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So, what is a customer case study exactly?

In its simplest form, a customer case study can be defined as a marketing strategy that uses a detailed story of one of your customers’ experience with your solution. This story describes a specific challenge your customer faced, and shows how this customer used your solution to achieve a desired business objective.

When done right, the case study provides a detailed report, using real-life examples, on how your customer implemented your solution and the results she achieved. Customer case studies show your prospects the value of your solution in action, as told by someone who experienced it firsthand.

This time-tested and proven way to attract new customers allows you to highlight the successful experiences of your customers. A well-crafted customer case study convinces and builds trust with potential prospects like no other marketing tool available.

Why not just use a review or testimonial?

A review or testimonial may work well for you if you sell relatively low ticket items, like twenty-dollar books or phone chargers. If, however, your customer is in need of a new cybersecurity solution, he needs all the ammunition you can give him to conquer his skepticism—certainly more than a single typo-ridden paragraph.

Another downside to relying on reviews lies in the fact that fewer and fewer of us believe them.  In 2022, a whopping 54% of consumers surveyed say they’re confident they saw fake reviews on Amazon, and another 50% reported they saw fake Google reviews.

Numbers like these point to a growing mistrust consumers are developing toward simple online reviews. It’s hardly surprising that, with the hundreds of millions of reviews found on these two very large platforms, a certain percentage could be less than honest.

With this in mind, the customer case study is more akin to a factual report of how a customer implemented your solution, and what kind of results they achieved. Typically, these results are published as hard numbers, percentages, or statistics, such as:

  • A 25% increase in total revenue
  • 37 hours per week less manpower needed
  • $427,871 less total monthly expenditures

“In 2022, a whopping 54% of consumers surveyed say they’re confident they saw fake reviews on Amazon, and another 50% reported they saw fake Google reviews.”


Why are customer case studies so effective?

1. We are addicted to stories

Why do certain stories appeal to us while others do not? Why can I, along with most of my friends, quote the movie Tombstone word-for-word, while our wives look on in disbelief?

What guy doesn’t want to be Wyatt Earpp or Doc Holliday taking on the Cowboys, or Michael Corleone as he fetches the gun from behind the toilet stall to eliminate the corrupt cop and his gangster cohort?

While not many of us have faced such life-and-death situations as our onscreen heroes, conflicts and confrontations, of varied degrees, arise almost daily.

The Science

When we watch a movie or hear a story about a person or situation we can identify closely with, our levels of a hormone called oxytocin increase.

High levels of oxytocin make us feel good. This causes us to feel more compassionate, empathetic, and trusting. Our motivation to cooperate with others increases, and our overall demeanor becomes positive.

The stories embedded in your customer case studies begin to build a connection with your prospects immediately. This is especially true if your prospect identifies with either the customer profiled in the case study, or the problem the customer faced.

Hey, this person is just like me.

Researchers at Princeton University  concluded that, when a story is being told, “Speakers’ and listeners’ brains exhibit joint, temporally coupled, response patterns.”

In plain English, that means if you’re listening to, reading, or watching a well-told story, your brain reacts exactly as if you are experiencing it yourself.

“The stories embedded in your customer case studies begin to build a connection with your prospects immediately.”


Picture this…

Your prospect is a sales manager whose numbers have tanked three months in a row. She’s listened in on some of her staff’s prospecting calls, and doesn’t like what she hears.

She begins looking for a reputable sales training program, but all of the websites look so similar—how can she choose?

One of the sites, however (your website), has a section called “Case Studies.”

She clicks on the link, and is immediately pulled in by a story about a sales manager (your customer) whose company was facing bankruptcy if sales didn’t improve fast. Fortunately, this sales manager found your training program and, within just a few weeks, experienced an explosion in sales. In fact, her team is currently number one in the company.

At this point, your prospect’s oxytocin levels are sky high. She already sees herself and her team as having earned the number one spot in the company. You have successfully gained her trust and, quite possibly, earned her business.

2. Almost half of consumers surveyed feel that online business reviews are as trustworthy as personal recommendations from friends or family.

You’ve probably heard that friends and family are the number one trusted resource when it comes to product and/or business recommendations. A 2022 survey concluded that 46% of us believe online reviews just as much as we do those closest to us.

“If a reputable organization and its associates are willing to go on record stating that your solution helped them to achieve a goal or overcome a nagging problem, any doubts a prospect has concerning your credibility or the viability of your solution to deliver become meaningless, if not nonexistent.”


Bear in mind, this study concerns online reviews only—the same online reviews whose credibility is shrinking due to perceived fake reviews on Google and Amazon.

These reviews typically consist of a paragraph (at most) of text written by a faceless person named “John S.” from Dallas, are littered with typos, and fraught with vagueness. Yet, almost half of us believe them.

Contrast that with a detailed report written about the experience of a certain marketing manager, whose full name and company can easily be found on LinkedIn, is professionally written, and contains specific details—including relevant statistics and graphics, as well as how he/she used the solution to achieve the desired goal.

If a reputable organization and its associates are willing to go on record stating that your solution helped them to achieve a goal or overcome a nagging problem, any doubts a prospect has concerning your credibility or the viability of your solution to deliver become meaningless, if not nonexistent.

