Anonymous case studies aren’t ideal, but they can still deliver value

Mandy Emel

24 June 2013

Let’s imagine a scenario: You invested a great deal of time and money in a brilliant, first-person account of how your company’s solution helped a highly-recognizable customer solve a major business problem. The customer has been enthusiastic throughout the process and has gladly given great quotes touting the benefits she’s realized from deploying your solution. You’re in the home stretch and extremely close to publishing a great story that will help close even more deals.

And then the phone rings.

“I’m sorry, but our CMO/CIO/legal department says we have a policy against participating in case studies. We can’t approve this. I’m sorry, I had no idea…”

After you pick yourself up off the ground, it’s time to make a decision:
A) Scrap the case study, and the evidence, quotes, and endorsements you documented can live on in anecdotal ambiguity
B) Convert the content into an anonymous case study by obscuring any details that might give away the customer's identity.

Just typing those words makes my eye twitch.

The anonymous case study: (aka a fairly useless document that most customers aren’t interested in reading.) It’s got big credibility challenges, so it’s near impossible to do any marketing around it. But what choice do you have? It usually goes like this:

You start with this: BMW Deploys Acme’s Solution and Saves $2M Annually*

You end up with this: Large Car Manufacturer Deploys Acme’s Solution and Saves $2M Annually*

In the end, you’ve got a watered down version of the truth, the arduous task of answering to stakeholders when they ask “where is the BMW case study you promised us?”, and a story that won’t help prospective customers envision the solution at their own organizations.

Have hope! There are benefits to a well-written anonymous case study.

  • The customer is happy that you got the case study published and respected their company policy simultaneously.
  • You’ve learned that you should not pursue a case study with that customer in the future.
  • Most importantly, you’ve still learned crucial details about this customer’s deployment and how it’s helped them.

Most customers with “no case study” policies are still willing to speak to other customers one-on-one, and now you have the information you need to connect them with other prospective buyers. Most are also open to participating in analyst activities, as long as they’re not quoted (surveys and informational interviews for example).

It’s not ideal, but being blindsided by an anonymous case study isn’t all bad. The most important thing is to preserve the relationship with the customer and find advocacy activities suited to their policies.

Where do you stand on anonymous case studies? Do you see opportunity in them, or do you cancel the project?

*It’s important to note that BMW is just an example of a great brand and they have not pulled out of a case study. We actually published a case study with them last year.