«Return to Blog List Steal Hollywood Storytelling Techniques for Your Next Case Study


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A downed network or lagging sales may not be an evil dragon, but the threats your customer faces can feel just as frightening.

Turns out, we can learn a few things from Bilbo Baggins about business storytelling, or from just about any epic book or movie. From The Hobbit to Harry Potter, the most popular stories of all time essentially follow the same storyline: a hero overcoming a challenge and emerging better for it.

It’s a story formula seemingly tailor-made for customer case studies. A customer faces a challenge, overcomes it and ends up better off than before. 

By applying this time-tested storytelling approach to customer case studies, you engage audiences in a way that they – and their brains – recognize. Research shows that stories engage people’s emotions, which helps them recall information better. In short, they’re more likely to tune in and remember what you say.

A Hero (Your Customer) Ventures Forth

Joseph Campbell defined this story arc as the Hero’s Journey in his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

This may sound nothing like a customer case study used in business, but take a closer look:

• A hero = The customer (the person or company, or both)
• Fabulous forces = The challenge the customer faces
• Mysterious adventure = The experience the customer goes through to solve the challenge
• Decisive victory/boons = The outcome or result

4 Pieces to Steal from the Hero’s Journey

In every customer case study, I apply elements of the Hero’s Journey. But when consuming sales and marketing materials, the audience doesn’t have the patience to sit through hundreds of pages or hours of video. You need to get it done in a couple of pages or minutes.

I typically gel this classic storytelling structure down to four steps, instead of the 17 steps Campbell outlines:

1. The Call to Adventure (The Challenge)

In the Hero’s Journey, something disrupts the hero’s (customer’s) environment and must be addressed. In a customer case study, that can be either a problem or a goal to be reached:

• Sue, head of customer success, needs to raise customer satisfaction levels
• Bill, a marketing manager, struggles with increasing website traffic
• Jeff, a network manager, worries his company’s network is vulnerable
• Or Melissa, the owner of a small business, wants to land larger clients

In a case study, highlight the challenge or pains the customer faces and why it’s important to fix them – without going into too much detail or putting the customer in a negative light. 

2. Meeting the Mentor, or Supernatural Aid (The Solution, part I)

In the Hero’s Journey, the hero meets a mentor who provides guidance or an important tool (perhaps a weapon or magic powers). Think Gandalf. In a customer case study, who is your Gandalf? The vendor, who brings sage advice (consulting) or delivers a tool (product) to help solve the challenge. 

3. The Road of Trials (The Solution, part II)

In the Hero’s Journey, the hero faces trials and setbacks on the journey – just like a customer does. In a customer case study, you cautiously show trials and setbacks as the customer solves its challenges or meets the goal.

Things are mostly smooth in a customer case study. After all, it’s a marketing piece highlighting how a vendor helped. Yet don’t be afraid to show how, together, the customer and vendor overcame any challenges that arose. It makes for a more authentic story.

4. The Ultimate Boon/Reward (The result or outcome)

In a customer case study, you bring the story full circle; the hero of your story overcomes the challenge or reaches the goal stated at the outset.

While Bilbo Baggins won back a mountain, defeated a dragon and reclaimed treasures, Sue raised her company’s CSAT scores by 20% or Bill tripled website traffic from one month to the next.

Sure, a customer case study isn’t an epic story. But consider how you can weave in elements of the Hero’s Journey to take your audience on the customer’s journey. In doing so, you’ll be applying centuries-old storytelling practices proven to engage audiences and make your marketing more memorable.

One Response to Steal Hollywood Storytelling Techniques for Your Next Case Study

  1. Conley Falk says:

    Your article, “HERO’S JOURNEY FOR STORYTELLING” inspires my client success story writing so much that I’ve bookmarked it!!
    Looking forward,