Does a case study still work if you can’t name the customer?

Some people, would say no. At best, they say, the story feels bland; at worst, they worry it'll appear you’ve simply made it up. But perhaps these concerns are a little too broad brush.

The confusion stems from the fact that, over the years, the different types of customer references have become synonymous with each other. Of course, for some a name is necessary - a testimonial quote must have an attribution to be of value - but that's not the case across the board.

Here are 4 occasions when anonymous customer references do the job just fine:

  1. When the name simply gives context:
    Sometimes the name is simply a shortcut to the context and backdrop of the story we want to tell. If that’s the case (or if the name isn’t one that’s particularly well-known in the industry), then you can achieve the same result by describing the business and the attributes you believe make the story meaningful to your audience. You might use descriptors such as ‘a financial practice with three partners who are always on the road’ or ‘with a dispersed operation covering offices and manufacturing facilities in sixteen countries’ to give a sense of scale.
  2. When it’s the results that tell the story:
    Take this quote, for example: “We helped a financial services company reduce their IT costs by 60% in three months.” With statistics as powerful as that you don’t need a name to convey your message. All you need is the detail to back the story up.
  3. When you’re going deep:
    As a rule, the more in-depth the story, the less important the name. This is because the focus switches, from earning associative credibility, to informing through the success of others. As the name of the organisation often adds little to the lessons learned, it isn't such a big deal if it's not there.
  4. When you’re coaching, not promoting:
    Who says a case study is only for your customers? There a loads of good reasons to share customer references internally. Whether the focus is on how the deal was won, or how deployment challenges were overcome, success stories from the front line can be valuable training materials; promoting best practice around the business and helping teams across the organisation replicate success. For these stories, the value isn't in the client's name but in the lessons learned.

Conclusion:

It’s often the case that, for one reason or another, the client’s name is off limits – but don’t believe that this makes the story worthless or less believable.

Anonymous customer references can be just as valuable in supporting the sales process as their identifiable counterparts; you just need to remember when and how to use them.

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