Case Studies, White Papers, and Testimonials

Want to turn off potential customers? Blare an ad at them! Make it something they can’t possibly avoid, even if they want to!

Want to make them go, “Hm, that sounds like something we could use”? Write a white paper. Or a case study. These types of writing get your point across impressively, even when they’re less pushy than outright advertising. But what’s the difference between a white paper and a case study? And doesn’t a customer testimonial on your website work just as well as a case study?

Don’t “customer testimonials” already do the job?

Marketing experts talk a lot about how “customer testimonials” add credibility and attractiveness to the public image of a business. You now see a lot of these testimonials on company web pages: customers apparently raving about how helpful the staff were or how the product or service made a big difference to them. Some sites have whole pages dedicated to such blurbs.

But there’s a problem. Many businesses are well aware of the way these endorsements are supposed to boost their image (and hopefully lead to bigger profits). So they’ve hired writers to write fake “testimonials” to put on their websites. Now a savvy visitor to any business site is faced with the question: “Are these real people, sending in real endorsements of this business? Or are these testimonials created in the mind of some copywriter?” In other words — just more advertising, relying on a potential customer’s gullibility?

Unfortunately, the latter is becoming the case, more and more often. Eventually, I suspect, having these “testimonials” on a page, with just a person’s name and no way to check if the story is fake or not, will begin to backfire. People will assume the blurbs are false. And a great deal of the time — they’ll be right.

A Case Study: a Genuine Customer Story

A case study is much more likely to be genuine (though I imagine people are trying to fake even these). Usually the story you tell about a customer allows you to name the company or person involved. With permission, of course! This makes the story potentially checkable. (And if you tried to fake the story, it could open you up to “cease and desist” orders if that person or company wasn’t really your client, or this problem never happened, or it happened but you never solved it.)

A case study is where you get to talk about frustrations and glitches that led to solutions and happiness and success. Naturally you don’t want to get melodramatic, but in a case study, you’re not simply examining statistics and figures and test results, as you are in a white paper. Here, you demonstrate how you approached real people about real problems and how they got real help from you.

There’s simply nothing more credible than this.

White Paper versus Case Study

As we learned in earlier posts, a white paper uses facts, figures, and analysis in examining a problem or feature in your industry. It’s more of an objective technical report than anything else, if it’s done well. It can be used for marketing purposes, but its primary goal is to put helpful information out there.

But when a case study tackles the same problem, or highlights the same industry feature, it takes things up close and personal. It shows how your solution helped an actual person doing their actual job, in a real company that benefited from this. This is why case studies are often used as sub-sections in white papers: they can serve as practical evidence to go along with the facts and figures.

But case studies can stand on their own too. They can be personal, cheerful, and upbeat. And nothing serves you better than a real customer testimonial, showing exactly how you’ve helped someone who needed it.

(Next time: How to create a Case Study)