3. Social Proof

As a rule, nobody wants to be the first—and there’s a reason for that.

Primitive man had no blueprint for knowing what plants he could safely eat. His only option was to eat what he could find whenever he got hungry, and hoped it didn’t kill him.

Others in the tribe observed.

If Joe ate the purple plant and died, then it’s probably not a good idea for me to eat it.

This strategy of observation has served us well—so well, in fact, we still use it today. Statistically, 89% of consumers say they read reviews before making a purchase.

If you’re like me (same job title, same problem/situation), I want to know how this product or service solved your problem before I buy it. The more details you can give me, the better.

Otherwise, I might be Joe staring down the purple plant. Granted, I probably won’t die, but if I waste my company’s resources on a solution that doesn’t bring results, I may wish I were dead.

How to write a customer case study

1. Planning

Your customer case studies must support your company’s objectives. With this in mind, it’s important to weigh any customer story you find against those objectives.

For example, if your company is large and already has a customer story covering a certain niche, does it really need another one? Yes, you might be able to hit this niche from another angle, but is it really necessary?

After uncovering a customer story, a couple of important questions to ask are:

  • Does this story really fit our needs?
  • How does this story move the prospect to the next phase of the sales cycle?

Some companies fall into the trap of quantity over quality. Marketing managers may be tasked with providing a certain number of customer stories per month. She may then feel pressured to create a customer case study on any customer who agrees to be featured, using resources that could be more effectively utilized elsewhere.

On the other hand, if your company is a start-up, or just beginning to use customer case studies, such discrimination is not necessary. Almost any happy customer and their story would more than likely be a good fit. Then, as your company grows, you can be more discriminating.

2. Getting your customer’s permission

After you decide which customers would be a good fit for a case study, the next step is to secure the customer’s permission. You would think this would be a fairly straightforward and simple task—after all, this is free publicity for your customer.

You would be wrong, however.

Your contact at your customer’s company probably has to consult with others at her organization. Organizations do not take the use of their names, logos, or information lightly.

Corporate executives, communications departments, and legal people will all want to have a hand in the decision to proceed. They need to know that their participation in this case study will be a positive move.

What are some valid reasons your customer might not agree to a case study?

  • Liability—They may be concerned that going on record (the Internet is forever) to support another company might come back in the future to haunt them. Ironically, many of these same companies create case studies for their own customers.
  • Security—This is especially the case if your solution is cybersecurity. Your customer may not be comfortable going on record speaking about how they keep their network secure due to it making them vulnerable to future cyberattacks.
  • Competition—Some customers just flat out don’t want their competition to know what they’re up to, and refuse to share any information their competition might be able to use against them.
  • Time considerations—This is especially true with larger companies who have many vendors. Legal and corporate teams can get overrun reviewing potential case studies.

3. The Customer Interview

Having secured the customer’s permission in writing, you now schedule an interview with your customer’s contact person(s). This is usually just one person, but can be more. Sometimes the person who made the decision to use your solution is not the same person who uses it on a daily basis. If this is the case, you will want to speak with both.

Ideally, your interviewer will also be the writer of the case study. This person should have a firm grasp on every aspect of your solution, a working knowledge of the featured company, and the solutions the featured company provide to their customers.

Should the interviewer be someone in your company or a third party individual with some distance? Many companies today find having a third party interviewer/writer brings the best results. Why?

Let’s say you baked a cake for your next door neighbor. A couple days later, you see him outside, and ask how he enjoyed the cake.

Do you really think he’s going to be 100% upfront with you?

Even though a third party interviewer is hired by your company, the featured customer perceives some distance, and feels more comfortable sharing her experience with your solution.

Even though the customer story cannot be considered objective and unbiased, the information presented is true, non-exaggerated, and not hyped. This is a factual report of how your customer used your solution to solve a problem.

4. Crafting the story to meet your objectives

When writing your case study, it’s important to follow a tried-and-true framework that almost all successful and interesting plots have followed, at least since the time of Aristotle:

  • Setup—Here we are introduced to the characters and the setting. In your customer case study, this is when you say “XYZ company was formed in 1997 by the Smith brothers, who saw a need for a particular kind of widget that does A, B, and C.” Your customer is the hero of the story, and you must convey this hero’s goals, dreams, and setbacks. Your customer case study must briefly build a picture of the characters—someone with whom your readers can relate.
  • The Challenge—Here, the characters in your story encounter a major stumbling block. You show the reader how your hero gets knocked down, searches for ways to get back up.
  • The Resolution—Your hero finds a way to overcome the challenge. In your customer case study, she does so by finding and putting your solution to work.

This format, and the case study as a whole, only works when you focus on your customer—not your solution or company—as the hero of the story. Otherwise, the whole project comes off as being another sales pitch, costing you trust and credibility.

Considering the relative low cost of producing high-quality customer case studies, their versatility, and their untouched ability to build trust and credibility with your prospects, these powerful marketing tools should be in the arsenal of every serious marketer.

Editor’s note: Customer case studies are a time-tested and proven method to build trust in your products/services. Contact us to learn how we can help you put this powerful tool to work for you.

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