Breaking a Case Study into Two Pieces

This post was written by John White on Wed, 05 Jan 2011 05:21:43 +0000
Posted Under: case studies,content marketing,interview,marketing manager

Separating a case study project into the outline and the body can help you manage the risk that your customer may not approve it.

Broken in two piecesHow many times have you wanted to write up a textbook-perfect case study in your organization? Doesn’t it seem like just the kind of piece to populate your content marketing campaign, score points with the Sales team and show your customers how much you value their business?

But how many of those times have you hit a “Yes, but…” as you rolled your case study idea down the road?

A lot of case studies (or “customer success stories” or “application stories”) become shipwrecked on the reef of customer approval. Customers have three common objections to being identified in a case study:

  1. “You’re one of our secret weapons, and we don’t want our competitors to find out that we work with you.”
  2. “We don’t want to reveal that we have problems in the first place, let alone that we needed an outsider to solve them.”
  3. “There’s nothing in it for us.”

Still, these case studies are powerful arrows in your quiver, so you don’t want to give up on them entirely.

Your marketing communications writer may tell the story in a way that makes you and your customer appear to walk on water, but if it doesn’t go over well with the customer’s review team – usually for legal reasons – you’ll spend money to have a piece written that never sees the light of day.

Breaking the case study in two

“This is a really good story for us and for our customer,” a marketing manager with one of my clients told me. “From the outset, we set the expectation with the customer that, if the data looked good, we would cooperate on a case study. But if they decide that the data don’t look as good as we think they do, they may pull the plug on the piece and decline to let us publish it.”

With that in mind, she asked whether I wanted to write it up.

“Unfortunately, we can’t set this up as an hourly project,” she added. “You’ll have to bill it as a project, but I don’t want to have to pay you for the entire thing if you end up not doing all the work.”

I thought about it for a bit.

“Let’s break the project into two pieces,” I suggested. “Normally, I’d estimate the interviews, outline and drafts as one piece, but let’s set up the outline as the first deliverable. Once we have your customer’s changes, I’ll finish the draft and that will be the second deliverable.”

She liked the idea, because it relieved her of some of the risk. I liked the idea, because it showed her I could think flexibly about the project. I set the interviews and outline as 1/3 of the total estimate, and the draft as 2/3 of the total.

Lesson learned

In fact, I should have anticipated that the interviews and outline would be the lion’s share of the work.

Usually, the outline merely serves to show the direction the piece will take, but in this case it did much more of the heavy lifting. It had to pass muster with the marketing manager, her legal team, her customer’s product manager and her customer’s legal team; in other words, it’s taking a long time to get approval on a little bit of work. I’m glad to run this gantlet early so that I don’t have to run it later, but I’d have done better front-loading the estimate as 2/3 interviews and outline, and 1/3 draft.

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: Gargaj / Conspiracy

Reader Comments

Those legal and compliance 1-2 punches can be knockouts…

I’m noticing more examples of ‘anonymous case studies’, which I like to speculate once started off as full-on success stories but then legal got wind of it and…

Ugh!

I can understand some of their “risk and reputation” assessment criteria but it really makes a case study suck.

Thanks for the tip about splitting the outline / interviews from the draft. I’ll shall mull it over and discuss with my case study mentor! Yes, I really do have one and she’s top notch imo.

#1 
Written By Mark McClure on January 11th, 2011 @ 22:55

If you split them, be sure to front-load your billing. The outline has been at least 2/3 of the work in my case.

#2 
Written By John White on January 12th, 2011 @ 8:24