Got Testimonials? How to Milk Them for All They're Worth
by Dean Rieck
When we were kids, my friends and I made up a game we called "Made You Look." Three or four of us would get fairly close together in a shopping plaza, on the street, or anywhere there were lots of people and look up as if we saw something incredible. We would enhance the illusion with mumbled comments, such as "What is that?" or "What's he doing up there?" Often one or two of us would point.
It would never fail. Passers-by would glance up to see what we were looking at. Some would stop and stand there for half a minute or so trying to discern the object of our attention. And the more of us doing it, the more people would look. One time in New York City, we did this with a dozen cohorts and virtually stopped traffic on Broadway.
We knew it was smart aleck juvenile humor. But what we didn't know was that it was a classic demonstration of a powerful psychological principle called Social Proof. The idea behind Social Proof is simple: People are all copycats to some degree. We do what others do simply because others are doing it.
There are two facets to this principle that relate directly to marketing: 1) Social Proof is just that, proof. Seeing others do something is proof that the thing is acceptable. 2) The more people doing it, the more acceptable it is. This is what I call the Bandwagon Effect because when many others do something, that thing is more than acceptable; it is outright desirable.
One of the best ways to use Social Proof to your advantage is to include testimonials in your promotions. In the first two parts of this series, we discovered why testimonials are powerful and looked at how to set up a testimonial collection system. Now let's see what to do with your testimonials once you have them.
A Reminder ...
The best testimonials will be those that are believable, specific, and enthusiastic. To get comments like that, you should:
- Use the real words of real people. While these words often lack specifics more on that in a moment they usually have a ring of truth and an appropriate level of excitement that is hard to duplicate. Fake testimonials, on the other hand, are usually too well crafted, overly enthusiastic, or blatantly self-serving in their inclusion of detail. And even the best contain subtle stylistic clues that can set off alarm bells in your reader's subconscious.
- Collect lots of testimonials. Getting great testimonials means playing the numbers game. You have to collect testimonials aggressively and continually. Maybe one out of ten will be usable. Maybe fewer. It doesn't matter because the more testimonials you get, the more good ones you'll find.
Making the Most of Your Testimonials
Once you have a file drawer bulging with testimonials, you'll want to start using them in your promotions. And to get the most bang for your buck, you should:
- Select testimonials from customers similar to your prospects. This increases the feeling of identification and relevance. A teacher will believe other teachers. A business owner will believe other business owners. The more similarity you can show, the more weight your prospect will give to your testimonials. Even seemingly nonsensical similarities, such as where people live, have an effect. "Oh, he's from Ohio too!"
- Select testimonials that give specifics. Consider these two testimonials for a lawn fertilizer:
"I think Lawn Magic is a wonderful product. My lawn looks great."
"For 6 years I tried every weed control powder and spray at my local garden store, but nothing could get rid of those darned dandelions. Then I saw your ad for Lawn Magic and decided to give it a try. I got it in the mail last Saturday and immediately tried the Quick Cover method you suggested and WOW! Just a week later, there's not a single speck of yellow anywhere except in my neighbor's yard."
Which one makes you want to try the product? Specifics turn empty enthusiasm into a powerful and dramatic moment you can almost see. Not only does this add credibility, it also clearly relays a benefit. If you have a potentially good testimonial that lacks specificity, call your customer and clarify the details.
- Edit carefully and lightly. Don't change the meaning. Don't enhance. And don't present words and phrases out of context. If a statement is too long, awkwardly punctuated, or otherwise unclear, you are justified in taking a blue pencil to the copy. But keep it light. If you use the testimonial collection system I suggested in part two, you will be typing up many of your testimonials and getting customers to sign off on them. Here especially, you must be careful not to enhance. You'll lose the special flavor of actual testimonials.
- Group testimonials for greater impact. Testimonials are a powerful way to build credibility and prove your claims. And they can work wonders no matter how you use them. But they pack a doubly powerful psychological wallop when you group them because they both prove your claims with objective endorsements and engage the Bandwagon Effect "Lots of people are doing it. I want to do it, too!" Seeing testimonial after testimonial sends a visual signal that your widget has widespread appeal.
