3 Deadly Pitfalls When Creating Case Studies

By Casey Hibbard

Editor’s note: This is Casey Hibbards first guest post.

In an age of buyer skepticism, customer case studies – like white papers – provide the essential credibility, education and validation that buyers need to make purchase decisions. As a growing marketing communications tool, case studies are also a major opportunity for copywriters.

But stories have to deliver results…

To produce stories that resonate with readers – and impress your organization or clients – avoid some of these common case study mistakes.

Making Customers Look Bad

Customer stories innately have a “before-and-after” format. They identify the needs and challenges the customer wanted to address, and then how the solution brought about a successful outcome.

It’s natural to mention some of the pains or problems the customer experienced before. But in a story showcasing a customer’s success, too many negative details can make your customer look bad—and possibly interfere with the customer’s approval of the story. Writers have to balance details about the customer’s previous situation with creating a story that shows the organization in a favorable light.

Ignoring the Audience

As with any marketing communications piece, a customer story has to match the audience or it won’t do its job. In case studies, different audiences want to see different types of information.

For a recent case study highlighting sales and marketing software, my client directed me to the technical contact for an interview. However, because sales and marketing people will be the decision-makers and users of the product, I requested that I have the chance to interview the sales manager in order to collect the details that are important to the audience.

As much as possible, feature customers and customer contacts that are similar to the intended audience. People and organizations want to know what people and organizations just like them are doing.

Not Catering to Readers and Skimmers

There are two types of audiences: readers and skimmers. Always try to write customer case studies for both audiences. Build in ways for skimmers to glean the main points of the story without reading it word-for-word.

The key pieces of your skimmable document:

  • The headline – Include the number one idea you want to reinforce.
  • Subheads – Tell the main points of your story in subheads throughout.
  • Pull quote – Preferably highlight a quote (pulled out and enlarged in the final designed format) that reinforces the main benefit.
  • Sidebar summary – Summarize key points in a sidebar. What you choose to feature in a sidebar completely depends on the featured solutions. It’s nice to show a short summary of who the customer is, like industry and number of employees, and then highlights of the customer’s needs and results related to your solutions. If customers read nothing else, they know the customer is in their industry and what the business achieved.

Learn More: For more tips on creating case studies that deliver results, check out the no-cost report from Compelling Cases, The 10 Biggest Mistakes Case Study Writers Make.

What are your thoughts about case studies?


About the author: Casey Hibbard of Compelling Cases has written and managed more than 400 customer stories. She is the author of the forthcoming book (coming out in mid-2008), Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset.

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  • Rick

    As noted in comments to the Feb. 5, 2007, post, some writers incorporate case studies into white papers. Do you have any views on this practice or suggestions on where in the white paper one or more case studies should be placed?

  • http://www.writingwhitepapers.com/blog/ Michael Stelzner

    Rick – Generally I do not like to embed a case study in a white paper because they tend to get lost. I am okay with examples in a white paper. However, a generally success story is powerful enough to stand on its own. Mike

  • http://www.weddingrings-jewelry.com/2008/02/17/tips-for-choosing-wedding-rings-for-ladies/ wedding-rings

    Keeping in mind both the readers and skimmers is very important. Most people consider such studies just loss of time. It is wise how to still get their opinions though.

    A case study with local cultural pattens supported with humor would definitely win. Nice post, thanks to the guest writer.

  • http://www.compelling-cases.com Casey Hibbard

    I’ve had a couple of clients insert brief customer success anecdotes in white papers to reinforce a point, rather than including the full case study. They might use a few results metrics from the customer’s example, and may or may not mention the customer by name. That keeps the focus on the point being made rather than on the customer organization.

  • http://www.toolskeep.com mac

    case studies is very important in marketing. That’s the way we can decide what to do, anything to be add or change. It’s all about what customer. There’s a lot types of customers and thats the beauty of it. Research then make decision.

  • http://www.monsterguide.net/ art

    it is important to conduct a case studies in business. I find it as a way to know your customer better.

  • http://www.fight-vids.co.uk Fight Videos

    It is truly important that we have a strong base and research. More research won’t harm anyone. I like your points. Thanks for letting us know.

  • http://www.rakemanager.com rake

    i think everything must do a case study, no matter in business or marketing. More research will decrease every risk. No harm at all

  • http://www.bagsonline Titan Koffer

    I’m also doing case studies for my marketing of online business. Thanks to this post for stressing out that I really need to focus on my customers, or audiences, even though they are just skimmers. These skimmers might be my clients in the future that I think I also have to get their attention, too.

  • http://www.bagsonline.de Titan Koffer

    Anyway, this is a very nice article. I will keep these ponts in mind to avoid making mistakes on my case studies.