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Monday, Jun. 11, 2007 at 2:25 am

Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work

By Holly Buchanan
June 11th, 2007

Brilliant testimonial from DistinctionBeauty.comTestimonials work really well.

Testimonials don’t work at all.

No, I’m NOT suffering from some sort of personality disorder (though some might disagree). There are times when testimonials are incredibly powerful, and times when they might actually hurt you.

Testimonials hurt you when people don’t think they’re real. Anything that sounds vague or cliché can smack of insincerity.

Three traits of strong testimonials…

#1 – They’re Specific.

Vague testimonials don’t really tell the customer anything.

A vague testimonial reads like: “I was very satisfied with your hotel’s service.” “Your course was great. Thanks!” “I got great results.” “Quality tech support.” “I really enjoy your product.”

Specific testimonials say things like: “I was impressed by the 24-hour concierge service, especially when they found an all-night printer at 3 am. ” “I increased the number of sales leads from 2 per month to 10 per week.” “The section in your course about negotiating with stubborn sellers was invaluable.” “Tech support spoke to me in plain English and isolated the problem in 90 seconds.”Specific testimonials work for two reasons: First, they sound more credible. Second, they promote a specific benefit or address a question that may help persuade potential buyers.

#2 – They Overcome Objections.

That’s right. Use testimonials that talk about objections. Some companies are afraid of these kinds of testimonials, yet they can be the most powerful tool you have. Testimonials from skeptics stand out because they sound credible. And by addressing and voicing what many perspective customers may be feeling, these testimonials are powerful persuaders.

Testimonial that address objections sound like: “I’ve been in property investing for 7 years. I didn’t think there was anything in this course I didn’t already know. But, ultimately, I was surprised to learn valuable techniques I’d never considered before.” “Taking an online course felt really impersonal to me. I was afraid I’d miss the in-person interaction. What I found, though, was that the format was incredibly interactive. I’ve even made some friends in my study group. We phone and IM, which helps since we’re facing similar challenges. It’s great!”

#3 – They’re Well-Placed.

Make sure the testimonial subject matter is relevant to the information around it. If you have a landing page, or a homepage where many of your visitors are early in the buying process. So, be sure to have testimonials for people who may not be ready to bite. What questions are those perspective customers asking? How are you different from the competition? How can you fill my needs?

An early-buying-process testimonial sounds like this: “I’ve tried other other gyms, but your facility was the first where I didn’t feel intimidated because I am (or, rather, I ‘was’!) overweight. I was surrounded by other women like me; not just thin women in hundred-dollar aerobics outfits.”

Product pages, or other pages where your customers come later in the buying process, so provide testimonials relevant to their ready-to-buy questions. what happens if I don’t like it? Is it worth the money? What plan is right for me?

A late-stage, I’m-ready-to-buy testimonial sounds like this: “When I tried on the shoes, they were too narrow. So I simply filled out the return form, used the pre-printed shipping label, and sent them back. The new shoes arrived 3 days later. What a quick turnaround, and it didn’t cost me a cent!”

To recap:

- Be specific. Use testimonials that talk about specific benefits or personal situations. Avoid vague testimonials.

- Overcome objections. Use testimonials that bring up objections, where customers admit being skeptical. These are the most powerful testimonials out there.

- Context is everything. Make sure your testimonials address the questions your customers are asking at various stages of the buying process. (If your customer data’s unclear, just ask your sales/business development people. They can recite common questions in unison.)

Just remember, the only thing better than saying the right thing at the right time is when your customers do it for you–and better.

[Special thanks to Sean D'Souza at Psychotactics for his infinite wisdom on testimonials and all things persuasion, and to Marketing Experiments for their suggestions on testimonial placement.]

2008 SEMMY Finalist UPDATE: This post is a finalist in the 2008 SEMMY Awards. If you liked it, vote now!

Add Your Comments

Comments (63)

  1. [...] Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work6 [...]

