«return to Tip of the Month ListingAre Anonymous Case Studies Worth the Time – and Money?

June 2016

Top 10 retailer. Large manufacturing company. Global consulting firm. Fortune 50 company. Major financial services company.

They’re some of the world’s largest and best-known business names, but they’re choosing to remain nameless in customer case studies. For various reasons, they can’t or won’t be named in a story showcasing their experience with a specific vendor.

It’s the greatest challenge that most organizations face in regards to case studies – getting customers to go on record.

What’s a company to do when it desperately needs customer case studies, especially from its big-name customers?

Is an anonymous case study a waste of time and money? Sometimes, yes. But not always.

Here’s your guide on how to decide.

1. Are sales reps desperate?

Just yesterday, I began working on a case study that will be unnamed. We won’t interview the customer. In fact, the case study can’t even be identifiable to the customer behind it, if that organization were to see it.

Without a customer interview or name, it’s undoubtedly a weaker story. But the client is moving forward with an anonymous case study anyway – writing it from internal information without a customer interview. It’s a rare situation, and not something that I recommend companies make a regular practice. But in this case, the sales reps are clamoring for something, anything, that will help them tell the story about a brand-new product.

And there’s another factor here…

This client’s customer is in the financial services industry. This brings us to the next question…

2. Do you serve industries and customers that are notoriously tight-lipped?

If you market to prospects that would never be able to go on record either, then perhaps it’s not much of a stretch for those prospects to understand why your case studies are anonymous.

There are certain industries known for their penchant for keeping a lid on things (I’m looking at you government, financial services and big retail). Add to that list any publicly traded company.

Knowing this, some vendors pursue case studies anyway with the thought that, it’s better to have something than nothing.

3. Is there enough detail to tell a strong story, with measurable results?

If you’re going to give sales reps and prospects an unnamed case study, it better have a strong story, and especially strong results. You have to make it worth the audience’s time.

If case studies play three roles – credibility, education and validation – then an anonymous case study still fills the latter two of those roles. We don’t have the credibility of a name but we do have details about the customer’s experience (education) and some results (validation).

Strong details and results have to make up for the fact that you’re losing some credibility by going nameless, and likely lack any customer quotes. Impress the heck out of readers with actual numbers (assuming you can get them) so they are less inclined to think you’re making it up.

But before resorting to the above approaches…

Have you really tried to get customer buy-in? Many companies just don’t ask, assuming they will get a no.

It’s worth it to try for a name. That’s Plan A. Plan B – unnamed – is your second option.

There are certain major companies that are notorious for not going on record. And it’s understandable if a vendor chooses not to even try.

But if you search online for that company’s name and the term “case studies,” a-ha, case studies come up featuring that customer sharing their experiences about working with other vendors.

What’s the difference? That story is one the customer is willing to tell. It’s a strong enough message or vendor partnership that the customer was willing to do something it doesn’t typically do. An executive let the legal and PR teams know that this was a special case, a PR opportunity.

Ultimately, outcomes are about the relationships behind it all and what messages folks want to communicate to the market. It’s complex, but not impossible to navigate. In short, those gaining permission found enough benefit in a case study to say, “yes.”

So before you resort to anonymous, consider, what’s going to motivate your customers? Find it, use it, and if it’s a no go, decide if your story is strong enough to stand without a name.