«Return to Blog List The Ugly Duckling of Case Studies – The “Not-for-Public-Use” Story


I have a not-quite-two-year-old, and thus, spend a lot of time reading nursery rhymes and fairly tales.

Most of these catchy or intriguing little stories pre-date our great-great-grandparents, but the lessons are still valid today.

Take the story of the Ugly Duckling, a tale released by Hans Christian Andersen in 1843. The ugly duckling, which was mocked when young, grew up to be the most beautiful swan of them all.

In the case study world, non-public customer stories are perceived as an ugly duckling of what we do. When you can’t post it on your website, spin it into a press release or share it on social media sites, then what value does it have?

But just as the ugly duckling had the potential to become beautiful, the non-public case study has the potential to be as valuable as a public case study.

Here’s how…

For Use BY or WITH the Featured Customer

This month, I worked on two non-public case studies for one client. The featured customer, a global maker of household appliances, requested that the vendor – a software company (my client) – create a case study on the success of their efforts in one German division.

The customer hopes to use that story to educate other divisions throughout the company about the benefits that are possible with the software.

It’s a dream come true for my client, that their customer is willing to (1) talk about their successes and (2) pass the written story around to others in the organization. You can’t get a better door opener than that!

The story is named, rather than “ghosted.” In other words, it has the customer’s name on it, but it’s strictly for internal use within the customer company.

This single case study, shared just within a large, global company, will likely result in my client earning more business from other divisions of its existing customer.

For this same client, I’m now on a hot project to create another non-public, but named customer case study that my client’s sales team will use to sell to the U.S. division of a major customer – for a deal that is expected to total $1 million. I’d say that’s worth having a case study, even one that you can’t use to sell to anyone else.

In these instances, the cases are used to get more business with the same company. However, I’ve also created cases for clients over the years so that their customers can demonstrate to upper management the reason to KEEP funding a product or service.

In these scenarios, customer participation can be a breeze because customer contacts are extra motivated to share their stories with their peers or superiors. And there’s no legal department involved in review if it’s just used internally.

For Use Internally by the Vendor Company

Over the years, I’ve also created various customer case studies for my clients that they share only within their organizations. They recognize the value that customer stories have beyond just selling to prospects. Customer success stories can help train new employees about the value of what their employer offers and who they serve. They can educate sales reps about the benefits and return on investment that customers see.

A couple of clients create sales-win stories, which document what was behind the sale to a particular customer. They feature somewhat different information, such as what assets were used in the sale, objections the prospect had, and how the sales reps worked through the deal with the new customer.

It’s a great lesson for customer case studies that you can’t take public – there can still be value in these lesser-thought-of stories.

To Name or Not to Name?

Non-public customer case studies may or may not have the customer’s actual name on them. It just depends on access and usage. In my first two examples, where stories will be used to sell more within the same organization, they are named, but strictly limited to usage within the internal company. It’s essential to ensure that the document is kept for internal eyes only. Protect access and mark these stories with something like “Not for public use.” In other words, don’t throw it out on the corporate network for anyone to find.

For companies wanting to leverage the rich content of a non-public case for public use, there’s always the option of removing the name and any other identifying info.

How about you? Have you seen any “ugly duckling” non-public case studies turn into beautiful swans?

3 Responses to The Ugly Duckling of Case Studies – The “Not-for-Public-Use” Story

  1. Ian Shircore says:

    I do hope you charged like a wounded bull for the $1 million non-customer case study project.

    As ever, your authentic tales from the trenches are great reminders of the importance of recognizing the potential in different business situations. Thank you.

  2. Tess Wittler says:

    Very interesting, Casey. I am glad you are pointing out that “not for public use” case studies do exist. I particularly liked this line: “It’s a great lesson for customer case studies that you can’t take public – there can still be value in these lesser-thought-of stories.”

  3. Casey Hibbard says:

    Thanks Ian. Just to clarify, the project wasn’t worth $1 million to me, but to my client in the deal they were hoping to land by using the story.

    And Tess, I’m aiming to bring hope to companies and writers that you don’t always have to have a happy customer willing to go public for a story to be high value.