You’ve seen them before.
Articles, blog posts, and brochures posted on Company A’s website in which Company B describes how hiring purchasing Company A’s product or service solved a major issue B had been facing for years.
You’ve probably heard companies refer to these documents as case studies, success stories, or even testimonials - sometimes interchangeably.
Though success stories and case studies may appear to be similar - and have similar goals - they are two incredibly distinct documents.
Overall, success stories and case studies differ in three major areas:
The differences between the two documents are sometimes glaring, and sometimes they are fairly nuanced. Regardless, it’s important for marketers to understand these differences in order to optimize the chances that both are utilized correctly. Used the right way, both success studies and case studies can prove to be valuable assets to a company’s marketing plan.
What's it's purpose?
If you look at the big picture, both success stories and case studies have one purpose: attract more clients.
But just as pitchers and batters play two different roles in winning baseball games, success stories and case studesi go about attracting clients in different ways.
The purpose of a success story
Success stories offer an overview of a customer’s experience with a company. They summarize what the company offers, why a previous customer sought out the company in the first place (i.e. the problems the customer needed to solve), the improvements the customer experienced while working with the company, and the end results.
Success stories aren’t about diving deep into the process of working with a company. Their purpose is to provide general information that will get potential customers interested enough to dig deeper later on. For this reason, success stories are often quick and to the point. They don’t usually include too much technical jargon, and are easily skimmable by those with a passing interested in the subject matter.
The purpose of a case study
Once a customer’s interest is piqued, they’ll be more likely to want to dive into the details of what it’s like to work with your company.
That’s where case studies come in.
A case study is a much more focused document that goes into great detail about a specific area of a company’s service. While a success story offers proof that a product or service works, a case study will dig into how it works.
Here’s an example: Say a company hires a growth-hacking service to improve their overall business results.
While a case study will, ultimately, discuss the results a company experienced while working with a service, the majority of the document will be focused on how they arrived at these results.
Who is it for?
Success stories and case studies are not written for individual people; they’re written for companies.
Of course, the companies these documents target are made up of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of individuals. Though they all work for the same company, these individuals all have different responsibilities and purposes within the organization.
To maximize the effect of either a success story or a case study, it’s important to know who will be reading it. Failure to do so will result in a waste of time for all parties involved in the process.
Who reads success stories?
As success stories are more general recollections of the experiences a company had with a product or service (as well as the benefits of such), their target audience is usually C-level personnel. These individuals have way too little time on their hand to read about the minute details of a specific service, and will simply want to know how using it will affect their company’s bottom line.
While success stories offer a soup-to-nuts summary of a company’s experience with a service, the main focus will be on the qualitative results: How did the service increase the company’s ROI? How long did it take to recoup expenses? When will the company start seeing results?
As mentioned, a success story will still include other details for its readers to check out (if they choose to) once it’s caught their eye. In general, though, the bulk of a success story will end up getting skimmed, with its reader looking for the few quick sentences that will tell them how the service will affect their overall business.
Who reads case studies?
Compared to success stories, case studies focus more on the process of working with a product or service.
As such, they are focused more toward employees who are “on the floor” throughout most of their workday. This includes decision-makers and managers who have a more technical understanding of the day-to-day goings-on within a company.
These employees need to understand exactly how a new product or service will be implemented and how it will affect operating procedures. Instead of thinking “How will this product benefit my company?”, these individuals need to know what they will need to do to make the product work correctly.
While managers and decision-makers will, of course, need reassurance that the product they’ll be working with will actually lead to positive results, they want to know that they’ll be able to achieve these results while working within a streamlined system that’s free of bugs and hangups that will just make their job more difficult.
While success stories and case studies both aim to attract clients, they have different functionalities along the sales funnel.
Customer success stories usually act as the lure that gets potential customers on the hook. However, as these customers will still need convincing while they debate using a service, they’ll need multiple case studies to help solidify their confidence in a specific company to best provide this service to them.