Category Archives: Case Study Critique

Customer Success Story Critique – AlienVault

Customer Success Story Critique – AlienVault

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In this post, you’re going to learn these best practices that you can apply to your next customer success story:

  1. A nifty technique to boost your ROI
  2. How to choose better case-study candidates
  3. How to strike the right balance between your company and your customers
  4. How to grab skimmers’ attention
  5. How to make your customer success stories easier to read
  6. Why longer customer success stories are OK

Hi, I’m Mike Russell from ConvertWithCaseStudies.com, the place where marketers go to build trust and boost sales with their customers’ success stories.

Below, I show you three good practices to follow in your customer success stories, three bad practices to avoid, and my thinking behind each one.

Today’s customer success story comes from AlienVault (AV) a provider of highly intelligent security that is affordable and simple to use. It’s about their work supporting the growth of Brier & Thorn, a global IT risk management firm.

To get the most out of this post, take a few minutes to read this customer success story.

Finally, to be clear, I had no part in creating this customer success story. I’m just using it as an educational example.

Alright, let’s go!!

Customer Success Story Best Practice #1: Put a high priority on readability

customer-success-story-critique-alienvault-p1c1-readability

Line breaks are like breaths; don’t go too long without them.

As strong as this quote is, it needs to be broken apart into multiple paragraphs. Otherwise it looks like a wall of text to the reader; one that may seem like too much of an effort to consume.

Speaking of readability, why aren’t there any subheaders in this piece? They would further break up the text, which would make the whole piece more readable.

Subheaders should give skimmers the gist and set up readers for what's next.

Subheaders should give skimmers the gist of the article and set up readers for what’s next.

When I write a customer success story, I tend to add subheaders after I’ve finished the body of the draft. That way, I know how the customer success story flows (thanks to the time I first spend outlining), and can create subheaders that serve as ‘markers’ for the reader. They give skimmers the gist of the story, and provide more thorough readers with context for the next section.

Customer Success Story Best Practice #2: Use pull quotes that pull their weight

Think of pull quotes as the border between testimonials and case studies. Pull quotes highlight a happy customer’s satisfaction; the case study provides supporting context.

Let’s begin with the case study’s second pull quote. It’s really strong. Even if the reader doesn’t look at the rest of the customer success story, they still get a sense for the problem AV solved for the client.

“Appealing summary, but what the heck are ‘USM’ and ‘OTX?’”

“Appealing summary, but what the heck are ‘USM’ and ‘OTX?’”

That said, the pull quote uses a couple of acronyms specific to AV and Brier & Thorn. Though these are defined in the body of the customer success story, they won’t mean anything to skimmers.

Fortunately, the pull quote’s meaning doesn’t rely on the acronym. For that reason, I’d recommend that the customer success story’s writer remove the acronyms entirely. So, instead of:

“As soon as we deployed USM (without having to rely on any network IDS signatures at all) OTX began immediately flagging egress traffic from the network
to hosts in Russia.”

It could simply be:

“As soon as we finished implementation (without having to rely on any network IDS signatures at all), it began immediately flagging egress traffic from the network
to hosts in Russia.”

One last thing: it should also appears in the body of the customer success story.

customer-success-story-critique-alienvault-p2c3a-pull-quote-great

Pull quote #2 in context. The best pull quotes move the story forward AND can stand on their own.

I think that’s totally fine. It fits in both contexts: in the story arc, and as an impressive result that should be highlighted.

In contrast, the first pull quote is weak:

Pull quote #1 in context. "But was AV the only vendor that they looked at?"

Pull quote #1 in context. But was AV the only vendor that they looked at?

This phrasing makes it sound like the customer didn’t go through a thorough review process. Readers are looking for contrast between the vendors on their short lists. They want to know why one solution was chosen over another.

If AV had been *the only technology* that the client had looked at, that should be highlighted instead.

Customer Success Story Best Practice #3: Make it easy for readers to follow up

 

customer-success-story-critique-alienvault-p3c5-great-call-to-action

customer-success-story-critique-alienvault-p4c9-give-the-full-story2

Mmmm… a big green button. So tempting to press it.

I love this ‘start your free trial’ button added twice into the customer success story. It’s a strong, clear call to action, and it’s a logical step in the sales process.

