We’re all familiar with the traditional case study: background, challenge, solution, results. It’s predictable, but not without its advantages. For one, we’re used to it, so we know just where to find specific information like whether a vendor has worked with clients like us or how the business solved a problem similar to ours.
That said, the traditional format isn’t your only option, and in some cases, it’s not the most effective one. Let’s look at 3 alternatives, all of which draw on journalistic storytelling to grab—and keep—the attention of the reader.
The Magazine Feature
This one is somewhat similar to the traditional format, with a few key tweaks to make it more engaging. Major elements to include:
- An attention-getting lead to draw the reader in. Short on inspiration? Read the opening lines of magazine and newspaper articles to get you thinking in the right direction.
- Descriptive section headings instead of background-challenge-solution-results. Headings that entice or intrigue draw readers in while also allowing them to skim.
- Punchy quotes that tell the story in terms of a personal experience. Getting good quotes is an art, so it’s not a bad idea to brush up on your interviewing skills.
You can structure the magazine-style case study similar to the traditional format, or employ a looser storytelling style. The important thing is that it flows and reads like a magazine article, so a writer with experience writing for magazines is a major asset here.
When to use it: I think of the feature article as an all-purpose format. It stands out from traditional case studies, an advantage when you’re selling to over-marketed prospects. And if you’re pitching the story to journalists and editors, this is the format most likely to win you media coverage.
This format is similar to a Q&A column you might read in a magazine, focusing strictly on interview responses from a single individual. It’s simple to produce, with less writing and more focus on paraphrasing and occasionally shaping responses.
Again, interviewing skills are key, because your story is limited to the interviewee’s responses (one major disadvantage).
When to use it: This format won’t necessarily connect with all audiences effectively. For instance, C-level executives won’t want to wade through interview text to get the essential details of a customer’s experience, and it won’t be as useful for prospects who need education on your product or service.
Instead, use an interview when targeting highly technical groups like IT, who aren’t likely to trust anything that doesn’t come straight from the mouths of their peers. One mistake to avoid is collecting responses via email. They always come out sounding canned, because they lack the cadence and flow of natural conversation—a big problem when you’re trying to make a personal connection.
The Warm and Fuzzy
This is another one you’ll see in magazines sometimes, where a company sponsors a feel-good success story on an individual or organization. These case studies look more like advertorials, and employ a soft storytelling style that doesn’t explicitly reveal the details of the sponsor’s work with the story’s subject. The relationship between the sponsor and the subject can be either stated or implied, and there’s often a strong focus on values and ideals that ties into the company’s branding strategy.
When to use it: Use this format when you have trouble getting a big name client to sign off on a more detailed case study (some companies feel this is giving away trade secrets). You might also consider running it as an actual advertorial, which is also likely to help you secure permission.
I don’t need to tell you that providing custom-tailored content is a must in our industry today. Finding what resonates with your audience is the key to creating case studies that actually shorten the sales cycle. And sometimes, that means doing things a little differently, especially if it helps you stand out in the crowd.
Got questions about planning your next case study? Email me at racheltracy [at] oncallcopywriter.com.