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The Art of Customer Case Studies – It’s the Story, Stupid!

Perhaps it’s their unfortunate name, too synonymous with staid blurbs in business school textbooks, but “case studies” are all too often uninspiring. From one featured customer to the next, each one can sound the same.

That’s why long ago I started calling them success stories. Because, no matter whether you’re targeting prospects, the top trade publication in your industry, or potential investors or partners, everyone loves to read a good story about real people doing real things.

When you tell an engaging story from start to finish, readers are more likely to stick with it and truly understand the value of the featured services or solutions.

Here are some tips for keeping stories fresh and interesting.

Know Your Subject Matter!

Whether you’re an employee of the company or a contractor creating a case study, a solid foundation in the featured solutions is critical. Watch demos, read data sheets, look at diagrams – whatever it takes to truly understand what you’re talking about.

Find Your Angle

Journalism grads, so trained in story angling, may have a leg-up here. It’s all about your angle.

Even if all customers use a solution in about the same way – often the case with technology products – it’s the writer’s job to find and bring out the unique perspective in every story. Each company’s operations, challenges and goals are different.

Also, the most valuable angle for your marketing, sales and PR efforts may vary for each story. You might focus on how a solution enables internal efficiency in one story or how it supports regulatory compliance in another.

Craft Questions Carefully

Your story is only as good as the information you collect, so conscientiously prepare interview questions.

Start with internal company contacts such as account/sales reps or reseller partners to gather background that will make you sound knowledgeable in customer interviews. Then spend time crafting your questions for client interviews. Map the questions to what you want the end product to look like.

Interview the Actual Customers

OK, this may be obvious, but companies occasionally create case studies from internal contacts close to customer accounts. These just don’t have the same impact.

Interviewing customers directly gives you the first-hand details and powerful quotes that make stories interesting and credible. Prospects want to see actual customer commentary.

Understand Your Audience

As with any marketing communications materials, an understanding of your audience is key. Are they technical folks, or business decision-makers, or both?

Give the audience the information it needs. In the case of dual audiences, balance technical and business benefit information, perhaps going lighter on the technical side. Tech contacts can get more of what they need from white papers or other materials.

Cater to Skimmers Too

Some buyers will read every word of your story, while some want to get the gist from headlines and sidebar summaries.

Use your headline, subheads, pull quotes and summaries to encapsulate the highlights of the story for those just skimming.

In short, approach every project with an eye for strong storytelling relative to your company’s goals, and your stories will resonate with readers and accomplish their intended objectives.

About the Author: Casey Hibbard is the founder and principal of Compelling Cases, a firm specializing in customer success stories and best practices – and has written more than 300 success stories herself.

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