141104_CaseStudies-vs-TestimonialAre marketers talking on the same wavelength as customers? Not in the IT industry at least, according to IT community Spiceworks.

This article by MarketingProfs sums up their recent report nicely. Among all the proof of disconnect between what IT marketers invest in and what IT buyers use to help make purchase decisions, three statistics stand out:

  • 95% of marketers utilise case studies, but just 69% of buyers trust these.
  • Only 61% of marketers utilise forums, while 92% of buyers trust these.
  • Most tellingly, 95% of marketers utilise social media, but a mere 23% of buyers trust these.

These numbers may be for one industry alone, but for content marketers they point to an old concern that applies across all industries: are self-told success stories still effective?

Case studies: why not?

There has, for a long time, been little reason to not use case studies in the B2B content mix. They resonate. But in light of Spiceworks’ findings, their drawbacks resonate as well:

  • Perceived credibility

Modern buyers are a skeptical, if not cynical, lot. As long as a case study is produced by you, many will take it with salt.

Showing both sides of the story, as we described before, can offset this to a great extent. But deep diving into negative points carries the obvious risk of deterring prospects, which runs counter to the mission if you are aiming for straight-up lead generation.

  • Cost of creation

Whether written, filmed, or otherwise, case studies can be resource-intensive to produce. Apart from telling the story right, all the usual must-dos of content, like mobile optimisation, apply – and then come the legal reviews and customer approval processes.

Each case study is a project in itself, and not all organisations can afford to roll them out consistently.

  • Limited shelf life

Case studies, especially product-centric ones, are depreciating assets. They lose relevance over time as organisations grow and develop new offerings.

Customer testimonials: why?

With all these cons, it may be time to relinquish some control and let users tell the story their own way.

What the B2C sphere calls ‘user reviews’, we call ‘testimonials’ in B2B. Both offer glimpses into the buyer experience that traditional case studies often lack, and likewise, both can be actively solicited (preferably after a positive user experience!).

Of course, simple statements of support like “this product solved my problem” or “this company was great to work with” don’t do a thing. That is why even user-driven content must be guided by a framework: something to help the reviewer talk about what really makes a difference.

Provide a structure for your customer’s testimonial. Like B2C reviews, it should elaborate on topics of interest to prospects, such as:

  • Specific use cases for the product in their environment
  • How the product was better than what they previously used – and considered
  • Their expectations of you and the product, and how these were met
  • Advice to other adopters on similar purchases or deployments
  • Their overall satisfaction level, and any ideas for improvement

This approach can be much more convincing to discerning searchers who want not just the flip side of the story, but from an independent source as well. It also takes fewer resources, since actual users provide the content – and can stay fresh longer if the feedback covers the right ‘macro’ issues.

Blending the two

Useful as these are, this does not mean testimonials will replace case studies. Think of them as another tool in the box – determining when to use each one is key.

For instance, any kind of feedback on you or your offerings can be found by influencers compiling information for C-level review. According to the Spiceworks study, 79% of IT buyers seek out peer recommendations when considering vendors, and 82% do so at the top of the funnel – it’s not a stretch to say that buyers elsewhere do likewise.

In such a case, introducing ‘crowd-sourced’ resources like testimonials into the mix can strengthen your position by adding authenticity to a product or vendor rundown.

Do you blend these two types of success stories for B2B? Share with us what that has done for you.

Read more: GetIT’s own case studies.

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