Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why Customers Should Be the Heroes of Your Case Studies

Customer case studies are one of the most popular and influential kinds of marketing content used by B2B companies. New research by Eccolo Media shows that case studies are the fourth most widely consumed type of marketing collateral (behind product brochures, white papers, and video/multimedia files) and the second most influential type of marketing collateral (trailing only white papers).

Case studies are potent marketing tools because they're good at performing several jobs.
  • They help establish your credibility.
  • They educate prospects about the benefits of your product or service.
  • Most importantly, they can lower a prospect's perception of the risk associated with purchasing your product or service.
The good news is that case studies can boost the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. The not-so-good news is that the use of case studies has exploded, and therefore your case studies are facing more competition for attention and mindshare. If they don't stand out from all the others your prospects see, they simply won't produce the maximum benefits.

I'm often asked by clients to review and comment on their customer case studies. All too often, what I read is self-promotional "brochureware" disguised as a case study.

The mistake that many companies make is to cast themselves, rather than their customers, as the heroes of their case studies. The storyline in many case studies resembles the old silent movie where the villian ties a helpless damsel (the customer) to the railroad tracks, and the hero (the selling company) rides in at the last minute to rescue the damsel in distress from an oncoming train.

A well-written case study will cause readers to identify with the customer. You want readers to empathize with the "pain" the customer was experiencing and the success the customer achieved. In essence, you want readers to finish the case study believing that they can achieve the same success, if they will just let you help. When you make yourself the hero of your case studies, you are asking readers to identify with your company, not the customer. And that's much more difficult to achieve.

It's easy to tell when the selling company has made itself the hero of a case study. Lots of sentences begin with "We" or "Our" and the story focuses on what the selling company (or its product or service) did rather than on what the customer was able to accomplish.

So, when you prepare a case study, you can give yourself a strong supporting role, but always let your customer be the star.

We've created a "mini-guide" to writing compelling customer case studies. If you'd like to get a copy of Seven Tips for Writing Customer Case Studies that Sell, send an e-mail to ddodd(at)pointbalance(dot)com.


  1. David - case studies that get read and remembered are often written as business versions of the 'heroic story' theme.

    A recorded customer interview is one of the best ways I know to get at the real story that led to the customer solving their 'pain' with the help of your product or service.

  2. Samuraiwriter,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that the hero theme is or can be very appropriate for a case study. I just believe that the customer should be the hero.

    I also agree that a recorded customer interview can be very effective. In fact, I think that videos may become the preferred format for customer case studies.