15 Jun

Testimonials: do they still work?

I guess many people will have their own preformed opinions in response to the question this post poses, but I’m struggling with it.

Last week, I started working on a client’s web copy. I asked her if she’d considered a ‘testimonials’ page (her service is one that really relies on word-of-mouth recommendations/testimonials). Her response was: ‘no, I don’t want that – it’s cheesy’

Later on, during last week, I overheard a business coach extolling the virtues of testimonials: ‘you’ve got to get testimonials. They’re more potent than any advertising [I nearly stepped in at this point]. How else are people supposed to judge the quality of your work? Make sure you get a testimonial from a client every time you finish a job’

I have a feeling that the truth may be somewhere between these two views.

I agree that, sometimes, testimonials can be cheesy: too effusive and it sounds like your client is fawning over you, to the point of wanting to fan your naked form with palm fronds… or that a friend has written it.

Testimonials can also be far too generic: ‘[X company] offered me great service and worked well through any problems that arose along the way – very happy’
Bar a name underneath a testimonial like this, it comes across as being from a random disembodied head that could be speaking about any product or service.

The flip side to this is a far more specific quote, that mentions particular elements of a service/product that were good and how this helped the testimonial-giver / their company, but … any (slightly unethical) copywriter could make up a good testimonial or dress up an existing one. After all – being honest – who, amongst us, ever follows up on a company’s testimonials or questions them?

For example:

‘That Writing Chap perfectly understood how our clients interact with our online trading platform and, in a complex marketplace, made us really stand out from our competitors.
His solution was quirky yet relevant to our risk-averse audience, and set out a compelling argument as to why they should use our services. I highly recommend That Writing Chap!’

I just made that up. I pulled it out of thin air. It’s apropos nothing. If it was up on my website though, would you question it (obviously it would have a company name underneath, or the name of a person from that company)?

Anyway, that’s testimonials given a bashing – now to defend them for a bit.

Firstly, sites out there now allow you to authenticate testimonials

Secondly, if you’re unsure of company’s testimonials, check them out. If the (other) company names are attached to the testimonials, call those companies up. If only the names of individual people are attached, ask if you could contact those people.
Any company with nothing to hide should have no qualms about you contacting those that have given them testimonials.

Thirdly, it’s generally not worth companies getting caught out, in offering fake testimonials, so they don’t bother.
In addition – anecdotally – I’ve never had a client pass me anything other than bona fide testimonials to put in their marketing e.g full written letters from their clients/customers (which would take a lot of effort to make up and type out, on different headed papers) or emails which I’ve been allowed to follow up.

Finally, if you’re a proud business owner why wouldn’t you want testimonials from happy clients/customers? What’s better than positive feedback, letting you/your company know what a good job you’ve done?
Beyond advertising – which everyone know is there to sell stuff – how else can you show how good your company is?
(not to say testimonials are better than a solid ad campaign, with one clear message, but really good at backing up your credentials)

Testimonials do have their faults, and may be shoved to one side eventually, but for now they’re here to stay and, by and large, that’s on merit.

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