However, it might be premature to call the reader to start a free trial.

AV’s website also offers an online demo

"A demo? Sounds like more work than I want to do right now."

“A demo? Sure, I have time for a demo.”

This might be more appropriate as it’s less of a commitment. There’s a lower barrier to entry.

If you think about adding an interactive call to action like this to your customer success stories (and I hope you do), try experimenting. In addition to a free trial or a demo, you could also offer a self-assessment, a brochure or a consultation.

Customer Success Story Best Practice #4: Give the full story

I really like how this customer success story has two main parts:

This customer success story features two distinct phases.

This customer success story features two distinct phases.

  • (Green) Why B&T chose AV as an incident response forensics tool, and their early success.
  • (Red) Why and how B&T expanded its relationship with AV when it was time to build their first Security Operations Center.

The progression makes sense. Describing B&T’s problems provides excellent context to illustrate AV’s versatility and quality product.

Is it too long for the typical Internet user’s attention span? Yes, but you’re not selling to the typical Internet user. You’re selling to someone whose job may depend on making a well-informed decision. Make your customers’ success stories substantive to support your prospects’ decision-making process.

Customer Success Story Best Practice #5: Focus on the Customer

Believe it or not, some companies’ customer success story writers devote more space on the page to their company than to their customers’ success stories! That’s boring reading for anyone trying to find out how their peers have solved the problems they’re facing.

Readers want to know more about the customer than your company. They can read your other collateral –sales sheets, website, product webinars- to learn about your company.

In this graphic, I’ve highlighted all the parts that are about the customer in green, and used red to show the parts that are about AV and its product.

Most of the space in your customer success stories should focus on your customers.

Most of the space in your customer success stories should focus on your customers.

About the yellow paragraph: Though this is a quote attributed to someone from the customer company, it’s really about AV. For that reason, I think of it as being in between.

Your customer success stories should have 2-3x more green than red. Let your customers shine in their success stories.

The ‘about’ statement at the bottom of the piece offers a nice element of what would be ‘red content,’ unobtrusively.

Customer Success Story Best Practice #6: Choose customer success story candidates wisely

"Now, three years after using USM as a managed services provider..."

“Now, three years after using USM as a managed services provider…”

Wow, AV waited three years before profiling this customer! That’s remarkable patience, and speaks to the quality of their product.

Why wait so long?

“It’s all about the [benefits], baby!”

By profiling the engagement over such a long period, AV shows how it was instrumental in its client’s growth. That’s a tremendous proof point to pass in front of prospects.

Reality check: AV may well have written a shorter customer success story just months after the relationship began; probably as soon as they had results worth sharing. If that’s true, it’s great that their customer success story’s writer looped back to the customer for an update.

Not only can AV show impact over time, but it can also point to Brier & Thorn’s loyalty as proof of quality.

If you’ve just landed a new, impressive client (congrats!), or your new company is just starting to rack up some client wins, the temptation to profile a customer prematurely can be intense. Patience pays off.

There you have it: six practices to make your customer success stories stronger:

  1. Improve readability by breaking up large paragraphs, and use subheaders to summarize the story.
  2. Emphasize key points with your customers’ pull quotes.
  3. Boost reader follow-up by embedding hyperlinked Calls to Action.
  4. Provide as much detail as readers want; don’t worry about an arbitrary length.
  5. Shine the spotlight on your customer. Keep text about your company to the minimum necessary for context.
  6. Choose your customer success story candidates wisely, not just based on their willingness to endorse your company publicly.

If you found this post helpful, I’d appreciate it if you shared it with friends and colleagues.

Contact me for help with your case studies.

Cyber Security Case Study Critique – Shape Security Saves Retailer

Cyber Security Case Study Critique – Shape Security Saves Retailer

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In this post, you’ll learn these best practices for your cyber security case studies:
1. What your case studies’ titles absolutely cannot mention.
2. How to make an emotional connection with your readers.
3. The least you can do to promote your case studies.
4. How to make your offering look great without turning the case study into a sales sheet.
5. Why it’s important to mention your process.
6. The power of giving specific detail.

Hi, I’m Mike Russell from ConvertWithCaseStudies.com, the place where marketers go to win more customers with their customers’ wins.

