Case studies are true stories, and true stories communicate credibility. They help readers understand how a product or service works in a real setting. Case studies validate solutions by going into specifics and providing details about a customer’s experience. In content marketing, case studies are like gold, because when you publish a case study, you tell a story that helps people imagine scenarios—and they are moved to act as a result.

Of all the traditional forms of marketing communications, case studies have proven to be one of the most durable. We humans love to hear about other people, and we often look to others to help us decide what to do. Narratives are most powerful when we read about people like us. Stories can build trust, increase sales, and shorten the sales cycle. Here are a few tips about how to build strong case studies that can accomplish all of that and more.

The Narrative Arc

The structure of a case study gives you an excellent framework for capturing the elements of a customer’s story. The three main sections are designed to contain the classic narrative arc and tell the age-old story of the hero: People meet with challenges to overcome, find solutions, and ultimately triumph.

  • Challenge. Describe the customer’s circumstances. Every customer has challenges to address, or it wouldn’t be shopping around for solutions. For example, a customer might be looking to lower costs, bolster data security, or expand revenue opportunities. It’s especially important to start the narrative in this section. This is where you draw the reader into the story. Use details and revealing quotes. Keep in mind that although people work in a variety of organizations, they are ultimately seeking the same kinds of things-things like innovation, profit, competitive differentiation, and success.
  • Implementation. Provide information on how the customer met its challenges by using a product or service. This section is the heart of the case study, and can be the most exacting to write. Every customer uses a product or service in a different way and it’s your job to record the specifics of the solution, including any custom deployment details or workarounds. Keep in mind that the customer—and not the solution—is the hero of the story. Avoid constructions such as, “The product made it possible for Company A to sell 150,000 tickets in 10 seconds.” Instead, write, “Company A used the product’s database management capabilities to scale beyond what a single database could provide.”
  • Results. Summarize the advantages that the customer gained by using the product or service. Start with a summary of all results and provide a compelling general quote that speaks to the solution’s overall value. Then give each individual benefit a heading and describe the proof points for each result. This is where you can use metrics related to results, such as productivity improvements, cost savings, improved profits, or increased revenue opportunities.

When writing a case study, keep in mind that your job is to make abstract concepts—such as how a product or service works—concrete and comprehensible. To build credibility, rely on a high level of detail, which helps make prose more convincing. To get readers engaged in an emotional way, provide specifics. Think of case study writing as one step away from journalism. You are the storyteller with a human interest piece to write, and that story is true. It’s honest labor, and it’s fun.

Download our solution brief Tell Me A Story: Unforgettable Content Marketing for more guidance on how to use case studies in your content marketing.