Testimonials are a powerful tool to address customers in a more authentic way. Many customers don’t trust marketing messages from businesses directly, but they’re more likely to trust messages from other customers. But what makes a convincing testimonial? And is it possible to get more convincing testimonials to use in your marketing strategy?
Social Proof in Marketing
Testimonials, reviews, case studies and similar messages from customers work best because they demonstrate social proof. Social proof is the evidence that a decision is sound based on the behaviors of those around us. So, when someone similar to us has a problem similar to ours, and they buy a product that solves their problem, social proof might lead us to believe that the same product would solve our problem, too.
Of course, social proof is not a completely reliable solution. We can all fall victim to cognitive biases, and following others’ cues without the right information can be problematic. However, if we’re struggling to make a decision and we have basic information about the problem, social proof can be a sign showing us a successful solution.
Social proof has become an increasingly hot topic in marketing. Since consumers increasingly distrust marketing messages direct from businesses, businesses are looking for another way to show the benefits of their products or services. Leveraging reviews, testimonials, and case studies from other customers shows potential customers that they don’t’ have to take your word for it; other customers can vouch for you.
But not all reviews and similar items are equally powerful. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the particular elements that make a testimonial convincing, and how you can get more of these types of powerful testimonials.
What Makes a Convincing Testimonial?
We Recognize Individuals Like Ourselves
One of the things that makes testimonials compelling is recognizing individuals that are similar to ourselves. For better or worse, humans tend to put more trust in other humans who are similar to them. Therefore, testimonials that come from a customer that most represents your target audience is likely to be more convincing.
In some circumstances, this may make sense. For example, a college student looking for a bookstore may have different needs than a retiree looking for a bookstore. The college student probably wants to find a bookstore that sells college textbooks, while the retiree may be looking for leisure reading recommendations. The college student will be more likely to recognize and appreciate a testimonial from another college student, since their concerns and goals are more likely to be similar.
Asking for testimonials can be time-consuming, so honing in on the right customers can help make testimonials that are more convincing. Remember that the customers’ goals, needs, concerns and lifestyle are the main points to keep in mind. Simply sorting your customers by basic demographic factors probably won’t be effective, and can quickly backfire.
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Testimonials Give Us More Information
When customers look for a place to eat, a car to buy, a hotel to stay at, or clothing to wear, they’re looking for information. Customers want to know if the product, service, or business will fulfill their needs or provide a positive experience. They also want to avoid an experience that is likely to be frustrating, unpleasant, or a waste of money.
While the previously mentioned social proof gives customers reassurance that they’re making a good decision—since other customers have also made this decision and shown their approval—it might not always give them information. Part of what makes a convincing testimonial is the information provided.
More detailed testimonials are likely to be more effective for many customers, especially for products or services with a longer purchasing pipeline. Bigger purchases have higher stakes, so customers seek more information before making a decision.
How can you get testimonials with more information? Many customers might not know what to say about their experience, even if it was positive. Providing prompts and asking questions about specific aspects of your business can help customers give more detailed testimonials. Here are a few prompts or questions you might use to get more detailed testimonials:
- What did you think of our customer service?
- Was the store clean and tidy?
- What was your favorite product, and why?
- How easy or difficult was it to schedule your service?
- Was the website easy to navigate?
- Was it easy or difficult to find what you were looking for?
- What was your favorite thing about your experience overall?
Emotional Testimonials Are More Memorable
One of the aspects of a convincing testimonial is enthusiasm. If a customer’s review or testimonial is lukewarm, it’s less likely to make an impact, even if it’s positive. However, a level of emotion in a review or testimonial can make it more powerful. Unfortunately, this is often why bad reviews are more memorable than positive reviews; bad reviews tend to be more emotionally-charged.
Generating positive testimonials with an emotional element can be challenging. While bad reviews are usually made from anger or disappointment—which can be strong emotions—good reviews are usually made when a customer is satisfied, usually a much less powerful emotion.
