The case study sniff test

We have previously carried out sniff tests ahead of industry events to get a sense of what visitors might expect from exhibition stands and what learning suppliers are saying about themselves.

With World of Learning starting on Monday 9 October we thought we would do a test of case studies on exhibitor websites. We chose 25 exhibitors at random (there are around 130 at the event) and spent a few minutes per website looking at case studies.

Why case studies? Because, according to the 2022 Content Preferences Survey Report, B2B buyers say case studies are the second most important type of content when researching a purchase (behind research reports).

For this test, we look at the case studies from the buyer perspective. The brands we looked at will remain anonymous as our intention here is to share some useful insights.

Of the 25 exhibitors we looked at, the number of case studies stood at:

  • No case studies – 11
  • 1-5 case studies – 5
  • 6-10 case studies – 4
  • 10+ case studies – 5

Some vendors provide testimonial quotes or Trustpilot-type reviews. We have not counted these as they do not provide information on the client, the client’s challenge, the solution and the outcome.

Here are our observations:

Why aren’t learning vendors doing case studies?

It was surprising to see so many of the sample size not doing full-blown case studies. They are such an important part of the buying research process.

The focus is on the learning experience and learning outcome measures

Most case studies looked at the outcomes generated from using the product/service. Some provided data that gave a more in-depth view but most of the case studies covered the same ground ie how the product is used, what it is like working with the supplier etc, engagement and content consumption data.

Customer quotes are not ubiquitous

Some of the case studies told the story of the customer but did not include a customer quote. Many did include quotes and are far more powerful for it – you get to hear what the customer thinks in their words.

The vendor voice can dominate

That said, some vendor sites feel like it’s all about them, not their customers. There is an opportunity to bring in more of the customer voice.

Frequency and timeliness fluctuate

Some vendors publish case studies regularly and have real momentum around this, while others have ones that are more dated with bigger gaps between publication.

The case studies are free to view and download

All the case studies we looked at were free to view and download which made them easy to access and consume. This felt like a good user experience.


Areas for improvement

Take impact measure to the next level – business impact

Case studies reviewed in this sniff test show learning impact – for example, activity on a platform, completions, feedback on a course or trainer and scale of delivery. This is the type of information most learning providers are gathering and it is useful to the buyer. But most buyers are sharing similar information. There is an opportunity to make these case studies a lot more powerful by looking at the business impact of the initiative/product/service.

Use more of the customer voice

Your customer is usually the best person to tell your impact/value story. So ask them more questions about this and make sure you feature them prominently in your case studies and other promotional activities. And listen to how they describe your product, how it works and how they would describe it to others. These insights can help shape your tone of voice and align your messaging with the way your customers talk about you.

Revisit and update case studies

Case studies should not be a story from a moment in time. Impact from learning activities happens over time so schedule in an update interview to see what other impact has come from your work with your customer. And make sure case studies do not go too out of date.

Bring in the employee voice

The sniff test revealed that, aside from delegate testimonial quotes, none of the case studies featured feedback from learners – the customer’s customer  –  on how the product/service had positively impacted on their work. This is a missing element in most case studies. Getting these insights from learners is a big win for the supplier but also for the customer as the feedback can be used internally to demonstrate impact and to promote the learning initiative.

Make case studies more prominent in your comms

A great customer quote can really sell your product/service in a way that you cannot. If you capture great quotes that show how you generate value and impact for customers then make sure you use them and reuse them in your communications.

Build campaigns around your case studies

Case studies are interesting and useful stories and provide you with data so make the most of them. That means working with those customers to support events or helping them to boost their profile as speakers at other events. And this can mean PR opportunities too. Make sure you integrate these stories into your marketing and comms plans.

Segment your case studies to generate more value

The case studies we looked at were not promoted as industry/sector specific stories, and yet that is exactly what they are. By aligning them with sectors you can start to build comms around them that are specific to those sectors. This can be an important area of differentiation for buyers.

What’s better – you saying what you do is great or your customers saying what you do is great? This might be an over-simplistic view of why case studies matter but your customers do have an important part to play in providing you with feedback and advocating for your products.

We help learning providers create great customer case studies and design campaigns around them to amplify your impact and value. Contact us to find out more: