Customer story or case study? Why the difference impacts your conversion rate

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You’d be forgiven for thinking they’re the same thing. In fact, many marketers (and copywriters) freely interchange the two terms: 

Case study

Customer story 

They’re not the same. In my humble opinion anyway. 

“But it’s all about showcasing what you’ve done for your customers Anna, you’re splitting hairs here!” 

You might think that, so here’s my response… 

“No, I’m not. Having worked (and written) through several ‘case study’ decades, I appreciate the evolution in this area. And it’s hugely important when you want to engage your prospective clients and convert them faster.” 

So, let’s crack on and unpack what I mean.


The case study

The term’s been used by sales and marketing teams for decades. It’s easily understood. And many businesses have churned them out (often created by salespeople) to demonstrate their value to prospective customers. Fair play.

But from my experience, they generally go like this (and I summarise for the purpose of keeping to the point…)


Customer A is a leading provider of XXX. They approached us because they wanted to achieve/overcome XXX. As we’re market-leading experts in XXX, we were able to help.


Our experts spent time with customer A. We then came up with a plan that involved doing XXX. It took XXX weeks/months to implement, and everything went incredibly well because we know what we’re doing.


Because we did this (and we’re great at it), customer A achieved XXX/overcame their problem of XXX. Since our involvement, they’ve had XXX results.

[A one-sentence comment follows from customer A. They say how happy they are with the product/service, and of course, their amazing supplier.]

Putting my customer hat on, what do I think?

“Hmmm… sounds like the sales team pulled this together. And the customer hasn’t said much to give me faith in the product…”

So, do I feel more confident about your business solving my problem? Probably not.

As the business world becomes more human – less stuffy corporate communication, more empathetic ‘real people’ messaging – so must your case studies. And for that reason, I firmly believe the most effective step-change is to ditch the traditional idea (and phrase) of case studies and create customer stories instead.


The customer story

What people really want to read about is other people’s first-hand experiences. As if your customer was telling them the story face-to-face over a coffee. This feels less ‘selly’ and more trustworthy. And we all know that gaining trust is a key component to converting a prospect.

Your customer should therefore be central to the story, and it should be rich in their own words. Think lots of customer comments in language they actually use. Not just a contrived sentence or two at the end.

As for your business, your role is simply to narrate the story and sit humbly in the background. Your customer does the rest.

Let’s look at the structure of a customer story. It typically goes something like this…

  1. What was going on before they discovered product XXX? Their problems and challenges. How did they feel about this? How did this hamper their progress? What triggered their decision to do something differently? 
  1. How (and why) did they choose product XXX? Did they look at other providers? What mattered in their decision? 
  1. What has been their experience of using product XXX from company XXX (you)? How do they feel? How does it help them (mentioning KPIs or specific facts when possible)? 
  1. Has it resolved the challenges they previously experienced? What has been (and will be) the difference in their business performance?

That’s a whistle-stop tour of the structure. Can you appreciate the different approach?

Just think for a moment: which would you rather spend your time reading?

  • Business boasting case study
  • Customer-focused story

Clients tell me customer stories “move the dial” for them. They shorten sales funnels and gain trust faster. In fact, a client once told me one of their customers said “We want to do what they’re doing with you!” having read another customer’s story.

The benefits to your business from telling genuine customer stories in relatable language are huge.


Now for some stats

Don’t just take my word for it. When you need more proof that customer stories punch their weight, keep reading.

Global communications firm Edelman and LinkedIn collaborated to carry out some research. It found that 92% of B2B buyers engage with ‘customer success content’ before making a purchase.

According to Forrester Research, customer stories can increase conversion rates by up to 20%.


Still don’t know what a customer story *looks* like?

OK, let me show you how I practice what I preach. You’ll find a trio of customer story examples on this page. All created by me on behalf of my lovely clients.

These days, I create a lot of B2B SaaS and software development stories. Previously, I’ve supported manufacturers, coaches, and professional services with their customer story needs. The principles remain the same for every B2B sector.

No two (or ten) stories are ever the same.

Your customers are different, and your business is different. Even a dozen stories for the same business can be different.

Your customers will have experienced a wide range of problems, worries, frustrations, and challenges before considering your product. And they’ll more than likely have gained a variety of different benefits from your services too.

One more thing. When created correctly, customer stories serve your business for years. You can use them in so many ways I’ve honestly lost count. Start by reading my article: 5 ways to get more eyes on your customer stories.

“OK Anna, I get it. Ditch the salesy case studies, embrace the engaging customer stories.”

Yes! That’s the spirit.

And should you want to learn more about how I create endless customer stories for my savvy clients, have a shufti at this page.

Always happy to chat about your yet-to-be-captured stories. Just ask.