How to extract value from case studies

There’s an enduring joke about case studies: you can either read one or you can be one. Marketers and decision makers often cite the absence of a case study as a reason for not doing something:

“Where’s the case study on using Facebook?”

“Do you have any case studies on the value of a blog?”

“Why isn’t there a case study about Big Data’s impact on our industry?”

When you hear language like this, you’re hearing a justification for not taking a risk, however small. You’re hearing someone who wants to cover their ass and not be held accountable for a decision. That’s fine; that’s the way some parts of the world work.

However, for decision makers who are more progressive, what’s the value of a case study? It’s not so that you can clone in exacting, perfect detail what someone else did. No, the value of a case study is highlighting that a goal is achievable, that a desired result is possible to attain.

The point of a case study is to determine, knowing what skills, tools, and resources you have, how to attain the same result as the case study. A small business doesn’t have the same resources as Apple, Inc., but you should be able to read a case study about Apple and extract a structure, a concept to apply to the small business.

To extract this value, take a case study, read through it, and divide it up into three pieces: why, what, how.

Why did the organization take the actions in the first place? Was there a particular problem they needed to solve?

What choices did the organization make? What did they base those choices on?

How did they execute on the choices they made? Which tactics succeeded, and which tactics did not?


What you’ll likely find is that you may not have the same resources to replicate how, but you can extract a great deal of value from what and why.

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The FESPAR model for learning martial and marketing techniques

At the dojo

When I teach the white belt class at the Boston Martial Arts Center, one of the models I use for ensuring that a class runs smoothly is called FESPAR, which stands for:

  • Form: learn the way the technique is supposed to look and work
  • Endurance: practice the technique with rapidity to condition muscles and nerves to move that way rapidly
  • Structure: put the form of the technique under duress to fix structural issues
  • Precision: practice the technique against a wide variety of targets to learn effective distances and timing
  • Agility: practice executing the technique with very narrow windows of opportunity
  • Reaction: practice the technique along with rapid decision making under pressure

For example, last night’s class looked at a basic step-through punch.

We started off doing the exercise in the air, ensuring that we understood the basic form.

We did speed drills to do as many as possible for endurance.

We used soft padded targets to apply pressure to the finishing form of the punch to figure out where our bones were out of alignment.

We hit padded targets being held in different positions, different heights, even in motion to improve precision.

We hit moving targets that were only available for two seconds in order to learn agility.

Finally, we learned to hit a target that was approaching us while our training partners shouted at us and walked towards us threateningly, to apply the basic technique under pressure.

What this model of learning does is showcase how a technique functions under all kinds of different conditions and gives a student the ability to prove that the technique works without the associated boredom that often accompanies spending 45 minutes on just one technique. The goal at the end of the class is to have a student who has increased skill and confidence in that particular technique.

When you’re learning any skill, having this kind of deep investigation into the skill is essential. For non-physical skills like learning web analytics or social media, the exercises would look different, but you can still see powerful parallels between the martial arts and your business and marketing skills. For example, let’s say you wanted to get better at using Facebook to drive business.

  • Form: learn the basic best practices for an effective Facebook post
  • Endurance: get good at crafting posts at high volume, generating content
  • Structure: A/B test the daylights out of your posts until you find the 4 or 5 recipes that work best with your audience
  • Precision: post on Facebook against a wide variety of personas to learn what resonates with them
  • Agility: learn to post in real-time, crafting messages that resonate in the moment
  • Reaction: learn to post and handle negative feedback and social media PR crises

The framework gives you a chance to learn how to use a simple Facebook post under a variety of contexts so that you gain proficiency at it.

The next time you have to teach yourself or someone else how to use a technique in such a way that they learn it and get practical value from it right away, try the FESPAR framework.

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How to create an extra trillion dollars (Ken Robinson TED Talk)

Of the many speakers I watch regularly, few are as engaging and impactful as Sir Ken Robinson. Give this one your full attention for 18 minutes as he discussed how standardization of education is setting America back, and how we could recover an extra trillion dollars of economic growth over 10 years:

Over the next week I’ll be doing a fair amount of travel and as such, getting caught up on my TED Talks stockpile.

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