Do You Have an Accurate View of Product Testimonials?
Product testimonials are some of the most valuable and versatile assets a company owns. They can be used in every stage of the marketing funnel to drive conversions. Capturing quality testimonials should therefore be a top priority for content marketers.
Testimonials from happy customers are almost mandatory for companies that sell complex and high-touch products online. A persuasive word, delivered at the right time, by a seemingly credible source can help overcome prospect inertia. Two or more testimonials, in proximity, can act as a force multiplier.
Frankly, all of us, were we honest, have been swayed by a testimonial that read like it was transposed from our prefrontal cortex.
The immediate problem for any company is that acquiring testimonials isn’t easy. Often, satisfied customers will pass off a request for one without elaboration. The customers who respond to your request may get busy or procrastinate--until it’s forgotten. Essentially, normal customer behavior leaves few opportunities for translating praise into written content.
Problem not solved
This challenge of capturing testimonials has led to a booming marketplace for fakes. Blurbs from purported customers can be had with minimal input. The price--cheap or free--is right, too.
Given the demand, sellers of fake testimonials are constantly “improving” their product. The shams are getting harder to distinguish from real ones. They fool algorithms, search engines, and sometimes prospects.
Investing in testimonials
Still, despite the rise in black-hat tactics, investing in methods for capturing real testimonials makes good business sense. The right testimonial makes a mass-produced message sound intimate and familiar. It’s estimated that word-of-mouth marketing drives up to 50% of all buying decisions. For products with long sales cycles, testimonials can buttress an initial recommendation made by a colleague or friend when interest naturally declines.
Your marketing team should have a consistent working definition for product testimonials. This helps avoid two mistakes when using them in marketing campaigns. First, you won’t underestimate their potential conversion impact. Second, you won’t ascribe outsized persuasion powers to them, either.
#1 What are product testimonials?
- Digital Assets. An authentic testimonial should be treated like other brand assets. Store it in a content library alongside images, fonts, and templates, where it can be shared, and its usage tracked.
- Social proofs. The best testimonials exert influence on the reader, consciously and subconsciously. They make the reader conform or want to conform. Robert Cialdini explains this herd mentality at length in his book, Influence.
- Insurance policies. A quality testimonial will not compensate for a product’s failure. It can, however, act as a deterrent to blame shifting and second guessing among colleagues. How? By not overpromising but still making a reasonable claim. This helps risk-averse prospects stand by their decisions when scrutinized.
- Guideposts. An artfully placed testimonial keeps prospects from getting lost while doing research. Yes, this is necessary because of the barrage of distractions online. A testimonial that focuses the prospect’s attention, even for a moment, increases the chance for further engagement.
#2 What makes product testimonials effective?
- Believable. Outlandish and fantastical testimonials have their place. The place is usually in niches, like cosmetics, that depend on raw emotion to close the sale. For consultative selling, such testimonials are out of place. They undermine trust. Rather, an effective testimonial conveys to the prospect the results your product can, might, or is likely to deliver.
- Authentic. The person providing the testimonial should have a credible story for using the product. Ideally, he or she focuses on a core feature of your product, not something extraneous.
An easy way to grasp this is to study the Michael Jordan/Gatorade campaigns from the 1990s. The commercials and print ads differed from other celebrity endorsements because the pairing was so natural and intimate. The viewer could see Jordan’s sweat and thus, why he needed Gatorade. Indeed, Gatorade’s unique selling proposition was its formulation--electrolytes--for rehydrating hard-working athletes.
- Contextual. Testimonials raise basic questions in the mind of the prospect: Who is this speaking? Where are they from? What do they do? These background questions, ultimately, lead to the prospect’s most important question: will this product work for me?
The more a testimonial mirrors the reader’s experience, the greater the chance for a next-step conversion. That’s why you should organize testimonials according to audience segment.
- Specific. Testimonials that include numbers, percentages, and metrics are more believable than generalities, according to direct-response copywriter Ted Nicholas. They help prospects envision the same results for themselves. Of course, it’s not always possible for a customer to quantify the results of using your product. Fortunately, data doesn’t have to be gaudy to be effective. Small improvements may even add to the testimonial’s persuasiveness.
- Enthusiastic. Testimonials that convey positive emotions like joy, relief, and delight encourage reading. Why? Because the prospect is hoping for the same response to his or her problem. Conversely, detached and dispassionate words cause the reader to skim. This postpones serious thinking, making a sale less likely.
#3 Where do product testimonials fit in a content marketing funnel?
The standard marketing funnel online has a top, middle, and bottom stage. It’s a framework for tracking the path a person takes to become a customer. Prospects move at their own pace, weaving in and out of each stage according to their priorities. Testimonials can be used creatively, in every stage of the funnel, to drive and accelerate action.
- Top of funnel. The goal of top-funnel content is commonly explained as “awareness.” In the hopes of reaching a wide audience, top-funnel content may be only superficially related to the product. Overt, “hard” selling is not advised in this stage. Soft selling (or none at all) is.
The problem with awareness as a goal is that it’s vague. It also discounts prospects who are ready to buy without nurturing. Spot decision makers are rare, especially when selling complex products, but they do exist. They’re valuable. Encouraging them with a testimonial, when they’re ready to buy, could be the difference maker. In this sense, it’s no different from bottom-funnel content.
Could a testimonial offend a prospect in the awareness stage-- so that he or she drops your product from consideration? It’s possible, sure, but not probable. Today, prospects in every industry are overmarketed. What was once considered aggressive marketing (e.g., remarketing ads) has been normalized. Top-funnel content creators err when they omit testimonials because of theoretical best practices that downplay selling.
Testimonials that work here: general quotes that are approving, positive, and hopeful. Quotes that state general facts (not necessarily tied to your product). Blind testimonials (e.g., “manager at electronics supplier”).
- Middle of funnel. The middle of the marketing funnel is popularly known as the consideration stage. The goal of content, mid-funnel, is to make your product a desirable option, especially when measured against competing products. This is usually done with gated content, where the prospect provides contact information in exchange for access.
Companies producing mid-funnel content aren’t shy about using testimonials. In fact, testimonials are often the basis for extended case studies. During the consideration stage, it’s crucial that testimonials are conspicuous by the design and layout of the content.
Testimonials that work here: direct comparisons (“I used X but then switched to Y and this happened…” ), notable improvements, cost and other savings, regret for not using the product sooner.
- Bottom of funnel. Bottom-funnel content pushes the prospect to become a customer (even trial customer). This is the equivalent of the close in a face-to-face meeting. The product’s features and benefits have already been explained but the content will still reiterate key selling points to reassure and minimize sudden panic.
Articulate testimonials are perfect compliments to a list of content bullets, product specifications lists, and even lengthy proposals.
Testimonials that work here: long-form copy that include metrics and rationale behind the customer’s decision. Relevant and identifying information about the customer.
Using product testimonials in a marketing campaigns is, without exception, smart.
So, why do so many content teams miss the opportunity? The answer is probably overwhelm and the stale eyes it creates.
Of course, to use testimonials widely, you need to first capture them. Getting your customers to give them to you, the ask, is a separate issue.
The fact is, most products are adequate for their intended purpose. They work out just fine. Mere competency, though, creates a large gray area for prospects to get lost in. Testimonials help narrow the field and position your product for success.
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