations should lean towards reassurance. These will be longer, cover more details, and focus more on your approach than on your unique value. You can review one of our previous issues for more information on the balance between approach and unique value.

The entire spectrum of possible case studies is shown here. You want to avoid either end of the spectrum; that is, avoid overemphasizing either your approach or your unique value. Also note that inspirational and reassuring case studies will have a slightly different balance. Inspirational case studies emphasize unique value (the major focus) more than approach (the minor focus). Reassuring case studies emphasize approach (the major focus) more than unique value (the minor focus).

Step 2: Decide upon content. Be clear and unrelenting; what is the main point of your case study?

It’s all too easy to create a confusing, wandering case study. I know; I’ve seen plenty. The “magnetic field” that aligns your case study is a “main point,” one that needs to be crystal clear. All content should reinforce this main point, and as your audiences take a journey through your case study, this main point should be reinforced again and again. Of course, this main point should be related in some way to the position you’ve chosen.

You must figure out the main point of your case study before you begin to choose content.

For example, an instrument manufacturer might consider creating a case study highlighting the ease of use of a new instrument. This main point of their case study might be any of the following. Of course, there could be other main points; these are just examples:

  • Our instrument’s superior ease of use allows lower-skilled people to operate it
  • Our instrument’s superior ease of use enables the people who operate it to accomplish more (because they don’t have to babysit the instrument, trying to coax it along)
  • Our instrument’s superior ease of use enables results to be obtained faster

Because these main points are different, the case studies that conveyed these different main points would need to be different: different content, different graphics, different evidence, different metrics.

You must figure out this main point before you begin to gather the content. As an aide to help you focus on the main point, ask yourself the following question: “Three days after reading or hearing this case study, what one thing do I want my prospects to remember?”

Gather the raw material out of which you’ll fashion your case study

Once you’ve decided upon the main point of your first case study, gather the information you’ll need. You can use the following questions to help:

  • What challenge will this case study describe?
  • Were other suppliers unable to meet this challenge?
  • What made the challenge difficult?
  • Did the nature of the challenge shift during the course of the example?
  • How was success defined?
  • How would you describe your solution?
  • What made your solution different and better?
  • Were any lessons learned by implementing this solution?
  • What was the customer’s reaction?
  • Did you achieve success, as it was defined?

You won’t have an answer to each of these questions for each case and every study you produce, because your main point (which should always be related to your position) will differ to a lesser or greater degree. So, each of these questions may be more relevant to some of your main points than others. But these questions can give you a great place to start as you gather your content.

For each of these questions, consider whether you can convey the content more effectively through words, or through images. In life science case studies, an image really is worth a thousand words, so bias your presentation towards images whenever you can. There is, of course, a caveat: your audience must be able to understand your images without too much explanation. You don’t want to mystify or confuse them.

Choose the balance between text and graphics

The relative proportion of text to images in your case study will shift, depending upon where your case study appears, as shown in the following graph.

The proportion of images to text will vary in your case studies, depending upon where they appear.

Step 3: Create an effective structure. Write a case study synopsis

Once you’ve gathered your content, it’s time to organize it into an effective case study. The best way to do this is to write a synopsis. The optimum structure for your case study is the And…But…Therefore (A-B-T) structure that I’ve covered in the past several issues. This synopsis will be, in essence, an outline of your case study. It will cover all the main points of content but will be written in non-public facing language, so you don’t have to worry about finding just the right words. Instead, you’ll focus on getting the right content in the right order…which conveniently delays the troublesome challenge of crafting beautiful prose until the next step.

The three-part A-B-T structure 

The three-part A-B-T structure is the best way to create a compelling case study.

The value of the A-B-T structure is that it is simple and easy to use. You can create several alternatives in the span of a few minutes. Remember, the first part (the “And…”) will be the “set-up” during which you’ll introduce the protagonist and their goals. The second part (the “But…”) will be the introduction of tension. The third part (the “Therefore…”) will be the resolution of this tension.

It might help to deconstruct the A-B-T structure a little further, as in the following table.