- Use many short quotes instead of a few long ones. If you're going for the Bandwagon Effect, this just makes sense. It's a matter of showing as many people as you can who approve of the thing you're selling. Twenty pithy testimonials are more powerful than 5 big chatty ones. On the other hand ...
- Don't be afraid of long testimonials. Sometimes, you get a gem that says it all. It may be a story, an emotional revelation, an authoritative remark from an expert, or just a simple comment that hits the nail on the head. You might want to separate it visually from the others, in a sidebar, for example. If it's paragraphs long though, don't use it as a testimonial; use it as a success story.
- Include full names, titles, and locations when possible. This makes testimonials more real and relevant and enhances their credibility. I've even seen one instance where a seminar marketer included phone numbers and challenged readers to call other attendees. Obviously, you must consider privacy and security issues, but remember that, in general, full names are more believable than initials. Titles show authority, experience, or expertise. Locations, such as cities and states, help prove that people are real.
- Feature photographs (maybe). They are further proof that people are real. And they help your reader identify with the testimonial-givers. This can be tricky, though. Sometimes photos can subtract impact if they are of poor quality or show people who, for whatever reason, don't look right to readers. One investment mailing I received used blurry black and white photos of an odd assortment of people I instantly perceived as total losers. I certainly did not want to identify with these people, so the testimonials fell flat they even turned me against the product. Use good photos or use none at all.
- Enclose each testimonial in quotation marks. Readership studies show that people are strongly attracted to quoted copy. It draws the eye. It makes reading easier and faster. And the subject matter is usually more relevant and interesting, since people are endlessly fascinated by other people in what they do and what they say. So for the sake of identifying a quote as a quote, use standard quotation marks around each statement. Never substitute italics for quotation marks because long lines of italicized text are harder to read.
- Use a powerful headline to introduce testimonials. Don't settle for a lame, do-nothing header, such as "Here's what people are saying about the Laminator 2000." Follow standard headline rules and provide a complete message, such as "Over 124,000 small businesses like yours rely on the Laminator 2000 to make their own professional-looking tags, instruction sheets, and signs."
Creative Ways to Use Testimonials
Testimonials are one of the most flexible techniques in your creative tool kit. No matter what you're selling or to whom, they can give a powerful boost to virtually any promotion. Here are just a few suggestions based on how I've used testimonials in the hundreds of promotions I've created:
- Build your entire promotion around one or more testimonials.
- Turn your best testimonial into a powerful, sure-to-be-read headline.
- Use testimonials to boost TV and radio ad response.
- Add sizzle to your website with a separate testimonial page.
- Build confidence in your catalog with product-targeted testimonials.
- Turn testimonials into reader-friendly envelope teasers.
- Use a powerful testimonial to start your letter with a bang.
- Spice up letter body copy by sprinkling in a few choice testimonials.
- Save a special testimonial for the P.S.
- Transform a good testimonial into a great lift letter.
- Feature a dozen or more testimonials in a separate insert.
- Boost your brochure wow factor with benefit-specific testimonial headlines.
- Give a last-minute push by including testimonials on response forms.
- Cement satisfaction and reduce returns with testimonials in your fulfillment.
- Liven up product packaging with short testimonials.
This is not a comprehensive list by a long shot. I'm always discovering new ways to use testimonials. In fact, I'd love to hear how you've used testimonials in your direct mail packages, ads, television and radio spots, and other marketing materials.
A Fun Office Game
If you want to have some fun around the office, try my "Made You Look" game. For best results, have one or more colleagues do the looking while you watch from a distance. You'll have a good laugh while performing a classic psychological experiment.
In part four, we'll discuss how to use what we've learned about Social Proof in order to go beyond testimonials and stuff your creative toolbox with even more response-boosting techniques.
Copyright © 2000 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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