How to write case studies for confidential clients
Getting your customers’ perspective on why they choose to work with you is vital – that’s what makes customer case studies indispensable as part of your marketing mix in this word-of-mouth age.
But what do you do when your work for customers is too confidential to publicise?
If you’re reading this, you may be working in a marketing function and trying to convince senior management that they need to capture customer stories. Here are some counter arguments you might come across, and how you can answer them:
“We could never write case studies about our sensitive work for customers”
Do not rule out the possibility of conducting interviews with your customers, no matter how confidential the work you do. Your customers will perform two functions when they agree to an interview:
- first, they provide a description of what they value about you, which may include unique perspectives and attributes of your company that you hadn’t realised or you’d forgotten you possess;
- second, during the interview your customer may provide a quotable quote that you can use in your marketing materials to show other people that you’re already trusted by flesh-and-blood customers.
Even if you never get to the second part, the first part is so tremendously valuable, words fail me in describing it. I’ve never met a company who doesn’t struggle to explain concisely what they do and why they’re good. The customer perspective takes some of the struggle away, and lets you start describing yourself and your value in a way that’s grounded in fact. If you’re struggling with your company’s messaging, the customer perspective is often the key to unlocking the right language.
“What if our customers won’t go on the record with a comment?”
A good approach is to tell the customer that you’re working on your messaging and you want to be sure that how you describe yourself is realistic, based on how customers actually see you. You could then ask if they’d be willing to speak with the writer who’s working on the messaging – if your customers really value you, they’re unlikely to say no.
(If the customer asks questions at that stage about confidentiality or publication, you can reassure them that nothing will be published without their permission. The first objective is to get customer perspective; if they’re happy to go on the record with a testimonial, that would be great but it’s not obligatory.)
“It’s probably safest if we do the customer interviews ourselves”
It might be safe but it’ll never work as effectively as using an experienced outside writer. A skilled copywriter, ideally with a journalistic background (yes, I am describing the ENNclick team), knows how to get interviewees talking and draw out information in a natural way. There’s also no baggage: unlike one of your internal staff interviewing your client, your customer can be sure that we have no agenda other than to get the facts. The straightforwardness and objectivity of the relationship between the writer and the interviewee keeps it all simple and increases the likelihood that you may even get a testimonial on the record.
“Case studies that don’t mention the customer are useless”
As long as the case study mentions the customer challenge, the approach you took to solving the problem, and the benefits after the fact, it’s not essential to include the customer’s name. Of course, including names is always preferable. But in certain markets – for example if your company offers highly strategic or commercially sensitive services, or if your customer considers you a “secret weapon” they don’t want to reveal to competitors – no one will be surprised if the names are missing from the case study. Names, places and dates will always make your case study more effective, but if an unnamed case study is all you can get, it’s far better than nothing at all.
What are your feelings about getting the customer perspective as you work on your messaging? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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