Case studies provide all the appeal of a good story while sharing solutions for overcoming challenges or achieving objectives. The promise of practical tips draws readers’ interest, and if they can identify with the people described within the case study, they become emotionally involved and you’ll hold their attention.
In order for your case study to work, you’ll need to pay attention to specific storytelling elements.
One of the most daunting steps in creating a case study is the first: finding a suitable story. This task involves identifying your best success stories and then asking those clients or customers to have their experience put in writing. MarketingProfs has useful advice for persuading clients to agree to case studies.
So, what makes for a great case study story? The best option is a dramatic turnaround. However, if you can’t find a“rescue story,” look for clients who had significant goals that they wanted to achieve via the product/service. There’s no story without conflict, so you have to identify the dragon (problem) or quest (campaign).
Also, you need to ensure that the individual or organization attributes significant return on investment (ROI) to your product/service and can measure it. Sometimes people agree to be interviewed for a case study and then turn out to be uncertain about the ROI, either because of a lack of data or because they’re not sure which elements of their initiative produced results. You can save yourself a lot of trouble if you ask a few questions about results before or while determining that a client would be a good subject for a case study.
Some experts recommend making your product/service the main character or hero of your case study story. However, I recommend that the customer be presented as the protagonist (that is, the main character). Why? Well, for one thing, your readers are more interested in how someone similar to them solved problems or achieved their objectives. Emotional involvement, remember?
Plus, a major tenet of storytelling is that the protagonist is always the character that changed the most. Your product/service didn’t change; it brought about change. Therefore, I recommend that you think of it as the Excalibur to your client’s King Arthur.
The Length & Format
Writers of fictional stories must consider whether they’ll be writing a novel, novella, short story or flash fiction. Likewise, the length of your case study will depend on whether it’s to be published in a trade journal, newspaper or newsletter, displayed on your website or printed on the front and back of a takeaway sheet for sales reps or trade shows.
Additionally, just as stories have a beginning, middle and end, a case study has three main sections: Situation/Challenge, Response/Solution and Results. Those sections can have different headings, and you can add extra sections as it suits you. For example, one of my clients inserts a Benefits section before the Results segment, and another starts case studies with a summary of the overall experience.
Final note: Just as fiction writers improve in part by reading fiction, you should take the opportunity to collect and read various case studies at MarketingSherpa, Bulldog Reporter’s Winning PR Campaigns and other resources. The more you read, the more you’ll hone your eye for a good case study story.