I’ve been wondering this for years, because as I explained to a client recently, while I think case studies are valuable, I think the case study format is tired. And I see a lot of tired writing plugged into case studies.
I like Jack Price‘s answer to this question on Quora. He writes:
“A common mistake is to describe the benefit in such glowing terms that it strains credibility. A better strategy is to describe the arc.
Definition: The arc is the range of change from beginning to end.
How much did the hero (client) change from the beginning of the story (before engagement) to the end of the story (after engagement)? That’s the arc.
Rule: It’s not the size of the arc that matters, it’s the amount of change that creates the emotional impact.
For example: you figure out a way for Bill Gates to earn a million dollars. It’s a lot of money, but he already has billions. Not so impressive. If you figure out a way for an unemployed factory worker to make a million, that’s impressive. There’s a big arc to talk about.
Rule: The greater the arc (amount of change) the greater the emotional impact.
The mistake writers make when they try to maximize the size of the arc is to concentrate on how impressive the benefit is at the end. It tends to sound like an exaggeration.
A better strategy is to concentrate on the beginning. What weakness was the client experiencing? What was the depth of the need? What did the client desperately want? What naive plans had they pursued and abandoned?
You can go just about as deeply as you wish in dramatizing the “before”, and it doesn’t sound exaggerated. In fact, it sounds empathetic.
Then when you describe the “after” picture, the reader perceives a greater arc and experiences a greater depth of emotional engagement.”
The problem I see here, however, is that not everyone has a case study story with a big enough amount of change to be, er, game-changing. Sure, the client may have suffered some unmet need, some strategic problem that they really had to overcome in their business. But all too often, the case studies I see out there show a result that is similar in nature to results achieved by competitors serving similar clients.
That said, considering the arc and degree of change is a very good idea. But I’d like to see clients invest in case studies that go beyond copywriting and a few screen shots. I’d like to see interviews in video, animation, motion graphics. You know, the kind of stuff we’re readily using these days to create dynamic and superior content. Those would be case studies worth engaging with.