Case Studies for Marketing: Can We Be Honest?

Case Study Lies

Working in the SaaS industry for so long, I continue to groan as I download and read case studies. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve actually worked at several companies where we discovered a client doing amazing things with our platform or who have attained incredible results… and we’ve pushed and promoted a case study about them.

Marketing isn’t all about acquisition, though. Marketing is about identifying great prospects, providing them the research they need to make a purchase, and then retaining great customers that maximize your return on marketing investment.

Setting insane expectations from a fluke client isn’t great marketing, it’s tantamount to false advertising – unless it’s written constructively and honestly.

Tips for Writing A Great Case Study

I’m not saying to avoid case studies that of clients who have gotten great results. I think it’s absolutely a great strategy to share stories of your customers who have profited or been served well by your products or services. But in writing the case study, you need to be careful on setting expectations with your next customer… or a customer who uses the case study to sway their internal team’s buying decision. Here are some tips:

  • Background – provide some background on the customer and what they were trying to achieve.
  • Human Resources – speak to the internal and external talent resources that the customer applied that helped achieve the amazing results.
  • Budget Resources – speak to the internal budget that was applied to the initiative.
  • Timing – seasonality and timelines often play a role in how well an initiative can attain results. Be sure to share them within your case study.
  • Average – set expectations on the average results that customers will achieve without the talent, budget, and timeline that this client applied.
  • Bullets and Call-Outs – be sure to pinpoint all the elements that led to the superior results.

Stating a customer received a 638% return on investment is a great case study to share… but setting expectations on how they achieved it beyond your products and services is even more important!

Setting expectations is a critical strategy for marketers to increase retention and the lifetime value of every client. If you’re setting ridiculous expectations that the average customer can’t achieve, you’re going to have some angry customers. And rightly so, in my opinion.

Myths, Misconceptions, and Rants

I really hope you enjoy the Myths, Misconceptions, and Rants series that we’ve been working on! They’re getting some great attention on our social channels and I love the effort our production partners at Ablog Cinema are putting into the series.

Here’s a Transcription:

AJ Ablog: [00:00] Doug, check it out. So I saw this case study, and I bought these magic beans.

Douglas Karr: [00:06] Magic beans?

AJ Ablog: [00:06] These magic coffee beans, yeah. They’re supposed to cure cancer.

Douglas Karr: [00:10] You have coffee beans that cure cancer?

AJ Ablog: [00:12] I have coffee beans, yeah. See? Just read it, just read it.

Douglas Karr: [00:16] Holy smokes. Cures cancer. Male pattern baldness. Erectile dysfunction. Constipation. Stage fright.

AJ Ablog: [00:23] It also solves Count [Choculitis[00:00:24].

Douglas Karr: [00:25] Arachnophobia?

AJ Ablog: [00:27] No, that’s a movie. It’s sponsored by the movie.

Douglas Karr: [00:30] Slow internet speeds? I wonder who wrote that case study.

AJ Ablog: [00:34] I don’t know, I just saw it, I read it, and it obviously is true.

Douglas Karr: [00:37] How is it working?

AJ Ablog: [00:39] I haven’t tried it yet.

Douglas Karr: [00:41] Let’s go make some coffee.

AJ Ablog: [00:43] All right, let’s do it.

AJ Ablog: [00:51] Welcome to Myths-

Douglas Karr: [00:52] Misconceptions-

AJ Ablog: [00:53] And Rants, the show where Doug and I like to talk about things on the internet that really bug us.

Douglas Karr: [00:59] Yeah, and today’s show is about promises, promises that companies make with case studies.

AJ Ablog: [01:05] Just like the promises your dad made and never fulfilled.

