Case Study vs Customer Story: What Is the Difference?

Topic: Thoughts

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This article explores the differences between a case study and a customer story, both of which are used to promote product or a service.

Uncertainty about whether to use a case study or a customer story to promote a product or service is not uncommon. Despite both terms referring to the depiction of a real case where a customer has used a company's product or service, there are significant differences between them in terms of presentation and objectives. This article aims to explore these differences and provide the necessary information to decide which option is the most suitable.

Case study and customer story: What is that all about?

As their names suggest, both case study and customer story are, in essence, the description of a "case", that is a real case in which a customer has used a company product or service. On this point, case study and customer story are the same.

These marketing texts have two key features:

  1. There is nothing fictional in them. No stretch of the imagination, no artistic exaggeration - the customer is real, all the events are real, all numbers are real (if they are mentioned).
  2. Form of presentation is chronology of events. An author tells a story as a chronological series of events - just describes who did what and what followed what.

Since they are marketing tools, obviously, their main purpose is to point out benefits of a company product or a service. On this point, case study and customer story are the same too.

So, maybe they are the same thing?

There is a difference.

Case study appeals to logic and pragmatism

Study means "exploration". In a case study, we "explore" the case to "figure out" (in fact, to show to our readers):

  • What has the customer benefited from so much?
  • What features of a company product turned out to be so helpful for a customer?
  • How much better is a customer doing now than before?
  • How profitable it was to the customer compared to the case if a competitor product was used?

If we write a case study:

  • We probably claim that we describe the facts in an objective and unbiased manner, without embellishing or holding back anything.
  • Thus, our style is rather business-like - "meaty" text with a lot of concrete facts and a minimum of value judgments, epithets, and adjectives.
  • Our main emphasis is on numbers and facts.
  • We conduct an "analysis", that is we compare the outcome of this story with an alternative - the case if the customer did nothing or used a competitor product.
  • At the end, our text will have a substantial section with "research findings" - specific answers to those very questions of "What has the customer benefited from" and "How profitable it was".

Let’s see how it looks.

Text in a case study style:

Little Piggy built a house from super strong bricks manufactured by "Bricks World" company. It cost him 1 million green pieces of paper. Other animals spent 40% less by buying the cheapest building materials.

Soon, the town fell victim to a mysterious natural phenomenon described as the "big bad wolf that blows." The Little Piggy’s house was the only one that survived and provided shelter to everyone. Little Piggy became a hero and a monopoly holder in the town’s rental housing market.

This story helped us understand that:

  • 40 per cent savings doesn't work in every case.
  • Our bricks are also wolf-proof.

Customer story appeals to emotions

Story means “narrative” or “tale”. In a customer story we primarily depict the customer's subjective feelings:

  • their motivation - what they craved and what suffering their problem caused them;
  • the terrible problem ("villain") and the customer's unsuccessful attempts to solve it, the gross injustice of the situation;
  • how the customer met us and why they felt trust;
  • how we took the customer's hand and led them past the terrible abyss;
  • the relief and happiness the customer felt when the problem was solved.

If we write a customer story:

  • We probably tailor the story to a "mythological" narrative where the hero sets out for their dream, encounters a problem, despairs, but then a guide arrives, takes the hero's hand, and helps them overcome the terrible abyss and reach the happy land.
  • We choose a corresponding style and speak figuratively and emotionally, personify the customer’s problem ("villain"), actively demonstrate empathy to the customer, portraying their image as touching and relatable to the reader, etc.
  • Our emphasis is on the customer’s feelings, values, motivations, fears, hopes, etc.
  • We don’t directly state the "moral" of the story. Instead, we describe the value of company product indirectly.

Let’s tell the story about Little Piggy again.

Text in a customer story style:

Little Piggy always dreamed of having a safe home where he could be himself without fear. So, when he came across the motto of the "Bricks World" company, "Everyone deserves to have a safe home where they can be themselves," he was inspired to take action. Despite the ridicule and irresponsibility of his brothers, Little Piggy decided to leave the family and invest a million green pieces of paper to build his own home.

After sacrificing his summer pleasures and enduring solitude, Little Piggy's dream became a reality. His home was made of super strong bricks that could withstand even the fiercest winds. When the brothers came knocking on his door, Little Piggy was no longer afraid. His house was wolf-proof, and he could finally live in peace.

To his surprise, the brothers looked at him with admiration and gratitude for providing them with a safe home. The family was finally together again, and Little Piggy realized that their future depended on their determination to overcome obstacles and create a better life for themselves.

Does it mean that one excludes the other?

No. On the contrary, in most cases, marketers produce a mix of these two "genres". So, they get stories that contain both emotions and bare facts - promises to fulfill a dream, and appeals to save money, or, conversely, to not do that.

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