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Case study questions to ask

Marketo recently put out a list of case study mistakes you may be making. One of them is:

An excerpt from a Marketo post on case studies

The advice on yes or no questions is pretty elementary, so here's my advice based on 40 years' experience as a journalist.

How to ask better marketing case study interview questions

Asking better questions is an art -- but unlike, say, metal sculpture, it's pretty easy to learn. To get started I take a few notes on:

  1. The marketing perspective. Of course you want to ask questions that lead to the story your client or boss wants. I start by asking the project lead and the sales rep/product manager what they think is the most important thing the audience should know. For instance, when I created a case study for Parata, the prescription packaging company, it was important to showcase how their solution helps pharmacies provide more personalized customer care, improve productivity and compete against big-box drug stores. That led to a pile of questions that pointed to key messaging and differentiators for the client. I also make sure to ask for any data points they want included.
  2. The sales perspective. I also ask about common questions, concerns and objections customers commonly have. These are usually how and why questions that add really important context. I also ask the rep for the data points that get the most traction with customers so we can make sure to put those in. The most important question in this category, though, is always "what's in it for me" or "why should I"? If you don't ask and answer that one, the case likely won't hit the mark. This information helps me develop interview questions that address those specific issues and make the case study a more relevant document for readers and a more effective tool for the sales team. (This also makes reps more likely to work with you on these in future, which is something I hear a lot of case study writers complaining about.) Read more about content marketing and the sales cycle.
  3. The reader perspective. Saving the most important for last! With the business side taken care of, I put myself in the shoes of the reader and ask questions I think they'd have. If something in my research or the interview makes me go "huh?", I'll ask about it. If another thing makes me go, "how would you do that?", I'll ask about that, too. For instance, when I created mini case studies on data-driven decision-making for nonprofit boards, I considered the questions I'd like answered, which were mostly how and why questions like how do you do get the data, how do you select KPIs, how do you present it, etc. And because we know that people ready to make a decision want a lot of facts to support their decision, I always ask for specific data points on situation before and after.

This three-step process yields a lot of questions. Make a master list, then, if you have time, run them by the team (or at least your project leader) again asking them to add or delete as necessary. Consider all their feedback, but as the interviewer, you get final say on what you ask or don't (unless you're told otherwise).

After you've got a few interviews under your belt, you'll have a sense of which questions get the best answers, and which aren't as fruitful. The effective ones become your "magic beans", those questions you ask for every case you write for that client. Then you can focus on new questions, or asking "how" and "why" follow-up questions to get more context.

To recap our tips for asking better case study questions:

  1. Ask questions that require at least a short answer.
  2. Ask why and how questions to get additional details and deeper context.
  3. Ask for clarification when something doesn't make sense.
  4. Ask for quantitative data (how much, how many, etc.).

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