Today’s case study comes from Shape Security. It’s about their work for an unnamed Global Retailer who was experiencing severe fraud with their gift cards. Shape Security stops automated web and mobile application attacks that bypass existing defenses.

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

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

Cyber Security Case Study Best Practice #1: Tell A Positive Story

How many readers get all the way to the conclusion? 30%? Less? I bet it’s less. You know what I’ll also bet: 100% of this case study’s readers saw the title. And it doesn’t promise to make a good association with Shape Security:

Cyber security case studies’ titles should summarize the results achieved, not the problems faced.

“Don’t get the wrong idea.”

This reflects poorly on Shape Security. Focusing on the problem the global retailer was facing insinuates that Shape Security was somehow involved in the loss. Of course, that’s not the case. No company is going to profile a blunder.

So why subject readers to tracing that line of reasoning? It wouldn’t have been hard for this cyber security case study’s writer to turn this around to something more favorable, such as: “Global Retailer Halts $25 million In Stored Value Card Fraud.” With such a title, readers –even the ones who don’t spend another second on the case study- get the gist of the value that Shape Security provides.

Now, let’s look at the title’s ‘support crew’: the subheaders. If readers are intrigued by the title, then they’ll run their eyes down the page and take in the subheaders. This is an opportunity to expand the story ‘promised’ by the title with a bit more detail.

Again, this case study falls flat. Its subheaders (“Situation,” “Attack Target,” “Attack Methods, “Attack Impact,” “Attack Mitigations,” and “Conclusion”) don’t add detail to the case study’s story.

Readers who skim will only see that the global retailer lost millions in credit card fraud, that they were getting attacked a lot, and that Shape stopped the attacks (but only via the graph, which requires a moment to interpret).

The subheader “Failure of Existing Security Solutions” offers a glimpse into the story, but could be more descriptive. For example, “Existing Solutions Let Attacks Through” would summarize the section for skimmers and set up more thorough readers for the ensuing section.

Expanding on this idea, “Situation” could be “Credential Stuffing Attacks Threatened Millions Of Accounts.”

I’m a fan of more descriptive subheaders. Two- or three-word subheaders are too short to convey meaning. Since they fail to give skimmers the gist of the story, they fail to build interest in reading more.

Cyber Security Case Study Best Practice #2: Connect With Emotion

Brochures and sales sheets are inherently vague. They can tout benefits in general terms, but it’s beyond their abilities to get down to specifics.

That’s where cyber security case studies excel. Because they focus on one particular customer’s experience, they can dispel any uncertainty those other types of marketing collateral are unable to address.

Instead of comparatively cerebral business benefits, the details in a case study tap into pain: the pain endured by the subject of the case study, and the pain experienced currently by the target reader. The more vivid the details, the more that pain comes to life. This helps readers identify with the case study subject, and conclude that they can find similar resolution.

Shape Security’s case study gives excellent detail about the challenge:
• “This attack was costing the retailer over $25M per year in credit card chargebacks.”
• “Adversaries were taking over more than 1,000 customer accounts a day.”
• “Malicious automated traffic accounted for over 91% of the website’s login traffic.”

Ouch! The global retailer’s information security team(s) must’ve been very stressed by these events. Readers with similar responsibilities and struggles will empathize with this stress. Maybe they’re experiencing the same problems –and feelings- while reading the case study.

If readers can empathize, or if they are experiencing similar problems, then the case study’s resolution –the results Shape Security delivered- will seem all the more appealing.

Cyber Security Case Study Best Practice #3: Plan Your Promotion

Recently, Forrester research reported that “case studies are the most valuable kind of content when it comes to making a [B2B] purchase decision.”

Even though case studies may be perceived as a useful resource in making a big purchasing decision, it doesn’t hurt to promote them. Heck, industry media might even pick up the story if it has a few lessons for their readers.

That’s why I was surprised that I couldn’t find any promotion of Shape Security’s case study in their LinkedIn company profile, Twitter feed, nor executive-level blog.

Cyber security case studies should be promoted on the company’s Twitter page

Cyber security case studies make for great blog content.

Now, admittedly, case studies pull their weight as follow-ups to sales conversations. But their versatility lends them to many other uses, including social media, presentations, and PR.

Given the amount of effort it takes to produce case studies –or any quality content- for that matter- why not promote the heck out of them?

