What we say about our own products or services is nowhere near as significant as what others say about them. Here’s how to solicit useful and relevant endorsements.
As a journalist I’m trained to spot ‘BS’ and there’s no shortage of it in the marketing and PR efforts of many businesses. It can be a challenge to find the sweet spot of highlighting the benefits of your offerings without resorting to over-the-top pretentiousness and outrageous claims.
Testimonials from people who’ve used your products or services can influence potential customers’ buying decisions. If you’re looking for a particular product or service and a trusted friend recommends a certain brand, you’re more likely to at least give it careful consideration or even buy it on the strength of that recommendation.
Sure, there are plenty of fake testimonials out there that have been bought, but genuine, third-party endorsements are a powerful tool in your marketing collateral.
Here’s how to request valuable recommendations:
Just asking someone to give you a testimonial isn’t enough. A generic recommendation along the lines of ‘Jane Doe is fantastic. I loved working with her and highly recommend her services’ or ‘John Smith’s products are brilliant and you should definitely buy some’ tell your potential customers next to nothing.
These kind of generic recommendations also run the risk of being unbelievable. Anyone can write them without knowing anything about your product or service.
Make it easy for them and ask specific questions
Everyone’s busy and some people will see having to create a testimonial as too difficult or time-consuming. One strategy to make it easy for them is to ask specific and open questions. An open question is one that can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (those are closed questions). Open questions usually begin with What, When, Where, How or Why.
Example of questions a SERVICE provider could ask:
• What problem did you have previously before working with [Your Name]?
• Why did you decide to work with [Your Name]?
• What 3 specific, positive outcomes did you get after working with [Your Name]?
For example, if I asked one of my media coaching clients these questions, their responses may be along the lines of:
Before working with Katrina, I wanted to be featured in the media but had no idea how to approach journalists.
I decided to work with Katrina because of her many years’ experience as a journalist and the fact she’s vegan and ‘gets’ my values.
After working with her, I got published in [Name of media outlet]; I now understand how to construct a media release and pitch; and I’m much more confident in how to approach journalists.
Example of questions a PRODUCT provider could ask:
If you make vegan chocolate, obviously your questions will be different from the above. For example:
• What led you to buying [Your product’s name]?
• What were you most pleasantly surprised about in regards to [Your product’s name]?
• What are the top 3 things you most loved about [Your product’s name]?
Potential responses could be along the lines of:
I bought [Name of product] because I was curious about what vegan chocolate tasted like.
I was surprised at how delicious it was. It tasted even better than dairy chocolate.
What I loved most about [Name of product] was its creamy, smooth texture; its decadence; and that I can take it as a gift to my non-vegan parents and know they’ll love it too.
The above are merely suggestions to get you thinking creatively. Compose questions that are relevant to your particular industry and niche.
Get as many details of the person as they are willing to share
Anonymous or first-name-only testimonials are a waste of time. They’re far too easy to fake or write yourself. Testimonials are a form of ‘social proof’ that your product or service rocks, so the people delivering them need to be authenticated by your potential customers.
This means at bare minimum the endorsers’ first name and surname. Their occupation is useful as it shows the diversity of people attracted to your offerings and adds additional credibility. If they’re a business owner, the name of their business and the business’s URL is ideal, as customers can click through and verify that the person is ‘real’.
A photo of the endorser adds even more social proof and video is the best form of endorsement if you can get it.
When to request a testimonial
The best time to ask for a testimonial is shortly after you’ve provided a service or product. Or if you are providing a service over a long period of time that could last weeks or months, ask for it shortly after the person has received a great outcome or result. You want them to be delighted with you and your offerings and associate you with you positive feelings so it becomes a no-brainer to provide you with a glowing testimonial.
If you’re running a live event or demonstration, ask people then and there. This can be a good time to get a video testimonial. Mention it part way through your presentation. Check in first that they are getting value (ask them) and say that you’d love to get an on-camera testimonial before they leave.
Either set up a camera on a tripod or record it with your smartphone. Again, give them a question or two to guide them. You don’t want them to waffle on and on; you’re just after a short endorsement. It’s a good idea to get people to sign a release form allowing you to use their endorsement in your marketing materials.
Where to request a testimonial
Apart from a live event, the other places to request a testimonial are:
Your email list
People who’ve signed up to your newsletter or list, particularly those who’ve been on your list for a little while, are already likely fans of your product or service. They hear from you regularly and haven’t unsubscribed. Some will be customers who’ve already purchased from you. As long as you’ve regularly given them useful content through your email marketing, they’re more likely to be warm to a request to provide you with a testimonial.
Again, make it easy for them. Explain exactly what you’re after (with specific questions as a guideline) and what they need to do to provide it. For example, ‘Just hit “reply” to this email with your testimonial’.
LinkedIn is designed predominantly to connect business professionals to each other, so it’s particularly good for service providers. It also has a built-in ‘Request a Recommendation’ feature. However it’s wise to personalize the automated text. When people provide the endorsement, you are notified and can request amendments before publishing it on your profile, so you have control over what recommendations you show publicly.
Yelp, Google Places, Facebook, Amazon and iTunes are examples of public review sites. On some of them, the higher number of positive reviews you have, the higher your overall rating is and vice versa. Because you don’t have control of who posts about your business on these kinds of sites, negative reviews can damage your reputation, so soliciting positive reviews from your raving fans can help improve the perception of your brand.
Should you offer a reward or incentive in return for a testimonial?
Offering someone money or a gift in return for a positive testimonial is against many sites’ terms of conditions. It’s also icky. I’ve seen some entrepreneurs attempt to get around the ethical dilemma by offering a free gift in return for writing an “honest” review.
Personally I think it crosses a line and it’s far better to ‘wow’ your customers and provide a ton of excellent value, then ask them for their help in sharing what you offer to a broader audience by providing an endorsement.
Show off your endorsements
Once you’ve secured your testimonials, make sure you feature them on your website, social media and other relevant marketing materials. Collect them constantly. You can’t have too many recommendations. If there’s too many for any one person to read or watch every single one, the fact you’ve got so many is a positive endorsement in itself.
Katrina Fox is an award-winning vegan journalist, publisher, speaker, PR consultant and media trainer who teaches vegan business owners, entrepreneurs and change makers how to get free publicity by sharing their stories. Katrina was a regular contributor to Forbes for a year, writing about vegan and plant-based business. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Vegan Business Media, the host of Vegan Business Talk podcast, and the author of Vegan Ventures: Start and Grow an Ethical Business. Katrina is also the creator of Vegans in the Limelight: Online PR course for Vegan Business Owners and Entrepreneurs. For more information and to hire Katrina, email her at katrina [at] veganbusinessmedia [dotcom]