3 Tips for Anonymous Case Studies

This post was written by John White on Mon, 23 Aug 2010 16:48:51 +0000
Posted Under: case studies,caselets,technology marketing writing

Case studies and customer success stories are the dessert of The Content Buffet because of the credibility they lend you. But when you can’t drop names, try these tips.

“It’s a solid case study,” said Dan. “Too bad we can’t use it.”

anonymous case studies“Why not?” I asked.

“I sent it to the customer last week, but they said we can’t publish it due to pending litigation.”

That seemed silly to me, but I’m not the lawyer. I guess that a deep freeze on publishing anything is a company’s way of circling the wagons when the arrows begin flying.

Dan had paid a lot in time, money and face to get the case study written, and it grieved both of us marketers not to be able to use it.

“Can we run it and not mention the customer’s name or any particulars?” I asked.

“Maybe. Wouldn’t it lose a lot of its value, though?”

“It would lose some value,” I answered, “but it would be better than not using it at all.”

Anonymous case studies

True enough, some of the value in a case study or customer success story is tied up in brand equity (usually somebody else’s brand). When your sprinkler heads are keeping the greens at Pebble Beach verdant, or your encoding algorithms make Vimeo work, you want to be able to drop customer names.

But any marketing manager knows that, the bigger the name, the harder the approval process. Press releases and case studies have to run marketing and legal gauntlets in large companies, and sometimes even the most fantastic case studies die a long, painful death of terminal inbox.

Of course, you can try to strip particulars out of the piece to get your point across without using names. Here are three tips for doing this:

  1. Remove or replace details that would allow an outsider to figure out the phantom customer. This may include rewriting bits of it to change geography, gender, application and more. Get as far away from your customer as possible while still describing the success.
  2. Turn the study into a “caselet;” here’s an example in a life sciences context. These focus almost entirely on the problem you’ve solved, and the customer fades into the background. The marketing communications writer must emphasize the story and even add conflict to distract the reader from wondering who the customer is. Caselets are business-focused, and their audience is the decision-maker.
  3. Turn it into a technical use case by focusing on the how-did-they-do-it. Include specifications, schematics, dimensions, quantitative data and programming code. There is still a role for persuasion in this, but you’re trying to persuade the technical people who will influence the decision-maker. You want them to say, “If they can do that for those guys, let’s find out whether they can do what we need done.”

Once you’ve played one of these cards, you’re in the clear – strictly speaking – and may do with the piece as you please. Still, in the interest of a good relationship with your customer, you should grant them a courtesy review of the neutered product. You should also run it by your own company’s counsel.

Doesn’t always work

Sometimes the named endorsement in a case study is omnipotent, and anonymizing is pointless. A business development manager for one of my Asian telecom clients told me:

There are only about 15 companies in the world who can use our technology. We have two of them so far, and the decision-makers in both cases asked to see a success story, then asked for the phone number of the person named in it.

But for a typical B2B sale, the anonymous case study still likely has value. After all, a good story is a terrible thing to waste.

How have you dealt with case studies when you couldn’t name the customer?

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Marketing Communications Writer.”

photo credit: Ben Schumin

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