The Case Study: Using Storytelling in Science Marketing and Communications

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Storytelling is a universal way to convey information about nearly anything and everything. More than 30,000 years ago—long before written language emerged—humans used visuals such as cave drawings to tell stories. Later, this method shifted to oral traditions in which people passed stories down to younger generations by word of mouth. Today, companies in many industries, including science-focused businesses, use storytelling in science content marketing to attract and retain customers.

Human beings are programmed to tell and respond to stories. They’re fundamental to who we are and how we make sense of the world. Research shows that stories activate the brain’s reward pathways and may even have the ability to prompt behavior change. (See The Neuroscience of Storytelling, below.)

For marketers of any product or service, storytelling is one of the most effective ways to reach prospective customers. In the science and technology sector, which relies heavily on specialized technical jargon, storytelling remains an essential tool for communicating with scientists and laypeople alike about complex products. Storytelling in science for marketing science-focused businesses can take many forms. Beginning with this blog post, we will present a series to examine the elements of storytelling and how you can use them in a variety of assets. This blog post will look at storytelling in case studies. Subsequent blogs in this series will show how to feature storytelling in science marketing through infographics, blog posts, presentations, white papers, and ads. Let’s not overlook how social media uses storytelling elements to draw audiences in.

Read on to learn how to use stories in marketing strategy and how developing story-focused marketing communications can help you gain attention, engagement, and a competitive advantage.

Storytelling in Science Marketing: The Case Study

The case study (or case history) is one of the most common ways to use stories in marketing communication. Not all case studies are created equal, however. Over time, we’ve determined several critical features of a good case study.

Case studies often need to communicate technical details, but that doesn’t mean they have to be tedious. By following the narrative formula, you can use a case study to tell the story of how your product or service helped a customer overcome a common challenge in the industry.

Let’s use a real case study to demonstrate. In this instance, it’s a case study Cobalt Communications developed for Nanostone Water, Inc., a company in Waltham, Mass. that offers next-generation ceramic membrane technology for customers in the municipal and industrial water treatment sectors.

10 Techniques for Effective Storytelling in Science Using Case Studies

Here are some easy ways to ensure your case studies are crisp, concise, and compelling.

1. Use an effective headline that captures the reader’s attention with action verbs and product benefits.

We used the headline “Ceramic UF Retrofit Saves Costs, Power, Labor, and Water.”

2. Feature real people to better humanize the story and make it more authentic.

In this case study, we used two quotes from Adam Telfer, Nanostone’s Operations Manager, to serve as testimonials. See the pull-quotes in our example.

3. Don’t be afraid to build in an emotional dimension.

Use direct quotes from the customer and the company that evoke feelings. This is a key goal of the interviewing process for the case study. You can ask the client’s subject matter expert, for example, “How did it feel when the problem was solved?”


Storytelling in Science. Scientists use storytelling all the time. When a scientist conducts a study and publishes the results in an academic paper, the “story” typically follows the classic IMRaD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) structure, which consists of the problem statement, a description of the methodology used to solve the problem, the results of the study, which covers findings that support how the problem is solved, and the discussion, which describes the impact of the solution.

To learn more, see “Finding your scientific story by writing backwards” by David J. S. Montagnes, E. Ian Montagnes, and Zhou Yang, Marine Life Science & Technology.


4. Write a narrative, or storyline, that follows the classic “story arc.”

See “Canyon Regional Water Authority Ceramic UF Retrofit Background” on page 2 of the Nanostone example.

  • Develop an overview/background of the customer, unique features of the market, and the technical problem the customer was facing.
  • Describe why the problem was urgent or otherwise significant, for example, was the company losing productivity or market share or having difficulty meeting market demands? Be specific.
  • Describe how the product’s unique selling proposition met the challenge and what the ultimate outcome was for the customer.
5. Recap the story in short, concise bullet points.

See the CHALLENGE and SOLUTION sections of our example case study. This is another way to tell the story for busy readers who may not want to review the entire narrative.

6. Use technical and scientific data to support the story.

In this case study, we included several different types of data unique to the water treatment industry, including water recovery rate, reduction in power use, and flux rate.

The Neuroscience of Storytelling

How does storytelling affect brain chemistry and what are the implications for consumer behavior? Research by neuroscientist Paul Zak has demonstrated that:

  • Watching a video that told a story, compared to one that did not, was positively associated with the release of oxytocin.
  • When study participants were given money, those who experienced the highest levels of cortisol and oxytocin were more likely to donate to the cause identified in the video.
  • So-called “transportation” into a story — seeing yourself in the narrative — predicted donations from participants and story recall one week later. 
  • These findings show the power of story to not only engage your audience, but to also call them to action.

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7. Select visuals that help tell the story.

For the Nanostone case study, our designers gained access to client photos and an illustrated parts breakdown (IPB) and included the images to showcase product features.

8. Target a specific audience.

For example, a company selling solutions for operations managers should develop a case study showcasing an operations manager like Adam who successfully used the company’s product to solve a problem that other operations managers may face.

9. Practice precision and brand messaging.

When talking about your products or services, be very specific about their features and benefits. Employ your strategic messaging framework, brand standards, and communication guidelines — and, of course, hyperlink to that product page on your website. In the Nanostone example, brand messaging is used throughout the story. For example, “When compared to polymeric UF membranes, Nanostone’s ceramic technology was a clear choice for improved efficiency, reliability, and effectiveness.”

10. Finish with a call to action.

Don’t forget to include a strong call to action, such as “CONTACT US TODAY,” so readers can follow up after reading the case study.

Connect with us to learn more

Visit our Nanostone Case Studies Success Story to learn more about how we helped Nanostone Water engage readers and capture the stories of how their products have helped solve customers’ challenges.

To learn more about using storytelling in science marketing for your science-focused business, and how Cobalt helps science-focused companies with all aspects of communications, visit the Cobalt services page or contact the Cobalt team.

As a strategic communications agency serving science- and R&D-driven organizations, we specialize in highly technical markets where complex ideas and information must be conveyed with clarity. Our team includes writers, designers, strategists and content architects, all working together to help you reach — and engage — your internal and external audiences.

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