A testimonial is a customer statement attesting to a brand’s or product’s superior performance, quality or results. A classic testimonial format presents a challenge or objective that the customer had, and then describes how the brand or product delivered the solution.
Testimonials are a fundamental of marketing. You see them in TV spots when real customers share how a computer chip or a certain automobile changed their life. You see them on websites and in sales collateral. If you’ve ever put out a request for proposals, you probably got testimonials in the sales decks you received. And as a brand marketer, agency or individual consultant, at some point in your life, you’ll need testimonials written on your behalf.
More than that, most content marketers will likely be asked to help craft testimonials for clients many times — so much that it can become a core offering. Especially if you specialize in video testimonials.
What is a testimonial?
A testimonial is very similar to a referral or recommendation. However, a key difference is that a testimonial typically addresses a challenge or objective that a business had, and then describes the process that an agency or company went through to implement a solution and improve the client’s overall picture. A recommendation might simply say this company or person was great to work with. A well-constructed testimonial tells a story of a business’s challenge and pathway to a result.
What should a testimonial include?
An effective testimonial will include a specific description of the project or initiative that you worked on for the client. Typically the project is framed as a challenge or problem. The testimonial shares how your work was more than just labor; it solved the problem and created a result. A testimonial should briefly explain how this was achieved and how it benefited the client.
In order to be credible, a testimonial also needs to include information on what company and department the person writing it worked for, around what time and in what industry. Some say it should include images, but these do not need to be of the person. They can be shots of the company.
Testimonial vs. review
The difference between a testimonial and a review is simple to identify. A review should include positive and negative impressions, whereas a testimonial focuses on positive feedback.
Testimonial vs. recommendation
A recommendation is typically less structured, and speaks more generally about a person or company’s positive traits without giving any specific examples of work that was performed. A strong recommendation can definitely help convince someone to hire, but it doesn’t always have the same impact as a testimonial. Many recommendations are written in vague or generic terms and therefore come across as less sincere.
Where does a content marketer use testimonials?
A testimonial is an essential element of content marketing. It is used as an introduction to a company and to create context about a company’s services and relationships. Testimonials are sales tools, but more than that, they provide social proof. They are used to showcase a company’s work and its reputation. If someone puts their name on a testimonial, it’s a stamp of approval and trust.
A content marketing person might use a testimonial in many places. It might go on the website; it might go into a sales deck, or it might be part of a case study. It might be used in an advertising campaign. It could even go into shareholder communications. A solid testimonial has all sorts of potential uses. Whether it’s used by a brand, an agency or an individual, a testimonial serves the same purpose: to convince and convert by sharing others’ positive experiences and results.
Checklist of where to use testimonials
- On a company, agency or consultant’s website
- On social media
- In native content
- On review sites
- On feature-style pay-for-placement posts
- In capabilities decks
- In proposals
- In newsletters and emails
In B2C marketing, testimonials are provided by consumers.
Here’s an example of what they look like:
In B2B marketing, testimonials are provided by other businesses.
Here is an example of a B2B testimonial:
As you can see, the consumer’s stories tend to be more personal, whereas business testimonials are focused on business results.
A testimonial for a brand will focus on how the brand’s products met a need, solved a problem, or created a solution. The dynamic of the customer/provider relationship is different than in other testimonial styles because this type of testimonial is an individual providing feedback on a company, whereas the others are a company representative speaking on behalf of a company about services an individual provided. The individual customer testimonial is the voice in the crowd, amplified.
Testimonials are very important for agencies because agencies need to show a range of capabilities and services. Also, because so many agencies offer the same services, competition for clients is often fierce. Even the best case studies and work samples that win a potential client’s admiration can’t win their trust. Testimonials can. Therefore, testimonials tend to be a major focus of an agency’s promotional and marketing material.