  2. I found this a while back in the Bad Language blog by Matthew Stibbe. The title of the post was “The Rise and Fall of the Case Study”.

    This is an excellent check list to keep you from disaster.

    http://www.badlanguage.net/?p=436

    Jason

  3. Al of the above applies to Radio as well, with the addition that the testimonial has to also SOUND real. Anything that sounds like it’s being read from a script — even a script the subject has written themselves — comes across as fake.

    A simple technique is to get the ‘testifier’ behind the microphone and just chat about the product. The Producer can ask open-ended questions to move things along. Later, best parts are clipped out and used in the spot.

  4. Very helpful post,
    but it would be even better if you could please provide some templates or examples.

    rgds
    Alex Spiroglou
    http://www.CAStrategy.com

  5. I agree with everything in this post.

    I work for a content development company based in India. Most clients who outsource to India do not want to reveal this to the world. They mail us to tell us how great our writers are but they do not want to be quoted. We are still wondering how to get any testimonials at all!

    Any great ideas?

  6. Let’s just say this: So far, testimonials have been treated as a nice-to-have, but they’re far more than just that. They’re a science. And to get the right testimonials, you need a system that goes way beyond just asking for a ‘testimonial’.

    One of the core factors of testimonials isn’t in what you get, but what you engineer to get a response worthy of your business. This is one factor that’s completely missed out. You don’t get powerful testimonials; you create an environment so that the testimonials are powerful.

    Most sales pages don’t give you an adequate feel for what the real product/service brings. The testimonials do–if you ask for the testimonials in a manner that enables the customers to give you the testimonials.

    If you’re looking to get great testimonials, you’re completely off the mark.

  7. Sean brings up some great points.

    How you gather your testimonials is indeed critical. I’d love to hear more from Sean about that.

    If you have a fabulous product and have hundreds, even thousands of testimonials (many of our clients do) then you are lucky enough to be able to mine your testimonials for examples that have the above characteristics.

    If you’re not in that position – I’m curious – how DO you get your testimonials? Are you happy with the quality of testimonials you’re getting?

  8. [...] Holly Buchanan at Future Now has a great article this week on how best to use client testimonials, here’s her checklist: [...]

  9. The structure of how/when you ask for testimonials is critical.

    It’s a book by itself, but let’s see how I can explain:
    Let’s analyse angles, for instance.

    When you ask for a testimonial, you’re usually saying: Hey (insert name) can you give me a testimonial?

    Which is a slightly crappy way to ask for a testimonial ;)

    Because you’re giving the person a zero-chance to respond to the question the way you want them to respond. (Waitasec, isn’t this wrong? Why would you want to control the response?) Here’s why.

    For one, it’s bloody hard to give testimonials. Try giving someone a general testimonial. Now suppose I change the way I construct the question to: Was price a big objection when you considered using our service?

    Now I’ve not just got the client to think about a testimonial, but specifically about price. So the customer may say: “No, it wasn’t a big objection.” Well that sets up the next question. So what was the big objection; what would have caused the hesitation to using our service?

    Now the customer will tell you what the hesitation was.
    But if the objection was indeed ‘price’, then the customer would go down the road of price.

    So why is all of this ‘going down the road’ important?
    Well, it’s important because a testimonial is not a rah-rah set of words. A testimonial is designed to reduce risk. And increase the like-factor–both simultaneously.

    So if it doesn’t address a single focus (e.g. Price) then the testimonials you receive are all over the place. And when you consider that testimonials are precisely meant to kill objections, then you need to have testimonials killing every objection.

    So if you have a product or service and the main objection to the product or service is the following:
    1) Price
    2) Timing
    3) Distance
    4) Whatever…
    5) More whatever…

    Then the testimonials need to address each and every one of those objections. Rah-rah won’t help at all. What will really help, is the construction of the questions.

    As you’ve heard before; Input=Output
    The quality of your questions + the direction of your questions is going to determine the quality + direction of your answers.

