The Evolution of Testimonials in Marketing and Their Power Today

Last week, a business colleague told me about a new social media management tool I have to try. It was casual conversation, but for brands, there’s power in that recommendation. Humans crowdsource by habit. We regularly seek others’ opinions, advice and ideas when making purchases both in our personal and professional lives. Many, many decades ago, when marketers recognized the power of word of mouth and figured out how to create that one-on-one feeling within mass marketing, the testimonial was born.

Why Testimonials Work

The testimonial works because it adds a layer of trust to the brand’s message. The brand can point to the speaker and say, “see it’s not us saying it, it’s a third party. If someone else says it, it must be true!” And we buy into that logic because we feel like we know the person (if they are a celebrity) or at least relate to them (if they’re fellow moms, or teens who play video games, or men who love sports, etc.) Testimonials also work because we have an innate desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’ We love to know what brands celebrities are wearing or using at home to lead their seemingly fabulous lives and the testimonial says, “I use this so you should too.”

In 2017, USA Today wrote, “Brain Science: Why You Can’t Resist Celebrity Endorsements.”  In it they identified two other reasons testimonials work: familiarity and the perception of high-quality.

“First, our minds do not do a good job of differentiating between real and make-believe, so celebrities become familiar to us. When a familiar face promotes a product, it makes it seem as if the product itself is familiar, which makes people more likely to buy it,” Jeff Stibel wrote.

He continued, “Similarly, through simple transitive properties, an endorsement by a high-quality person makes the product appear high quality.”

It’s not just sneakers or dishwasher detergent, all this works for B2B too. At work, we want to know what products and services others in our positions use and trust. We want to know what industry events they attend and find value in. It saves us time testing services or events on our own.

History

Testimonials are used in all marketing channels—print, TV, online and social. Their use goes back centuries. Apparently a few hundred years ago (well actually, I guess it’s still true today given how fast Kate Middleton’s dresses sell out), people wanted to use what monarchs were using. In the 1930s, marketers used Babe Ruth and other athletes to sell their products. Then came the movies stars. Ads from the 1950s are overflowing with seemingly perfect housewives selling must-have products that make life easier. It was in the 1980s that brands started crafting products, such as sneakers, around celebrities.

Today we’re hit with testimonials from all directions. Tom Selleck is on TV telling seniors he trusts reverse mortgages and Kim Kardashian is posting her favorite products on Instagram. Both are getting paid nicely for their efforts. And, we’re actually not calling them testimonials as much any more, we’re calling it influencer marketing.

Making Testimonials Work for You

First, identify who you can request testimonials from and who has an audience that reaches your prospects. These are your influencers. Most brands don’t need to shell out thousands for A-list celebrities like Beyonce; micro-influencers who focus on their niche industry will work well for both B2B and B2C.

Next, consider how you want to obtain the testimonials. Do you want written messages or video messages? In most cases, written testimonials work well and are obviously cheaper to obtain, but hearing it straight from someone’s mouth is powerful especially if you have a product or service that you can tie to your prospects’ emotions. For example, video is great for event attendees because they can express excitement about the event and also for life choices such as job training programs because they can express stability and reassurance. When testimonials have a visual, people get that “just like me” feeling quicker.

Finally, think about how you’ll use the testimonials. Where will the testimonials be most effective for you? Testimonials can be used in both inbound and outbound ways. Brands often collect testimonials from clients and customers and use them on their marketing pieces including their websites, brochures and outdoor or TV ads. Hubspot wrote a blog post that gives examples of prime places to post testimonials on your website.

Brands can also work with influencers to post messages on their own content distribution channels that promotes specific products, services, or events. Influencer marketing is a very hot tactic right now (a topic for an entirely separate post), but one that takes careful strategizing and relationship nurturing to do it right.

Another subtle form of testimonial is user-generated content, where the consumers of a brand or attendees of an event post their own content engaging with the brand’s offerings and the brand shares it or otherwise connects with it.

Final Thoughts

Testimonials are a must-have as part of your strategy. They have decades if not centuries of success. They tap into our psychological instincts to seek advice from those we trust or perceive as trustworthy.

Need a little more inspiration before you get started? Wordstream compiled 11 top examples in both B2B and B2C and we think these companies are doing it right. And, if you need help making this work, we’re right over here. Give us a call!

 

Photo by Faheem Ahamd on Unsplash

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