Case Study Writer Critique of Sift Science Helping Hotel Tonight

Case Study Writer Critique of Sift Science Helping Hotel Tonight

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Learn these six best practices from a professional case study writer:

1. One easy way to make your case studies more authentic.
2. A mistake to avoid losing readers’ interest in the first 10 seconds.
3. The core element that every one of your case studies MUST have.
4. How to make your case studies engage mobile readers.
5. How to improve your case studies’ readability.
6. One of the best ways to conclude your case studies.

Hi, I’m Mike Russell from I’m a professional case study writer for B2B SaaS companies, with a focus in the information security industry.

In this post, I show you three good practices to follow in your case studies, three bad practices to avoid, and my thinking behind each one.

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

Today’s case study comes from Sift Science. They use machine learning to predict and stop fraudsters. It’s about their work for Hotel Tonight, a mobile travel app.

To get the most out of this video, take a few minutes to read the case study. Download it here.

Case Study Writer Tip #1: Quote For Authenticity

As I mentioned in my case study analysis of Rapid7’s case study, these pieces of marketing collateral are meant to substitute for a conversation between your prospects and your happy customers.

In a perfect world, you’d refer your prospects to your customers, so they could marvel at the greatness of your offering at length. Back here in the real world, you can’t afford to spend your customers’ goodwill that way. They’re busy people. It’s much more valuable to interview them once and then profile their success as your customer in a case study.

That’s why quotes from real people make case studies more authentic. It’s very powerful to use their own words to describe their problems, attempted solutions, final resolution with you, and the results you delivered. More than likely, the language they use will be more authentic and resonant with your prospects than anything your in-house case study writer could produce. (Not meant to be a criticism; it’s just the curse of knowledge.)

That’s why I LOVE that Sift Science’s case study quotes three people from Hotel Tonight:
• CEO/Founder
• Trust and Safety Manager
• Sr. Fraud Analyst.

Maybe the case study writer connected with the three of them over a single conference call (a risky proposition, since he or she would have less control over the conversation and may not make it all the way through the interview questions).

Or perhaps the case study writer ‘only’ spoke to one of these people, and then solicited quotes from the other two over email. That’s a perfectly fine way to conduct background research for a case study. The one-on-one interview will reveal the specific two or three questions that will evoke the best quotes from the others over email.

Case Study Writer Tip #2: Start With The Problem

Case studies are stories of customers’ successes. They’re an opportunity to make the customer the hero of that story. (In fact, that’s a fundamental aspect of getting customers’ permission to share their stories in the first place.)

For that reason, case studies should begin more like stories; they should start with an emotional hook to get the reader interested. Usually, that’s going to be the problem the customer was facing before they found your solution.

Think about it, readers trust case studies to find out if you have experience solving their problems, and to find out what it’s like to work with you. You’re answering those core questions via the frame of your customer’s experience, but really your readers are interested in how you can help them. Start out with the commonality between your reader and your case study subject: the problem your customer faced.

Unfortunately, this case study begins with a near-duplicate description of the customer:

Case Study Critique Sift Science 2 - Start with the problem highlight1

The overview paragraph gives a good, er, overview…

Case Study Critique Sift Science 2 - Start with the problem highlight2

The introductory paragraph gives another good, er, overview.

It’s fine to make the case study subject look good. But that description shouldn’t come at the beginning of the case study. That’s not vital information to hook readers.

This is an extension of the bedrock question all marketing collateral must answer: “What’s In It For Me?” Readers want to know how you’re going to solve their problems.

The content is there. HotelTonight’s pain is buried at the halfway point (where a description would be entirely appropriate):

Case Study Critique Sift Science 2 - Start with the problem highlight3

Case Study Critique Sift Science 2 - Start with the problem highlight4

The challenge section is a good start. I would’ve liked the case study writer to elaborate on HotelTonight’s pain:
• What would have happened if the fraud wasn’t stopped?
• How would it have affected relations with payment processors?
• What additional fees would they have faced?

(Note that all of these threats would provide extra contrast with the happy ending delivered by Sift Science.)

Case Study Writer Tip #3: Share The ‘Why’

If you’re going to effort of writing a case study, I’m willing to bet that your offering is new, complex and/or expensive. You probably measure your sales cycle in months. Maybe years.

If that’s true, your customers take a very considered approach when comparing you with your competitors. They likely do quite a bit of research before they ever speak to your sales team. They probably sit through several demos, and discuss the ins and outs of their various choices at some length.

