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Writing Case Studies for Marketing

September 27, 2008

In the comments of this post, the Blogfather of La Blogstra Nostra (loosely translated as “this blog-thing of ours”) Joe Ferrara succintly makes a great point: realtors should blog about ‘solds’.  This is a fantastic idea that I frankly do not see enough of on the RE.net.

And writing a case study (a marketing case study, not a business school case study) is really simple and straightforward.  I don’t know that I’m the best at doing these, but I have written a fair amount of them over the years, and adapted to real estate, here are my suggestions.  In fact, I’ll write a fake case study along with this post as an example.

Overview & Organization

A case study is a brief description of a client, a problem (or set of problems), a solution (or a set of solutions), and result.  It should be no more than three written pages long, and most of the good ones are one or two pages.  If you aim at between 750 – 1000 words total, you should be fine.

The typical case study is broken into five parts:

  1. Summary
  2. Intro
  3. Problem
  4. Solution
  5. Result

The Summary is typically right at the start, or inserted as a sidebar (look, for example, at this case study (PDF) in the IT industry).  It succintly states the key facts about the client, summarizes the Problem, the Solution, and the Result.  Write the Summary last.  Even if you know exactly what you want to say, it’s best to write the summary after you’ve written the whole case study just in case you see a different way to phrase things.

Intro

The Intro should be one paragraph that sets forth the client and the client’s goals/objectives.  Avoid the temptation to get verbose in the Intro.  You want the reader to understand who the client is generally and what the client wanted to do, and that’s it.

In our fake case study, the client is a young couple who recently had a baby and has decided to buy a house (a very common story, after all).  They live and work in NYC, and make a moderate income, which makes it impossible for them to buy in the City.  They’re new, they’re confused, and they don’t know much of anything except that they want a nice house, with more space than their 1BR apartment, and want to spend maybe $300K in total.  They have saved up $30K for a down payment.  Maybe their names are Joe and Susie Evans, and they have a 9-month old girl, Madison.  Joe is an advertising exec for a small agency in Manhattan, and Susie is in Event Planning for a big corporation.  Their annual income is $125K collectively, but Susie is thinking about going part-time.

We can go on and on, but most of these facts are not relevant.  So the Intro is brief and to the point:

Joe and Susie Evans, a young first-time buyer, was looking to buy an affordable starter home near New York City after having a child.  Their budget was about $300,000, and they had saved up about $30,000 for down payment.  They came to me from a referral, as I had helped a friend of theirs buy a place in Jersey City.

Problem

In this section, in as many paragraphs as needed, state the problem(s) that the client was facing.  One paragraph per problem.  Since in real life, there are dozens upon dozens of problems and issues, you will want to focus on one or two that are really relevant to the case at hand, and also illustrate the particular solution you crafted.

In our example, the problems are several:

  • 10% down payment is not much, especially in a tightened mortgage environment.
  • Joe and Susie Evans turn out to be prototypical yuppies, who can’t survive without Whole Foods, Starbucks, public transportation, great restaurants, and an urban environment.  The kinds of towns they like are way out of their price range for a single family house.
  • Both of them work in NYC, and proximity and ease of commute to NYC was critically important for them.  Joe in particular did not want to travel more than 45 minutes each way to get to work in Midtown.  Again, most communities that fit the requirements are way out of their price range.
  • Joe wants a big backyard for little Madison to play in, while Susie wants topnotch public schools, a walkable downtown, and both want lots of space after six years in a tiny 1BR apartment in Brooklyn.

There can be other problems as well — maybe joe is in a bowling league in Brooklyn that’s important to him, so he wants to be nearby.  But cut things down to essentials in writing the Problem section.  For our example, we’re going to focus on the mismatch between their expectations, their financial ability, and the market conditions.

In consulting with the Evans about their needs and wants, it turned out that their expectations were unrealistic considering the market around NYC.  They did not want to commute more than 45 minutes to NYC, wanted a large house, a top-notch school system, and a walkable, attractive downtown area with restaurants, shops, and entertainment.  The homes in markets around NYC which fit their requirements averaged $750K in price, with the low end still a healthy $100K over their budget of $300K.

Furthermore, even at their budget of $300K, a 10% down payment was going to be tough in the current mortgage environment.  It was not at all unusual to have banks require 30% down payments before making a loan.

Solution

In the Solution section, focus tightly on the problems as defined.  If you’re writing it up at all, chances are, there was something unique about how you solved their problem(s) that makes you stand out and look good.  How can you connect it up to the problems as defined?  The Solution must flow from the Problem.  It doesn’t have to be one-to-one; chances are, the Solution is where the bulk of writing happens.

Also, be specific when discussing the Solution.  “I worked hard with the client to help them” is not a Solution.  It’s an advertisement, and no one has any reason to believe you.  Try to use only facts to showcase the solution, rather than generalities.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea to trim every single adjective and adverb from the entire Solution section, actually.

In the example, I’m going to make up a probably unrealistic story about builders caught in a credit crunch.  But it is important that the Solution here relates to how the agent ‘solved’ the unrealistic expectations problem.

In order to assist the Evans family, I had to properly attune their expectations with the realities of the market to avoid disappointment.  Using our Needs Assessment Matrix, I walked the Evanses through 25 factors, separating them between Practical Needs and Emotional Needs.  Through the NAM, I was able to help them prioritize their requirements.

