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Getting the most from your customer case study

*Article written by Writing Angels

The adage goes that the best form of endorsement is word of mouth. A case study takes that verbal recommendation and sets it in stone. If a happy customer tells an average of 10 other people about you, then the same endorsement in a case study will recommend you to hundreds when you use it in a direct mail campaign, and tens of thousands when you post it on the Web or place it in the press.

That’s why the case study is arguably one of the most powerful pieces of marketing literature you can ever use. It proves that you’ve delivered such a valued service that you’ve turned a customer who simply bought from you, to an advocate who puts their name behind your business.

So if you want to kickstart a case study programme how do you convince your best customers to be included? - and when up and running how do you make sure you're getting the most business mileage?

Is a case study right for me?
First of all, you need to determine whether a case study programme will work for you before you allocate marketing budget to it.

Those organisations for which a professionally written case study pays dividends are those in service-led, rather than price-led, industries, or who have products or services that are complex – the obvious example being the IT industry. When it’s easy to get confused by jargon, or a decision maker can compare your products feature by feature with an alternative provider, then a case study can be the deciding factor in making them choose your solution over your competitors.

A well-written customer reference story will showcase the tangible business benefits your solution has delivered, and how it has commercially helped a real organisation. It will tell your prospective customer what makes you stand out from the crowd in a way they can easily relate to and understand.

Case studies are equally useful to companies that work on large, complex projects that involve not only products but training, support and after sales care – such as major build and interior design contractors, facilities management companies and corporate telecommunications providers. They also offer fantastic, ready-made supporting information for organisations that tender for projects, and companies that compete for business from major players – such as point-of-sale providers for large retailers.

Naming names
If your company will get definite business value from case studies then the golden rule is to get your customer’s permission. You should never use a testimonial or case study that’s not been seen and approved by your contact, and any corporate representative who may have ultimate power of veto. Months of hard work building a good working relationship can be swept away in an instant if you attribute a piece of work you have done to a company without their explicit permission.

And this is where so many companies reach a hurdle that seems insurmountable - getting approval to proceed. To add to the frustration, it’s often the big, household names that can be the most un-cooperative – and they, frustratingly, are the ones you most want to shout about.

As a result many companies run a ‘poor man’s version’ of a case study – one that doesn’t name the customer that’s supposedly endorsing them. But a case study without a name is like a dog without a bark. If it's going to impress it has to make a real noise by naming names.

Getting a customer’s co-operation, however, is relatively easy if you conduct a professional approval process from the outset and, critically, reassure them that they have ultimate control over what is written about them.

At Writing Angels we have a tried-and-tested process for securing customer permission and final approval. And although our writers have written and managed hundreds of named case studies you could count on less than one hand those few that couldn’t get past the first post – and this includes studies on high security military operations, and public sector organisations in the midst of an aggressive media backlash.

What’s vital to note is that it’s not just the permission of the contact to be interviewed that needs to be secured, but that of any corporate department that may well hold a policy against any case study being written about their organisation. You don’t want to pay for a study to be written only to find out at the last minute that you were never going to be able to use it.

Timing is everything – and nothing
To get the very best result for your case study you should also cleverly time your approach to your contact. If it’s going to sing about the business benefits you have delivered to a customer – and we can’t emphasise enough that it should - then they need to have had enough time to have seen those benefits and preferably quantified them. But you shouldn’t leave it too late – your customer ideally needs to still have the warm afterglow of satisfaction that came from you doing a grand job.

That being said, don’t be put off producing a case study on an ‘old’ customer – in fact, these can be some of the most convincing to a prospect. To be able to state that you have built a long-term relationship with a customer who will still happily sing your praises is almost the Holy Grail of the case study. Even if you intend to use these in the press, by taking the angle of writing about an upgrade or an additional purchase this old story can easily be made newsworthy.

When size matters
Finally, how long should a case study be? Well, you’ll get conflicting advice on the optimal length of a case study, and ultimately it depends on how you plan to use it and how good the story is. But in our experience, for a case study to give you maximum versatility in how it can be used it should be a minimum of 800 words. A meaty story should be done justice in around 1,000-1,200 words – and if really warranted you could push that to 1,500 words. Anymore than that and unnecessary waffle has probably crept in.

If you need to use an edited version of a case study, however – as a scannable snippet on your Web site, or to fill the 600-word gap you’ve negotiated with a publication – then a well written study can easily be edited down to fit that shorter format without it losing its power.

Which just leaves the killer question – what makes the difference between a carefully drafted and poorly-written study? Well, you’ll have to forgive us for keeping that particular golden nugget up our sleeve. But what we will state is that a beautifully crafted case study will give you endless marketing mileage that is almost priceless.

If you would like us to discuss your customer case study needs simply call us on 01634 389100, or complete our enquiry form online for one of our Project Managers to contact you.

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