Testimonials vs. case studies: What’s more effective?
Go to any service or software company’s website these days and you’ll see either short client testimonials, pages of detailed case studies, or both. They just work … right?
Both of these, when used correctly, are vital marketing weapons in the war for client attention. If someone can compare your business offering with the real-life experience of another human, it can make a difference between a conversion and a departure. In fact, a Nielsen study on consumer trust in advertising found that 69 per cent of consumers would take an action online if it was based on another consumer’s opinion.
But then, what’s the difference between a case study and a testimonial, and which is better for your company’s marketing?
Defining case studies
An example of a case study would be a page that says, “This was our brief, here’s what we did, here is the outcome.” It probably also has pictures, because everybody loves pictures.
Case studies are typically data-driven stories that cover the journey of a project from start to finish. Often they follow a problem-solution format, so prospective clients can see how you have solved issues in the real-world environment and achieved results (based on data, like numbers).
Example: For a construction company this would be the client brief, constraints of the project (e.g. timeframe or budget) and how it all came together. For a non-profit organisation like, say, an environmental group, it could be a rubbish clean-up initiative, from identifying the hazard to gathering troops and spending time cleaning the area.
Case study pros
- Backed with data: Nothing shows proof quite like numbers. When you can say that your service, objectively, increased a client’s revenue by X and was under budget by Y, that will help a reader justify the cost of your service to their higher ups. ROI can be predicted.
- Service in context: A case study puts your service into real-life context, which can help readers figure out what you actually do. This is especially useful if your service is complex or niche, as potential customers will see your product in action.
- SEO: Case studies are another piece of the SEO puzzle. You can apply all the same techniques as you would to your SEO-driven content by including links, keywords, and rich media. They act a bit like landing pages.
Case study cons
- Cost: Case studies cost more to make than testimonials, as they require a skilled writer to produce, amid the myriad other administrative time-sucks like gathering data, creating a new page for your website, getting approval from the client, and so forth.
- Credibility: No matter how good your data, there will always be people that read it and say, “Well that sounds good, but they wrote this themselves so who knows, you know?”. Data is great proof, but self-published content will always be taken with a grain of salt.
Testimonials are much simpler to define. They are, in a nutshell, quotes from clients about their experience with your business. Think of them as mini reviews that can quickly be referenced in your various marketing efforts (like web page header images). You can also write them into blog posts or film them as video testimonials.
Example: “I’ve been working with Made-Up Business for three years, and have always found their service fast, and their team highly knowledgeable about my industry. They’ve helped us meet a number of our marketing objectives over the course of our relationship.” – Dave, from Other Made-Up Business.
- The horse’s mouth: Testimonials are real people’s opinions, and as we showed in this article’s intro, these online reviews make a very real difference to people’s trust in your business.
- Easier to gather: It’s quick to gather testimonials, compared with writing up case studies. You can send a list of questions or requirements to happy customers and then transplant their words to your website.
- Lack detail: Readers will only ever get a vague sense of “vibe” from testimonials, and maybe some minor details about your service. It’ll be harder to gauge what you actually offer from a hard ROI standpoint.
- Can’t be edited: You need to coach customers into providing the right content, as under local laws you’re very limited in how much you can edit testimonials.
Which is best for you?
There are three questions customers will be asking when reviewing either your case studies or testimonials:
- Can I trust this?
- Does it seem relevant to my business needs?
- Was it recent (relative to what is considered ‘recent’ in your industry)?
So as you can see, case studies readily fit into points one and two, but perhaps not so easily into three – this type of long-form content won’t be as quick to update, which means it may date. Of course, it’ll date faster in some industries than others (think IT versus healthcare).
But when you look at testimonials, you can see they are high on trust factor (from a word of mouth angle instead of data angle), but will give less detail. That means it’ll be harder to gauge point two. They are, however, quicker to update, which is ideal in fast-moving industries.
At Castleford, we lean more towards the former than latter. Case studies take longer to produce, but telling customer stories is an excellent way to convince other readers to trust your business. Plus, they are more versatile – post them on social media, print them as brochures for events or sales meetings, and link back to them regularly with blog articles so you can boost your SEO.
“You need a blog to do well at SEO!”
“You won’t get traffic without content!”
“When was your website built, the stone age?!”
We walk you through the basics of how to do #contentmarketing for #SEO
— Castleford (@castlefordmedia) November 28, 2017
An alternative method: Blending both
It’s easy to get caught up in the case studies versus testimonials debate, but let’s not forget that you could blend both.
Let’s say you’ve gathered a number of video testimonials from satisfied customers. Now it’s time to turn those into detailed case studies. Collect information about the project, write it up into a full problem-solution story, list out the hard data, and then post your testimonial video inside the case study.
Now not only do you have the trust and context factor of numbers, but you also have the human opinion factor from the testimonial.
If you can only have one or the other, case studies are more often than not the way to go – the benefits outweigh the cons by a mile, and they’re a versatile resource to have on your website.
However, arguably the best way to go is to blend both. Get your happy customers’ own words intertwined with the data you’ve collected for yourself and you’ll have some seriously powerful marketing documents.