How to improve your Case Studies using the Hero Journey
What you (marketer) have in common with Obi-Wan and Mr. Miyagi

Testimonials and Case Studies are quite powerful marketing tools when it comes to showing the real effect of your products on real customers. Typically for B2B but also for B2C they are an excellent way to explain the benefits of your service or goods in a way that connects with real customer’s pain points. Their power comes from several pillars: It’s not your word but your customer’s, it’s focussed in their actual problems, it’s not just raw data but a real case scenario, and it’s told as a story. A real one.

The feeling of a real, non-staged story here is critical. The structure must take the reader/viewer from the beginning to the end seamlessly with a natural flowing. And, surprisingly (or not), one of the best ways to do it is basing your story in the Hero Journey structure.

The Hero Journey is a theory in Narratology that tries to create a common template for classic stories and tales in which a hero, who is forced to go on an adventure, is helped by a wise/magical entity, suffers a crisis, wins the final victory and returns home to be glorified. A large percentage of the modern stories, including series and movies, take parts and concepts from the Hero Journey (if not copy it step by step). And there is not just one but dozens of different theories from different authors (have a look at the Wikipedia here).

Ok, here is the theory but how can this help you to improve your case studies?

THE ORDINARY WORLD (Your customer introduction)

Home… Photo by Andres Iga

This is the initial stage, where the hero is introduced. And, bad news for you, you are not the hero. The hero is your customer. This first step’s objective is setting one of the most important pillars of the Case Study: They are real and very similar to your potential customers (so, even before this, you must have quite clear who your potential customers are!). Choosing the right customer is critical: They must represent the customer you want to target with this marketing tool. For B2B, for example, think of company size, sector, location, etc. If you pick an extreme case – a company that is too big for example- the other customers might not feel identified with them. And for B2C, the same but with age, gender, location, etc. That will help the viewers connect with them. Think of Luke Skywalker: Laying aside all the fantasy elements, he was just a teenager full of dreams and ambitions who felt his family didn’t understand him. Just like all the teenagers in the world, whom, by the way, were Lucas’ potential customers. Can you see the connections? So when your customers explain who they are and what they do, make sure they highlight these things that they have in common with other customers. If you are an online shop services provider and your customer farms ants for aardvark’s owners, use their peculiarities to add veracity and interest to the story, but ask them to talk about how many sales they think they might have if they were online, how other insects sellers are taking the local market, etc. Your essential point on this first part of your Case Study is that your potential customer says “Hey, laying aside the ants, these guys are just like me!”.

THE ADVENTURE CALL and the VILLAIN’S INTRODUCTION (Your customer’s challenges)

Another point that is often forgotten in case studies is that they must face a challenge. If they didn’t have any issues, they’d never move from the initial position. The same thing happens to the hero. Some of the theories include the concept of an evil Villain who is causing that need for a change or adventure. Or for your customers to buy something new or contract a new service. In the ideal Case Study, the customer would be facing a problem that can be solved with your product only. So, first things first, make sure that you know what makes your product unique. Make sure that you align your customer’s problems with these unique features. These problems here will be the villain. They must be depicted as problematic (or evil) as for to force them to change, but as ordinary as for looking real and familiar to the other customers. The viewers must say here “Hey, that happens to me too and is painful!”.

REFUSAL OF THE ADVENTURE (Your customer’s hesitations)

Photo by Ronaldo de Oliveira

Luke Skywalker had his family in Tatooine; your customers might think that is not worth buying a new product. So, even when this doesn’t have to be explicit in the story, think of these objections your customers may have to buy, contract or change to your product. Make sure that your hero, I mean the customer on screen, covers these objections and explains why they ignored or overcame them. For your ant farmers might be daunting to have an online shop, because they know nothing about programming and might be afraid of internet safety, which is a common issue for a lot of small business. In this case, make sure they say “we needed a solution that even my ants could use and as safe as their Queen’s room”. As my manager loves to say “The fear of change must be smaller than the pain of same…”. And your viewers must say here “I thought of that too and that’s why I never did it before!”

SUPERNATURAL AID (You and your product)

And, finally, your turn! In this structure you are that helper, donor or mentor that gives the hero that amazing “thing” (be physical like a sword or intangible like training) which they’ll use to face the villain and win the day. You are Obi-Wan, Emmet Brown, Merlin, Lucius Fox, Mr Miyagi, Morpheus or the Fairy Godmother. Exciting, isn’t it? You, or somebody from your company, may appear here explaining why your product or service was perfect for them. But, be careful. Remember who the hero is in this story. You’re here just to help, so don’t get all the attention. Give them the magical present and get away. Obi-Wan gave Luke the gift of the Force and his father’s lightsabre (which by the way he doesn’t use too much in the first movie) and then let himself be killed. You don’t have to die on screen, but let your customer tell the story. Remember that the essence of a Case Study is listening to a real story from a real customer. Let them explain how they discovered you, how straightaway was getting your solution and how easy was learning to use it.

FACING THE VILLAIN (Your product in action)

Photo by Jose Martinez

In the Hero Journey theory this has many steps and different names, but for us, this is the part in which you customer faces their problems using your product. And the best way to do it is taking these problems they described before one by one and solving them using your product or service. Your product is here the Bat-suit (goods) or the knowledge of Karate (a service), so make sure that your hero shows clearly how they (comfortably) use it to defeat the villains. The critical point of this part of the narration is to show, not only that your product works, but also that any of your potential customers can use it. This is the moment in which your potential customer thinks “Hey, I could do that. If I had that, I could also solve my problems”. If you tried to do the Crane Kick at least once in your life you know what I mean, don’t you?

THE END (Your customer’s satisfaction)

Once your hero has finished their adventure is time to come back home, to the initial point. How are things now? How has everything changed since they use your product? How many ants do they sell since they are online? And your customer might want to recommend you and your product to other potential customers. The viewers must say here “Hey, I wish my life were as easy as these ant sellers’!”

FINAL THOUGHTS

In storytelling, each piece of narration (say scenes in a movie or chapters in a book), should lead you to the next one. This is one of the secrets to a free-flowing story. Make sure that this happens in your Case Studies. If they explain what their business is, then is easy to connect with their unique needs. From their needs, we can move to their problems. Once the issues are explained, they can tell what they do to find a solution and how they found you… and so on. If your potential customers identify with the people on screen, the same way you do with characters in a movie, you’ll be creating a rational and emotional bond with them, smoothing the path to a lead.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below!

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