Case Studies a thing of the past

February 5, 2009

Another contentious question on LinkedIn about Case Studies provoked a bit of excitement. I was curious: is there a better way to describe a Case Study? I personally prefer Customer Reference and would position the service of creating customer references as Reference Marketing. I guess the argument against this is that I then have to explain to people that this is a trendy way to say Case Study.

Leaving labelling aside people who answered the question failed to read the question and instead started to debate whether Case Studies (aka Reference Marketing !) still had a place in the marketing mix.

My view is Oh Yes. OK if they are badly done it reads like a TV makeover programme. I guess that was my point. If I am looking at buying a business service or product I look at the company selling it and my instinct says: “who do they sell to”? I looked at a Marketing Agency web site today (they want to collaborate with us I don’t want to buy advertising) and they had an impressive client list and projects that anyone would be proud of. I didn’t see them use the words Case Study though…more on this later.


  1. Case studies seem to be useful for companies who straddle a lot of industries/objectives, and want to differentiate their experience by vertical etc.

    Its hard to communicate personal endorsement via any other medium. But wouldn’t it be great if could take the linked in endorsement or trip advisor recommendations or even eBay stars for every transaction and apply it to an industry like IT which is solely service driven? This may be too commoditising for many of the professional companies. For every good case study I wonder how many bad one could be created!?

  2. Case studies have been done WRONG so many times, that they don’t have a good reputation. They have been marketing fluff, or just poorly written and hard to read.

    We encourage our clients to let us write case studies that are genuine, not just markeing, that show the challenges as well as the success. Those are true case studies. We encourage them to let us tell a story, which has a chronological order, a climax, and ending.

    There are so many ways to share happy customer stories and references: case studies, articles, videos, quotes, event speakers, customer to customer calls, round table speakers, analyst calls, etc. – case study as a term is too limiting, but does differenciate from other activities. That is needed sometimes.

    As an aside: we call our case studies, “Happy Customer Stories” which is really what they are, but we are a pretty casual company, so it fits us.

  3. “Case study” as a title has probably been pasted on as many written (and sometimes video) customer pieces as “Podcast” has been used to describe just about anything audio or video.

    For six years now we’ve heard about the imminent demise of the written case study, yet demand hasn’t diminished much even as social media takes the spotlight. I agree with Anika that a well-crafted written case study is the anomaly. In general, here’s how we define a case study:
    – Length: 2-3 pages (two is better)
    – Metrics: 2-4 compelling quantitative results
    – Quotes: As many as possible

    As we see it, the purpose of the narrative copy is really to simply connect the customer quotes, not to be center stage. If there aren’t any compelling metrics then we classify the piece as a Success Story and it is one, maybe two pages in length.

    In terms of where case studies are used in the sales cycle, we’d say early to mid-stage. Success stories are, like press releases, primarily early stage. Deep-dive ROI-based studies are probably more suitable for mid to later stages.

    We’ve had a strong belief from our inception that candid, authentic customer evidence is what buyers are looking for, particularly middle to late stage of the sales cycle. Making this paradigm shift as it applies to written case studies, perhaps even augmenting with video/audio, will give new life to this reference program staple.

    • Hi David

      Many thanks to your contribution to my Blog. I totally agree with your views. I’ll publish it up if that’s OK.

      Sometimes it is possible to hit a real nerve eh?

      Thanks again.


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