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Marketing Accounting Services With A “Case Story” Instead Of A “Case Study”

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Going through some old material from Bryan Rhoads, over at Content Marketing Institute, I started digging into an article where he talked about storytelling, and I put the concept of storytelling together with the use of case studies by accounting firms.

Once you get past the idea that you don’t have enough time to put together a case study, and learn to run a business where you can delegate the task of content creation to a content professional, you have to develop a philosophy about your case studies. That’s where storytelling comes in.

Somewhere along the line, you discover that clients don’t want to have their business featured in a case study, mainly because it makes them look a bit like an abject failure at business management, and they can only be saved by the bigger than life hero who rides in on their white horse to save them. That’s you, and while you may be proud of your abilities, your client doesn’t want their deficiencies pointed out.

No one wants to have it out in the open that they can't run their business, which is . . . Click To Tweet

No one wants to have it out in the open that they can’t run their business, which is why you may want to consider transitioning your marketing material away from case studies to ‘Case Stories.’

While a case study provides great data, and detailed facts, it doesn’t sell. A story that gets the reader or prospect emotionally involved, sells.

A story provides more interesting and engaging content, and moves your prospect along to the inevitable conclusion that your services are the salvation to all their problems. A story gets your prospect emotionally involved, and all prospects, no matter how much they try to pretend that they only buy on facts, do in fact buy based on emotion.

Now of course your story needs to be based on facts. It is a bit embarrassing for a purveyor of factual data to be caught marketing works of fiction. But, your facts are the basis of your story, not the detail and are used to sell you.

Bottom line, stories sell.

Of the seven major story archetypes that Bryan talks about, there are two that you can almost use with impunity.

One is called “The Quest.”

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsA quest is similar to a hero’s journey in that the story is about progressing through to the eventual solution. In the quest, the protagonist stumbles into several obstacles or challenges that must be overcome before they can progrress along their journey.


When you pull the data from a case study, the elements of the quest can be identified as:

  • A Protagonist: This is your client
  • The Progression: This is the business objective your client is trying to achieve.
  • The Obstacles: These are the challenges that your client faced and the reason they hired you.
  • The Journey: The path along which you took the client, with the advice, guidance and support from you, and the end result that was achieved with your expertise.

The second archetype can be called “Overcoming The Monster.”

By Alessio Damato (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL Overcoming a monster is a story about an underdog in which the hero of the story comes up against an evil monster that seems larger than life. To defeat this evil monster, or overcome their fear, the hero must find great courage and strength.


The elements of a story about overcoming a monster are:

  • The Hero: This is your client.
  • The Evil Monster: This is a large, seemingly insurmountable challenge faced by your client.
  • The Courage And Strength They Find: Well, that’s your firm, of course.

When using either one of these story archetypes, your firm is not either the protagonist or the hero.

That is where the case study and the case story differ. By changing the focus from you to the mythical third party hero or protagonist, your prospect is able to become emotionally involved, and begins to see themselves in their situation.

I’m sure you’ve thought about using case studies, and heard lots of folks talking about how important they are to your marketing activities. I’m also positive some of your more successful competitors use them.

Case studies are used to dazzle prospects, and clients alike, with the brilliance of the firm. They talk about what the firm did, and how successful the firm is at what it does.

On the other hand, a case story gets the prospect emotionally involved, and gives them the opportunity to identify with the protagonist or the hero. It agitates their attitude towards the problem, and gives them the opportunity to invalidate all of the alternative solutions, so that the only possible choice is to respond to your offer of services.

It is this repositioning of the focus from that of the firm, to that of the prospect’s perspective that make them a powerful marketing piece. In the story, your prospect identifies with the hero and your firm provides the knowledge, courage and strength. Your firm guides the prospect through their journey and helps them achienve their goal.

Here’s a useful method that will help you move away from the idea of case studies, to the case story model.

1. Inventory Your Case Studies

Make a list of all your existing case studies, thinking about them in the context of this article.

Story Type — At first glance, based on the nature of your firm and its client work, do your case studies lend themselves more to a Quest or an Overcoming the Monster story archetype.
Prioritize — Organize your case studies based on their value related to your firm’s quest (you have one after all, it’s sort of a combination of your firm’s vision and positioning). Which ones do you use most frequently? Which ones represent the types of client relationships you’d most like to attract more of? Which ones represent market areas or service lines you hope to grow in the year ahead?
List — Make a short list of case studies to revitalize. To start, I’d suggest with no more than 3-5.

2. Rework Your 3-5 Highest Priority Case Studies

Set aside some time over the next few summer months (After all, we do want to avoid tax time, and be ahead of the game when marketing season kicks in, don’t we?) to revisit your highest priority case studies. Specifically:

Interview — Talk directly to the clients. Be clear that you’re not asking for a testimonial. Rather, you’re looking for their perspective on the challenges they were hoping to overcome in working with you, and what life is like now that those challenges are mostly behind them. Even if your clients aren’t willing to be identified by name, this is still a really important step towards writing a better story.

Re-envision — Before you begin translating these interviews into content, be clear on how you’re going to present the information. Will it be a written case study? An HTML web page? A short video? An infographic? A presentation? Some combination of all of the above?

Cast — Label the characters of your story based on the archetype you’ve selected. Be clear about each element of the story. Often, your client’s evil is a complex, nebulous idea. Do your best to personify that idea in some way. Ultimately, the “dark side of the force” is nothing more than a mirky, nebulous idea either. Yet, that’s become one of the more successful embodiments of evil in the history of fictional storytelling, hasn’t it?

Rewrite — Author your new story from the client’s perspective using the elements of your archetype. Don’t be afraid to break some new ground and try some new things.

Remember, your goal is not to write about your firm, and how brilliant you (We already know that.), your goal is to get your prospect emotionally involved or invested and move them along toward the buying decision.

Keep that in mind with all of your markeitng efforts.

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