What makes a compelling case study? WARC’s Chiara Manco mines past winners of the WARC Awards for Asian Strategy to find out.

If you are thinking about entering this year’s WARC Awards for Asian Strategy – or any of WARC’s free-to-enter case study competitions – you may think that breakthrough work is all you need. But you also need a case study that’s written in a way that will grab the attention of judges.

With the deadline for entries – 14 July – fast approaching, here are some tips to help you stand out and receive the recognition your work deserves.

First impressions count

Our judges are busy people. As harsh as it may sound, they are likely to skim papers unless they catch their eye from the get-go. The executive summary is your big chance to show them why they should stick with yours.

Include what your challenge was, how you tackled it and what you achieved, but most importantly, write without jargon or exaggeration. You may be tempted to use buzzwords and self-aggrandising vocabulary to impress judges, but these only take away from the power of your case. Don’t describe your strategy as ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘a first for the region’ – you will have plenty of occasions to prove that it was. And showing is far more powerful than telling.

Take the time to expand on your objectives, clearly indicating whether they are commercial, marketing or communications objectives. When writing them, remember that they will have to be picked up again in your results section: judges will be sceptical of papers citing results that don’t link back to objectives.

2017’s Grand Prix winner SK-II is a shining example of a paper that draws you in from the start. The executive summary is concise and compelling: it tells you exactly what the paper will be about, but without overdoing it, so you’re intrigued to keep on reading. The objectives are listed in a graph which neatly shows how the delivery of an overarching commercial objective is dependent on reaching a series of comms ones.

Root your insight in a consumer truth

Even if your case study passes the first-impression test, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has dodged the discard pile: your insight is what’s going to keep the reader glued to your paper until the very end. Remember, this is a strategy competition, and successful strategies are built on solid insights. This is the part of the paper where you want judges to be wowed by your thinking.

WARC’s Strategy Toolkit contains a whole chapter on generating insights and one of the key takeaways is that successful insights stem from a deep understanding of the target audience. Digital payments company Paytm, winner of a Gold and the Early Adopter Special Award in 2018, is a prime example of an audience-born insight. Struggling to get Indian consumers to adopt its products, Paytm looked into the meaning that cash held for them, and found that it extended beyond being a means to pay. Its insight was that cash actually represented reassurance, tradition, wealth and auspiciousness – and from there followed its strategy of infusing its digital wallet with the same meanings.

Show the work!

This may seem obvious, but we do receive entries that stop at a written description of their execution and don’t include images or videos. Eliminate the need for guesswork: busy judges won’t spend time trying to figure out what exactly it is that you did, and it would be a shame for them not to see the culmination of your strategy.

KFC Malaysia, a Silver winner from 2019, brilliantly illustrated its creative execution through both images and video. When the execution involves new tech, it’s even more essential to visually show what the final product looked like, and KFC provided plenty of examples.

Hammer home the business impact

Your whole paper has been leading up to this: the results section. Judges want to see how your campaign has impacted your business, so spend some time looking into measuring hard commercial gains. Engagement metrics and communications results are not to be dismissed – but they are not enough. Gold winner Elevit, from the 2017 Awards, did a thorough job in its results section. It started out with brand results – purchase intention and sales – and then covered campaign performance – video views, social buzz, social media comments. Judges prefer this to reading just engagement results.

Remember, your results need to mirror the objectives you set out. Elevit is a great example of this too, as from the start it clearly stated it aimed to impact purchase intention and sales.

Wrap it up in style

The ‘Lessons learned’ section can make or break a paper. Platitudes or blank sections are quickly dismissed by judges. Here, honesty is of paramount importance: do not shy away from admitting to mistakes and instead expand on how you have learned from them and adjusted your strategy as a consequence. Consider what other industry practitioners could learn from your experience.

The 2018 Grand Prix winner, Saregama, did this brilliantly. Admitting to having first focused on the wrong audience and then on the wrong format for its product, the case study reads: “It was perhaps our initial failures that made us open to new possibilities.”

Share lessons that can be useful to other brands. Judges will be looking for universal learnings, not self-referential ones. What have you learned that could benefit other players in your category, or even outside of it? Gold-winning Stayfree’s Project Free Period campaign from 2019, for example, used the ‘Lessons learned’ section to argue that its programme had the potential to be adopted as a plug-and-play model that could be adopted by any kind of organisation or brand.

A successful case study is a balancing act: you want to hook but not brag, celebrate success but own mistakes, show off your expertise but also humility in what you learned. It’s crucial to devote equal attention to all sections: while the first ones are important to grab and sustain readers’ attention, the ones that follow will make sure that the judges remember you.

The deadline to enter the 2021 WARC Awards for Asian Strategy is 14 July. Register your entry and download the Entry Kit and Entry Form here. We look forward to receiving your work!