After having set the priorities, I showed them market reports showing listing price, sold price, time on market, inventory levels, and trends in all of those things over the past 90 days, 180 days, and year.  Upon request from Joe, I pulled a report showing those data points over the past three years for seventeen areas within 45 minute commute time from midtown Manhattan.

In addition, I asked Bob Corbett, a mortgage broker with 25 years experience, to sit with the Evanses and explain the current mortgage market.

During the week or so that the clients were considering their options, I leveraged our office’s e-Marketing and social network platform — my personal blog, Twitter, FaceBook, and LinkedIn — to reach out to various market participants, reaching over 5,000 Realtors, mortgage brokers, attorneys, and other professionals in the NYC metro region.  I explained the situation, corresponded by email, instant messenger, Twitter, and telephone with over seventeen respondents.

By the end of that first week, I found a developer who had purchased a 2BR condo in Jersey City that he had planned to renovate for resale.  Unfortunately, the recent troubles in the credit markets threw that plan off-track, and he was facing significant losses.  He had paid $275K for the condo originally, and was willing to sell it at cost to avoid foreclosure.  I notified by clients, and arranged for a showing the very next day.  At the same time, I arranged for Bob Corbett to go to work for my clients with the bank servicing the developer’s mortgage.

The Evanses, having reprioritized their requirements based on our NAM process, and having a clear picture of the market conditions, saw the condo.  It was a ‘fixer-upper’ requiring significant renovations.  Nonetheless, given their financial situation, it was a real opportunity.

I negotiated with the developer directly and arranged for his company to get the contract for renovation, while dropping the sale price to $250K.  He wouldn’t even have to move his equipment from the location, would end up recouping most of his losses on the sale through the renovation work, while my clients got a deal on a property that met most of their top priorities and could be resold in a few year’s time for more than they had paid.

Result

In most marketing case studies, the result talks about ROI, increased revenues, efficiency metrics, and the like.  For realtors, I’m not sure those things work.  But testimonials do.  And this is the ideal place for those.

You want to connect the Result directly to your Solutions as much as possible.  In fact, it isn’t a bad idea to write the testimonial you want, then get permission to use it.  Most people you ask for a testimonial are happy not to have to do the actual work of coming up with a testimonial anyhow.  As long as they sign off on it, the words are as good as theirs.

The Evans family moved in six months ago into their new 2BR condo in Jersey City.  Financing was difficult, but the lower cost of the property meant that $30,000 was actually 12% down payment, and Bob managed to find a willing lender at a competitive rate.  The developer accepted an installment plan for his work, and is being paid monthly for the work done.

“We could never have done this without you,” said Susie Evans in a recent phone call.  “Without your helping us understand our own priorities, I don’t know if we’d ever have thought of Jersey City.  Without all your social networking tools and contacts, we could never have found this property in the first place.  I just don’t know how to thank you enough.”

Back to the Summary

Now that you have the case study done, now you can go back and write the Summary.  Use bullet points or very brief sentences.  You want the narrative in a single glimpse.

Client: Joe and Susie Evans

Type: First Time Buyer

Challenge:

  • Improper expectations from lack of market knowledge
  • Financial resources inadequate for the kind of house they wanted

Solution:

  • Educate them on the market, on mortgages, and help them prioritize their needs by using the Needs Assessment Matrix
  • Leverage social media, contacts, and e-Marketing platform to find properties

Result:

  • Located a developer who was facing foreclosure on a 2BR condo in Jersey City
  • Negotiated an off-market deal benefiting both the seller and my buyer clients
  • Helped arrange financing, as well as renovation work
  • Clients could not be happier in their new starter condo home

Final Thoughts

This whole fake case study was about 850 words, and comes to two pages of written text in a word processor.  The story itself may be completely bogus and full of holes — for one thing, I may have broken all sorts of laws and regulations in New Jersey.  But that isn’t the point.  I’m not a realtor, and I don’t have war stories.

The format, and the techniques of writing these simple case studies might be something worth investigating.

For a case blog post, as opposed to a formal case study, you can obviously relax all of the rules, as long as you are able to put together a coherent narrative.  The important thing is to tell the story of the client, of the challenges, the solutions, and the positive result — all because you were involved in it.

In my view, this may be the among the most effective sort of marketing and self-promotion that an agent or a brokerage can do via blogs and websites.  How better to establish your expertise, your specialty, your unique tools and platforms, your unique skills than by telling stories of actual clients you have helped and how you’ve gone about it.

In fact, I’m sure that there are many realtors who have already been doing this. I’d love to see examples of what’s worked (send me the links, or just post them in comments — I’ll have to approve the ones with multiple links, but happy to do it).

-rsh

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2008 11:26 pm

    Hiya Rob – I have a little note with a star from my BlogWorld notes, asking myself to think of a way to demonstrate expertise in the form of a testimonial-type framework. Will be stealing this, twisting a bit. Thanks for the concept!

  2. September 28, 2008 11:07 am

    Hey there Housechick! 🙂 Great to see you at REBW by the way.

    Would love to see what you end up doing with this framework. You can’t steal it if I’m giving it away now, can ya? 😀

    -rsh

  3. September 28, 2008 12:59 pm

    excellent post and outline, rob.

    like ya said, relax the format for blog posts. turn the case study into a bit of a story in order to be more compelling and so readers can find some identity with the “main character.”

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