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Casey Hibbard

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Are You Prematurely Aging Your Case Studies?




During a workshop I attended in LA last spring on oral storytelling, we discussed the elements that signal the beginning of a story.

A story sets us in a time, a place and with a subject.

•    “It was Christmas 2012 and we were sitting at the dinner table when all of sudden…”

•    "Wright Mechanics deployed SuperSolution in the spring of 2014..."

It’s back to journalism 101 with who, what, when and where.

Now I more readily notice story around me and am more mindful in trying to weave those pieces into my customer case studies to keep readers engaged.

But there’s a challenge with the “time” in customer case studies. Specific dates – particularly years – can age a case study unnecessarily. If you talk about a customer deploying a solution in 2014, by 2016 it sounds like old news.

I want my clients to be able to use a case study for as long as the information is still relevant and not worry that four numbers will make the story sound outdated. Saying that the customer switched to a solution in a specific year makes the story less evergreen.

So how do you put a time marker in case studies without dating them? Let’s look at several examples of phrases pulled from real customer case studies and even business school case studies.

•    “Just after sunrise on a cool September day, a parade of ambulances began carefully carrying more than 100 patients…”

•    “When the system went live on election day, it detected and stopped more than 150,000 potential attacks occurring every second.”

•    “It was one week after James Browder’s sixth board meeting as CEO of Aegis Systems Corp. (Aegis)…As Browder sat at his desk, pen and notepad before him, he reflected on his deteriorating relationships with outside directors and the events that had led to these circumstances.”

•    “When researching her most recent novel…”

•    “When the woman visited the clinic, she complained of difficulty breathing.”

These examples all have time or event markers to aid the story, but not specific dates.

As you write case studies, look for opportunities to put in time markers for more compelling storytelling.

What are your favorite examples of telling stories – with “non-date” time stamps?

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Casey Hibbard is the founder and president of Compelling Cases, Inc. and author of "Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset." She has helped dozens of companies create and manage nearly 500 customer case studies and success stories over the past decade. Casey is featured in numerous books, articles, and teleclasses. She consults with organizations one-on-one and conducts online customer-story classes.