A Christmas Story is a must-see classic movie. A lot of people apparently agree, as the 1983 classic is featured on TBS as a 24 hour TV marathon every Christmas.
A Christmas Story even offers an interesting product marketing-related lesson about case study writing. No, really! After all, Ralphie wrote one in the movie, remember…?
Chances are you have seen this classic Christmas comedy, featuring Ralphie, a 9-year-old boy living in 1940’s Indiana who desperately wanted an Official Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Unfortunately for Ralphie, whenever he even hinted about getting one, his mother always said, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
Of course, Ralphie refused to give up. For a school assignment, he wrote an essay (aka case study) all about the Red Rider BB gun he yearned for and why it was so important that he get one for Christmas. Ralphie was certain his teacher would be so enthralled with his essay she’d give him an A+. He could then triumphantly show his parents his grade – and essay – and surely earn his BB gun.
Suffice to say Ralphie’s teacher was less than impressed with his writing:
Poor Ralphie felt the same frustration experienced by anyone who has ever written a case study that failed to gain the interest and curiosity from the intended target audience.
By following a customer-focused, time-focused template when researching and writing case studies, we can instead impress readers with our customer’s success, and motivate them to learn more.
When developing a case study with an existing customer, I work through a simple series of questions focusing on the customer’s experience at three key points in time:
- Before your product or service: the drudgery your customer had previously endured.
- The customer’s “moment of epiphany”: when the customer realized your product or service was the right one.
- After your product or service: the old drudgery is gone, replaced with success!
First, what was the customer doing before your product or service? The more intolerable drudgery we can genuinely convey here, the better. Quantifying the drudgery our customer experienced in this “before” stage is also essential: how many dollars or personnel-hours were being lost by your customer? Less tangible but no less real consequences of this drudgery are welcome as well; for example, what business decisions might have been compromised due to the unacceptable status quo?
Next, ask your customer how and when they realized, “Yes! This is the right solution for us! The dark days of our drudgery are over! Help is on the way!” I’m only half-kidding here: we must convey to the reader what triggered the customer’s decision to buy; what led the customer to confidently conclude that our product or service is uniquely capable of solving their problems.
Identify the unique features and functionality relevant to this moment of epiphany, and how they translate into providing business benefits – a process Pragmatic Marketing calls marketecture:
Now, focus on the “after” phase: your product or service has been implemented for the customer, leaving a trail of roses in your path. Again, I’m only half-kidding: we must convey that the customer now knows their decision was a winner. What new success has replaced the old drudgery?
Take the time to carefully walk through with your customer one or more specific, formerly costly and frustrating business processes. How has your product or service resolved the drudgery that once plagued this business process? What measurable savings in money or time has the customer since realized? What plans does the company have to expand the use of your product or service?
When writing the actual case study, quote the customer directly wherever possible. Direct quotes from the customer declaring in their own words how valuable your product or service is to them will always earn more attention and credibility from readers than any narrative text.
Also… please avoid using those generic case study sub-headings; i.e., The Problem, The Solution and Results. They provide zero value to the reader and offer nothing in the way of SEO (a Google search for problem solution results as of this writing yields 1.4 billion hits). Your case study sub-headings should be written such that if your reader reads only the sub-headings, they still get a TL;DR understanding of your case study. Here is an example from some previous work of mine. Just read the main headings and you’ll see what I mean!
Did Ralphie still get his beloved Red Rider BB gun despite of his unsuccessful writing effort? Let’s put it this way: if he did, it was no thanks to Santa. Of course, product marketers must rely on more than luck to get the favorable attention of potential new customers. Compelling case studies are a one of the best means to do so. By asking your customer time-focused questions and actively listening, the customer will essentially tell you what relevant information belongs in the case study – before, during and after their wise decision to purchase your product or service.