Business shoes, briefcase, watch, notebook and pen
Feb 03, 2009
Amanda O'Donovan

Corporate Storytellers

I’m a huge fan of case studies. These unsung heroes are wonderful business tools, bringing your marketing messages to life by using real examples of clients who already benefit from using your products or services. So why aren’t more of you posting these little gems on your websites? Forgive me while I eulogize, but everyone loves a good story and most people have one to tell.

If you’re looking for credible information about a company, who are you more likely to listen to? The CEO, a salesman or a customer? Independent PR firm Edelman’s 2008 Trust Barometer suggests, “…the most trusted source of information is consistently ?a person like myself.’ “[1] We’re more likely to believe information from someone who operates in the same business environment and shares our challenges. That’s why case studies are worth their weight in gold.

Putting together a convincing case study is not as tough as you think. Most of your customers would be flattered to feature in your success story. After all, the publicity will benefit their business as well as yours.

A good case study will get your readers to identify with the people and situations your story describes, make the connection between your expertise and their problem, and inspire them to take action.

As with any written piece, the preparation and review will probably take more time than the writing itself. Don’t skimp on these stages, as the effort you put in will be well rewarded.

Here are a few suggestions for a smooth ride:


Check the approval process

Generally, the larger the company, the more involved the approval process. Check company policy and ask about the stages involved. Can the interviewee sign off, or does the final document need the approval of e.g. legal/communications departments?

Confirm your goals

If your success story is going to steer the reader in the direction of your products and services, you must be clear about its purpose. What strengths do you want to promote? What action do you want the reader to take?

Do your homework

Before you conduct the client interview, examine the story from as many angles as possible by talking to people in your organization. Their insight and experience may take you in a different direction.

Steer the interview

Prepare notes that will keep both you and your subject on track during the interview. Remember your goals, and bring the conversation back to base when it wanders.

Ask open questions

Some people will talk too much and you’ll need to distill the most valuable information later. Others will be busy or distracted and you may need to feed them suggestions. For best results, ask questions they can’t answer with a simple “yes” or “no.”

Review the content

Don’t feel obliged to quote verbatim. Your interviewee may not always express a thought perfectly, and you may need to paraphrase. Just be sure to inject character by speaking in the person’s voice, and pass the case study back for review once you’ve completed your final draft.

Write as if you’re telling a story:

Introduce the characters

Outline the problem

Summarize your response

Underline the benefits

Describe the future

Amanda O’Donovan is a Toronto-based freelance copywriter. You can contact her at 416 456 3859 or

[1] The 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer survey was produced by research firm StrategyOne. It was conducted in October and November 2007 among respondents from 18 countries who are between the ages of 35 and 64; college educated; in the top 25% of household income nationally; and report a significant interest and engagement in the media, economic and policy affairs.