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The Why and How of Customer Case Studies

The Why and How of Customer Case Studies

Brand marketing case studies

Why are customer case studies so important?

Customer case studies prove your company delivers results. You can tell prospects that your company “meets and exceeds expectations. Doing that, however, isn’t as credible as real customers sharing real successes. Unfortunately, case studies often promote what businesses do. Instead, they should focus on customers. Case studies leave no doubt about what your company can provide.

Customer success stories – also known as case studies – are powerful tools for your marketing toolbox. They build trust with your prospective customers and help you earn their business. If you don’t have any, now is the time to change that. Writing case studies is more important than ever. Buyers research online before they talk with you. If your case studies are well-written and educational, prospects will want to talk with you.

What’s in a customer case study?

Case studies typically have four parts:

  • Customer problem
  • Your company’s solution
  • Results your customer achieved
  • Call to action (CTA)

You want prospective customers to know “what’s in it for me?” if they invest in your products and services. Case studies should make the benefits clear through your customers’ eyes. They need tangible proof that they’ll see results from their investments.

What results do buyers care about?

Being specific is key in case study content. The more measurable results you can share, the better. 

You can focus on:

  • Increased revenue
  • Reduced costs
  • Lead generation
  • Improved quality
  • Increased efficiency
  • Market growth
  • Business growth
  • Time savings

When thinking about the benefits that buyers care about, put yourself in their shoes. Let’s say you’re shopping for a new product or service, what do you look for in a company? Do you care that the business is “award-winning,” or do you want to see strong outcomes for companies like yours?

How to select case study candidates

Not all customers make great case studies. One of the mistakes businesses make is to contact customers they know will take their calls. They may also contact those they’ve known for the longest time. What’s the mistake? Being on good terms doesn’t mean you’ll get a powerful case study.

Even the best writers can’t turn a ho-hum customer experience into a mind-blowing story. Case studies should feature your most impressive results. 

Here's how to go about it:

  • Start by making a list of your biggest customer achievements. Don’t worry about fine-tuning. Just list as many notable examples as you can. Check with your sales and customer service teams. Since they’re on the front lines, they can offer valuable suggestions.
  • Once you’ve brainstormed a list, see if any names stand out. Are there any notable brands? Marquee names carry more weight than lesser-known companies. Circle or otherwise highlight any big names. One caveat: Large brands can be difficult to get commitments from. They may have policies prohibiting endorsements, which is what case studies are. Others may require you to jump through brand marketing and legal hoops. They may shut you down instantly. Don’t worry about that yet, however.
  • If you don’t have big-name success stories, focus on smaller customers. Think of convincing examples that show your value and great customer outcomes. What pain points did you address? How did you solve their problems? What benefits did they get from your products and services? 
  • Refine your list to 10-12 customers. These are the customers you’ll contact for permission to feature. There’s no magic number. The more you can come up with (so long as they’re your top examples), the better. Some will say no, and others simply won’t get back to you. 

Contact candidates for permission

Once you’ve got a list of 10-12 customers, contact them for permission to write about them. The larger the company, the harder this can be. Large companies may have nondisclosure agreements and policies that prohibit direct or implied endorsements.

Don’t be discouraged, however. You’ll never know if they’ll participate if you don’t ask. And they could say yes!

Typically, each customer will want to know:

    • The topic
    • Your deadline
    • Who you plan to interview
    • How you’ll use the case study
    • Where the case study will appear
    • How you’ll promote it

In addition, you may need to consent to various levels of internal review at your customer’s company. Plan ahead. You may need significant lead time for the review and approval process. Stakeholders can include your interview sources and marketing, public relations and legal review departments. The CEO may even want to see it.

Explain you’ll be using names, titles and quotes

Customers may not want you to use names of companies and people you interview. Ideally, you’ll want to include this information. Be sure to add direct quotes, because it improves your credibility. Attribution is important for establishing trust with buyers.

Would you do business with the company that didn’t identify its customers or the one that used names?

What do you do if you have outstanding results but your customers insist on anonymity? Ask them if you can reference their companies in a broad way. For example, “a prominent Midwest real estate developer.” Another example is “a national health care organization.”

It might be better to go anonymous versus having no case studies. Just be sure you feature outstanding customer results. If your results are average and the customers don’t want to be named, hold off writing. Instead, focus on building future successes you can promote. Creating case studies can take time. But remember that the stronger your content, the better your results.

What if they need convincing?

Customers may be reluctant to participate. They may not have the time, or they may worry about revealing sensitive information. Others may not see any benefit to helping you with case studies.

Tell your customers they’ll get publicity and exposure. The content can increase awareness for their brands. They’ll get a boost if you share the case studies on your website and social media channels. When you @mention them, that will increase their visibility even more. If they still decline to participate, contact the next company on your list.

It might be tempting to dangle an incentive, such as discounted or free service, to entice cooperation. This creates the perception of bias and cheapens the service you provide. It’s similar to paying customers to participate in a survey. You’ve worked hard to build trust in your brand; don’t destroy it with freebies.

