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The Customer’s Journey – A Key (but Often Missing) Ingredient for Case Study Success

by | Jun 13, 2021 | Collateral, Lead Generation, Case Studies, Technology Marketing, Content Marketing, B2B Copywriting | 1 comment

As B2B marketers, we’re all familiar with the classic structure of a case study:

The Customer's Journey – A Key (but Often Missing) Ingredient for Case Study Success
  • Customer
  • Challenge
  • Solution
  • Results and Benefits

But is that really all there is to it?

Many marketing managers and copywriters seem to think so. Search through the resource pages of technology company websites, and you’ll find scores of customer case studies divided into four distinct sections, each headed by one of the four phrases shown above, or similar. You’ve probably read dozens of them.

But when reading such a case study, have you ever gotten the sensation that the solution just materialized miraculously, out of thin air? That the customer realized he needed a new solution and *POOF*, there it was? That something was missing from the story?

I know I have. And if that same something is missing from your case studies, you can bet your prospects will get the same, unsatisfying sensation.

Successful Case Studies are Good Stories

Case studies, or “success stories,” engage B2B audiences because they’re just that: stories.

We’re all familiar with stories. We’ve been listening to them and reading them since childhood. They’re easy for us to follow and remember. They capture our imaginations and hold our interest. Let’s face it, everybody loves a good story.

That’s why case studies work so well in technology marketing.

But to be successful, case studies need to follow the “rules” of good storytelling. If a case study seems to jump suddenly from the challenge to the solution, then it’s not following those rules. At least, not all of them.

Why does this happen? Well, it usually occurs because there’s actually more to case study structure than many copywriters realize.

The Complete Case Study Narrative Structure

The full narrative structure of the case study form is only slightly more complex than the one mentioned earlier, but the additional elements are extremely important. Here’s the full structure, with the less familiar sections indicated in bold:

  • The Customer
  • The Challenge
  • The Journey
  • The Solution
  • The Implementation
  • The Results and Benefits Achieved

We won’t deal with the entire structure. We’ll just look at the part that bridges the gap between the Challenge and the Solution—the part my colleague Steve Slaunwhite, author of The Everything Guide to Writing Copy, calls “The Journey.”

Why the Customer’s Journey Matters

The Journey is a crucial element of your case study, both as a narrative force and as a marketing one.

The Journey is where you describe the steps the customer took to find their solution. It’s not a well-known part of the case study structure, because it’s almost never labeled as “The Journey.” In a traditional case study, the Customer’s Journey is normally included at the beginning of the Solution section.

Each of the sections of a case study has certain responsibilities in the narrative flow. The Customer background section is what creative writing teachers call the Exposition—the opening part where the setting is described and the characters are introduced. The Challenge section introduces Conflict into the story by confronting the protagonist with a problem. The Solution represents the Climax of the action, where the conflict is resolved.

But when writing a story, you don’t want to reach the climax too soon. Between the initial Conflict and the Climax (i.e., between the Challenge and the Solution), you need to build tension. This is an essential narrative force called Escalation. If there’s no escalation of tension, there’s no drama. Your climax isn’t really a climax. In effect, you don’t have a story.

The bridge between Challenge and Solution

That’s where the Journey comes in.

The Journey provides continuity between the Challenge and the Solution. As you describe what the customer went through to find a solution to their problem, you help the reader empathize with the protagonist. As the journey unfolds, the tension builds. The reader wants the protagonist to find a solution to his challenge and resolve the conflict. This rising tension drives the story to its climax and its inevitable conclusion. The Journey is an important part of what gives stories their power.

The Customer’s Journey as Marketing Tool

The Journey is also extremely important from a marketing standpoint.

By reviewing the steps your customer took to find your solution, you reveal the customer’s decision process and show why your solution was chosen. This lets you highlight reasons why your product or service will be useful to the reader, without resorting to customary advertising claims.

The Journey also helps eliminate the competition. You point out the drawbacks of the competing solutions your customer considered and explain why they weren’t chosen. You use the customer’s own words to position your product or service as the best choice for all similar applications.

Finally, the Journey boosts credibility. By revealing your customer’s search and decision process, you fill in gaps and answer questions in your prospect’s mind. These added details make your case study more believable and more satisfying for the reader.

How to Guide a Successful Journey

What makes for a good Customer Journey in a case study?

It all starts with the customer interview. You need to ask your customer questions like these:

  • What steps did you take in trying to find a solution?
  • What options did you explore?
  • What difficulties or obstacles did you encounter in your search process?
  • What were the most important factors in your decision, and why?
  • What other possible solutions were considered? Why were they rejected?

Then, in your success story, you simply use those interview responses to build a logical progression that leads to the inevitable conclusion: your solution. You make the case for your solution while eliminating the competition along the way.

By the way, it’s probably best to not label this section of your case study as “The Journey.” It might confuse readers who are expecting the Customer/Challenge/Solution/Results formula. If you’re using the classic four-section format, simply include the Journey at the beginning of the Solution section.

If you’re presenting your case study in article format—for publication in a trade journal, for example—your Journey section will probably merit its own subheading. But it should be a descriptive subheading, one that helps scanners get the gist of your story and motivates them to read the entire article.

Take-Away Points

1. Case studies are stories. They need a solid narrative structure to work well.

2. Don’t jump abruptly from the Challenge to the Solution. Guide the reader along the
__Customer’s Journey.

3. Revealing your Customer’s Journey isn’t just good storytelling. It’s good marketing.

a. It highlights your solution’s strengths.

b. It exposes your competitors’ weaknesses.

c. It builds credibility for your claims.

4. The keys to a well-guided Journey are:

a. Gathering the right source material through good interview questions.

b. Making a logical progression from the Challenge to the Solution.

c. Providing plenty of detail to build credibility.

Need help crafting a compelling case study—one that follows all the rules of good storytelling? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011-569-4951. Or drop me an email at info@copyengineer.com.

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