As a part of the case study’s production -when you’re considering which customer’s success to profile- ask yourself how and where the finished piece will be promoted. Returning to that trade-industry-publication example for a moment, I imagine that an editor would be delighted to integrate the success story into a broader piece – as long as the content had some useful lessons, and the problem-solution pair was timely.

In fact, that promotion would be a nice compliment to your customer. They’re only going to approve the final draft if it reflects well on them. Any buzz the story generates for you will reflect well on them, too. The appeal of free press can be a deciding factor for smaller customers, and at least a deal-sweetener for larger customers.

Cyber Security Case Study Best Practice #4: Attack The Status Quo

As I mentioned above, case studies are wonderful vehicles for contextualizing your solution. They’re superb at satisfying our ‘storytelling minds,’ and allow you to draw sharp contrast with ‘the way things were before’ with ‘the way things are now.’ For the better, of course.

Shape Security’s case study does a great job explaining why conventional defenses weren’t working:

Cyber security case studies should always contrast the sponsor’s solution with competitors’ inferior approaches.

There are three big benefits to doing this:
1. Explaining how attackers were getting around the existing defenses implies why the customer chose to work with Shape Security.
2. As an added bonus, you get to state why ‘the other guys’ weren’t up to the task.
3. It also helps readers understand what makes Shape’s service different, which is especially helpful in cases where the solutions are abstract and can be confusing.

This is where your case studies can give nice supporting context to other sales collateral.

Cyber Security Case Study Best Practice #5: Summarize Your Process

For all the detail about the attack target, methods and impact, I was surprised that this case study didn’t describe Shape Security’s implementation process.

Cyber security case studies should mention the implementation process to enhance credibility.

Missed opportunity

That’s an important detail for case study readers. Sure, they want to know how your solution works, but readers also want to know what it will be like to work with your team.

Where did ‘bumps’ occur? How did you handle them? What can prospects do ahead of time to lay the groundwork for a smooth implementation? What will you do differently next time?

These are just a few thoughts to get the ball rolling. You don’t have to address them all. A few details would give a glimpse into the process of working with you.

In fact, I’d argue that it’s essential to ‘reveal’ a few of the bumps you experience along the way. It builds credibility. By acknowledging that there was some difficulty, it helps the reader trust the rest of the case study, especially the end results and the customer’s happy testimonial.

More so, given that Shape’s solution ‘was deployed in weeks.’

Cyber Security Case Study Best Practice #6: Impress With Detail

I have mixed feelings about the case study’s conclusion. The chart is awesome. And these metrics are solid:

• Once in full blocking mode, the Botwall began deflecting over 90% of the traffic to the login page. At the same, normal business metrics did not change.
• Once the malicious traffic was deflected, overall website latency went from 450 milliseconds to 190 milliseconds.

These quantitative results are a great way to end the case study. They give a nice sense of resolution to the problems described in the beginning and highlight what I imagine are Shape Security’s key messages.

The concluding paragraph even starts strong:

The Shape Botwall blocked all automated adversaries. In the week following deployment, all adversary groups abandoned their attacks – a typical response when automation is no longer effective.

If the case study had ended there, it would have done so with a bang. Instead, it fizzles out with these vague final lines.

Credential stuffing is one of many types of automated attacks. New defense approaches, focused on deflecting automation, can reliably stop these website attacks.

Rather than leaving the reader with a single sharpened point, these sentences dull the impact of the conclusion. They contradict the power of case studies to illustrate an example by making a generic statement that’d be more appropriate on a sales sheet.

There you have it: six practices to make your cyber security case studies stronger.

1. Tell a Positive Story, especially in your title, subtitle, and subheaders.
2. Connect with emotion to elicit an empathetic response from your readers.
3. Plan your promotion on multiple channels.
4. Attack the status quo to make your offering stand out.
5. Summarize your process. Readers want to know what it’s like to work with you.
6. Impress with detail. Case studies are an opportunity to get specific on broad promises made elsewhere in your marketing collateral.

If you found this post helpful, please share it with friends and colleagues.

Need case studies that build trust and boost sales, but don’t have the time to do it in-house?Learn about my case study writing service.

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 ConvertWithCaseStudies.com 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:

"<yoastmark

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.

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 ConvertWithCaseStudies.com 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.

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