Agency testimonials tend — when the client allows — to shine a spotlight on the creative process and the relationship between client and agency. If both those elements are strong, it demonstrates that the agency can be a true partner. That they have substance to back up their pitches. Testimonials are often used within larger presentations like capabilities decks and new business pitches. They add a personal narrative to the work.
Testimonials for individuals
Although self-employed individuals probably spend less time and effort collecting testimonials than companies do, they should still make a priority of including a few testimonials on a website or compiled in a portfolio. Good feedback from previous engagements is important no matter how many people are in your operation.
In creative fields, it’s somewhat common for projects to be under wraps for months, and then to launch in a burst of excitement followed by a swift fizzle. Even if something catches a bit more enthusiasm, it can still be hard for a creative contributor to know the right time to brag about their contribution.
This is especially the case if many people have worked on the project: for example, if you were responsible for writing video scripts for three videos that a crew of eight people filmed and a larger team of 10 people worked on the surrounding campaign, it can be awkward to brag about your individual contribution on social media or anywhere. Before you know it, six months will have gone by and then a year, and the project will have disappeared from online and social media.
If you want to be able to share that work with potential new clients — and this is vastly important to get new gigs — screenshot or save every step and element of your work. Then identify someone in a supervisory role who knows about your contribution, and ask them in the high-energy time during or right after the launch whether they would be willing to write a testimonial about your work.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve only known each other a month by that point. Don’t wait for the next project. You don’t want to risk that, in moving on to the next thing, you both forget your shared experience working together, and there never comes a time later to comfortably ask for that testimonial.
4 elements of a powerful testimonial
Here’s an example of a terrible testimonial that was provided by an employer very early in my professional life:
“Lena was always bright and bubbly. She was a pleasure to be around.”
It says nothing negative, but neither does it give any indication of professional strengths, skill sets, or even an area of expertise. This testimonial could be written for any number of entry-level jobs where “good personality” is the only prerequisite. In fact, it was provided for me by someone who hired me as a customer service rep at age 20. In a specialized field, it’s almost damning because it implies that the person who gave it noticed nothing about my job performance, results, or value added to the team.
When one has developed a career with defined expertise, testimonials should not mention personality traits like “bubbly” or “pleasant,” which have nothing to do with how actual work gets done. It is expected, at that time, that anyone in the work environment be pleasant and professional — but testimonials speak to much more than those basic traits.
Here are the elements a testimonial should have:
The more that a testimonial can highlight details, the more effective it will be. As a society, we tend to throw words like “Great!” or “Fine, thanks,” around as answers to every question, and they mean nothing. If someone sees “Great work!” in a testimonial, it means nothing. On the other hand, if specifics about someone’s work or professional attributes are specifically noted, it stands out.
- “Very good meal,” is not a strong testimonial for a private chef looking for VIP event bookings.
- “Chef Anthony created a four-course meal for my fundraiser, and eight people complimented the soup specifically. My biggest donor asked for the dessert recipe,” is a testimonial that takes a minute longer to put together but says infinitely more about the work performed, the setting, and the response.
2. How you/your company solved a problem
Many people don’t follow this structure when creating a testimonial, and it may even seem unnecessary, but it’s actually quite important. Projects and products are usually devised as a way to solve a problem. If the work doesn’t achieve it, what is the point? Even if the problem* and solution was just one chapter in a company history, the testimonial story should start there.
*If you don’t like using the word “problem,” then “challenge” or “opportunity” also works.
3. Credibility through stats and figures
Digital and social media have created many ways to track and measure results. When leveraged in a testimonial, these analytics provide handles for people to grab onto and easily understand what the return on investment (ROI) and the value of the work was. Including stats and figures absolutely takes more work, and a consciousness throughout a project and campaign in order to track and obtain the figures. It may entail asking for screenshots, or asking other colleagues to share data. But it’s very much worth it if you/your company want to sell services based on facts as well as feelings.
- “Last quarter’s nut butter campaign featured a cute baby and people responded well. Many commented that they loved the baby and were happy to see him in the campaign,” is not a strong testimonial.