    And that’s just one tiny-itty-bitty lesson in the secret world of testimonials :)

  10. The point is you do indeed need a fabulous product to get fabulous testimonials. But do you need a mega-brand? Do you need to have sold thousands of products to get fabulous testimonials?

    No you don’t.

    The mistake most of us make, is that we think that customers look at the company that brings out the product. In fact, customers don’t. Every product/ service is always measured on its own ability to get ‘results’ (whatever those results may be).

    So if you watched Shrek 1, does that mean Shrek 3 will be a wonderful movie? It sure came from the same studio, same director etc. It probably has better graphics and techie stuff. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to shell out 15 buckeroos to see the movie.

    Each product/service is individual. The brand does play its part, but a very minor part (and in many cases, the brand can be counter-productive). So that’s great news for someone who’s not an Apple or a Lego or something like that. That’s great news for the gal sitting at home, pecking away at her keyboard, creating a product/service.

    Because the product testimonials then stand on their ability to deliver the goods. But the questions do arise. How do you get those testimonials in the first place? You always go to people you know. People in a forum. Friends. Pester some relations. There are dozens of ‘communities’ both online and offline. So there is absolutely no shortage of people who’ll be willing to test your product.

    Well, they get to test your product on a ‘qualification’. And that qualification is that they have to give feedback at the end of the event (good or bad feedback–it doesn’t matter). They just have to give their feedback.

    And so the feedback builds.
    The feedback goes into two streams. The stuff that needs fixing can be fixed. The good stuff can go into your testimonial section. And yes you may even want to put the ‘ahem…bad stuff’ in your testimonials, because it balances the issue a lot (see how it works for products on Amazon, for instance).

    But of course, this comes back to the questions you ask. And the questions determine the answers. Always.

    Sean
    http://www.psychotactics.com

  11. [...] A good article to read on the subject came from Futrue Now today: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2007/06/11/why-testimonials-do-and-dont-work/ [...]

  12. [...] Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work [...]

  13. [...] good ones this week from GrokDotCom: Start with Holly Buchanan’s Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work, and then check out Start Multivariate Testing: 7 Critical Questions from Bryan [...]

  14. [...] Holly/GrokDotCom: Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work [...]

  15. [...] Is your company legitimate? Examples of factors that can reduce the buyer’s trust anxieties are testimonials/case studies, assurances, guarantees, awards and [...]

  16. Mark is an excellent teacher and always demonstrates patience and understanding. His true calling is to explain computers and their workings to novices like me.

  17. [...] There’s a great article by the writers of Creating Passionate Users that was written last year on this topic – you can find that article here.  Another good article from Grokdotcom that takes a similar focus can be found here. [...]

  18. [...] Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work Holly Buchanan, Grokdotcom | 6/11/07 [...]

  19. [...] Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work Holly Buchanan, GrokDotCom | 6/11/07 [...]

  20. [...] Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work Holly Buchanan, Grokdotcom | 6/11/07 [...]

  21. We make a snap judgment of whether the testimonial is real or fake.

    If it looks fake then the testimonial has backfired. The visitor now thinks the site is fake as well.

    We are very lucky that this is a family business and we have hundreds and hundreds of genuine testimonials filed away above the shoe shop. (You can guess what we use for filing…)

    We will be going online shortly and we hope to use some of the testimonials.

  22. [...] FutureNowより お客様の声はとても効果的です。 [...]

  23. [...] Read, read, read about how to get these important social proof points right (start with GrokDotCom’s piece on Why Testimonials Do and Don’t Work) [...]

