Why Case Studies Are Overrated

IStock_000002929163Small There is a misguided search that almost everyone working in marketing around the world seems to be on. It involves seeking a golden example or case study that lays out perfectly how to achieve success with social media and be effective. In their minds, this case study would create the perfect argument for ROI, and offer a formula that could be duplicated by nearly any organization no matter their industry or audience or objectives. Perhaps most importantly, it would be a story they could easily share with their bosses or managers or clients to help make the case for using social media more easily. You can't blame them for trying … the only problem is that this story doesn't exist.

The search for the perfect case study for permission to innovate is like spending your life trying to find a guy named George to marry because your best friend is happily married to a guy named George. Your objective may be the same as your friend (to get married), but the path you take will always be different. We would never dream of using this flawed logic in our personal lives, and yet in marketing it seems we seek it all the time. It is why business schools are filled with case studies and every discussion most anyone has about social media or trying anything innovative in marketing involves the same fateful question from someone in the decision making chain: "show me a case study where this has been done before."

This is a problem for three obvious reasons:

  1. What has worked for another organization will not work exactly the same for yours.
  2. No case study will ever address EXACTLY the same unique challenge your brand is facing.
  3. Many brands don't readily publish case studies for the world to consume anyway.

The biggest change you can make is to stop waiting for the golden case study and focus instead on the quality of your strategy and ideas. The reason an idea and program works is not because you have some proof point from another company to point to in order to justify it. Ideas and campaigns and marketing works because it is based on an insight and motivates people to feel what you want them to feel and act the way you want them to act.

Case studies are great to learn from, but if they are the only way you can get permission to use social media or do something innovative, then you are on the path to failure before you even start.

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