Case Study Critique – Rapid7 Helps UT Dallas

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In this video, you’ll learn these best practices for your case studies:
1. How to engage your case study readers in the first five seconds.
2. One trick that will make your case studies more memorable.
3. How to enhance product descriptions with story.
4. The main deciding factor behind effective case studies.
5. A mistake to avoid in your introduction.
6. What makes for a strong conclusion.

Hi, I’m Mike Russell from I help marketers win more customers with their customers’ wins.

Today’s case study comes from Rapid7. It’s about their work for University of Texas Dallas. Rapid7 provides an active, analytics-driven approach to cyber security.

To get the most out of this video, take a few minutes to read the cached version of this case study. (The case study has been reformatted since my critique. Although the layout has changed, the underlying principles I discuss haven’t.)

I had no part in creating this case study. I’m just using it as an educational example.

Case Study Best Practice #1: Grab Attention Early

From white papers to blog posts to case studies, the title and subtitle are the most important part. They help readers to decide whether to ‘invest’ the time in your writing. The best titles hint at the main takeaway (usually a benefit or result). This gives the gist to skimmers, and provides context for more attentive readers.

Lackluster title from Rapid7's case study

This lackluster title hamstrings the case study. It doesn’t give readers a reason to continue reading.

A more benefit- or outcome-focused title might read: “UserInsight Saves University Security Team Hours Each Day.”

Even better, the case study writer could translate the time savings into monetary savings.

As for the subtitle, I’d write something like: “Over one six-month period, UT Dallas’s Information Security Team reduces vulnerabilities by 32%”

That ‘cannibalizes’ the text used in the text box, which is fine. In that space, I’d rather see a ‘happy quote’ from one of the UT Dallas staff who has benefited from Rapid7’s product.

Case Study Best Practice #2: Quote Real People

Case studies are an effective substitute for a face-to-face conversation between your happy customers and hot prospects. By quoting real people, your case studies come closer to substituting for that personal interaction.

Since UT Dallas is willing to reveal itself for the case study (something of a rarity in the cybersecurity space), I was surprised that Rapid7’s case study writer didn’t feature one or two of the people who were interviewed for the piece.

This case study would be more personal if it included a few quotes from:
– Someone whose day-to-day work benefits from Rapid7’s product, and
– A decision-maker who chose to buy R7, and is happy with that decision.

Quoting individuals would make the story more memorable and relatable. Rather than ‘Security analysts,’ ‘the security team’ and ‘UT Dallas,’ feature the people who use the product on a daily basis, and who chose to implement it originally.

Perhaps Rapid7’s case study writer wasn’t actually able to interview any one on UT Dallas’s security team. Since UT Dallas surely reviewed the case study before it was published, perhaps Rapid7’s case study writer could have copied some quotes from emails received from UT Dallas staff in lieu of follow-up interviews.

Case Study Best Practice #3: Give Specific Examples

By its very nature, most marketing collateral is vague. Even if it’s written for a specific customer persona, no sales sheet, brochure or web copy can refer to one company’s unique circumstances.

Case studies are another matter.

They’re ‘real-life examples’ of how one customer uses a product; an excellent complement to product descriptions. It helps readers to hear how others use the product. If your case study focuses on the use of your product’s features, it can help readers to understand how your product is different from your competitors. For example:

Great use of an anecdote in Rapid7's case study

Great use of an anecdote

It’s one thing for Rapid7’s marketing collateral to wax lyrical about the efficiencies that its products deliver. This little story is much more powerful because it contextualizes the value in a scenario that readers will be familiar with.

Kudos to their case study writer for that last sentence –“The demonstration took only minutes.” That’s a wonderful result to highlight. The case study could’ve gone a step further, and either mentioned how long this reporting took before Rapid7’s product, or highlight that it wouldn’t have been possible at all.

Case Study Best Practice #4: Highlight Your Customer’s ‘Why’

Why did UT Dallas choose Rapid7 over other solutions? That’s the core question case study readers want answered. Between the investment of time and money in choosing a vendor, and the pressure to ‘get it right the first time,’ we know that the customer took care in their selection process. Readers want a glimpse of that thought process. They hope to glean some insight that might help inform –and, better yet, shorten- their selection process.

Rapid7’s case study does an excellent job highlighting the customer’s ‘why:’

Rapid7's case study includes solid differentiation.

Kertwang on Tenable’s Nessus to boot.

Then, on the next page:

Rapid7's case study focuses on the customer's 'Why.' Good use of space.

It’s not quite Simon Sinek’s ‘why,’ but it’s on the right track.

Of the case study’s 958 words, 204 are used to describe the customer’s ‘why.’ That’s roughly 20% of the content!

Rapid7 does well by devoting so much of the case study to why UT Dallas became a customer.

Case Study Best Practice #5: ‘About’ Details Go Later

Describing the customer featured in your case study is a major credibility factor. The more that your reader can relate to that customer, the more they’ll believe that the solutions you describe could benefit their business.

But that’s no reason to start the case study with a description of your customer. Better to drop the reader right into the action, and provide details later in the piece, much like a feature article in a magazine.

Rapid7’s case study writer does it right by leaving this description for the penultimate paragraph:

Leave the description of the case study subject for later in the content.

Rapid7 avoids a mistake you’ll see in a lot of other case studies: they begin with a description of the case study subject. This is helpful and appropriate context to mention, but it’s not ‘lead-worthy.’ Case studies show readers that you’ve solved their pain for similar organizations.

If you don’t begin with a description of the customer, how should the piece start? When I write a case study, I begin with the problem. That has more of an emotional hook for the reader. And it’s an opportunity to follow a story format rather than a report.

Case Study Best Practice #6: Highlight Impressive Results

If your reader makes it all the way to the end of the case study, what’s the final thought you want to leave her with?

Choose a memorable point to conclude your case studies.

‘Boom. Please form a line to sign up. We’re happy to help all of you.’

What a wonderful conclusion. It distills the value that Rapid7 delivers. Perhaps more importantly, it executes a masterful before-after comparison; the basic building block of all case studies. When you write a case study, you have to show how your offering improved your customer’s life, business, etc. That’s the underlying ‘story arch.’ Add this technique to your case study writing repertoire.

That said, this conclusion could be stronger if it were served as a quote from one of UT Dallas’s staff –one of the people featured in the case study.

Either way, I’m surprised that Rapid7’s case study writer didn’t post a consolidated version of this comparison as the pull quote on the first page. That would have gotten the quote in front of more readers, since some of them won’t make it to the end.

There You Have It: Six Practices To Make Your Case Studies Stronger.

1. Grab attention early by making your title and subtitle sizzle
2. Quote real people to make your case studies more memorable.
3. Add supporting context to your product descriptions with stories of specific examples.
4. Highlight your customer’s ‘why,’ the main deciding factor behind effective case studies.
5. Leave ‘about the customer’ details for later or a sidebar; it’s a mistake to lead with them in your introduction.
6. Highlight impressive ‘before-after’ results for a strong conclusion.

Please share this video with friends and colleagues if you found it helpful.

Contact me for help with your case studies.

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