  24. These are some very, very good tips and I will be implementing these strategies soon. Thanks alot for these.

  25. Why Testimonials Do (and Don\’t) Work…

    here are times when testimonials are incredibly powerful, and times when they might actually hurt you. Testimonials hurt you when people don’t think they’re real. Anything that sounds vague or cliché can smack of insincerity. Here are three traits…

  26. At Green Tea Booster, we know our shoppers are savvy. That is why we pride ourselves on the product and not who buys it. That being said, bragging that Christian Bale has been spotted purchasing two boosters doesn’t hurt ;) Check us out at http://www.greenteabooster.com

  27. The Better Brokers Network relies on testimonials and word of mouth advertising. For that reason, it is an important part of the business plan and crucial for consistent growth. http://www.betterbrokers.net

  28. testimoinals really do work, i love reading them if they are in the right context especially for service based business’s

  29. [...] from a some well known entrepreneurs about testimonials! Some good advice to consider following… Why Testimonials Do (and Dont) Work | FutureNow’s GrokDotCom / Marketing Optimization Blog Sketchy testimonials How do I know if testimonials on a Web site are legit? :: Free Tech Support [...]

  30. [...] at Psychotactics is the master of understanding and using effective testimonials.  His answer to my post on testimonials on FutureNow is one of the best I’ve ever [...]

  31. [...] mean that companies should not use testimonials at all. In my opinion, in her article ‘Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work’, Holly Buchanan demonstrates a way to respect consumer’s needs by using testimonials. Finally, [...]

  32. [...] specific. Holly Buchanan makes this point very clearly on her blog. Details matter. Not only do they make the case study more credible, they answer the reader’s [...]

  33. [...] Prove Other People Like It – Like endorsements on a book cover, “credible testimonials” on the download page of your white paper can help sell the value of the content and improve [...]

  34. Hi Holly, An excellent article! So many business people I encounter think testimonials have been overused online and do not work. The points you made about being specific, overcoming objections and in the right context clearly demostrate why so many run of the mill testimonials do not work. Do you have any examples from your clients on testimonials that have really work for them?

  35. I agree wholeheartedly about detailed testimonials. Another thing is testimonials need to STAND OUT.

  36. Even the most convincing testimonials are not enough to do the trick for me any more.

    I’ve been fooled far too many times from testimonials that I believed were from trusted sources (…heck they even included a link back to the owner’s website) and yet and still the purchase still failed miserably to deliver what I expected.

  37. [...] Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work [...]

  38. Many thanks. We have new developments and systems for our simple time logging and tracking software, and you have given me good ideas for incorporating our testimonials throughout the website – not just in a list. Thank you again.

  39. [...] your regular Website copy. You don’t necessarily have to do it with copy, as pictures, testimonials, videos, user reviews and other site elements can also address these concerns, but make sure the [...]

  40. I love the testimonials article Holly. Couldn’t agree more on the 3 points – specific, overcome objections, and are well placed. I’d add a third – that is they testimonials are authentic. We just did a beta launch of our site Propadoo.com which automatically collects, promotes, and authenticates testimonials.

  41. I love the testimonials article Holly. Couldn’t agree more on the 3 points – specific, overcome objections, and are well placed. I’d add a third – that is they testimonials are authentic. We just did a beta launch of our site Propadoo.com which automatically collects, promotes, and authenticates testimonials.

  42. Creating social proof is one of the oldest concepts in marketing/sales. Great examples are the bartender seeding the tip jar before his/her shift. The church usher seeding the basket before passing it around and an oldie but goodie…the laugh tracks in sitcoms. Studies show that people laugh longer and harder when they are watching a show with laugh tracks…even though they know they’re fake. It will definilty increase your conversions and boost sales if your create social proof around your products and services through the use of testimonials!

  43. You are completely right about the power of testimonials ! And I use a tool that might be interesting to all you readers.

    Our company (BBC) appealed to Our Clients (www.our-clients.com). Our-clients is an online tool that makes it easy to collect testimonials from your clients and keep them up-to-date.

    The testimonials are completely trustworthy thanks to the fact that not only you but also your clients have control on what is published. And testimonials have to be updated or confirmed every 12 months. So you end up with a list of testimonials that are real and recent. Only those will convince your prospects.

