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The dangers of ‘going native’ with your case studies: They’re not about you – they’re about your customer

As a marketing trend, native advertising has gained significant traction within the consumer arena and is now steadily finding its way into content marketing practices within the B2B tech fields. Native advertising has become increasingly popular because it gives brands the opportunity to play smarter with their sales messages by burying them in informative content pieces that blend in seamlessly with a media host’s editorial house style.

Native marketing, in a nutshell, is disguised form of advertising – and in an age where content is considered king, it is not surprising that B2B tech businesses are increasingly going down this route via advertorials.

Case studies’ are another extremely effective means of showcasing the benefits of your business and raising brand awareness. Unlike an advertorial which has a covert agenda to pass on as many key sales messages as it can get away with, a case study should purely focus on your customer’s experience of your tech product or service.

A case study is ultimately the customer’s story – not yours. So it is definitely not the right material to squeeze in your key pitch messages in the hope that no editor will notice. However, the pressure to consistently deliver key messages about a business in every piece of content, and the relentless drive for fast SEO, has unfortunately meant that some businesses are starting to blur the lines between case studies and advertorials.

Advertorials are paid-for advertisements made to look like editorial or feature articles within a particular publication. By associating so closely with a magazine brand, tech businesses can create a 'halo effect' with the implication that there is a certain degree of editorial endorsement from the publication hosting the advertorial. This certainly ticks all the right boxes for achieving good native marketing.

In contrast, good case studies are not about your product or service from your point of view, but are tightly focused on the customer’s experience, backed up by factual and impartial evidence. You do not pay to place them in a publication; rather journalists seek them out to illustrate points on a wider topic and as real-life examples of market activity. Case studies provide an excellent way to show cold hard proof of your product’s success or your skills and experience. They highlight a real-world scenario of how you have helped your customer achieve their objectives. No one can sell your product or services better than your customer, so by adding unnecessary sales jargon, you are not only in danger of gilding the lily, but are potentially alienating your audience at the same time.   Every superlative description your customer mentions about you is worth fifty that you say about yourself.  So it is important that you enable your customers to tell their stories in an authentic way, with fact-based reporting to support what they are saying. It is this that will speak to other potential customers.

We recently conducted a survey with 77 influential UK technology and business journalists from the national newspapers and trade press, about what they thought made a great technology case study. The survey revealed some interesting insights that should hopefully help tech businesses write better case studies and drive press coverage.

In the survey, the highest percentage of journalists said that a good tech case study should always mention the involvement of a named organisation or individual. Journalists are clearly showing here that they do not want to receive a case study about ‘a leading bank’ or ‘top three UK retailer’ – but want named people or businesses every time.

It is unsurprising that journalists scored the second highest factor in a good tech case study as being a 'Hot Topic’ since most journalists are required to be agile in their response to current issues and newsworthy events. In third place, journalists chose ‘An Authentic Voice’. This substantiates that tech journalists insist on genuine thoughts and feelings about the way a project has gone, and do not like language that is littered with pushy sales jargon and industry buzz words.

So what makes a good tech case study and what mistakes should you avoid? Firstly, a powerful business technology case study always contains three basic elements: the business challenge faced; the solution found; and, most importantly, the benefits gained as a result of a product or service implementation. Be honest about the challenge and the steps taken to solve it. It's ok to admit to unexpected outcomes or changes of approach - in fact, this gives you credibility as a business who learns and improves, and continues to work with the customer to get the best possible result.

Use the solution section to delve into the detail - what did you do that was innovative? How did it differentiate you from your competition? What is the wider market background?

Editors clearly do not like self-promotion, so only use one or two direct references to the product in your case study. Pep it up with authentic quotes from the customer and add a human interest element if you can, such as how your product/service has specifically impacted real people in and out of your customer’s workplace. Use strong statistics to show the impact your product has made as well as the benefits gained. Avoid jargon such as ‘market-leading’ and ‘unique,’ and write out acronyms in full the first time, followed by the abbreviation in brackets. Try and keep your case studies clear and concise and under 1000 words – ideally between 500 and 700 words, if possible.

Editorial case studies and advertorials both play an important role in educating target audiences about your business. Advertorials are product-orientated features that can contain a few customer testimonials if required. Case studies are solely focused on the customer’s story with limited product references. 

Knowing the difference will ultimately help you become more transparent in your content marketing efforts, and audiences will reward you with their trust.

Sarah Dillingham, Founder,

Image source: Shutterstock/Sinart Creative