Douglas Karr: [01:10] That’s kind of dark. But you see this every single day, especially I’m in software a lot, so I help software companies. And they take the one client, they got one exceptional, incredible result utilizing their software, and they say, “Oh my God, we’ve got to write that in a case study.” So you get this case study, and it’s how this software increased their return on investment by 638% or whatever. And the thing is, is they might have thousands of customers, and one customer got that result. We wouldn’t allow that anywhere else. We wouldn’t allow a pharmaceutical company that there was a cancer patient that took aspirin once that their cancer went away, and say, “Hey, this aspirin cures cancer.” We wouldn’t ever allow that, but for some reason with case studies, we allow it all the time. And the problem is is that there’s businesses and consumers that go out there and read the case study, and they-

AJ Ablog: [02:15] They don’t really know.

Douglas Karr: [02:16] Yeah, they feel like it’s the truth, like a company wouldn’t be allowed to lie.

Speaker: [02:21] It’s not a lie if you believe it.

Douglas Karr: [02:24] And the company isn’t lying.

AJ Ablog: [02:27] But they’re not telling you the whole truth.

Douglas Karr: [02:29] Right. They’re kind of just using this absolutely best-case scenario. Maybe it was a marketing platform or something and they had a great marketing team, and it was the season where they got the most business, and their competitor just went out of business, and their pricing might of just dropped. And so all of these things combined increased their results by 638%.

AJ Ablog: [02:52] Right, or it’s like a video company saying, “Hey look, look at how great this campaign did,” except for the fact that that brand already has a great following. They did what they had to do on social. It’s not the video itself, but it was all the other things combined with it, and then them taking credit saying, “Oh, look at what my video did for you.”

Douglas Karr: [03:12] Right. So I would just say that as a company, one of the problems that you run into downstream of that is when you set those grandiose expectations with a client, that now that client comes onboard after reading that case study and expects that type of performance.

AJ Ablog: [03:31] That same result, yeah.

Douglas Karr: [03:32] And so these companies a lot of the time throw those case study out there, they’re really proud of it, they start getting business off of it, and then they get disillusioned customers. And so my thing is, if you’re going to do a case study, I’m not saying don’t use one that someone got exceptional results.

AJ Ablog: [03:47] Right, and there are a lot of good case studies out there.

Douglas Karr: [03:49] Yeah, but be honest in the case study. “Hey, this isn’t the typical kind of response that we get. These aren’t the typical kind of results. Here’s three factors that led to the growth aside from our platform or aside from the software.”

AJ Ablog: [04:04] Right. Be honest and set expectations.

Douglas Karr: [04:06] Yeah, just be honest. I think a case study is an incredible opportunity to educate your next client or your next prospect on what is possible, but not what will be the norm.

AJ Ablog: [04:20] Right, you’re not one of those 3:00 AM sales commercials saying, “This is going to happen to you every single time because that’s what we do.”

Commercial: [04:29] And the nice thing about these practice katanas … oh, that hurt. Oh. That hurt big time. A piece of that, just the tip just got me, Odell.

Douglas Karr: [04:40] For consumers and businesses that read case studies, please take them with a grain of salt or push back. If someone says, “We get this kind of 638% ROI,” push back and say, “What’s the average ROI that you’re getting with clients?” And then for the companies that are putting out these case studies, put that this was an exceptional result that these guys got, but we have to tell you about it because it was so creative, and here’s all the other factors that lied into it. And now what you’re doing is you’re helping your next customer, and you’re saying, “Hey, I’d love to get the results that they got. I know that we’re probably not going to get those, but look, when they did this, this, this, and this-“

AJ Ablog: [05:24] “And we could do some very similar-“

Douglas Karr: [05:26] “We could do something similar and increase our results,” and I think that’s … so get off of this bandwagon of just showing your ultimate uber-great results, and setting missed expectations with your clients and stuff. And then for companies and consumers that are buying, be skeptical. Be skeptical of those case studies.

Speaker: [05:49] I can open your eyes. I can open your eyes.

AJ Ablog: [05:57] Was there ever a time guys when you were deceived by a case study or advertising in any kind of sense like that? I’d love to hear them in the comments down below. If you like this video, make sure you like and subscribe, and we’ll see you in the next video.

What do you think?

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