    Cheers,
    Kevin

  44. testimonials generally sound fake

  45. Nice Article, I Agree testimonials are a great feature to have on any site its just making sure they are legit and done right. They can give you great benefit if done right but can be a problem when done wrong. thanks for sharing

  46. [...] the post “Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work,” Holly Buchanan of Future Now tells us that testimonials hurt your marketing strategy if people don’t think they’re [...]

  47. [...] the post “Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work,” Holly Buchanan of Future Now tells us that testimonials hurt your marketing strategy if people don’t think they’re [...]

  48. the laugh tracks in sitcoms. Studies show that people laugh longer and harder when they are watching a show with laugh tracks…even though they know they’re fake. It will definilty increase your conversions and boost sales if your create social proof around your products and services through the use of testimonials!

  49. Nice Article, I Agree testimonials are a great feature to have on any site its just making sure they are legit and done right. They can give you great benefit if done right but can be a problem when done wrong. thanks for sharing

  50. [...] all testimonials are created equal, so it’s important to follow the 3 traits of strong testimonials to make sure your testimonials don’t hurt [...]

  51. [...] Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work (grokdotcom.com) [...]

  52. I find point #3 especially important. We all treat testimonials as something that is separate from our content, whereas, they should be used just like webcopy – ofcourse copy that is created by customers.

    If context is important, then this also means finding testimonials that would fit your site architecture perfectly. For example, the order page should have testimonials describing the ordering process or the reliability of the guarantee and the product feature page should incorporate testimonials that elaborate of the customer side of product features.

    All in all, the article is short yet gives great advice on what makes for a testimonial that convinces.

  53. Testimonials are incredibly important marketing tool that are not given nearly enough attention and respect. They equate to trust which equates to sales… Just look at what Mark Zuckerberg says says “A trusted referral is the holy grail of marketing.”…

    The problem is that most people don’t believe them (see this case study: http://www.testimonialshield.net/Testimonial%20Authenticity%20Survey.html)

  54. Video testimonials are doing wonders to my logo design niche market. When you keep it real, offer a genuine and valuable service. I guess then all of the marketing starts to work too.

    My inspiration for general marketing is Steve Jobs, i love watching his presentations and gain quite a few things every time. He was really a legend. Miss you Steve.

  55. [...] well such as being specific about the benefits received.There is a tremendous amount to know about testimonials, and that is why we have saved some very juicy info for you. But never think this is all there is, [...]

  56. [...] it will begin to achieve momentum.The above is only a small slice from the overall as it concerns testimonials. There is related material in addition to more in-depth understanding on this important subject. [...]

  57. [...] think about with testimonials than perhaps you realized.We do hope this very small taste concerning testimonials will be of great use for you. People tend to have more powerful results and feel more fulfilled [...]

  58. [...] help do their part to make you money.It was our primary goal to give you a short introduction to testimonials, and allow you to see directly what can be accomplished. There are other areas that can be learned [...]

  59. [...] it is that the average person is way too consumed and does not have time to know all there is about testimonials. This is just like many other areas in which you can have a real edge when you possess the right [...]

  60. [...] take the time to discover.We only wanted to give you a taste of what can be found on this subject. testimonials is an area that contains many nuances and more specific types of information. This is just like [...]

  61. [...] how quickly this can be put into action and pretty much anytime you want. But it is important with testimonials that you only choose what is most suitable for your needs. It is less complicated than you think to [...]

  62. [...] Why Testimonials Do (and Don’t) Work [...]

  63. I definitely agree with the idea of giving specifics. I have read too many testimonials on sites that say “I love working with Company X” and I’ve ended up thinking less of the company for having such spammy testimonials. The ‘skeptic’ type of testimonial is interesting, but I can see these getting way too infomercial-y and turning people away just like the nonspecific ones do.

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at http://marketingtowomenonline.typepad.com She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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