Case studies and client stories are crucial components of any insight company’s marketing. They demonstrate your value and expertise, satisfy client curiosity, and build trust. However, creating good client stories is often a challenge. It’s not only client confidentiality that causes a problem, sometimes it is hard to get permission even to use a logo on your website.
With many years experience of in creating successful cases, here is our Mustard-y advice for cracking the case study nut.
Step 1: Client Attribution
There are three levels of client attribution to consider. The first is simply displaying a client’s logo on your website or credentials. In these cases, unless you have specifically been instructed otherwise, our advice is to “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” Place the logo on your site and then apologize and take it down if requested. In 16 years of experience, none of our agency clients have been asked to remove a logo from their site. Not one.
Step 2: Testimonials
Testimonials, from named clients, are the second level of attribution. Short, attributed verbatim quotes carry significantly more weight than anonymous or non-attributed testimonials which are pretty much worthless. To create good testimonials, draft a version for the client to edit, don’t expect them to come up with something themselves, and make sure to keep it brief (up to 30 words or so).
Once cleared and confirmed, (check you can use the client’s name and job title and get it correct), use these testimonials on multiple platforms, such as your website, social media, proposals, and throughout credentials presentations.
Step 3: Full Case Studies
A more detailed client story, which we like to tell in the client’s words, is the final level. Full client stories are best created through a recorded client interview, video interview, podcast, or written questionnaire which can be turned into an article or blog post. These should set the scene with the business context and challenge, mention a brief description of your solution, and then focus on the results achieved for the client. Focus on the client’s learnings, actions taken, and the positive impact on their organization.
The key to creating effective full case studies is following up with the client after the project’s completion to assess and discuss its success. This also provides an opportunity to strengthen relationships. Many insight companies struggle with a follow-up due to ongoing negotiations, fear of failure, or simply because they have transactional relationships with clients and do not feel able to discuss the impact of their work. However, if you are going to create client cases it is vital to have those conversations and do those interviews.
How to Create the Case Study
It is important to glean an understanding of the results before you start the case study process. It’s no good doing an in-depth interview and then finding out that the client did not act on the results of the research or that they are not prepared to tell you what happened. So, talk to the client, find out if they are open to sharing, and go from there. If you do not have good results, then the client is not the right one for a case study. Revert to a testimonial or just use their logo.
If you do have the right relationship, know you have some results to write about and have secured permission to do the case study in principle, then the best way to craft the content is via a set of pre-approved questions. We usually craft a discussion guide and supply it to the client before doing a recorded interview, but you could also send over a set of questions via email and ask the client to respond in writing. The first approach is usually better as it’s quicker and easier for the client to just chat for 30 minutes. You then know exactly what they said and can write up the case study using their verbatim as quotes. You can also lift relevant verbatim and use them as testimonials. If you do a video interview then you will need to edit it down to a tight enough format, ditto a podcast. Once the case study is packaged, then share it for clearance.
Clients often ask what will be done with the case study before they give permission to use it. Our suggestion is to say at the outset that you will use it on your website and no more. Most clients do not see this as a problem. If the content is really interesting, then you can go back after you have the case published on your site and ask if it would be possible to do more with it. The main point is to avoid your client having to go to their legal team to get permission to publish more widely. Legal teams will give a flat no to any request like this as life is too short for them. However, once a case is published on your site, there is nothing to stop you from asking the client if it is OK to share it with more people as it is already in the public realm.
If all this feels like too big a thing to deal with, remember you only need one good story which you will revisit and re-use in your marketing for years. There will always be people who had no idea you worked with Pepsi, and who would still be interested to hear about it even five years later. Do one full case study well, and you can just rely on logos and testimonials for the rest.
To wrap up, we always recommend partnerships. Network, meet people, and then approach a company you want to work with, and suggest an innovative new service or idea you would like to trial. Do an ‘experiment’ with this client on the basis that you will publish and share the results. You may need to pay for the sample or do the research at a cost, but the content will be gold.