Everyone loves a good story, especially when that story has a happy ending. What can make a great story even more compelling? When that story is true.
As marketers, we’ve been taught to eloquently boast about features, benefits and results. In some industries, the marketing rhetoric and jargon has become so commonplace that it often loses any power it may have once had, no matter how true the claims may be.
We so easily forget that some of the greatest marketing campaigns of all time never talked about performance or product; they talked about people. From the Marlboro Man to Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, they all tell a story.
Seth Godin said it best…
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”
B2B companies need to tell their stories. Even better is when they can let their customers do the storytelling for them. Enter stage left…the case study.
Elements of a Case Study
It’s been argued that most epic movies have the same plot. If you think of your favorite films and really analyze the storyline—from Finding Nemo to The Lord of the Rings—you’ll likely find that they all have many themes in common: great characters, conflict and some form of transformation. Building a case study won’t require a Hollywood studio, but it will require adopting some of the same principles. Let’s dive into the three main elements of a successful story to help you tell yours and develop a compelling case study.
The best storylines have characters that are highly relatable and have some endearing qualities that make the reader or viewer “feel” for the character. When it comes to crafting your case study, introduce your characters in a way that others can relate. You may be tempted to position your company as the main character — the hero that swoops in to save the day. But customers should always be the main focus. Why? Because readers want to engage and empathize with a character they can relate to, and they need to be able to put themselves in their shoes.
When sharing about characters in your case studies, help readers understand who they are and what they do. What are the goals and aspirations for their company? While facts and statistics are needed to measure success, don’t forget to introduce the characters in a real and relatable way.
People don’t necessarily want to know what your product or service can do; they want to know what it can do for them. Epic stories have some form of adversity — some problem needs to be overcome. So spell it out. Does a manufacturer have inefficient processes? Is an insurance company trying to compete in a high-tech market with ancient legacy systems? Is a service company losing money because they aren’t attracting sales leads?
Conflict also conjures up emotion. That’s what truly connects us with a story, isn’t it? Don’t be afraid to include information in your case study about the frustrations, fears and anxiety that your customers experienced before you came on the scene. People can relate to what it feels like to stay awake at night worrying about a problem.
In addition, true conflict has high stakes. In the cinematic world, the stakes usually involve the risk of losing something…a kingdom, a relationship, a life. In business, it might involve losing money, customers or opportunities for growth. At first glance, the storyline may not appear as though it will keep people on the edge of their seats, but for the business owner who is wracking his or her brain trying to figure out how to streamline processes to turn a profit and stay afloat, the struggle is real and the stakes are high. The characters in your case study need to have something to lose.
Every great story has a hero. As mentioned previously, many companies want to position themselves as the hero, but are they, really? When looking at great story plots, it’s often the character with the most to lose who ends up being the hero because he or she rose to the challenge, figured out the solution and transformed a situation into a happy ending.
Position your customer as the hero—the character who figured out that he or she had a problem and had the know-how and courage to tackle it head on. In their storyline, they discovered a solution (that would be you), and saved the day.
This is the fun part of the story where you get to share the results of your hero’s good decision to involve your company and how everything fell into place. Provide measurable results, before and after statistics, sales figures, and/or cost savings and other meaningful data. Be specific and give your audience an idea of the results they can potentially experience if they choose to become the hero and invite you into their own story.
Beyond the quantifiable results, talk about those that involve emotion. Talk about how employee morale has skyrocketed, how customer service has noted a marked decrease in the number of complaints they receive, and how relieved the characters in your story feel now that their problem is solved. Use your customer’s own words to tell how thrilled they are with the transformation by including a quote and, when appropriate, include a photo, too.
While writing a case study for your company may not result in a box office hit, using a storytelling approach and these techniques can help you draw readers in and compel them to involve you in their story—their own happy ending. Before you know it, you’ll be writing a sequel that tells of another great success story…and another.
Read other tips we’ve written about developing compelling case studies, and use our Case Study Template to get started. Just click the link below.