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Not All Good Testimonials Are Good

Brian Austin
Brian Austin Advertising

What's the best form of advertising? Of course, word-of-mouth beats most every other form of promotion hands down. Our friends have special power over us. One friend recommending something to another friend, colleague or acquaintance can often overcome price objections easily.

That's why authentic, traceable testimonials can sometimes be one of your best sales aids. Yet not always.

Key tip update: before creating any kind of testimonial, double-check whether you are restricted by legal updates. For example, with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, you may be restricted in how you create testimonials and manage the data you collect. GDPR will also evolve over time, so check the current requirements.

Moreover, similar GDPR-like regulations will almost certainly appear in the USA and other countries over time.

Key tip: as well as using testimonials on your website, if you use additional marketing materials such as business cards, letterheads, packaging, and so forth, do consider making one or more carefully selected genuine client testimonials highly visible on one or more of these important extra promotional "vehicles".

Regularly, across the media, we here how journalists seems to unmask so-called "respectable" public figures as being less than honest in areas where they should have known better. So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the general public have grown to expect lies - especially on the Web.

Key tip: curiously, a general lowering of trust standards in modern life can actually help those businesses and organizations who buck the trend and demonstrate uncommon authenticity. Let's explore how you can use testimonials for maximum benefit.

What Kinds of Testimonials Should You Seek?

If you have a website, do especially appreciate the true astonishing value of genuine, warm client testimonials on an essentially cold and faceless Internet! Any website can provide "customer comments", "feedback", "recommendations", and so on. However, a key problem is credibility. Visitors may believe that any such "testimonials" are bogus. That's why some of the best ways to demonstrate high credibility is to:

  • Without doubt, actively ask for and collect verifiable testimonials that have a different "voice" to the tone which you use on your website. Why? Testimonials that "sound different" are more likely to be accepted as genuine.
  • Ask for testimonials provided by people other than the authors of your website since these naturally have a different sound. Everyone has their own "writing voice". Language is subtle; readers can tell the difference between your writing voice and that of someone else.
  • If you use only testimonials that clearly have a different "voice" to your own, and your customers accept that your testimonials are genuine, you can instantly boost your website trust factor - essential when your clients are evaluating whether to buy.
  • Today's Web 2.0 is multimedia driven with sound and video playing an ever increasing role. Therefore, think beyond written testimonials. If possible, gather both written and spoken testimonials. Why? Some people pay more attention to written words, others prefer to listen or watch. An MP3 testimonial provides another dimension of subtle persuasion that can't be matched by written words alone. Audio testimonials include more than just spoken words. A voice can provide a more personal tone.
  • A video clip testimonial can provide the ultimate persuasion mechanism. However, to create the kind of video testimonial that enhances how potential customers see you, requires that you consider several aspects at the same time. Even though a video testimonial may "play" in under a couple of minutes, if you want to maximize the benefit, essentially, imagine that you're creating a short film production. Consider venue, level of background noise, lighting and so on. Only use a video testimonial that is of sufficient quality and perfected to impress. Why? Since a video testimonial involves speech, vision, backdrop and movement, a poor result can hinder rather than help your cause; sometimes, a simple written appraisal can work best.

How to Gather Beneficial Testimonials

Consider the following guidelines:

  • Here's a simple remedy to combat lack of belief in testimonials. First request multiple, genuine endorsements from original providers. Then demonstrate and prove that these quotes are indeed true. Certainly, use verifiable, named individuals with authentic job titles with associated web addresses when possible.
  • Ask for testimonials from customers who are pleased with the products or services you provide and ask about the value their buying decision has given back to them.
  • You can also ask for feedback from users of your website. Positive feedback can feel like a perceived testimonial even without a buying decision.
  • Do all you can to prove that you're up-front and honest.
  • Whenever you complete an assignment satisfactorily, e-mail your customer and ask your client for a written comment or testimonial that you can use on your website and other marketing materials. Make clear where their testimonial will be used.
  • Make the process of providing a testimonial or feedback quick and easy for your customer. Why? That demonstrates to them that you know the value of their time. How? Provide a web form or URL to your website contact form. That way, your customer only has to click the link, enter their name and include their testimonial or feedback and click Send. The web-driven process can take only a minute or two for your customer. Time is precious.
  • Ideally, ask for feedback soon after the project or assignment is completed, while your client's impression of you is still fresh in their mind. Don't wait more than a few days after project completion. Why? Once the project that you're involved in is completed to your client's satisfaction, their focus may already have moved to the next item of business.
  • With your client's permission, you can record audio testimonials over the phone and then use software to improve the sound quality if necessary. Sometimes, "telephone quality" is more natural and a better choice. Ensure that a listener can understand what is being said in a spoken testimonial. Get separate written permission from your customer to use any audio testimonials your create. Why? The legal implications that cover text testimonials may not fully apply to recordings.
  • To create a high quality video testimonial, ideally, plan how you're going to make the recording in advance. How? Ideally choose the venue so that you can control as many of the external factors as possible. Usually, a head and shoulders shot can offer the best choice for a video testimonial, to ensure that facial messages can also be seen. Choose a light colored background to ensure that your customer can be seen clearly. Get written permission from your customer to use any video testimonials your build. Why? The legal implications that cover text testimonials may not cover video testimonials.
  • If you're starting from scratch, so haven't yet had the chance to record any feedback, simply contact a few reputable organizations and ask them to review your product or service. In exchange, make available free samples to those that agree to provide a review.
  • When you ask for a testimonial or feedback, a normal response is that not all recipients will reply and some may refuse. Accept this limitation. You could consider e-mailing your request one more time to recipients who did not reply the first time. However, in your second e-mail, do explain why you are sending a second time and thank recipients in advance, whatever their decision. I do not recommend contacting recipients who do not respond after sending a second e-mail request for testimonials or feedback.
  • If you receive a testimonial or feedback that is less than impressive, you have identified areas that still require work. What's more, you haven't had to pay for such essential knowledge: your customer has provided you with valuable information free of charge.
  • Do make a special point of personally thanking all participants whatever their decision or quality of feedback, especially if some feedback identifies areas that are lacking. Why? Your customer will respect you more for accepting their opinion and acknowledging its value.
  • A personal, signed thank you snail mail letter sent using high quality envelope and paper can help demonstrate to your client that you're genuinely grateful for their input and therefore remember you for all the right reasons. Why? People in business know that you're busy too. So when you demonstrate that you understand the value of going a little further, you create another "warm memory" that links to your website or name. Even if that memory appears to last for only for a few seconds, the feeling gets recorded into the subconscious mind which can have benefits later.
  • Keep a backup of testimonials received. Testimonials are especially valuable. If you have in place a regular backup system for all data on your personal computer and website, then you'll ensure that you have backups of your testimonials automatically.