By the time your customers’ success stories are viable candidates for a case study, they’ve put a lot of thought into choosing to work with you.

Your prospects are in the same boat. Like anyone making a complex decision, they would love to get some insight from someone else who’s also had to make the same vendor-choice. Case study readers’ primary question and motivation for reading your case study is to find out why did your customer chose to work with you over your competitors.

Surely, HotelTonight scrutinized several fraud-prevention options before choosing Sift Science. They probably went through a robust selection process.

But there’s no mention of why HotelTonight chose Sift Science. This is the only nod we see to the decision-making process:


Readers crave insight into this decision. Here are a handful of possible lines of thought the case study writer could have pursued:
• Did Hotel Tonight consider other types of solutions? (Focusing on ‘type of solution’ is a clean way to mention Sift Science’s competitors’ technologies without naming them. If HotelTonight had tried one of these competitors before using Sift Science, this case study could spend a paragraph mentioning that, and the reason(s) HotelTonight eventually made the switch.)
• Did HotelTonight do a Proof Of Concept with Sift Science? What were HotelTonight’s expectations? How well were those met? (Well enough, I have to assume; they did become a customer after all.)
• If HotelTonight just chose Sift Science arbitrarily, they must have heard about the vendor somewhere. What source instilled such confidence?

Case Study Writer Tip #4: Offer An HTML Version

When’s the last time you had to read a PDF on your phone? What a pain in the tuckus. You’re forced to pinch, zoom and pan across each line of text, as if you were feverishly working toward a world record score in Angry Birds.

PDFs are great for larger screens. They preserve your formatting and –to an extent- color choices. But until responsive PDFs become more common, it’s a good idea to display your case studies in HTML. No matter the size of the reader’s screen, they’re sure to have an easier time consuming the content.

That’s why I LOVE that Sift Science displays its case studies on their responsive website.

As an additional bonus, the search engines can crawl this content, and it can be saved for later reading with browser extensions like Pocket or InstaPaper. Call me biased –after all, I am a content guy- but I’d say that the design-sacrifice is worth these SEO and UX benefits.

If you’re not quite ready to give up PDF format for your case studies, that’s fine. Just provide both formats and let readers choose the one that best suits them.

Case Study Writer Tip #5: Remember Readability

One more note on the user experience. It seems like the design profession has settled on a preferred number of characters per line of text: 45-75 characters. Think about how narrow newspaper and magazine columns are. They’ve determined that width as being easier for readers.

Sift Science’s case study -displayed full-width on a desktop monitor- exceeds the maximum limit. This extra width impacts the case study’s perceived readability; which insinuates that it’s going to take more effort to read.

Though I applaud Sift Science for displaying their case studies in HTML, I think they’d do well to reduce the character count per line on full-width display.

Case Study Writer Tip #6: Close With A Quote

What final impression do you want your case study to leave in your readers’ minds? Notice the use of the singular in that last sentence: final impression.

As with calls to action, the fewer, the better. Honing down to one message is more powerful than offering up several options. The same is true for your conclusion.

Since case studies substitute for a conversation between your prospects and your happy customers, conclude with a quote from your customer.

Attributing case study quotes builds credibility

Nice. But who said it?

This hits on the primary benefits that –I imagine- Sift Science wants to position itself for. HotelTonight can focus on higher priorities, confident in the knowledge that Sift Science has its back.

I just wish that the case study writer had cited the name and title of the person who gave this quote. The absence of attribution erodes the case study’s authenticity, and allows some doubt to seep into the reader’s mind: “Did someone at HotelTonight actually say this, or did someone in Marketing at Sift Science just make it up?”

I assume it’s genuine, but why leave the reader to make that conclusion for herself?

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

1. Quote the people whom you interviewed at your customer’s company to make your case studies more authentic.
2. Hook your readers’ interest by beginning with the problem they face: the one you helped your featured customer with.
3. Share why your customer chose you over your competitors. Their reasoned choice drives the efficacy of the case study.
4. Accommodate mobile readers by providing an HTML version.
5. Improve readability by staying within the 45-75 characters/line limit.
6. When in doubt, conclude your case studies with a customer quote.

If you found this post helpful, I’d appreciate it if you shared it with your friends and colleagues. The more people it helps, the better.

Contact me for help with your case studies.

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