Customers are everything to a business. But our companies aren’t the heroes. It isn’t about us.

As a result, customer stories are a gold mine waiting to be mined.

So spotlight these customers, tell their stories, and hopefully, you’ll equip them to share their stories with others.

So how do you adjust your marketing strategy to enable that mission and vision?

Case studies and testimonials are the answer. But which do you choose, and how are they different?

Case Studies: Telling Customer Stories in Your Marketing Strategy

Case studies are data-driven stories which follow a customer’s entire experience with your business.

From the problems they have to how your company provided a solution (and the specifics of how it all went down), it can provide an evergreen piece of content.

But you must organize this well in hopes of aiming it at future customers hanging out in the middle of your sales funnel.

They know their problem. But they might not be totally convinced that you will provide the right solution.

Your case study is your nicely worded, fully researched, proof of the difference you can (and do) make for customers.

The Case Study Layout

Case studies take on different formats. So here’s a standard approach to getting started, along with a template.

  • Objective – What did your customer accomplish? This is the thesis statement of your case study. In what way is your customer better off because of working with you? Make it clear, concise, and inspirational. It should be specific to this customer. Don’t write a case study where you could substitute one customer’s name for another. Make sure there is a hook, and that it’s interesting. Ask yourself, “would I read it?”
  • Customer – Introduce the hero of the story—your customer. What industry are they in? How big is the company? What do they do?
  • Challenge or problem – Share the problem they faced which pushed them to look for solutions and ultimately choose you.
  • Products and services used -This is where you can talk about the role you played. What did the customer use (that you supplied) to accomplish their goals or overcome their challenges?
  • Resolution – Don’t leave us hanging! How did the situation turn out? How did your company equip your customer to reach their end goal triumphantly?

Good Things About Case Studies

Now that you know how to format your case study, there are a number of reasons to include them as a key component in your marketing.

  • Numbers talk. Sure, you could go on and on about the impact of your product or service. But the data is what makes an impact and ultimately sells. Because of the research and data behind a case study, you have a great tool to back up your claims.
  • Everyone loves a good story. Case studies put your products and services in context. Your value proposition might look great on a landing page, but does it tell a story of real people? Use the case study to show the value of your product. And tell the story of the impact they’ve had on your customers.
  • See the product in action. If you tell someone ten awesome things about your product, they don’t have the opportunity to see it in action. That’s where case studies come in. These are an opportunity for people to see the impact you’ve made on a real business or consumer like them.

Bad Things About Case Studies

While case studies have a lot going in their favor, there are a few reasons they might not be the best fit for your company.

  • They require extensive time and effort. A good case study is difficult to find and time-consuming to build. They take significantly more time, research, and resources than just adding a customer testimonial on your homepage.
  • The credibility is questionable. While case studies prove your value through the data backing them, there’s still a level of credibility lacking because you produced them. It’s like a resume of your company’s work—credible. But, your reader might question whether you know Finnish, even if you say you do. That’s why it’s so important not to overinflate numbers or sidestep challenges you face on projects, or in customer relationships. Make the story intriguing and compelling, but do it honestly.

Pro Tip: Ask a third-party to conduct and write your case study. This allows customers to be honest and the case study to be unbiased.

Testimonials: Sharing Customer Quotes in Your Marketing Strategy

A testimonial is a quote from a customer about their experience with your company.

They can be written or recorded and used throughout different mediums—on your website, as Facebook ads, or in blogs and videos.

Rather than telling a full story, testimonials are a current customer interjecting into a potential customer’s buying journey, saying, “It worked for me!” or “We loved the product.”

In this case, the customer is a sidekick to your future customer, rather than the hero of their own case study story.

Good Things About Testimonials

Testimonials can be a quick and easy way to turn the focus back to your customers.

Here are a few reasons to increase your investment in testimonials:

  • It’s an easy ask. It’s easy to get a quick testimonial about a specific product, service, or your company in general. Simply ask a question about the impact of your work or repurpose reviews you’ve received.
  • More control. With testimonials, you’re able to ask questions geared toward the type of content you want to solicit. If you need a testimonial for a specific service you offer, ask for it!
  • People trust people. Well, at least more than they trust companies. And this has been proven. So even if you don’t have the resources to invest in a case study now, it’s still important to make the story about the customer and share their insights, one quote at a time.

The Bad Things About Testimonials

While testimonials are easy to add throughout your marketing efforts, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • They often don’t tell the whole story. Testimonials, being short and sweet in nature, don’t tell the whole story of your product or service—or your customer’s experience, for that matter. Ask your customers good questions that allow them to tell as much of the story as possible. And realize that a good testimonial is like gold. Use it well.
  • Testimonials can’t be edited. This makes sense since it’s someone else’s words. But it does make it a bit trickier to get the exact content you need while following the law.

Improving Your Marketing Strategy: So Which Should You Use?

Think about the last time you tried a new restaurant.

You may have heard or seen advertisements for the restaurant. But your decision to eat there was probably based on a testimonial—whether Yelp, TripAdvisor, a friend or a coworker.

Now imagine if the restaurant had presented a case study:

“Susy came into the restaurant, looking for food. She ate approximately 12 grams of food in 1.25 hours and walked away 97 percent satisfied.”

What would make the biggest impact on your decision to eat there?

Most likely, it would be the testimonial rather than the case study.

It All Depends on the Context of Your Marketing Strategy

Both testimonials and case studies have their place.

But as with any other type of content, you should choose your content based on what you want to accomplish.

Whom are you trying to reach? What is your purpose?

Answering those questions based on what you know about each type of content will help determine the best course of action to reach your goals.

Building great content featuring your customers will have the greatest impact in your marketing strategy when you put a plan in place to share those valuable insights.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Ali Roth

Ali Roth is the content strategist for Simple Strat, the marketing agency for companies that are serious about growth. She loves words, data, and research—which makes content marketing her niche. She began her career working in marketing at a high-growth sports tech company. She uses that knowledge to craft innovative strategies for clients and create content that motivates and inspires. A Midwest girl all her life, she's lived in most of the states that no one cares about, but loves corn, football, and fall.

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