So, how can you get more testimonials with an emotional element? First, not all testimonials will have a lot of emotional weight, and that’s okay. However, recognizing the potential for testimonials that do have emotional weight can make them much more effective. This usually means recognizing the right customers, and working through their problem or challenge with care.
Recognizing the Potential for Positive Emotional Testimonials
Helping a customer overcome a challenge is more likely to resonate with them. For example, if a customer’s flight is canceled and they’re struggling to find a hotel in a strange city, a particularly kind staff member can make a big impact on them. Or, if a customer has specific food allergies and struggles to find a safe restaurant, spending time to explain your food preparation process or ingredients is likely to endear them to your business. In essence, meeting a customer’s needs under extraordinary circumstances can make them feel seen and heard, which can be a powerful emotion.
To turn these types of interactions into positive, emotional testimonials, it’s important to empower the employees that work most with customers. Give them the tools and capabilities they need to make decisions that benefit the customer. You might also give your employees cards that they can give to customers that encourage them to leave a review or testimonial. This can help complete the transition from a great experience to a great review or testimonial.
Honest, Not Perfect
Fake reviews and even AI-generated reviews are on the rise. Customers are understandably wary of reviews and testimonials that sound too good to be true. There are a few red flags that can cause an otherwise compelling testimonial or review to be questionable in a customer’s mind. First, if a business has completely positive reviews with no criticisms, it actually can be a red flag. This indicates to many customers that a business has fabricated these reviews.
An honest review often contains some realistic caveats like, “I enjoyed the restaurant and the food was great, but there was a long wait.” If all of the reviews are completely glowing and positive, prospective customers might get the idea that they aren’t getting a full, accurate picture of the business, regardless of whether or not the reviews are genuine. In fact, surveys show that almost half of all shoppers are suspicious when a business has a full five out of five stars in their reviews.
With so many fake reviews flying around, honest, real, and believable reviews have become even more valuable. But, since reviews are often short and somewhat generic, how can you generate reviews that are obviously hard-earned reviews from real customers? Here are a few tips that can help.
- Negative reviews: Negative reviews show that you’re not fixing the system, and that your reviews are honest. You’re not going to please everyone, and that’s okay.
- Details: The information that your customers give not only help other customers, but these details also show that they were really there.
- Specific: The exact conditions or situation that a person had is less likely to fake compared to a generic review. That makes the previously mentioned emotionally-charged reviews even more compelling.
- Mixed reviews: Many customers find 3- and 4-star reviews to be more reliable than the lowest or highest reviews. Since these reviews tend to be a more balanced mix of good and bad, they’re often right. So, remember, it’s okay if you don’t always hit the mark with every customer.
- More than text: Text reviews are easy to fake, but reviews with images or video are harder, and tend to be more believable (more on this in the next section).
Visual Cues Build Trust and Interest
Anyone can type up a text review and post it, and many of these reviews aren’t real or honest. Visual additions to reviews are harder to fabricate. Pictures and videos also give customers more information. Finally, these types of reviews and testimonials tend to get a lot more views and interactions. All of this collectively makes reviews and testimonials with images and videos much more convincing.
Getting video testimonials or reviews can be difficult, since it adds and extra step for the customer. However, making this process as simple as possible can help you get these valuable reviews. It’s also important to look for potential testimonials across different channels. For example, customers may already be taking pictures of your products or location for their social media. Adding a reminder to tag your business or adding incentives, like a giveaway or prize, can help you turn these social media posts into positive reviews with videos and images. With the right process, you can find this type of user-generated content more easily, and build more loyalty with customers across different channels.
All of these factors help to make a convincing testimonial or review. While you can’t control what your customers say about your business, you can offer them a terrific experience, and encourage them to share their opinions with you. When you make it easy for customers to provide feedback, you’ll be more likely to gather powerful testimonials.
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