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Are customer stories the new case studies?

Content is the single most cost-effective way to project to the world who you are and what you do. So why are we still using boring old case studies as a means to propel business? We are evolutionarily wired for stories. Reading stories releases neurochemicals that...

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Content is the single most cost-effective way to project to the world who you are and what you do. So why are we still using boring old case studies as a means to propel business?

We are evolutionarily wired for stories. Reading stories releases neurochemicals that tap into our emotions and make us remember. When we read something that engages our emotions, we put ourselves into the story as if it were happening to us. Multiple areas of the brain are involved  – we imagine sensations and emotional reactions. The release of dopamine rewards us for following the emotionally engaging story, making it easier for us to recall later.

We are touched by good stories that come to life, grab our hearts and make us feel.

In contrast, case studies are traditionally a more formal, research-driven approach to convey information. (The words ‘case study’ bring to mind the hours and days at university spent writing them, packing dry facts into a predetermined format.) They are a way to present your potential customer with evidence that you’re worth their time and money.  What if we liberated case studies from the limits of convention? What if we made them more interesting and even fun?

Let’s open our minds to a new world of case studies. In fact, let’s stop calling them that. The old Case Study is the new Customer Story.

It’s already more exciting!

Traditionally, case studies convert leads by giving concrete examples of customers that trust you and have confidence in you. They’re an old-school way of providing social proof. You asked your customers to provide testimonials, which let’s face it – a junior staff member came up with something that sounded intelligent and said the right things and it was passed on to you. Anyone can say you’re awesome.

In the new school era of story-driven content, changing to Customer Stories means asking your customers about their favourite topic: themselves! It’s about letting them relax and be real as they tell you their story, giving you authentic words with feeling rather than recycled meaningless praise. Real stories with flawed characters are relatable simply because they are real, full of drama and tension which people can connect to. The result? Content which will grab your audience by the eyeballs and inspire them to act, while presenting your brand to the world.

So how do you go about creating a compelling Customer Story? Read on. We’ll show you the way.

  1. Single out the odd ones.

Look to your client base and see who might have the bones of a good story. Perhaps it’s a customer who has seen rapid growth, or an underdog who unexpectedly got himself out of the ghetto. Maybe it’s someone who started out selling records and ended up owning an airline. The best stories may be found in the least obvious of places. Look around, dig up some dirt and find out who seems to be the most useful to crafting your story. Start there.

  1. Showcase the hero – and sorry, but it’s not you.

Wait a minute – aren’t we all the hero of our own story? Shouldn’t we flaunt our success? Give ourselves some credit?

No, no, and no.

The real hero of your story is YOUR CUSTOMER. Let that sink in for a minute, and prepare your ego for the next blow:

No-one can relate to a business on a personal level. Not even yours.

People relate on an emotional level to other people. When they can imagine themselves in their shoes, they can feel their joy, pain, elation, dejection, success. Find the personal story in your customer’s business. Perhaps look for someone who was involved in the conception of the product, who comes from an unconventional background or was involved in a pivotal moment in the business. You need a real person, warts and all, that people can relate to. None of us are perfect, and no-one relates to perfection.

  1. Wing it.

This terrifies most people, but most of the time you won’t know what the story is going to be when you start the interview. This is an adventure! And if you know the outcome of an adventure, well, it was never an adventure at all, now was it.

Be prepared – prepared to think on your feet and fly by the seat of your pants. Ask them to tell their story, and allow the open and honest storytelling to reveal its gems. Keep your mind open to potential conflicts and offbeat details.

You’re like a brave explorer searching for treasure, and when you find it you can’t take your eyes off it, and neither will anyone else you show it to.

  1. Write using the Magic Formula.

You’ve survived the winging it part of this experience, now be rewarded with a formula for writing it. Yes, there actually is one. Let’s get right to it:

1) Present the challenge faced by the hero

2) Introduce the guide (that’s you) who gives insight to save the day

3) Describe the happy ending

Remember, it’s a story first. Every story has a challenge, a struggle, and a resolution (well, every good story anyway). The goodie shoots the baddie and gets the girl – along the way, someone or something helped the goodie. Sort out the details of each part. Tell a vivid story, fill it with beautiful language and gripping details that will make your readers remember it. Memory breeds familiarity, familiarity breeds recreation of the story. Which is all a big plus for you.

  1. Send it to your mother.

Share the story with your audience, publish to your social media contacts, sing it from the mountaintops and wherever else you promote your writing in the great wide world (never forgetting mum). We are leaving behind the old Case Study > Leads connection, and changing it to Customer Story > Content for Everyone.

Don’t forget the internals – your Customer Support team, Engineers, Product Development teams, CEO… everyone can benefit from an insightful and engaging Customer Story.

You’ve poured time and emotion into constructing the story. Get out the trumpets, sound the call and reveal it to everyone! Why limit your exposure?

  1. Give directions.

You’ve crafted The Ultimate Customer Story, tugged at heartstrings and got everyone’s attention – now what? They’re looking at you, kid. Don’t lose momentum at this crucial moment – they are a click away from disappearing down the rabbit hole that is the world wide web. Point them in the direction you want them to go. Where do they click, what do they do, how do they do it? Make it easy and clear what their next step needs to be.

Oh, and maybe leave some parting gifts. You know how you feel when you get a gift that makes you think ‘Aw, shucks, how did they know I would like that?’ Pass on that feeling by sharing links to other things they might like. A little bit of warm and fuzzy never harmed anyone.

So stand out with spectacular Customer Stories. Let others keep their tedious testimonials crafted into archaic case studies. Out with the old, in with the new! Grab this opportunity to shine brighter than your competitors and share your sparkle with the world.