How to write marketing case studies that break the mould

I’ve just written a marketing case study. It’s been a while since my last one and it reminded me of how valuable interesting marketing case studies can be.

It also reminded me that the way you choose to tell your story is almost as important as the story itself…

Good marketing case studies do things differently

Bog-standard marketing case studies run something like this: client meets customer, client and customer strike up great working relationship and have a mutually beneficial time. The end.

That’s okay as far it goes. But it doesn’t really do anything to hook your reader.

Partly the format is to blame. It’s easy to get locked into making case studies look and feel consistent. But a house style and an ongoing design template aren’t necessarily a good idea. Your client relationships are all different and your case studies should reflect that by looking and sounding distinctive.

Tales of the unexpected

The best marketing case studies you’ll ever read are the ones that surprise you. That’s storytelling rule #1.

As with any story, whether it’s a case study or a whodunit, it’s the need to find out what happens next that keeps us reading. But you can’t keep your readers in suspense if they already know what’s coming next. And let’s be honest, most marketing case studies tell the same story – in the same way. So readers do know what’s coming next.

Your readers need incentives to keep reading. Lots of incentives.

Marketing case studies that set out scenarios your readers can relate to are great. So are case studies that address industry questions. And so are case studies that really surprise them…

When marketing case studies go bad…

If you really want to surprise your audience, do the last thing they’ll expect. Tell them about a difficult working relationship. Tell them about what happened when things went wrong…

At the time of writing, we’re getting to the end of a difficult job. It’s been a lot of hard work. And it’s taken real commitment to see it through. There have been times when either side could have quit, but we’ve all been sufficiently determined to make it work.

If everything had gone according to plan from day one, it would have made a very bland marketing case study. But, with all the ups and downs, the uncertainty and the difficulty, it’ll actually make a brilliant, surprising and very positive case study.

By focusing on some of the bad things, you get to share some really perceptive content with your customers. Readers aren’t used to hearing about problems; they’re not even used to suppliers being that honest with them.

But that’s a shame. Marketing case studies about adversity makes compelling reading. Reassuring reading, even. Because even if customers are drawn in by the disaster, it’s the way you unpick all the problems and resolve all the issues that they’ll remember.

To err is human. Case studies that own up to occasional problems give a more realistic view of the working process.

Besides, it’s far better to work with a company that’s a proven problem solver than a company that can’t even admit to having problems.

The non-linear marketing case study

Something else readers don’t expect is being given a story in an unusual order. Filmmakers and novelists use this device to involve their audience in a way that spoon-fed stories don’t. Audiences have to work a lot harder, but it’s worth it. They get a lot more out of the story as a result.

Even if you’ve got a bog-standard story about meeting your customer’s expectations, you can dress it up in a non-linear structure. Start with a client comment from the end of the process and then flashback to contrast the joy of a successful resolution with the uncertainty of a tentative beginning.

The interrogative marketing case study

How about this for a variation? Instead of telling a story, answer some key questions or address an industry issue through the medium of a marketing case study:

  • How do you deal with this kind of problem?
  • Why is this process effective for this market?
  • Is this issue getting better or worse?

Answering your customers’ common questions is a great way of relaying the same sort of story, but in an interesting and unusual way.

Marketing case studies that keep ‘em hanging on

Marketing case studies can be a great resource if we’re brave enough to do things a little bit differently.

You can spin the same facts into a completely different story. You can make each case study a unique window on a job or working relationship. And you can give people a genuinely useful new slant on an old marketing staple.