The Kinds of Testimonials That Are Best Avoided?

Although testimonials can add value, not all testimonials are beneficial. If you use the wrong types of testimonial, you can actually do more harm than good. Therefore do consider the following tips to avoid falling into some common traps:

  • If a testimonial sounds too good to be true, your readers and visitors will probably think so too. Therefore, avoid using testimonials that are so overblown as to seem incredulous.
  • If a client has genuinely provided an almost unbelievably wonderful testimonial, first and foremost certainly thank your special customer: these people are human gold. After some examination, you may discover that by omitting certain parts of the testimonial, you can make it more believable. Alternatively, do consider asking your client if you can edit their testimonial to reduce the tone a little and explain why you want to take such action. However, you'll need to judge this approach carefully to avoid offending your client, or losing out on genuine kudos. Only consider taking this route if your relationship with your client is sufficiently strong and forgiving.
  • Don't edit a testimonial "up" to make it seem even better. Not only can this practice be damaging to you for the reasons suggested above, but you'll most likely lose a valuable customer by corrupting their words and possibly meet with legal repercussions of mis-representation.
  • Displayed testimonials that are not verifiable have little value and can even harm your cause. Why: we live in cynical times. If you provide a testimonial that includes just the initials of the recipient can seem suspiciously guarded, unless you clearly explain why you do this and your reader sees the practice as justifiable.
  • Poor quality audio or video testimonials that cannot be recovered sufficiently are best not used at all. The key value of testimonials is their perceived impartial endorsement. For that to happen, the person providing the testimonial is required to clearly communicate their approval of you. Written testimonials are the easiest option. Good quality audio testimonials require even more consideration. While creating an outstanding video testimonial usually demands the most from both you and your testimonial provider.

Are There Alternatives To Testimonials? 

Elsewhere in this website, I've echoed the reality that nothing stays the same for ever. In previous years, people were prehaps more trusting of what they read. Today, in 2018 however, we are now living in a different, less "Internet innocent" age.

In recent years, we have wondered how many testimonials, endorsements, feedback scores, and online reviews may actually be genuine.

We humans put a lot of trust in people - often using all the wrong kinds of tests.

We like to think that someone acting and behaving in a certain way is more likely to make them an "upstanding citizen".

We see a man perhaps wearing a smart business suit - maybe even a tie too - or an attractive "business" woman. Both have perfect teeth and wonderful, warm smiles. And we make assumptions.

We use what knoweledge or "gut feel" that we think we have, then make a judgment.

And yet, some of the most accomplished criminals in our world on a surface level at least, act and behave, just like our two example profiles above.

In contrast, around the street corner, we may also spot a "Hell's Angel" or two, or three. Or what seems like homeless person or drug addict acting out. We stay a little while longer wearing our super hero invisiblity cloak, and now our tough Hell's Angel has several packed shopping bags in one hand and is supporting a frail, unsteady old person in the other, as they cross the road slowly. 

We know deep down that appearances can be deceptive. And yet, if we're not "switched on", we still fall for deceptions over and over.

Anyone competent in creating a web page can create testimonials that don't really exist, and convince you they are real. Of course, video and audio testimonals can likewise all be fake.

That's why, testimonials, from any source, are not a reliable indicator of value. Nor are social media profiles either. Likes, tweets, etc., can all be bought and sold like groceries at the supermarket.

With such thoughts in mind, we may wonder whether creating testimonials is worth the effort.

Arguably, perhaps the most likely to be validated testimonials are those that have email and web links to real live humans. However, those same people will not thank you if they receive calls every day from people around the world asking you if you really did provide that testimonial, and why.

Perhaps, your best approach in finding authentic value can be to:

  • Strive to develop products and services that do not rely heavily on the need for testimonials. Instead, let your product or service features and benefits take centre stage.
  • Investigate and explore what and how much someone is giving away freely online first. That alone can perhaps tell you all you need to know.
  • Yet still collect positive feed back when you can, while strive to always learn about how you can legally use that information to ensure that you don't infringe on someone's privacy or break any data protection laws.