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still king

The written case study still reigns.

I realize that I’m not the most unbiased authority on the supremacy of the written customer case study. I earn my living writing case studies and teach other writers to do the same.

But a recently released survey from Eccolo Media backs me up.

Eccolo Media surveyed more than 500 B2B technology buyers about the types of content they consume, when, and the value of it in their purchase decisions. This year’s Eccolo Media 2014 B2B Technology Content Survey Report revealed that more buyers prefer customer case studies in a written format than in other forms. They also like the traditional narrative format over shorter formats.

“In general, buyers overwhelmingly prefer traditional written case studies to those presented as audio, video, one-page summaries, or Microsoft PowerPoint slides,” the report states (page 9 sidebar).

It goes on to say…

“Small business buyers show a slight preference for one-page summaries when compared with mid-market and enterprise respondents, but even they prefer traditional written case studies over other formats.”

That’s good news for companies because high-quality video case studies can be expensive and usually require more logistics to pull off. And it’s excellent news for writers looking to help companies create their customer stories.

Eccolo also revealed…

  • Case studies are in the top three most consumed types of content. White papers again took the lead this year, followed by product brochures/data sheets. Detailed technology guides/implementation scenarios were tied with case studies in the #3 spot.
  • In questions about the influence of case studies in the sales process, case studies were the second most influential type of content, behind white papers. Forty-eight percent said case studies are very or extremely influential. White papers and case studies even beat the old product brochure/data sheet!
  • 56% of enterprise-level buyers used case studies to evaluate a purchase in the last six months. Twenty-three percent of small business buyers used them.

When are they used in the sales cycle?

  • 22% first reviewed case studies during the pre-sales phase when they were not aware of their problems
  • 35% reviewed them first during initial sales
  • 32% during mid sales
  • 11% during final sales

What else do buyers think?

  • 71% of buyers consume vendor content on a mobile device. Short, digestible, easy-to-read formats aid in mobile consumption. (Perhaps create more than one version of a case study for easier mobile reading.)
  • 62% receive vendor content via social channels. Oddly, Facebook is the top social media channel where buyers receive vendor content but respondents named LinkedIn the “most likely to consume” channel.
  • 68% often or very often click links embedded in content for more information.

Whether you’re planning your company’s case study efforts for 2014 or you’re a writer assisting organizations with creating impactful content, check out the survey. It’s packed with valuable insight.

9 Responses to Do Buyers Still Read Case Studies?

  1. This makes perfect sense to me, for a number of reasons:

    1) Most people in senior authority in companies (apart from high tech companies, perhaps) are in their 40s or much older. They're going to prefer a format that they're familiar with from high school.

    2) Videos and audios take too LONG. I hate watching videos because they suck up too much of my time. 

    3) It's easier to review and make notes on something that's already written down. You can use a highlighter for goodness sake! 

    4) Narrative reports tell STORIES and we are all hardwired to be interested in stories. 

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating survey, Casey!

  2. Casey Hibbard says:

    So true Daphne! I agree on the videos. I don't have much patience for them either. If there's video and text together, I always just read. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Walt Goshert says:


    Thanks… great insights here.

    I'm wondering about when to best use case studies in the marketing/sales cycle…

    I notice many sites posting case studies on their sites as free content. This seems to diminish the impact of the case study. The percentages seem to back this up since only 22% viewed case studies pre-sale. 

    I'm advising client's not to freely post case studies on their sites. Use the case studies for qualified prospects engaged in the sales/decion-making process.

    What's your experince on this?



  4. Casey Hibbard says:

    Hi Walt,

    Such a great question, and well-timed. Would you believe that next week's blog post is actually on this?

    I'm a big believer in making case studies freely available to prospects. I wrote a post a while back about a company that unlocked its case studies and saw consumption really go up. http://www.storiesthatsellguide.com/2010/11/why-companies-need-to-f-r-e-e-their-case-studies/#sthash.KixiCZvd.dpuf

    So many prospects are doing their own research these days. Case studies are the kind of credibility building content that can lead someone to want a discussion with a sales rep. I think the 22% stat that you see may be because so many companies "lock" their case studies behind registration forms, making it tough for prospects to get them when they want them. But that's my feeling on it.

    I think opening access increases viewing and sharing (especially now with social media). My clients also actively use them for media releases and pitching as well – another reason to make them public. Use other content marketing tools for lead gen. Just my two cents!

  5. Anupam says:

    Casey, Interesting article. personally i prefer text and photos/images than videos. it helps me decide what is important and skip the rest. 

    Coming to the question of measuring the effectiveness of a case study/story. what is the best approach in your experience ?

  6. Rose J says:

    Casey, I have your book, have read it twice now (yes, cover-to-cover!). It's a keeper, for sure.

    I really appreciate your pointer to the study for B2B technology case studies. I tried finding similar, good-news-studies for B2C services in general or for specific categories (in-home care, medical services, … ) but am coming up empty.

    I've tried combinations and permutations of search key words (b2c services success stories case studies content marketing roi … ).

    Are my keyword searches faulty, or do the studies just not exist yet?




  7. Casey Hibbard says:

    Hi Rose,

    It brightened my day to hear that you've read my book – twice! So glad that you found it helpful. If you're looking for good examples of B2C case studies, perhaps the challenge is that B2C doesn't usually call them "case studies." So stick with the term, "success stories." I would try "customer success stories" and then weed through the results for a while and you'll likely find a few consumer ones. Then add in your terms for different industries and see what you find. But you may just have to go directly to the websites of types of companies in your target area and look at their websites to find any existing stories. I understand it can take some time since most of the cases you find are B2B tech. Good luck!

  8. Rose J says:

    Hi Casey –

    Thank you for replying to my post. I'm well-set on finding examples of success stories for almost anything I can dream up. The "nuts" I'm trying to crack are:

    a. For service types of businesses, the same or similar kinds of data presented in the Eccolo media report that you cited in your original post. For example, given N types of collateral that B2C services typically use, are success stories in the top 3? top 5? or … ?

    b. Success stories on using success stories in different types of B2C service businesses (preferrably with quantitative as well as qualitative ROI).

    And perhaps more context is in order … I am in a small business referral group where we spend less time schmoozing and a lot of time educating each other.

    Most of our businesses are service-oriented (real estate, financial planning, medical care, etc … ). 

    We love your guidance about spending dollars wisely; i.e., save success stories for offerings that are novel, complex, and/or expensive; and (on page 28) "Don't pursue a customer story just because a happy customer is willing and able; make sure the story truly fills a niche in your sales, marketing, and PR plans."

    For the more dollar-timid (or prudent?) in our group, comfort = data about the success of success stories for B2C services.

    (Oh dear, I hope I phrased that clearly enough … )

    In the meantime, I am continuing to bing and google away by including keywords such as: survey, study, ROI, value, and so on. I have found some general info about creative ways to measure. But so far am still on-the-hunt for real studies.

  9. Casey Hibbard says:

    Hi Rose,

    Good for you for trying to bring some good data to the group. I'm always on the lookout as well. When I see surveys like this, I'm all over them. I don't see much in the way of surveys or research on the use of B2C success stories. You're going to find more general stuff like what I found and included early in my book on page 12 regarding trusted sources of information. But you never know. One could pop up. Search on sites like MarketingProfs for more validation for case studies.

    You might join my Success-Story Marketing group on LinkedIn if you haven't yet, and post the question there. Good luck and share anything good that you find!