The Case Study Vs The Testimonial. Which is better?

It's been around for a long time, but the case study is still a valid and valuable technique

I've been writing case studies for more years than I care to remember and they have always been an excellent marketing technique with multiple uses. With all the changes in marketing and PR techniques that have happened over the past decade, I'm delighted to see that the case study remains as strong and true as ever.

A case study is different to a testimonial

The testimonial is excellent and shows that people are prepared to say something nice about your and your products or services. But a case study tells a more detailed story, and demonstrates the supplier's expertise, customer service ethos, creativity, and attitude all rolled into one. I like case studies to be in what I call an 80/20 formula - 80% of the story told in the customer's own words, with the remaining 20% in a narrative voice that links everything together. 

So what's the underlying structure? It's easy - there's just three main parts - problem, solution - result. Here's an oversimplified illustration of what I mean...

1. What was the problem?

We open with a description of the problem the customer needs solving. E.g.,

"When we moved into our new home, we set ourselves a goal of making the house carbon neutral within two years," said Joe Smith of Carlisle. "We thought it would be easy, but we were soon overwhelmed by the vast amounts of conflicting information. We had a feeling we were eligible for some grant funding, but weren't sure where to start." 

So here we get a sense of the customer's needs and the problems they face. We know what Joe and his wife want, and that they are finding it very hard to get.

2. What's the solution?

Enter XYZ Renewable Energies Limited, who are going to solve Joe & Samantha's problem.

"We were at the point of giving up when a friend recommended that we talk to XYZ Renewables. So we decided to give them a try," said Joe. "In just one meeting XYZ's Martin Jones really understood what we were attempting to achieve and explained all the different options available to us. He showed us several variations and then recommended that we go for a biomass boiler. It was the easiest option to retrofit into our 1960s house and we were eligible for an energy saving grant. Martin gave us detailed costs, timescales, and even filled in all the grant paperwork for us. He also worked out a schedule of how much money we would save on our heating costs over the next 3 years."

So in this section, we learn that XYZ Renewables are knowledgeable, friendly, and recommended the best solution for Joe and Samantha's needs and situation. Martin also sorted out all their grant paperwork - which is a great value-add service.

3. What's the result?

Here we are looking for some tangible evidence that XYZ Renewables delivered what they said they would.

"Martin and his team were right on time every morning and installed our new boiler really quickly with very little disruption. They got it all working and made sure we were 100% happy with everything before they left. Martin has popped round several times to check things and make little tweaks. It's a little early to show exact figures on money saved, but first indications are that we are on track to get a return on our investment within 12 months."

So here we learn that XYZ Renewables are reliable, they took care over the installation, and that the boiler they recommended is saving them money and lowering the customer's carbon footprint. Hurrah!

Even though this is just a quick, short example, you will see that from just a few sentences written in the customer's own voice, we are able to form a good impression about XYZ. This approach is so much more powerful than the basic testimonial.
Multiple uses for case studies

Earlier I mentioned that case studies have multiple uses in marketing.

  • For editorial - great for features articles
  • On your websites
  • In proposals - several clients have used their case studies in proposal documents
  • As the basis for presentations and speeches
  • Social media content
  • Sales literature - sales people love these to give to potential clients
  • Sometimes they can be great as videos (if the client is willing to talk to camera)
  • Pictures are essential for maximum impact
  • As part of an email marketing campaign

They do require some effort, but they are ultimately a very powerful marketing technique that will really help you sell. So there you are, that's my thoughts on case studies.