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Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of what I call ‘fake case studies’ being published on the internet.

Examples of fake case studies:

- Casper Marketing: How a Mattress Company Went from Zero to $750 Million in 4 Years (Case Study)
- How Trello Grows to $100mm in Revenue
- How Netflix Became a $100 Billion Company in 20 Years

The fake case study shares a lot in common with its’ cheap content predecessors – “the expert roundup”:
- easy to produce – any decent writer can put them together, - no expertise required
- can be done in templatized, mass quantity fashion
- strong clickbait appeal
- the appearance of something useful

However, I think these studies are not only cheap, but intellectually dishonest and potentially harmful to readers.

  • AB

    Alex Birkett

    30 days ago #

    This is an important post. When you learn about the Narrative Fallacy and the Halo Effect, you start to see them exhibited everywhere, and it's especially true of what you call "fake case studies."

    The value of "cheap content" is clearly that it is easily replicable and scalable from the business side. Though, as you discuss, this doesn't leave you with much defensibility because a) anyone can compete (and outrank you) and b) eventually, readers learn that your content is thin or not useful.

    It seems like there's still value in trying to learn from successful business cases though, so is there a better way to produce this style of content - exclusive interviews w/ people at the company, some other angle that could bring value, or should we just write them off as narrative fiction?

    • RF

      Ryan Farley

      30 days ago #

      Your question is a good one. I definitely don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I don't know where the line is between useful and crap. I think at a basic level, some level of in-depth research including talking to people who were actually there is useful. Also, there's nothing wrong with writing up a history of a company, I think it's misleading when you attempt to connect cause and effect in a sensationalist manner like marketers love to do.

  • AO

    Aaron Orendorff

    29 days ago #

    This is absolutely fabulous! I've honestly been tricked by these a couple times. A much needed post on an old problem: "marketers ruin everything." Well done (I wish I'd wrote it).

  • NO

    Noah oscar

    29 days ago #

    Very informative post.

  • ML

    Mark Lindquist

    29 days ago #

    I feel like case studies are listicles for people who think they're too good for listicles. Like, it feels productive reading a case study, but only to people who have never really been in the trenches on the topic they're reading about.

    For instance, the only thing I know inside and out is content marketing, and I don't think I've ever read a "how we grew from 0 to 200k monthly blog visitors" article that I didn't think was useless bullshit.

    You touch on this, but I think case studies that focus on a really narrow tactic or a specific challenge overcome can be valuable. But the really broad ones are useless.

    • JQ

      Jason Quey

      26 days ago #

      One challenge is that the person who goes from 0 to 200K may not know what worked, because they may have gotten lucky (e.g. industry was trending). Or the information they share isn't really repeatable (e.g. Tim Ferriss happens upon it and shares it in his newsletter).

      This isn't wrong, per-se. But if they can't separate the principles from the circumstances, it will lead people astray.

      • CJ

        Charles Jones

        25 days ago #

        Exactly, wanted to comment with a similar idea. People reed such threads to learn and possible repeat successful steps. But if the house building company for example become number 1 in the place where all houses were recently destroyed by flood because they had undamaged warehouses with materials other companies lost and lose a chance to be competitive. It's not a good marketing company, it's not a quality of service, it's a one big lucky (for them) coincidence. How some possible repeat that?

    • RF

      Ryan Farley

      29 days ago #

      Absolutely. That's what I was trying to get at when I was talking about how authors spend years writing an entire book about specific situations of a company. For example, the blog post from Airbnb about how they approach SEO experimentation was fantastic - very focused, honest, and highly actionable (not to mention from the source).

  • JQ

    Jason Quey

    26 days ago #

    Great insight here, Ryan.

    While calling out the clowns may seem valuable, I wonder how far it will go.

    For example, I've seen material I thought was garbage that another marketer benefited from.

    On a clearer picture, I see those ghost posting as another area. I can see some room for some articles, and you actually look through the material so it isn't thin. But doing dozens of articles that you don't check is effectively lying.

    I've thought about outing them, but I'm not sure to what benefit. Not to mention, most I know already know them, and those I don't know wouldn't probably listen. And those who do it will keep on profiting.

    I'm all for justice. But some areas may not receive the human justice we desire.

  • SY

    Sushil YD

    25 days ago #

    nice information

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