A common question marketers struggle with is how to write case studies if the clients are not willing to be named. This is tough. In all cases, you get a lot more credibility if the client is willing to be identified. But if they’re willing to be named, they’ll also want to control how much information you disclose. In some cases, the key stakeholders might be willing to help, but the corporate communications department won’t approve the use of their brand or allow you to quote anyone. So how do you work around this? Here are 5 tips for getting your clients to do a case study and even allow you to publish it in a magazine:
1. Keep the Case Study Anonymous
The easiest approach is to go anonymous. Then you can write just about anything you want, as long as you don’t give identifying information or disclose confidential material. For example, check out this article I wrote on automating the certification process for electronic trading. The key interview subject worked for a global, tier 1 investment bank. Their PR department is notorious about not letting vendors use the bank’s name. So we didn’t even try. The client gave me an interview on the condition that he remains anonymous. I leveraged portions of the interview to create the article. It worked well. The day this article was published, our client received a call from a new prospect who read the article. They closed a significant deal that they never would have known about had the prospect not discovered the article.
2. Give the Client an Opportunity for Publicity
We’re working on a similar case study now. Like the link I shared above, this case study will be written as an article and will published in a trade journal. In this example, the client is a new start-up exchange that needs publicity. For them, this article represents free PR. But even in a case like this, it’s important to be very sensitive to their communication needs. For example, after we interviewed the key stakeholder, we immediately booked a call with the head of communications and the head of compliance to discuss topics that were off-limits. This makes them comfortable that we’re going to stay within what they’re regulatorily permitted to say. We will make every effort to represent them in a positive light, even borrowing their positioning language. They will get an opportunity to review and comment before we publish, and if they don’t like how we’re representing them, they can always opt to stay anonymous.
Here’s another example of a by-line we ghost-wrote. It was a thought leadership article that included a mini case study about how a customer is leveraging our client’s technology. In this case, our core strategy was to position the customer (CEESEG) as a thought leader setting the standard by which their competitors should be measured. This approach made them comfortable with us using their name and quoting them. They did not want to be interviewed, so we gave them written questions to answer. They submitted responses, and we worked them into the article. Then we sent the article for approval. They made only minor changes before approving it for publication.
3. Give the Client the Option of Anonymity
In another case, we’re doing a study about a Latin American stock exchange. Our client has been trying to get PR approval with this customer for some time without success, so we assumed that they would need to stay anonymous. We booked an interview with a key stakeholder under that assumption, clearly stating that all his comments would be anonymized. To my surprise, this exchange decided that they want to be named. After we discussed our plans for the article, they realized that it will prove beneficial to their marketing efforts. So now, we’re going through the same process I mentioned above, making sure we know what we can and cannot disclose.
|Related: 5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Customer Interviews
4. Make the Client the Hero
In all of these cases, the client is the hero of the story. We focus the articles on how they’re improving their business using the capabilities they obtained with our product. Too many case studies are company-focused instead of client-focused. Our goal is to make the client look really good – demonstrating how their decision to use a specific product allowed them to deliver dramatic results to their organization. After all, that’s what your target reader is trying to do too.
|Related: Is Your Client A Hero Or A Damsel In Distress?
5. If You Can’t Get ROI Numbers, Use Other Quantifiers
In many cases, it’s difficult to document a solid ROI (return on investment) for your case study. Sometimes, it’s because you’re looking too high level. For example, many marketers will look for numbers that specify overall contribution to revenue or profitability for the company. In most cases, that will be pretty hard, if not impossible, for your client to quantify. So if you set up an unreasonable hurdle like this, they’re unlikely to want to do the work needed to arrive at a figure.
In this case study, I didn’t even try to ask how much money automation saved that bank. Instead, we focused on how fast they were able to reduce their backlog, how many man-days were reduced for each client on-boarded, and how many more clients they can now on-board at one time. We found out that the client was able speed up time-to-revenue for the average customer by as much as 6 months. But if I tried to assign a dollar value to that, I’d be sure to get it wrong. Because one customer might be worth hundreds of thousands in revenue to this client, while another might bring a pittance. So don’t give up if the client can’t give you hard numbers. Look for details. Let the reader do his or her own math and come up with their own ROI based on the information you provide. It will be more powerful that way.
The more honest and transparent you are with your case studies, the more your buyers will trust the content. But don’t join the troops of technology vendors who exaggerate the truth. Buyers don’t trust those vendors.
In summary –if your case study is all about you and your company, don’t expect your customer to get excited about participating. The more customer-centric you are in your approach for the case study and the more you make the customer the hero, the more likely your customer will be willing to go public. Always ask “What’s in it for them?”
|Related: 3 Qualities of Customer-Centric Marketing Content
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