If I was to ask you what’s the point of a case study, what would you say? Go on, play along. I’ll wait. OK, this doesn’t quite work on a blog post, so let me help you out. I’ve asked a few people this question recently.
Their responses varied, but here are the common themes that were shared.
- To help you sell
- To build social proof (yes I have a lot of marketing friends)
- To be relatable
- To establish trust
In a classic case of ‘there is no wrong answer’, all of these are correct. For me, whether you call them case studies or customer success stories, the single word that jumps into my head is ‘trust’. I want to trust that you’ve done this before. I want to trust that I’m not the first. I want to trust that you can solve my problem. I want to trust that you’ve helped people that are just like me.
Everyone engages with case studies differently. For some, it’s the first thing they turn to. They want to check you out BEFORE they spend time with you. For others, the case study comes later in the buying the process. You maybe like the sound of the product or service, it’s got your attention, now you want to have that decision reinforced by other people who are just like you.
But, what happens if that case study DOESN’T build trust? What if the case study achieves exactly the opposite? What if your case studies are stopping people buying from you?
We’re living in a cynical age. As a result, we have the uncanny ability to smell BS a mile away. What happens if people read your case study and simply don’t believe it? What if they don’t believe the story you’re telling?
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So many case studies I read don’t tell the REAL story. They tell a sanitised and safe version of the story. One that shows them as infallible. A story that ‘paints a picture of project perfection’. This was the PROBLEM, this is the SOLUTION and this is the RESULT. But this feels soulless and, if you have any level of life experience, you’ll be left with that feeling that the story you’re being told simply isn’t true. Why? Because there is no such thing as a ‘perfect project’. Much like Unicorn Wranglers, they simply don’t exist.
Every project, even the most successful, have had their moments of drama. The ebbs and flows, highs and lows are what makes any story, especially a case study, real. If your case study tells me your project ran perfectly, I won’t believe you. I’ll think your story is a work of fiction, rather than fact. I’ll think you’ve got something to hide. I might still buy from you, but, it might be enough to get me going back to Google and spending some quality time with one of your competitors.
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Trust works both ways. You need to TRUST your prospective clients and the consumers of your case studies that they can handle the truth. In short, you need to give them a bit of credit. They are intelligent. They can read about the challenges that you faced. They can learn about how the project almost failed. They can see that you’re human and that you made a mistake during the project. The truth is part of the narrative. It’s the heart of the story.
Telling the authentic version of the case study will work for you on four important levels.
- You’ll be more relatable. (i.e. we’re not perfect either!)
- You’ll illustrate that you’re a problem-solving ninja.
- Your case studies will have an element of surprise and drama.
- You’ll stand out from the crowd.
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If you’ve already got case studies published that you hand-on-heart don’t feel represents the true story, just ask yourself these questions. The answers will give you the core of the story. Simply edit the case study so that it includes the missing elements. And, of course, if you are just starting your case study writing journey, this is the perfect place to start.
- What different approaches did you try for this project?
- What were the three most challenging aspects of the project?
- What were you most worried about throughout the project?
- Which of the milestones of the project were most critical?
- Which creative solution or approach are you most proud of for this project?
Answer these questions truthfully, incorporate them into your case studies and you’ll have better success stories than most people.
Trust that your audience can handle the truth.
And, if you’ve got a burning case study question that I can answer in a future blog post, either ask in the comments or ask away here.