No More Boring Case Studies!

by Gail Z. Martin

Marketing case studies MUST create empathy with the reader. If they don’t, you’re wasting your time, and your readers will become buyers—elsewhere.

I see people write up very “logical” and “fact-driven” case studies that look like the case studies they’re familiar with, the case studies they’ve seen in text books, and then they wonder why their case studies flop at making the sale.

Compelling marketing case studies—ones that create Results Envy—are NOT like academic or clinical case studies.

People who come from academia or from the health professions struggle with this. Academic and clinical case studies are impersonal. They create distance between the reader and the subject for a reason, because they are focused on details and technique. They are not trying to sell you something. They actually create emotional distance on purpose. They stress facts, not benefits. The reader does NOT want to see himself in the case. The human piece is almost completely gone.

Now those types of case studies serve a purpose in academic and medical circles, but they aren’t going to do you one bit of good when it comes to selling.

The reader must FEEL the pain of the person in the case study. If the reader doesn’t identify and empathize, the case study fails. So you’ve got to avoid anything that creates distance, that gives the reader ways to say “that couldn’t happen to me” or to look down on, pity or fear the person or their story. If the reader feels superior, he won’t feel that he needs whatever you’re selling. If the subject of the case study, the person whose story is being told isn’t a close enough match to the person reading the story, you might get pity, you might get compassion (bless your heart), you might get disdain, but you won’t get empathy and you won’t get sales. Reader empathy is CRITICAL.

Academic and clinical case studies use a lot of jargon to be very precise and to keep the story emotionally dry. Jargon saps the blood right out of your story. Take out the buzzwords, the jargon, the abbreviations, the industry-speak. Use solid nouns, active verbs, feeling words. Paint word pictures. Use short sentences that make an emotional impact. Make it tangible so the prospect feels the pain and feels everything that the person in the story feels.

Which brings me to the next point: tell the story. I’ll share some secrets on how to do that in just a little bit, but you’ve got to think about your case study as a story, with a beginning, middle and end. Think about what authors call the ‘dramatic arc’, which is how the story starts, then rises, then rises some more, then hits the climax, then drops off to a wrap-up.  Don’t tell a boring story. Tell a blockbuster. Tell an adventure story, or a love story, or an action story, but don’t tell a boring story.

The other way marketing case studies are very different from academic or medical case studies in in the importance of getting the reader to identify with the results. You know, if you’re reading a clinical case study about someone with a horrible disease, the reader doesn’t want to identify with the patient. He doesn’t want to feel their pain. He might be interested in how to treat the disease, but he wants to see the subject of the case study as a patient, not a person. And he really doesn’t want to identify with the results, because he hopes he never has the disease.

Most academic case studies are cautionary tales told to illustrate what went wrong. The listener is invited to feel superior and somewhat disdainful, and to pick apart the poor choices of the people in the case study. Nothing is being sold, and there’s no desire to feel the pain, empathize with the person in the case study, or identify personally with the results. It’s very impersonal.

That won’t cut it for a marketing case study if you want to sell products and services.

Make it exciting.  Get emotions involved. That’s when you’ll make the sale!


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