Case studies: A great tool in your marketing armoury

It’s all very well writing about the features and benefits of your product, but how do potential buyers know what it would be like to use in practice? You may argue that you offer users a free trial. However, depending on your product or service, that may be of limited use to a school. After all, if the product involves the whole of year 7, implementing the solution and then un-implementing it are both major undertakings.

That is where a case study comes in. The purpose of a case study is, in effect, to say to potential buyers, “Look, this is what our product is like in practice.”

What we should add here is the phrase, “…in a school like yours.” This is what is technically known as “ecological validity”. If, for example, your case study involves a school with ten pupils per class, then any teacher with thirty pupils per class will deem it irrelevant to their needs. For this reason, you should really have a range of case studies pertaining to different scenarios, to make it as easy as possible for someone to identify a school that resembles their own.

So what kind of case studies might you have? There are several types such as:

  • Academic.
  • Observed.
  • Interviews.
  • Data.

In practice, many case studies will involve elements of all of these but let’s look at them separately.

Academic

If you would like your product to be evaluated in a manner that looks objective and scientific then you could team up with a university or college department and work with them to have your product put through its paces as a research project. The main advantage of this is that it will be, or at least appear to be, more objective than if you did it all in-house. Moreover, you should end up with some useful comparisons such as the benefits to a school using your product compared to one not using it, or a before and after comparison.

Observed

This is where someone visits a school or class where your product is being used and takes notes about what they see going on. For example, are the kids engaged, does the teacher have more information about each pupil at her fingertips, and so on.

Interviews

A more interesting version of the simply observed case study is one in which parents, teachers and, of course, pupils are interviewed to find out what they like and dislike about the product (that is, how they think it could be improved). You won’t want to include the dislikes in the published case study, of course, but the information would no doubt prove useful for discussing improvements.

Data

This type of case study involves analysing data and would not necessarily involve setting foot in the school. The idea is to see how your product affected key performance indicators. For example, has punctuality improved since the product was put in place? Has absenteeism declined?

Clearly, all or most of these elements could be included in any case study, so it’s really a question of emphasis, and time. 

Further considerations

Finally, will the case study be a stand-alone document or part of a larger whole? Stand-alone case studies are very useful from the point of view that they could all be available on your website. Potential buyers should be able to find one that sounds relevant to their needs, such as “Inner City comprehensive, 1500 on roll, 29% FSM etc”.

Alternatively, you might include short case studies, or vignettes, as part of a longer document such as a product brochure or white paper. This is the sort of thing the Department for Education does. For example, in a document about assessment, there will be “box-outs” or special pages with text like “Fred Bloggs Academy decided to introduce coloured badges in Year7…”. The main advantages of this approach are that your product will be placed in a wider context, with several case studies highlighting different aspects of the product and how it is being used. The disadvantage, of course, is that each case study will have to be quite short, and little more than a snapshot if the document is not to take on War and Peace proportions.

If you feel inclined to develop some case studies, be sure to read these essential tips. And while you’re there, download the case study checklist and template.

Terry Freedman

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant and writer, having had a long career in Education, including teaching, advising schools and inspecting. He publishes the ICT and Computing in Education website at www.ictineducation.org, and the Digital Education newsletter at www.ictineducation.org/diged. You can follow Terry on Twitter @terryfreedman.

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