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10 Big Mistakes Marketers Make in Case Studies

by Martin Middlewood  |  
June 12, 2007

Customer case stories are a powerful way to communicate the value of a company, product, or service. Nobody speaks more loudly for you than your customers. But if that's the case, why do so many customer success stories and case studies fall short?

Here are 10 reasons that blunt case study effectiveness and what you can do to avoid each.

1. Lacking Objectivity

Sometimes a company is just too close to its customer story. Readers can usually tell that because the case study falls back on corporate ego statements. A good case study is like a feature article. It tells a customer-success story in an interesting way and progresses through four phases: business context, business problem (the pain), solution, and results. And like a good feature story, it reveals details along the way to keep the reader engaged.

2. Choosing the Wrong Customer

Just because a customer is willing to do a case study doesn't make for a good candidate. Your marketing budget may not allow creating case studies for every market. So select your customers strategically. Handpick the best to support your marketing goals. Address your largest, most competitive, or emerging markets first. Whichever you choose, you want customers who are doing something interesting that will lead others to your company or solution.

3. Making One Size Fit All

Pretending one generic story fits all markets won't work. To be successful, direct your case study at a specific market. The case study addresses the pain in that market. It uses the market's language. Healthcare and construction markets have different vocabularies. They might be using the same Oracle database server, but their readers have different expectations and applications for it. It's better to do fewer case studies and target each one properly than to pretend one size fits. It's even worse to create a generalized case study, hoping that all those who read it will bring their context to it. They won't.

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Martin Middlewood is the president of Frontline Strategies ( and blogs at CaseStudy411 ( Reach him at

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  • by Charles Brown Thu Jul 3, 2008 via web

    The point I really took away from your article was the fact that not all willing customers are good subjects for a case study. There has to be story value in what the customer is doing. But left unsaid was the fact that the best case studies start with a big problem.

    In fiction, it takes an antagonist to move the story forward, even if the antagonist is a thing, not a person.

    (Warning, shameless plug coming) I write about this and other story-telling techniqes that can be applied to case studies in my new ebook on marketing with case studies, available at

    Good article. more companies need to be doing case studies, especially in a tough economy.

    Charles Brown

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