Set the stage for success by sending questions in advance

For each case study, conduct at least one interview with stakeholders by phone. The goal is to get detailed answers to your questions. Email can help you fill in the gaps, but you likely won’t get all the information you need. 

Most stakeholders will want to know the questions you’ll ask, so they can prepare before they speak with you. Email these questions in advance and tell them your deadlines for responses.

The questions may vary from customer to customer, but here’s a general list that will help you get started:

  • When was your company founded?
  • What’s your annual revenue or sales?
  • How many employees do you have?
  • Where is your headquarters?
  • How many locations do you have?
  • What challenges were you facing when you hired us?
  • What were your goals at the time?
  • Did you consider other solutions before working with us?
  • Why did you choose us over competitive alternatives?
  • How did our products and services help you meet your goals? Please be specific and include success metrics.
  • Would you recommend us to other companies? Why?

Schedule your interviews

When you get stakeholders’ responses, contact them to schedule phone interviews. Plan on 30-60 minutes for each interview. If stakeholders sent you detailed email responses, you’ll need less time than if they gave vague or short answers.

You may need to dig deep to get what you’re after. In my experience, the responses I receive before my interviews lead to more questions than they answer. Your goal isn’t to rehash what you already know. Use the interviews to:

  • Clarify uncertainties
  • Elaborate on key points
  • Discover details and data you didn’t learn earlier
  • Get notable, meaty quotes from stakeholders

Reviews and approvals

When you’re done interviewing, thank everyone for their time. Then, confirm you’ll send a draft to your customer contacts for feedback and edits. Be sure to send the edited version to each customer for final approval. Don’t accept verbal approvals – get them in writing. This will protect you and your customers from any questions about who approved what and when.

The approval process for case studies can be labor- and time-intensive. I recommend that an assistant or someone else on your team manage revisions and final approval. Being able to hand that off will give you time to start working on your next case study.

Formatting your case studies

One of the most common questions about case studies is how long they should be. I recommend being as concise as possible – 500 words or less. Back in the day, I used to write case studies that were 800-1,000 words each. Most people don’t want to read that much today. If you’re in a technical industry or your products are highly specialized, however, you may need more than 500 words.

Whatever the length, appeal to skim readers. Include:

  • Headlines (titles) and subheads (short, small titles)
  • Images and graphics, including your logo and your customers’ logos
  • Bulleted lists
  • Pull quotes from stakeholders
  • Callouts with impressive stats
  • A sidebar with customer information. Include the number of employees, locations, headquarters, annual revenue or sales, etc.

How to set up the content

Case studies follow a basic format:

1. Write a headline (title) that includes a measurable benefit.

“[YOUR CUSTOMER] slashes energy expenses by 70% using new [YOUR PRODUCT] solution.” If you don’t have specific metrics, focus on a challenge or pain point that your buyers will find relatable. “[YOUR CUSTOMER] creates new revenue streams with [YOUR SERVICE].”

Don’t write a weak headline like this:

“[YOUR COMPANY] helps [YOUR CUSTOMER] succeed.” Yawn … You need a direct result to attract buyers. Without it, they won’t read past the headline and all your work will have gone to waste. Marketing is hard enough. Be sure you get the most mileage from your efforts.

2. Introduce your customer by name.

Briefly describe the company and where it’s based. For example, “ThreatSwitch, a cloud-based security software company in Charlotte, North Carolina.”

If your customer doesn’t want to be named, try to use a general description. For example, “a top wealth management firm in Illinois.” The goal is to give buyers enough context that they can relate to the customer.

3. Explain your customer’s challenges and goals.

Focus on the challenges your customer had  before using your products or services. What did the company want to achieve? Why did the customer choose your company to help? Did the company consider and/or try other solutions? What happened?

4. Describe how your products or services solved your customer’s problems and helped the company reach its goals.

Share specific results and real numbers. Details add credibility and show where your customer started and ended. Include strong quotes from key stakeholders, along with their names and titles.

Be careful that you’re not internally focused. You don’t want to pat yourself on the back and talk about how great your company is. This section is about your customer’s notable results from working with you. Let your customer tell the story.

5. Wrap up with a subtle call to action (CTA).

Case studies are informational and educational – not salesy. You can use a “soft” CTA, such as encouraging buyers to contact you or visit your website for more information.

Promote your case studies

Your website is the perfect place to publish your case studies. Make sure each story has a unique link on your site versus publishing one page with multiple case studies. That way, you can give each customer a link to that particular success story. Ask your customers to share your content and provide a link back to your site, so you can get more mileage from your content.

In addition, promote your case studies on your company’s social media channels. Include quotes, interesting statistics and images or graphics in your social media teasers. Be sure to link to the full content.

You can also ask your customers to promote case studies on their social media channels. They’ll be more willing to help you if you make it easy for them. Give them prewritten blurbs and any images or graphics that you’d like to include. Yes, marketing your brand takes work, but it’s worth it.


Case studies are an important part of the customer journey. They help convince prospective customers that you deliver what you promise. By sharing concrete examples and real benefits, you’ll earn buyers’ trust – and their business.