A-B-T component Detailed components
And… Introduction

Context

Goals

But… Challenges

Solution

Therefore… Results

Benefit

Call to action

The A-B-T structure can be broken apart; this may help you (or whoever inside your organization is tasked with producing case studies) think about the best way to create your case study synopsis.

An example: a case study synopsis

I’m going to show you a case study synopsis, and then the written case study that came from this synopsis. Of course, this is a fictitious example. Any resemblance to actual companies, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The main point of this A-B-T synopsis is this: Recruiting CNS patients is difficult, unless you have a proprietary, targeted database of patients and practitioners.

Many patients are suffering from a widespread CNS condition AND

There is no effective treatment AND

You’ve developed a promising new molecule AND

You’ve gotten through a Phase I trial AND

You want to get your drug to market quickly

 

But recruiting the right kinds of patients is really difficult AND

Comorbidities had prevented clear determination of endpoints AND

Competitive trials were starting AND

Without the right patients, your trial will fail

 

Therefore, work with the team that has unparalleled patient recruitment experience AND

Has developed a proprietary, targeted database of patients and practitioners AND

Can help you through the regulatory challenges you face AND

Makes it possible to meet aggressive patient recruitment timelines.

 

Can you see the three parts, the A-B-T? The first part sets up the context and the protagonist’s goals. The second part introduces the tension that made this challenge difficult to solve. The third part resolves the tension and issues the call to action.

You’ll notice that this is written not from the standpoint of CRO-inc, but from the standpoint of a generic “you.” This is deliberate—it focuses the attention of the author on crafting a story that will have universal appeal.

Follow the 8 core principles

In the last issue, I discussed the 8 core principles that your case study must follow. Your A-B-T synopsis must follow these principles too. To refresh your memory, your synopsis must:

  1. follow the A-B-T story structure
  2. clearly define the context
  3. clearly define the protagonist
  4. clearly define the protagonist’s goal
  5. clearly define the source of tension
  6. clearly communicate your position (or at least your unique value)
  7. have a clear tone of voice
  8. have a clear call to action

Step 4: Write the public-facing case study

Once you’ve got the A-B-T synopsis, you can use it to create different types of life science case studies. In its most elementary form, the synopsis will exist only as words. You can then customize how this synopsis takes shape in the different types of public-facing touchpoints. The major types include:

  1. Case studies used in a sales presentation. In these, the story will mostly be told through visuals on slides, with the narration supplied by the salesperson. These case studies will put more emphasis on images and less on words.
  2. Case studies used on your web site. Here, the balance between words and images will be more equal.
  3. Case studies distributed through PDFs or printed literature. In these, there will be more explanation required (because the audience might be approaching the case study with no context or understanding), so the balance between words and images will tip towards more copy and fewer images.
Relative proportion of text to images Amount of context included in the case study
Sales presentation Image heavy, text light Context is less necessary, because much of the context will be supplied by the surrounding presentation
Landing page (web site) Images and text are roughly equal Context will typically come from the surrounding web site, but if this case study is on its own landing page, there won’t be as much context available. The case study must supply the context
Print (e.g., PDF) Image light, text heavy Since this form is easily to share or pass around independent of anything else, the case study must supply all the context
The proportion of text to images will depend upon where your case study appears.

 

The reason that the relative proportion of text and image will vary comes from the different amounts of context that your audience understands as they consume your case study.

The A-B-T synopsis can act as the “crystallization seed” from which one of several case studies might form, as shown in the following figure. Note that a typical A-B-T synopsis is all words, and very few, if any, images. I recommended a little earlier that you segment your case studies by their location. Case studies on your web site will lean towards education and inspiration. These will be shorter and more high level. Case studies in your sales presentations will lean towards reassurance. These will be longer and cover more details. Over time, you may develop multiple versions of each story, but as you begin, develop a story where it will do you the most good.