- “Last quarter we spent $X on a campaign featuring a cute baby using the product. It garnered 3 million organic views, 467K video views, and 27K click-throughs, plus measurable lift in six key markets” is a testimonial that marketers and brand managers can get much more excited about.
4. The customer’s POV
Ostensibly a testimonial is written from a customer’s POV, so why not use their exact words? In fact, many testimonials are written to seem as if they are fully in a customer’s words (though you may have given them substantial help). Those that are written in more of a story or case study format can get an extra pop of impact and credibility if the client’s authentic words are incorporated in the testimonial.
3 ways to get great quotes
Some people are easier to get these from than others. But in general, no matter which format you choose, some tips for getting great quotes are:
- Ask customized, informed questions.
- Make sure they are open-ended questions.
- Wait. Give the person time to respond.
- Ask for clarifications/elucidation if the quote hasn’t been sufficient.
- Rephrase and try again if necessary.
Always make sure the person feels comfortable. At no point should they feel like you’re asking the same thing again because they didn’t get it right the first time. Especially when the person is giving a testimonial, there is no such thing as “wrong answer” — all responsibility falls to the person asking the questions.
1. Interview/feedback session
Many people will surprise themselves with how happy they are to provide feedback, when given the chance. And if the experience was good, it will be positive feedback. People like to talk and share opinions. In fact, the risk for asking to do an interview/ feedback session is usually that if it’s not structured enough, it will ramble and run long. It is up to the interviewer to structure questions and followups ahead of time — putting guard rails up so that the interview runs along a specific track and hits the right story points/questions.
2. Q+A via email
The debate is unending, and camps forever split, on whether email Q+A’s can substitute for spoken interviews. If the purpose is a celebrity interview, or a journalism-style piece, maybe not. But for a testimonial, this can certainly work. It allows people to provide answers on their own time and at their own pace. It also eliminates the awkwardness of “Sorry, could you repeat that? I didn’t pick up the last thing you said. Oh. OK. Go on, I didn’t mean to cut you off,” that often dominates phone conversations.
3. Shortcut — ghostwrite it yourself
If you have a client relationship that’s strong enough, many times the client will respond to a testimonial request by saying “Write down what you’d like me to cover, and I’ll tweak it to be in my own words.” This can feel pretty awkward, but if you focus on the problem (or challenge) -> solution -> method -> result formula, you should be able to craft a truthful and complimentary testimonial that the client will agree with and be comfortable putting their name on, with very few changes.
3 examples of impactful testimonials
1. Shopify for ROOM
A major e-commerce platform brings credibility to a niche office service provider.
“We were blown away by how much better ROOM’s booths were compared to the competition.”
2. SAP for Dr. Oetker
A world leader in SAAS shares how it helped a traditional consumer brand.
“Dr. Oetker is dedicated to helping our customers find a taste of home. SAP EWM enables us to bring that happiness to even more people around the world as we create better warehouses that meet the needs of our growing company.”
3. Satisfied CrossFit Insanity customers
Even when fitness center brands are nationally known, the trainers at each individual branch have to build their own reputations and customer bases. Hyper-local testimonials do the trick.
“Excellent coaches, a first-class facility, thoughtful programming; what more can you say? A few things actually: not only will you get in the best shape of your life, but you’ll do so in a warm, friendly, supportive atmosphere. Indeed, CrossFit Insanity is as much a great place to workout as it is a fun place to hangout. Come check it out for yourself.”
The bottom line: Testimonials build trust.
A gorgeous website and flattering photos can impress at first glance, but potential customers will typically stop and consider before hiring an unknown entity for a project or buying a product: Is this more than just a good sales pitch?
One of the most effective ways to convince them is by sharing positive experiences that others had after making that buying decision. The bigger the client name, more specific the testimonial is, and more public the former client is willing to go (i.e., allowing their full name, business name and job title on your home page), the more impactful the testimonial.