3 Ways How Not to Do a Case Study

  • Chester

130903_case_studies-03Letting your customers tell the story for you is, and will always be, among the strongest ways to promote your brand. It gets around people’s innate skepticism, and it doesn’t take much to tap success that’s already there. Gold breeds gold. Right?

Left. There’s an exception to every rule. Especially with the part about skepticism – you may find you won’t get that far if your success story happens to rub some folks the wrong way.

Yes, testimonials are great. They are, by nature, more powerful than many kinds of self-promotion. But in order to give them that power, we, as marketers, have to be responsible for slicing them certain ways. Ways that are not like this.

1. Not going beyond the benefits

Imagine you are a customer. You’re looking for information on a solution you want or need. You find it – a vivid and well-written study of a reputable organization that has already invested in it and given it their stamp of approval.

And then you find the content’s all about “50% reduction in overhead” and “the obstacles we faced” and “a more productive workforce”, and so on and forth. In other words, how those guys benefited. It’s their story. Not yours.

Being a smart, self-educated buyer, like all customers in modern B2B, you’re not going to assume all that applies to you automatically. Because every organization is its own animal. Unique snowflakes, and all that. So what kind of story would really convince you?

How about one that tells you why they selected the solution in the first place? And how it was made to work with their environment, how easy or difficult it was to implement, the ways they put it to use? There’s plenty more than cold, hard figures that can turn up in a testimonial. And out of that, a lot is of great interest to potential buyers doing their homework.

Treat your case study like an extended and expanded version of those pedestrian, no-frills user reviews you might find on an online marketplace. A new user of a software solution isn’t likely to wax lyrical about how it shaved 20% off his working time; he’s going to mention any problems he had with the installation, how intuitive the UI is, how it compares to what he previously used, and any features it doesn’t have that he wish it did. Now those are the sort of details customers want to see.

Putting yourself in their shoes is rarely as important as when you’re convincing them using somebody else’s testimony. Yes, the story might not be theirs, but every story can be told a different way. The relevant way. Focus on the user’s perspective. Go deeper, past the ROIs and the percentages, and list the little things that really make a difference.

2. Not showing both sides

Another thing in case studies that, quite transparently, makes a difference is – transparency.

Head back into your imagination. As a customer, reading that case study you found, the savvy hard-nosed shopper in you is expecting to find a positive, upbeat piece blowing the vendor’s trumpet; covering all the reasons why you should give them your business.

And guess what – that’s precisely what you’re reading. You have doubts, and questions, but short of contacting them direct to inquire (which is what they want, right?), you’re not going to get answers from this writeup.

But then you look through another case study, for a competing solution, and this one is going into the cons as well as the pros – drawbacks, limitations, potential pitfalls, context-sensitive warnings. You’re the customer. Which of these two moves you to action more?

Case studies may still have the power to persuade, but if there was ever a time when they seemed like gospel, that’s long past. You have to work on the presupposition they’re already giving your endorsed writeup the raised eyebrow; honesty is now key. When you tell the story, tell both sides. Don’t be afraid to share things that, at first glance, might put buyers off – maybe a compatibility issue, or recurring costs, or post-deployment insights, or just a “what it can’t/doesn’t do”.

Because for every reader who sees something not to like in your negative laundry list, there are others who aren’t affected by it or who simply appreciate the heads-up – and the credibility you’ll gain will go a long way. The barrier of skepticism now exists not only around self-promotion, but also around one-sided testimonials, so playing devil’s advocate for yourself is really the only way to break through it.

3. Not making it clear and intuitive

While we’re on the topic of transparency, there’s another meaning to the word. Which, oddly enough, applies to case studies as well.

Play the role of the customer for a third time here. You’ve finished reading the writeup, and – that’s it. It just ends. So you close it and start on another.

Or – there’s a link to some free downloadable assets that you can explore further, but those are on a site that smacks you with a mandatory sign-up form. You don’t feel in the mood for a few minutes of data entry, so you move on. And the vendor has potentially lost you as a customer by failing to capitalize on the interest built up by the case study.

Being transparent also means being clear as glass about what you want them to do next. However gripping your story of success, the majority of readers aren’t likely to follow up on it unless you expressly point the way – which means rounding it off with a call to action that’s impossible to miss. And even then, to maximize your chances, you should make it as easy as possible for them – no gating if you can help it, and ask for only the most relevant details if you can’t.

In addition, clarity also extends to the flow of your writeup. This ties back into telling the story the way your readers would want to see it. You’re the authority on what you’re offering, not them. Hence, it’s crucial to write the story for the “don’t know” or the “know a bit” crowd. Build bridges between your points. Use relatable concepts. Explain. Never assume they can just follow your logic throughout, especially when talking complex solutions.

So – dive deep into the micro details, come clean about the not-so-good bits of your offering, and ensure the “what’s next” comes to them straight as a bullet. What else can we do to produce truly persuasive case studies? Share your insights with us!

Have a look at some case studies GetIT Comms has produced before.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.