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5 simple questions for a user focused case study

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile here: 5 simple questions for a user focused case study.

Broadly, there are two types of advertising, they can be described as ‘aspirational’ (think the latest iPhone) and ‘girl or boy next door’ (someone just like me). One of the many reasons they are so effective at what they do is because they tap into our core beliefs about ourselves and how we fit into the world around us.

Savvy digital marketers have been using this knowledge since the web first became available and they are also an opportunity we can harness in the user adoption and engagement work we do around the technologies we’re implementing.

One of my favourite ways of using marketing and advertising techniques like this is through what’s called a user focused case study. The reason I like it so much is because a good case study can reach both those striving to be the next Bill Gates, at the same time as being relatable as the boy or girl next door.

Before you get your presentation software out ready to get started on an inspirational case study, it’s important to remember that the key to a good user focused case study is that it’s not about us! Instead it’s about the users – in fact, it’s so much about the users, they actually write it – warts and all.

We’re all familiar with the standard tech focused case study – the one that lauds the latest implementation of a particular system, that has handy little pull-quotes from a range of grateful clients. The problem with these though is that they, like history, tend to be written by the victors. To often though, when I find a case study I like and I follow up with, I find that they aren’t as genuine as they appear. In fact, they can be so far from genuine I often get emails like the following:

The case study that read and sounded so promising is in fact an advertising construct created by the company touting the software ‘solution’. They don’t feel genuine or authentic. And that’s where the user’s own voice comes in very handy indeed, particularly in internal deployments.

Creating a user focused case study is relatively simple if you happen to have a group of enthusiastic users who are championing the tech to their friends, colleagues and teams already. I tend to ask the following five questions and then wait to see what comes back:

  1. What problem did you have you were hoping to solve?
  2. How did you manage this problem before?
  3. How did xxx meet your need?
  4. Were there any unexpected benefits or outcomes?
  5. What frustrations were there getting started and as you progressed?

I still get a selection of pull-quotes I can use to entice people across the organisation to read the case study, but the advantage is that the words are a users – in fact they are people just like you and me, who don’t necessarily know everything there is to know about tech, but have a found a great way to meet a need and are happy to share it with others. Having contact details enables anyone reading the case study to follow up directly with the user to check out that what they said, way back when, is in fact, still the case.

Perhaps, one of the biggest advantages of a user focused case study is their ability to bypass our own, internal thinking. When someone reads, watches or listens to something they can relate to, something that talks to them, in their language in a way they understand by someone they think is ‘just like them’, they begin a process of overcoming their internal objections without any further intervention on our part.

So, why not give it go yourself and see what benefits you come up with!


Linda is a user adoption and engagement specialist, with over 20 years experience working out how and why people engage in the online world … If you’d like to know more about what she’s learnt in that time, you only have to ask.

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