The Ultimate Guide to Writing Narrative-Style Case Studies

by | Content Writing and Copywriting

Tired of dry, uninspiring customer stories with no zing?

Here at Horizon Peak Consulting, we do case studies … a little differently.

We use narrative storytelling to craft engaging studies that feature the customer as the hero of an epic journey.

This narrative approach not only helps your customer feel like a total rock star ​​— it gives your prospects more value because they can see themselves in the story and imagine their own successes if they hire your company to help them solve their problem.

Let’s take a closer look at why narrative case studies will get you better results, and explore some how-to tips for crafting this unique style of customer story.

Here’s Why Human Beings Connect With Narratives

Why does narrative delight us and help us engage? Why do we like engaging customer stories with lots of juicy details and direct quotes?

The short answer is that stories engage the human brain in a way nothing else does. As we evolved as a species, we used stories to communicate our experiences — and stories remain powerful points of connection today.

We’ve all seen short, concise customer profiles on companies’ websites that just aren’t pulling their weight as marketing assets. Typically, you’ll see a two-sentence statement of the problem, a tight description of the solution and a short summary of the results. If this is the way you’re crafting your case studies, you’re missing a huge opportunity to connect with (and convert!) your audience.

People love stories, so our highest ideal when we’re writing case studies should be to make a human connection through the story. Throughout human history, stories have given us a way to explain the unexplainable, and communicate the most complex feelings and experiences of our existence.

Using the Power of Narrative at the Bottom of the Funnel

Case studies are typically bottom-of-funnel content, so by the time someone reads one, they’re often strongly considering working with your company.

A hot prospect is interested in finding out more about what it’s like to work with your company, and they want to explore the results they might be able to achieve. Reading engaging, detailed stories about the experiences of your other customers allows them to imagine themselves following the same path and achieving success beyond their wildest dreams.

There’s a little bit of ego involved, too. When prospects read narrative-style case studies where the customer is the center of the action, they want to be the hero too! They want to be the person who achieves incredible results and gets to have a story written about them.

Here’s a caveat, however: A longer, narrative approach isn’t always appropriate. If you absolutely must write a case study that fits into a very small space on a single web page, you won’t have time to explore a larger customer narrative or use extensive customer quotes.

But in most circumstances where you are actively sharing a case study with leads or potential customers via email or social media, a narrative approach will be far more engaging.

What Is the Difference Between Narrative and Story?

Let’s take a minute to talk about the difference between a narrative and a story.

Narrative is how and why we’re telling the story.

The story is the journey from beginning to end, and the stops along the way. It’s the structure of the tale, and it should include three parts:

  • A beginning (introduction), including the background of the company and the problem they were struggling with
  • A middle, including how they worked with your company to help them solve the issue and accomplish their goals
  • An end (conclusion), which includes the results of the work you did together and (potentially) what they’re looking forward to in the future as they continue to use your solution

In every section, you can use customer quotations to add depth and breadth to the story.

4 Tips for Writing and Distributing Powerful Narrative Case Studies

1. Get customer approval in advance

Most customers love to be featured in a narrative-style case study, because it makes them look like a superstar — but if your customer is in an organization with strict legal regulations, they may not be able to go along with a narrative approach. When in doubt, get advance permission and let the interviewee know you will be using direct quotes and numbers (if shared) to craft the story.

Before publishing your case study, have your customer check it over to make sure they’re comfortable with the narrative style and the quotes you chose.

2. Get a third party to conduct the interview

Yes, you can conduct your own interviews with your customers — but you’ll get better stories if you bring in a third party for these conversations. Your customers will tell more candid stories and are less likely to hold back when talking to a third party.

And because the interviewee won’t be worried about offending you, they might even bring up some challenges they’re having, giving you an opportunity to make things better for them. I regularly conduct case study interviews for our clients, and there have been a few times when issues came up during our discussions. It was always an enormous value for my client to get this feedback.

3. Find the throughline of the story

Remember that during an interview, the story may not come out in a linear way. Read through the transcript of the interview to find the beginning, middle and end of the story, then grab quotes to support each section.

Customer quotes are the secret sauce of our narrative-style case study approach. There’s nothing more compelling than hearing a happy customer’s own words, speaking about their direct experiences, painting a vivid picture of what their journey looked like and the successes they achieved.

4. Shine the spotlight on your case study

Once you’ve crafted your case study, how should you use it? Case studies are some of the most powerful marketing assets in your toolbox, so make every effort to share them far and wide.

Turn the content into a well-designed and formatted PDF document, so you can easily distribute it across channels. This can include emailing the PDF directly to a client, showing it to a prospect on a tablet, including it in a digital sales room, or even printing it out and putting it directly into a customer’s hands during an in-person meeting.

You can also repurpose case studies and turn them into webpage content, and turn direct quotes into audio sound bites or shareable images for social media.

But here’s an important tip — don’t lock your case studies behind castle walls!

By the time your prospect is ready to read a case study, it’s likely one of the last pieces of content they’ll look at before they buy. They’re trying to find out specifics about what it will be like to work with you and use your solution to solve their problems.

If the prospect is at that point, don’t put a roadblock in front of them by gating your case study and putting an opt-in form in between them and the story they’re itching to get their hands on.

You wouldn’t think I’d need to add this note, but I’m surprised by the number of companies that gate their case studies. It’s often because the marketing team wants to know who is interested in the case study content, to get more target market data or inform an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy. But when I explain the logic of why they shouldn’t make it harder for people to access case study assets, they ungate them pretty quickly — because building the relationship with a lead is always more important than gaining more customer data.

Creating Marketing Magic With Narrative Case Studies

Customer case studies can be powerful marketing tools for your hottest prospects ​​— and you can make them more effective by crafting stories that connect with people and allow them to imagine themselves as part of the tale.

Use these tips to craft narrative-style case studies that make your customers look like superheroes, and make it easy for prospects to see the results they could get if they buy from you.

Connect with Jessica Mehring on LinkedIn to learn more about how Horizon Peak Consulting can help you craft powerful customer narratives that free you from the boundaries of traditional case studies.