«Return to Blog List The Risk of Stripping Down Customer Case Studies


In my household, we’re having a newspaper war.

At least once a week, a kerfuffle breaks out over a particularly engaging article in one of the publications we regularly consume. We’re not debating the content of the article. We’re fighting over who had it last and where that person left it.

With a 3-year-old sharing the house with us, it’s rare to finish a feature story in one sitting. And when we return, there’s a chance the article is no longer there. It may have started at the kitchen table, but could now be anywhere in the house.

“Where’s the article on that missing hiker? I was reading it,” one of us might say. The other replies, “No, I was reading it and haven’t finished it.”

We’re hiding and hoarding the LONG stories.

In this age of the “declining attention span,” people still read longer stories. And not just in printed material. The e-book industry was valued at $1.3 billion in 2013.

Business people are no different

But what about in the business world? Will busy business people – on a mission to solve their challenges – read marketing content if it’s more than a page? If it’s four pages?

They certainly do. White papers, typically 4-8 pages, consistently take the top honor for most desired content in the annual Eccolo Media survey and in many others.

Here’s the thing. People need a LOT of information to make a decision. If someone is going to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on buying a product or service, then they assuredly need plenty of information to support the decision.

Demand Gen Report’s 2014 B2B Buyer Behavior Survey revealed that more than half of B2B buyers consume 2-4 pieces of information before making a decision, and 30 percent consume 5-7 pieces. More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents agreed that the number of sources used to research and evaluate a purchase has increased over the past year.

In this age of content marketing, they want content.

What about customer case studies?

Among my clients and peers, the debate is whether buyers will read longer customer case studies.

I firmly believe they will, and not just because I’m a case study writer.

Eccolo’s survey says…”In general, buyers overwhelmingly prefer traditional written case studies to those presented as audio, video, one-page summaries, or Microsoft PowerPoint slides.”

Still, customer case studies seem to be getting shorter – down to a few paragraphs – because companies believe that buyers don’t want longer stories.

But there’s a reason why case studies have become a marketing staple in many industries. Testimonials are not enough.

What do buyers need to make a decision?

The challenge with abbreviating our customer success stories is this: We may be leaving out what buyers need to make decisions.

Think about it this way…When was the last time you made a major purchase decision? What information did you need?

A couple of weeks ago, I bought the Varidesk, a desk-topper that allows me to raise my keyboard and monitor higher so that I can STAND when working, whenever I want.

I posted the photo on Facebook and Twitter and immediately began getting questions from friends. Why did you choose the desk-topper over a desk that rises? How did you choose this version over the other Varidesk versions? How much time do you spend standing each day?

They wanted to know how I made my decision and what my experience was.

The same goes for buyers of B2B products and services, as well as consumer purchases. How did you pick your financial adviser or childcare provider?

Fitting it all in

The reason why customer case studies are in the top three consumed types of marketing collateral, on the Eccolo survey, is that they go beyond the sound bite to accomplish three things:

Create credibility – A real company is successful with the vendor’s products and services.

Educate – They show why the customer chose the solution, how it works in their environment, how it solves challenges, and what the customer and vendor did to make it a success.

Validate – A case study shows that real customers are seeing real results.

It’s hard to achieve all that in a 300-word summary. That size of customer success story usually covers the challenge and results, but leaves out most of the middle: how it was achieved.

It’s like seeing a magic show. The rabbit comes out of the hat, but we’re all left wondering how the magic happened.

An article by Joshua Steimle in Forbes highlights the power of a single, compelling case study, and suggests we think about the question a different way. If I were making this decision, what would I want to know?

Short or long: Be compelling

What’s the common thread between the stories my husband and I fight over and those that B2B buyers consume? They’re compelling. They tell stories. They’re skimmable and formatted for easy reading.

Long or short, a case study won’t get read if it’s not interesting for the reader. The risk is losing engagement with buyers whose attention we have caught.

Keep it about the customer’s journey and not filled with product description, which buyers can find in many other places.

Yet what works for one company may not work for another. Marketers need to look at what brings in leads, website traffic and sales.

What are buyers consuming on your website, or in the lead-up to a purchase?

They may not be able to finish your case study or white paper in one sitting. But if it’s good, they’ll bookmark it and come back to it.

And now, I’m off to find that story I started in Sunday’s New York Times.

5 Responses to The Risk of Stripping Down Customer Case Studies

  1. Cecelia White Pineda says:

    Hi Casey,
    Great article – I really enjoyed it and think that your points are completely valid. May I make one suggestion though?

    I clicked on a couple of your hyperlinks to look at the articles you were referring to, hoping to read them when I finished your article, but when I did, the links opened on the same page. I found that a bit irritating because I wanted to finish your article first to keep the flow.

    I’d like to suggest that when you add a hyperlink you chose the option of having it open in a new page so that your readers don’t lose track of your article. It’s not a big deal – just saying … hmmm- I guess I’m just saying I’d like it better (okay – so who cares maybe). Anyway – a thought..

    Thanks for the article.

  2. Casey Hibbard says:

    Thanks Cecelia! I didn’t realize that links didn’t create their own pages. I understand the frustration and I’ll fix that. Much appreciated.


  3. Great article, Casey. I’ve been writing for 40 years and reading for more than 50 now (yikes!) and I can say that there is no “one-size-fits-all” for article length. You need to use the number of words that will tell the story! I read many 5,000 word articles (in the New York Times, mostly) on subjects I thought I had no interest in, but the writing keeps me engaged.

    I’ve also seen some “short” articles (on the Internet, mostly) that were way too long….

  4. Casey Hibbard says:

    Daphne, Absolutely! I’m amazed at how good writing can hook me on what I thought was the most mundane of subjects.

  5. Mark Badran says:

    Totally agree with comment about writing the number of words that will tell the story effectively. When it comes to case studies, I don’t think “size matters.” 😉

    I’ve read case studies that drag on way too long (lots of “filler” content), likely to accommodate some predetermined 2-page or 4-page template. That same story could have been told in far fewer words and would have likely been more effective. The opposite holds true – a case study that’s too short and skips over critical detail doesn’t provide buyers with enough info to be effective.

    Your last section sums it up – short or long, be compelling!