Case Studies/How To

Two Storytelling Secrets Marketing Managers Can Use To Transform Boring Case Studies

Posted by M. Sharon Baker
Two Storytelling Secrets Marketing Managers Can Use To Transform Boring Case Studies

Do your case studies make prospects yawn?

Do your case studies make prospects yawn?

Most business case studies are nothing more than informational reports where concepts are discussed in generalities.

Many are formulaic, starting with an overview of the customer and a general outline of their problem and, in very general terminology, how your company solved that problem.

What’s missing are the specifics that allow you to create and write an engaging story that resonates with prospects.

Jack Hart, a newspaper writing coach and collaborator who helped several reporters win Pulitzers, addresses the difference in his latest book, Story Craft.

For years, he says, reporters were directed “to show not to tell.” But in reality, he says, to tell a good story, you need to do both – tell and show – by moving up and down the abstraction ladder.

A case study must describe a general problem that many have encountered, but make us feel the pain of the problem by providing specifics and highlighting the pain of a single customer. The key is to make us feel the pain, not just describe it.

So how to you do that?

First, ask the right questions in the interview process.

Identify the pain points. There is a big difference between “having an antiquated phone system” and having the press box phone bank go dead during the championship basketball game.

Or between “maintaining an old PBX system” and having to wait four days and then pay $1,500 for a service provider site visit only to tell you it will take another five days to get the part you need.

Your customers call you for a reason. Listen to what they say and start capturing that information.

During a case study interview, ask them to tell you what they are trying to do and why it is important to their company. What problems are they running into, and how does it affect the overall business?

Get really specific and ask how, why and “what happened then” questions.

Don’t settle for generalities like “our computer system was very old.” Dig until you hear “many of our customers wanted to place bets right from their mobile phone while the thoroughbreds paraded to the track. But our network couldn’t handle every new device and we knew we were losing millions of dollars.”

Second, quantify results people can relate to and understand.

You didn’t just save your customers time and money. You can now get the press box phone system up and running in five minutes from your home at any time rather than driving 25 minutes to the field, figuring out what is wrong and without making a $150-hour service call.

You didn’t just add new servers and a T-3 line, you provided Internet access to 400 students who used to sit in the library and find the information they needed in the school’s single set of 10-year-old encyclopedias.

Ask customers what benefits they now receive from your services. Ask them to contrast the task now to what they did before, and to quantify how easy it is to accomplish now.

Armed with these specific details, you should be able to write a chronological story, starting with your customer’s biggest headache and progressing to how you solved the problem and how his life is much, much easier now. Weave historical details and company background throughout the introduction rather than blurting it out at the beginning.


Tell prospects a story; don’t dump information in their lap. The story is in the details; you just need to dig them out.

Photo: Morguefile by Indenture


Are you tired of the formulaic method of writing case studies? How are you making your case studies more engaging?


What Do La Conner Tulips Have To Do With Content Marketing?

Posted by M. Sharon Baker
What Do La Conner Tulips Have To Do With Content Marketing?

By far, the most popular post on this blog is Where I work: La Conner WA Tulip fields.  While it is a year old, it gets many hits.

That’s because it’s April and once again visitors, north in Vancouver, B.C.  and south in Seattle, want to know what’s happening in the tulip fields of Skagit County, where I live.

Last year, we had tons of sun, which allowed me to go out and take some good photos.

This year, it has been wet and cold, and going into the third weekend of tulip time, we’ve had just one chance to get out and take photos on a sunny day.

We took most of these photos this morning.

Visitors might be disappointed this year to learn that the field workers are clearing fields daily, thinning the ranks, which makes for not so good photos.

And at least one field I thought I was going to shoot went from nearly blooming to all flowers gone – yes, gone, the next day.

Washington Bulb Co.’s largest field available to the public on Best Road is currently closed.

I’m not sure if that’s due to the rain or bloom harvest going on.

It has the purple tulips I really wanted to shoot, but this morning at 7:30 at least three groups of workers were taking off the blooms.

Are people across the country buying tulips at record numbers?

Washington Bulb Co. is the largest bulb supplier in North America, and I can only guess that they harvesting to fill a boatload of orders.

Or the rain is mucking things up. In case you are wondering, it’s cold and pouring rain this afternoon.


So what do La Conner’s tulips have to do with content marketing?

Lifting the curtains from time to time helps put a face on your company.

Prospective customers are curious and want to know what happens at your place.

While bios can tell you a little about each person, adding additional content like news articles, posts on a blog or even simply sharing photos provides added depth and fosters connections.

Two good examples of this happen on Compendium Inc.’s blog and Gail Harker Creative Studies Center blog.

(Full disclosure, I have worked with Compendium and now work with Gail but I have nothing to do with their blogs.)


Scroll down on Compendium’s blog to the post about being named  Small Business of the Year and you’ll see a cool video of their digs.

On their press page, you can learn more by reading the many magazine articles that have been written about them.

Sharing what’s happening at the Creative Studies Center and what students are up to is central to Gail Harker’s blog.

Anyone interested in taking Gail’s art and design or stitch classes gets a good sense about what the Center is all about and the quality of teaching happening just by browsing her posts.

For me, writing about the tulips gives you a chance to see the wonderful place I’m living, and gives me a chance to show off my photography.


P.S.  Please don’t pin my copyrighted photos on Pinterest.

You also won’t find these on Facebook. I’m not participating in either social platform.

I’d rather you send people to this post via Twitter or Delicious, or tell me below that you like them.

I’m thinking about taking my best shots and making a postcard set.

In the meantime, tell me:

How do you provide a glimpse inside your company to the outside world? Please comment below.

© Photos by M. Sharon Baker