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The Psychology of Case Studies: Five Ways to Amp Up the Impact of Your Customer Stories

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I recently met up with Dr. Simon Moore, a respected business and consumer psychologist who specializes in brand experience.

He is a master of unearthing the reasons consumers behave the way they do, and using those insights to help brands improve engagement.

I wanted to understand what it was that made case studies so useful in sales and marketing, and suspected that the answers lay in psychology.

I wasn't disappointed.

It turns out that effective sales and marketing is all about understanding the underlying emotional drivers of buyer behavior. And, when applied, those insights can help supercharge content.


This is what I learned.

How to Craft a More Compelling Case Study

For children across the world, stories are an integral—and, more important—enjoyable part of their bedtime ritual. So, it's not surprising that we are conditioned to like stories.

Trained as we are from a very early age, our brains have learned to process information through the medium of stories and to remember them.

But it goes much deeper than that.

Simon Explains

"Stories are psychologically friendly because the way they're structured is very neat. They have a start, middle, and end, which is easy for the brain to process. This is essential because despite having a huge amount of untapped potential we don't have unlimited brain power."

It's also why you should never present someone with a list of facts. That's really hard on the brain. There's no way of ordering it.

But you want people to remember what you told them. And when you put information in the context of a story, their brain is already geared to remember it.

Power Up 1

When committing your case studies to the page or video, concentrate on the narrative. Case studies already have a three-part story structure built in: the problem, the solution, and the result. Use that structure to tell a compelling story.

When you do, you make your case study eminently more enjoyable to read or watch, and easier to digest, process, and recall.

People will remember it, internalize it, and work out its relevance for them; and, just as important, they will also be able to pass it on.

How to Move From 'Me Too' to 'Perfect Partner'

In psychology, it's called empathetic intelligence, and it plays a major role in our enjoyment of stories.

It's our ability to listen to a story about somebody else—and put ourselves in their shoes.

As a result, you can experience events that you may never witness yourself, and you get a feel for what it would be like to be there. You can travel to various periods in history, experience life on far-flung planets, and encounter people you would likely never have the chance to meet.

More important for your sales and marketing, you give your market the opportunity to play out scenarios that they may be personally experiencing, and so also assess the (positive) outcome you promise.

Simon Explains

"Stories allow you to safely test scenarios without the risks. You automatically play the action back to your own situation. You tweak what you are watching or reading or hearing to fit your own circumstance and play them out as if you were the one in the story."

Empathetic intelligence is the reason soap operas are so popular: When watching them, we are asking what we would do were we in that situation. You automatically put yourself in that situation—assessing both risk and potential gain or loss for you.

Power Up 2

Tell your client's story. Outline the challenges they wanted you to fix and why those challenges were occurring. Explain how you helped to fix problems and describe what life/work was like for your client after the solution was implemented.

In a world where trust is hard to win, your client's story will not only help your prospect safely play out the resolution of their own challenges but also position you as the perfect option as a provider of the solution.

The more relatable the story, the more your prospects will connect with it.

How to Increase Urgency

In some ways, we are simple creatures. Despite having accomplished incredible things scientifically, we remain very close to the cave psychologically.

Simon Explains

"Reward-and-punishment is still the thing that guides us. The way that we navigate the world is to avoid the things that make us feel anxious and scared, and seek out the things that make us feel good."

For the majority of us, fear is the greater force.

Though we like the idea of losing weight or saving money for a rainy day, there's nothing like a health scare to get you in the gym, or the knock of a bailiff to get you to cut up your credit cards.

Power Up 3

In you case study, focus in on the problems that your client was struggling with. Make it personal. The more someone can see their own situation reflected in the story, the greater the emotional connection.

Think about how the story hooks into their own concerns: What are the things that keep them up at night? These are not questions about the business, per se; these are questions about the people you are looking to attract.

When you do, you will stimulate your prospect's empathetic intelligence. Seeing their own situation reflected back will increase their unease and make your solution and the results it delivers, all the more compelling.

How to Increase Desire

It's the question we ask ourselves before making any decision, big or small: What's in it for me?

No matter how generous, altruistic, or selfless a person is, that question is always there in the background, influencing his or her actions.

Because, ultimately, we all have the same drive in common: looking after number-one.

Simon Explains

"When you tell people who you are and what you do, it rarely engages—because they can't see their ego in that. The ego is asking very different questions: Where am I in this scenario? What will I get out of it?"

Power Up 4

Results are important. Vital, even. But what makes the results that much more compelling is the impact they've had on the person who hired you.

When outlining the results of the project, describe what they meant to your client—things like...

  • How you made them look to their team and higher ups
  • How you helped progress their career or save it
  • How you freed their time up to spend on the things they enjoy

Remember, saving money or time or increasing efficiency isn't what's at stake; it's what those things mean to a person that makes them meaningful. If saving money is going to save your job, then that's what's really important.

How to Boost the Feel-Good Factor

The way we perceive the world can be split in two: what we think about it; how we feel about it.

What we think is important. It's the logical side of who we are. We look at the world around us and assess each element to determine its appropriateness.

You view a pair of shoes and assess whether they are fitting for the activities you intend to use them for. You then put them on to ensure they're the right size for your feet.

However, ultimately, those logical reasons only contribute to the decision to buy. What seals the deal is how you feel about the shoes—your real reasons why you purchase.

Simon Explains

"The Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman demonstrated that we have two cognitive systems that impact our decisions: One is emotionally influenced, and one is more rational/pragmatic. His research proved that emotional drivers generally have greater influence on our decision-making and behavior than more rational and logical ones."

The shoes may be the right fit and they may be appropriate for the job at hand, but if they don't say what you want them to say about you and they don't reflect what you want others to think about the person you are, you likely won't buy them.

Power Up 5

When telling your customer's story, don't concentrate on what they bought from you. Focus on why they bought it from you.

What was it that got them personally engaged? How did you make them feel good about their purchase? How did you help allay their concerns about you and your products?

Those factors are far-flung from the logic of features and benefits. They are the food of emotional need.

Unleash the Power of Your Case Studies

Keep in mind the above-outlined five ways of amping up the power of case studies, and you'll create high-impact, prospect-pulling, mean marketing machines.


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Alex Moscow is the owner of 9mm Public Relations, a boutique communications consultancy that helps B2B businesses build profile, pipeline, and profit. Check out its case study audit tool.

LinkedIn: Alex Moscow

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Comments

  • by Ford Kanzler Mon Feb 13, 2017 via web

    Superb, actionable, well-written advice.
    Also really dig your business' About page. So few PR or marketing communications services clearly state their differentiation. If the can't do it for themselves, how can they possibly do it for clients? HooRah!

  • by Alex Moscow Mon Feb 13, 2017 via web

    Thanks for the kind comment Ford. Glad you liked the article and the 9MM website. All the best, Alex

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