As I’ve pointed out in a previous issue, the balance between words and images in your case study will depend upon the channel you use to distribute your it. Channels where the audience has more context (such as a sales presentation) can use fewer words and more images. Channels where the audience needs more help understanding the context (such as a printed brochure or electronically-distributed PDF) will need more words, and so will have fewer images.

The actual case study, based on the A-B-T template 

Now it’s time to write the public-facing language of your case study.

When it’s time to create the final, public-facing case study, you can simply follow the outline in your A-B-T synopsis. I’ve taken the A-B-T synopsis above, and written a compelling case study from it. I’ve written this in a word-heavy, image-light form. So, this might appear, for example, in an PDF or a brochure. I’m not including any images here. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll realize this is the same case study I discussed in the last issue, because I want you to notice the relationship between the A-B-T synopsis and the final case study.

CRO-inc was approached by a sponsor that had developed a promising new molecule. This therapy held great promise for the treatment of a common central nervous system (CNS) condition, afflicting millions of patients. At the time, there were no effective therapies available. This organization had successfully completed a phase I trial and wanted to get this molecule to market as quickly as possible.

However, recruitment for this condition had proven difficult in the past, because comorbidities often prevented gathering clear data, making it difficult to determine whether endpoints were achieved. Using our proprietary, targeted database of patients and practitioners in this specific CNS therapeutic area, we were able to plan an aggressive patient recruitment timeline. As a result, this sponsor chose CRO-inc. They mentioned several reasons: our multi-disciplinary approach, our singular focus on achieving our client’s goals and our vast experience with these types of complex trials.

As we were about to begin recruitment, we learned that two other clinical trials for the same condition were just beginning. To ensure that these competing trials would not disrupt our game plan, we made a second pass through our database, and identified an additional cohort of patients we could recruit if we had to.

Once we received approval to begin recruitment, our deep experience and our singular focus enabled us to cross the goal line early; we completed recruitment in half the time of the competitive trials, without relying on our additional cohort of patients. We were able to give our client’s molecule a large head start in the race towards approval. In addition, we crafted a regulatory strategy that successfully avoided the major false starts so commonly related to this condition.

Do you need help recruiting for a difficult trial? We stand ready to join the race to identify the right patients for you. To develop your game plan, reach out to JSmith@cro-inc.com

Do you see how this four-step process can create a compelling case study?

Rather than A-B-T, you can create this as A-B-T-B-T-B-T

It is worth pointing out that you can have serial BUTs & THEREFOREs. In the example above, there are two “Buts” where the tension gets increased—first when comorbidities had made recruitment difficult in the past, and then when two other, competitive trials started.

Hollywood movies, like Star Wars, Episode 4, or novels like The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, often have multiple points where the tension gets increased, relieved and then increased again.

Treating the tension of your A-B-T in this way adds flexibility to the process.

In sum: The four-step process to creating effective case studies

Following the four-step process can make it easier to create compelling case studies. First, decide upon the number and types of case studies you need. This requires that you think carefully about how and where you will use your case studies.

Second, gather the content for each case study. This content will depend upon the main point that you wish to make with the particular case study.

Third, create an A-B-T synopsis—an outline of your case study. This clarifies the structure, and enables you to review the order in which the content appears.

Fourth, write the final case study. The relative proportion of text to images will depend upon the final location where your audiences will consume your case study: in a sales presentation, on a landing page of your web site, and finally, in a brochure or PDF.

One final note

Now that I’ve shown you how to create a case study from start to finish, I’ll urge you to pay attention to all your current engagements with customers. Would any of these make a great case study? Look for places where you can measure your impact. Gather information along the way, and it will be easier to build your next case study.

Conclusion

This series on creating a compelling case study has taken many twists and turns—many more than I expected when I chose this topic. Along the way, we’ve covered a lot of ground, including the all-important topics of storytelling and narrative tension.

While this has been somewhat longer than I planned, I can only hope that the end result, a clear method for improving your case studies, has been worth it. If not, then my only defense is a quote from a letter authored by William Cowper, printed in 1704, in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society:

“If in this I have been tedious, it may be some excuse, I had not time to make it shorter.”

‘Til next time.