Mind Readings: Why Marketing Case Studies May Be Ineffective

A case study means different things to a student versus a marketer. Find out why marketing case studies are so terrible and why marketing could learn a thing or two from academia’s case studies.

Mind Readings: Why Case Studies May Be Ineffective
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Christopher Penn 0:15

Alright, let’s talk case studies, case studies, case studies.

What is the case study? When you look at the traditional term and the way it’s been used, particularly in places like Harvard, for example, a case study is a documentation of something that happened that worked, that we all want to learn from.

So how did Apple pioneer the graphical user interface? How did Michelin tire recover from petroleum shortages? How did T Mobile change its customer focus strategy? All these things are things that you’ve probably seen case studies like this, they’re multi page documents, which follow a pretty standard format of the problem, the impact, and then the solution and the details of the solution.

And if you’ve been to business school, you’ve taken business school classes, you have seen case studies, if you’re like me, you came to dread case studies, because they were long and not particularly entertaining.

However, they’re valuable.

They’re valuable, because they teach us things, right.

They tell us a story, maybe not in the most compelling way.

But they tell us a story that we can learn from, that we can garner insights from and ideally apply those insights to our own businesses and things like that.

So why is this a bit of a ranting? Well, because what we do as marketers, and what we publish as marketers that we call case studies really aren’t right? Go to any company’s website, particularly in B2B, but any company has got some case studies on their website and read through them.

Do they read like a Harvard Business Review case study? Or do they read like an advertisement? Right? I can’t count the number of cases studies I’ve read on other companies, websites, which don’t teach you anything at all.

So here’s the problem that the customer had, and look how awesome we are, we solve the customers problem and made them all this money, or save them all this time, or reduced employee churn, whatever.

And I get that, I totally understand that the point of that as from a marketing perspective, is to demonstrate your competence to demonstrate your abilities.

But it’s not a case study, it’s just an ad, is just an advertisement.

And mislabeling at a case study is lying.

Because the point of a study is for you to be able to study something to study what is written, and learn from it.

A piece of paper that just says, and we’re an awesome company, we solve this, you know, this business problem doesn’t teach anybody anything, except that you are incredibly self centered.

And quite possibly not telling the truth.

If you’re not willing to reveal any of the details about how you did it, that the results you’re presenting may actually just be accidental, your product service doesn’t actually work.

So what’s the solution here? If companies just are publishing things that are not case studies? Well, there’s a couple things, one, for companies that actually publish real case studies where you can learn something from them learn a lot of things from them.

as audience members, it is our job to reward them with attention to to highlight true proper case studies and say, look, here’s a company that has done it.

Right.

Right.

Here’s a company that has published a case study that really teaches somebody something and even if you have no intention of buying from this company, you still learned something, you still learn something that you could apply to your own business, make your own business better, and perhaps down the road, you will buy something from them.

Because bashing a company for having just an ad, instead of a case study doesn’t really do any good.

Partly because so many case studies really are just ads and partly because that negative attention doesn’t change behavior, right? As marketers, we’re accustomed to people hating our marketing or custom people saying, Wow, that’s and so receiving additional feedback, but in our case, they suck doesn’t really resonate, right.

doesn’t make us feel bad enough to change was like, oh, whatever just you know, another another uninsured prospect, another uninterested prospect.

Christopher Penn 5:10

Whereas if we pivot to giving companies positive attention that do a good job of teaching, in their case studies, that that qualitative feedback may be enough to encourage at least that company to continue doing that, but also to change the behavior of folks in our industry to say like, when you do it, right, you get rewarded.

When you do it, right, you get a cookie.

And that can cross departments, right? It can be something where really positive feedback, that company cuts, the people who work in marketing and marketing can boil that up to the executives and their stakeholders and say, look at what a great job we’re doing.

All these people said they love our case studies.

And that anecdotal affirmation actually goes a long way, inside companies, especially in companies, where marketing folks are trying really hard to prove that the work they’re doing matters and that it resonates with people.

So here’s what I would ask of you.

First, if your existing case studies really are nothing more than ads, just call them ads.

Right? Second, if all you’re just in case studies really are just ads, try creating one that is really and truly a case study that if you submitted it to the Harvard Business Review, for peer review, it would actually get approved.

Right? So go to that length to say like, yeah, we would submit this for an academic journal.

And it would, it would pass peer review.

That would be my, my second challenge to you.

And my third challenge to you would be find companies that do publish true case studies that teach you a lot, even if you’re never ever ever going to buy anything from them and highlight them, share them on social including your newsletter, put them on your social feeds, do something that reinforces the behavior that we want, which is all the sharing more information, so that we can all make our marketing better so we can all make our operations and our businesses better.

That’s That’s today’s rant in today’s mind reading.

Thanks for watching.


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