Maslen on Marketing, Structural tools

Testimonials – or, how to get your clients to do your selling for you

Some people are naturally suspicious. They pride themselves on not being swayed by ‘marketing speak’. For them, direct mail or web copy, however well written, is just ‘puff’. So how do you get through to them? After all, they may well be the perfect target for your product or service.

One way to bypass their ‘cynicism filter’ is to employ clients to tell your story. How? By using testimonials. Let’s start with a quick exercise.

A question of attribution

Here’s a sales claim expressed in four different ways. I want you to rank them in order of believability.

This is, without doubt, the best method of controlling household pests you’ll ever buy.

“The best method of controlling household pests you’ll ever buy.” Satisfied householder, Paris

“This is, without doubt, the best method of controlling household pests you’ll ever buy.”

“I used to spend hours swatting mosquitos in my apartment. But not any more. Thank you Bug-B-Gone.” Mme. Marie-France Dupont, Paris

Which one did you have at the top? I’m willing to bet it was D. Which is why you MUST attribute your testimonials. Unattributed, or partially attributed, testimonials just don’t cut the mustard with our sceptical readers. (And did you notice how adding speech marks tips the scales a little?)

Come clean at the start

When I suggest to new clients that we use testimonials in their campaigns, some are ready with a whole pile of letters and emails from satisfied customers. Others haven’t ever set about collecting them. Others still are a little worried. “But surely they’ll know what we’re up to?” is a common concern. Of course they’ll know! Because you’re going to tell them.

So, here’s my step-by-step guide to collecting and using testimonials.

Step One: Select your storytellers

You want people who like you. Your friends and admirers. After all, if they’re going to say something positive about you or your products, they’d better be on your side. So ask around. Talk to your sales people. Ask them who are your best customers.

Or look at your database. Who’s been buying regularly for five years or more? Who’s just made a repeat purchase? Who spent the most with you in the last quarter? You get the picture, I’m sure.

These are your storytellers.

Step Two: Decide what you want to get back

Clearly, you have a set of messages you want to reinforce. And since your customers are all busy people, why not save them time and effort by drafting the testimonials yourself? Or get someone like me to do it and save yourself the time!

But remember, you want a distinctive tone of voice for the testimonials, one that even jars a little with the rest of the piece. These have to sound like real people.

Step Three: Get approval

Call your story tellers and explain exactly what you’re doing. Ask for their help (people like helping their friends). Then pick three testimonials and fax them to your intended storytellers. Offering them a choice like this makes them fell they are in control and not being herded in a particular direction. Also suggest that they rewrite the testimonial if they would like to.

Ask them to tick one, then sign and return the fax to you. Bingo! You have your testimonial.

Step Four: Keep it natural

If you have the time, a great way to gather natural-sounding testimonials is to phone your storytellers. Get them talking and when they say something you want to quote, tell them that’s what you’d like to do. Then transcribe it, email or fax it to them and get them to OK it.

If your storytellers have provided their own testimonials – or rewritten your suggestions – avoid the temptation to start editing. Their ‘unprofessional’ style, complete with the odd punctuation error, gives the vital quality you want: verisimilitude–the appearance of reality.

Step Five: Make the most of them

Since you’ve spent so much time getting your testimonials, it’s only right that you really play them for all they’re worth. Introduce them in a sales letter as the opinions of customers – “not just more enthusiasm from me.”

You could block them together or spread them out to ‘punctuate’ a long piece of copy. And do get your designer to treat them as a very important text element. Use a different typeface or put a tint behind them. Use oversized speech marks. Pull them out from the text and set them in the margins. Anything, really, as long as it draws the eye. This style of typography also says to your reader: “Hey, this is important, but you can read it without breaking the flow of the rest of the copy.”

This month’s message

Along with politicians, journalists and estate agents, marketing people rank as pond life for many people. So slip a sales claim past their defences by putting it into the mouth of someone they trust: another customer.

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