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Case studies: who’s the real hero here?

Case studies should be brilliant. They’re a testimonial, they’re a demonstration of product benefits, they’ve got people in them …in short, they’ve got everything which a product description wishes it could have.

Yet instead of being front and centre of marketing content, they’re usually regarded as a necessary evil. Research consists of a snatched conversation with a salesperson, then the piece gets squeezed into a template designed for press releases, and is hidden away – unlinked-to – under a sub-menu of the website where nobody ever goes.

Compare this typical B2B approach with the way in which bolder companies put a case study as the centrepiece of their sales message, at the top of their home page. What better way of demonstrating what you can do for a prospect than showing what you’ve done for someone already?

I’d go as far as to say that if you wouldn’t want to put your case study in full, on your website’s home page, you shouldn’t bother to write it at all. That may be a good test of whether it has been worth creating.

So how can we create a case study which really works?

Every great story needs a hero, and I think one writing strategy for case studies should be to nail down who the hero is. We all know that “it’s all about the customer”, but having read thousands of these things over the years, I can tell you that readers are nearly always dragged all over the place in that respect.

Was the customer the hero here? Or was it the supplier?

If it was the customer, why was their choice of this product worth a news story? If it was the supplier, was it the sales engineer who made this exciting, or the backroom team, or simply the product itself?

Get the hero clear in your mind from the outset, and you might end up with a case study which is worth reading, rather than one which has just been written to tick a box.

2 thoughts on “Case studies: who’s the real hero here?”

  1. The issue for us, everytime I raise the topic of case studies with product managers is confidentiality and the belief that customers would never agree.

  2. There’s a breed of product and sales manager who believes that publicising who your customers are will lead to the competition coming in and taking away their business. This is utter paranoia as well as demeaning to your customers, who you’re suggesting only bought your product because they were unaware of the competitor’s offering.

    As to whether customers would agree, have you asked them? A great way to do this is via the customers’ own marketing departments, who are usually delighted for their companies to feature as case studies.

    But I’m also aware of who calls the shots in many organisations, and I sympathise with you if it’s the conservative tendency.

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