• During the course of 2011 we commissioned a piece of research into what makes case studies effective.

      We did it because we’ve seen an explosion in feature-heavy reviews talking about the ins and outs of the product.

      Having learned back in the days of my early journalistic career that very few people are actually interested in what’s under the hood, but want to know what a car feels like to drive, this approach feels wrong. It’s not how we write them, and we’ve even seen one customer generate over £1.25m of new revenue of the back of a case study, so our experience is that for a case study to engage it needs to give an insight into the the person we’re interviewing and share his journey with the reader.

      But we could be wrong, after all times do change, so we decided to put our money where our mouth is and test the water.

      To keep it fair,  we pulled 3 case studies each from 20 IT vendors’ websites, and asked some of the hundreds of people we’ve interviewed in the last decade to give us their opinion of the content, style and approach.

      We also went through each study and quantified the content by counting how many paragraphs covered each of the key issues identified in the 2011 IDC customer experience survey as being of interest to purchasers of IT.

      Guess what we found ?

      As you can see from the chart there is a massive disconnect between what the vendors are writing about, and what their target customers want to read about.

      Just  one percent of IT buyers want to read about product features at this stage in the buying cycle. Yet that’s what makes up 90% of the content of the case studies published.

      Similarly, IDC found that nearly 30% of IT buyers want to know about how they can use technology to enable business growth. This subject was covered in just 1% of the case study content.

      So perhaps then it’s hardly surprising that our reader panel, which ranged across the buyer spectrum from CIOs to techies, came back with incredibly low scores on almost all the case studies we gave them. The highest rated  got just 4 out of 10.

      Their universal conclusion was that case studies represent a key source of information for them, but hardly any vendors tell them what they way to know.

      That’s a massive, missed opportunity.

      One IT vendor we discussed this with last week said they’re not surprised by the results because, in his words,  “lots of IT companies have cut back on their budgets and now get the product managers to produce case studies rather than pay for a professional job. The result is lots of technology descriptions with one or two anodyne quotes from the customer.”

      Last year Gartner released a report that stated that 90% of IT purchasing decisions were made following web research. Often this was up to, and including, final vendor selection, without any involvement of the vendors being considered.

      That’s an important point – all the effort going into lead generation, telemarketing, events and so on is wasted if your prospective customer’s first contact isn’t good. Your website is the first place prospective buyers will visit to find out whether or not they should consider doing business with you.

      What you publish there is critical.

      Customer case studies are still widely recognised as one of the most important ways of proving your credentials, but if they focus on technology, rather than how people use it to overcome their business challenges, then they’ll have the same impact on your website visitor as a loud-mouthed sales person who steamrollers their customers and insists on talking about what he wants to tell you.

      And we all know how successful those sales people are.

      Or not.