Why Case Studies Don’t Work and What to Do Instead

Do you want people to care about your cause, idea or product?

A client of mine, we’ll call him Don, was struggling to get funding for his startup. He had a promising software product; he’d done a test market; he had the data.  People liked his presentation. Yet he couldn’t get them enthusiastic enough to act.

Have you ever been frustrated because you can’t get people to support your idea?  It’s compelling for you, but other people just don’t “get it.”  If this is happening to you, it’s time to look at your message.

In Don’s situation, he had case studies demonstrating the success of his product. The data was there, the usage numbers.  He had it all graphed out.

But that was his problem.  Case studies provide information, but they don’t spurn action.  If you want people to act, you have to give them something to care about. You have to give people something to care about.

You need an impact story.  When we work with business clients we help them craft what we call “customer-impact stories.”  Customers could also be students, patients, or employees, whoever you serve.

There are key differences between a case study and customer-impact story. Case studies are:

  • Factual with hard numbers and proof of an ROI
  • Large scale, they talk about the company or idea as a whole, not   individual people
  • Usually product or solution specific

Case studies are useful to help potential clients understand typical use scenarios.  They also help people understand new procedures, policies, etc. They’re information.

If you want people to truly care, you need to add the emotion of customer-impact stories.

A customer-impact story is more specific and emotional.  It focuses on more personal impact of the idea, and less on specifics of the solution.  In a business setting, the stories are about specific individuals your company served, and how your service affected them.  Customer-impact stories are:

1. True
2. Short, just a couple minutes
3. Describe the impact your solution had on a specific customer
4. Include vivid details
5. Touch emotions
6. Validate the purpose of your business

For example, think about a healthcare solution.  Imagine it’s a program to create a better nursing schedule, one that gets the right people in the right places with less downtime, and less overworking.  I can run you through the scheduling software, and all the elements of the program.  I can show you the stats on efficiency.

But if I really want to get you engaged, I’ll tell you a story about an individual nurse who was no longer overloaded with too many patients.  Or I’ll tell you about a patient, who got more personal attention at night because the system put more nurse assistants on during hours when highly-skilled nurses weren’t needed.  Understanding the impact the system has on an individual nurse or patient helps you care.  When you care, you’re more likely to take action.

Whether I’m the boss, trying to get you to use the system, or a salesperson, trying to sell you the system, using a customer-impact story will help me get people more engaged.

We can take that a step further.  If I’m trying to get my team excited about inventing the system, sharing a story about how it could impact nurses and patients will help my team be more innovative and motivated.

If you want to share information, use a case study.  If you want more commitment, use a customer-impact story.