What’s the difference between a case study and a testimonial?

by | Feb 7, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all…” Michael LeBoeuf

“Show me ROI, or it’s not a case study.” An editor told me this some 15 years ago, and he was so right. I had been given some content, what the client insisted was a case study, but it did not include information about the return on investment. Nor did it include information about the solution’s implementation. In short, it was a testimonial, and the editor wasn’t having it. So, what exactly is the difference between a case study and a testimonial? I’m glad you’ve asked.

What is a case study?

This article from HubSpot eloquently explains what a case study is when it states that it’s “a detailed story of something your company did and they usually include a discussed conflict that a specific customer faced, an explanation of what happened next, and a resolution that portrays how the company solved or improved on the issue.”

In essence, a case study is a detailed synopsis of a problem that customers faced and how a company was able to address that problem. However, these studies more importantly provide a statistic that the heads of companies are often looking for, i.e.: what it took to implement the solution and what the return on investment is.

An example of this is shown in this article by Martech Advisor as they used the scenario of an internet company offering a package that reduces network downtime by 20 percent. This last piece of information is often what decides whether or not a prospective customer will go with a product or service for their specific problems.

What is a testimonial?

A testimonial is best explained in this article by Sleeknote as it says that they “are recommendations from satisfied buyers that affirm the value of a product or service.”

Testimonials come in a variety of forms such as quotes that go directly on a site, through social media posts, and on third party sites such as Yelp, just to name a few examples. A particularly interesting instance of how customer reviews affect a consumer’s decisions to purchase goods is shown in that same Sleeknote article when it cites a research study showing that 60 percent of people rate online customer reviews as equally trustworthy as information from friends and family.

Testimonials, regardless of the form, are a crucial part of an effective public relations and marketing strategy. They too are often a part of the decision-making process for people who are waffling on whether to purchase a product or service from a company.

So, what’s the difference?

Although case studies and customer testimonials often act as the last bit of information a potential consumer needs to purchase a product or service, the difference lies in the level of detail and the origin of the information.

When it comes to the level of detail, a case study will provide the information that a company needs to know in order to pay for a product, as well as the potential return on investment statistics to show how worthwhile a product is to implement. On the other hand, a customer testimonial does not provide the same level of information as they are often briefly commenting on what the product did for them and how it has improved their way of doing things.

Often, when it comes to the origin of the information, a testimonial comes from a happy customer that has voluntarily written a review to promote a company’s product, while a case study comes from the company itself in order to show what they can do for someone to solve a given problem or challenge.

At a surface level, case studies and testimonials seem interchangeable in people’s minds. After all, they are both used as tools to sell a product or service. Though this might be the case, a crucial difference is that case studies are more detail-oriented in terms of costs to implement a product as well as what that good can do in terms of a return on investment. This kind of information is more geared toward executives who are looking at things from a perspective of costs and benefits. A customer testimonial is much less stringent as it focuses more on how it made a difference for a customer and how it could be beneficial to others.

To sum things up and apply it to the aforementioned case, if an editor asks for a detailed process of how a problem was addressed and alleviated, it would be best to give them details on what it took to implement the solution along with what the return on investment, but rather an explanation of how happy this product made other customers.

Donna St. Jean Conti
Donna St. Jean Conti, APR, is president of St. Conti Communications, an award-winning, full-service, marketing communications agency specializing in public relations, social media, and writing support. We are based in Mission Viejo, Calif.


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