The Chandler’s Law of Case Studies

Look through your library of case studies, and I bet you’ll find they all follow the same template:

  1. A customer had a big problem (that precisely matched the solution your company offers). 
  2. They chose your solution to help them solve that problem.  
  3. The proper application of your solution turned out to be just what they needed. 
  4. The customer is now happy.  

The relationship with customers during their purchase and early experience with a product or service typically follows the same pattern. And your goal with a case study is to show prospects that people with similar challenges have had a good experience with your company. 

So, it’s a straight line to apply that four-step template and just fill in the blanks. It’s easy.

But it’s rarely compelling or differentiating.

I find Chandler’s Law useful when writing a customer case study. 

Chandler’s Law is a trope that references pulp fiction writer Raymond Chandler’s advice: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”

The rule suggests that you introduce something extraordinary that creates instant drama, comedy, or a way out of a tricky writing situation. Comedy troupe Monty Python suggested a related approach. If a scene is going on too long, their version goes, drop a cow on someone.

But how do you do this in a case study? You’re supposed to write customer stories about what actually happened. They’re more like documentaries than comedies or dramas. How do you drop a cow or have someone enter with a gun when nothing like that occurred?

Well, first, admit that customer stories are rarely completely factual. Yeah, that problem you had during the procurement process, the hiccup in delivery, the heavy discount provided to close the deal …. Isn’t it funny how those never make it to the final customer story?

Second, I’ve found it’s almost always possible to introduce a gun, a cow, or even ninjas into the story. The key is to uncover those elements when you perform the research for the customer’s story.

Here’s an example. I worked with a B2B technology company that had successfully implemented its enterprise technology for a new customer. The implementation process itself was smooth. A customer interview revealed that the project manager and the vice president went out on paternity and maternity leave, respectively (and separately), in the middle of the implementation. That dramatic turn of events immediately created huge challenges – some humorous, others complex – that prevented an on-time deployment. 

Instead of leaving out the fact that they didn’t deliver the implementation on time, they leaned into the drama and made the case study more human and interesting.

Customer stories are a crucial ingredient in marketing. They should demonstrate the value of the experiences you create. But if you don’t add the unique elements that differentiate them as your experiences, they won’t serve you nearly as well. 

As Dr. Who screenwriter Robert Holmes once said through the Third Doctor, “A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.”

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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