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Believable or just more yada yada?
It has been suggested a few times that I include testimonials on my website from past guests who have used our services. From time to time, I even get clients requesting this sort of thing. (Boggles the mind ... but OK)
I have always been of the opinion that this sort of self serving aggrandizement is annoying, often unbelievable and far too easy to "fake". In fact, I laugh at those one paragraph "testimonials" that read like:
|"We had a wonderful time! The boat was great and performed well. We loved the country and particularly enjoyed yada yada. We will definitely be back and next time we will bring a few more friends so we can get a bigger boat!" |
Joan & Jon - Gary, Indiana
Jeeze ... who buys that cr@p? I sure don't!
Having said that, I have almost been convinced to go ahead and do it. However, if I am going to do it, it must be done in such a way as to be believable.
I have a few ideas such as using photos of happy clients (at the dock), interviews, rating systems, etc. but I would like to hear from you what your general feelings are on this topic and specifically: Do you use testimonials? Have you ever faked them? Come on, be honest! Do you think they have any true value? If you do use testimonials, do you do anything different than that which I have written above and find laughable? (Sorry if I insulted you by the way) If buying a vacation somewhere, do you look for testimonials or read them even if they are available? If you are like me and don't believe most internet testimonials hold much water, what might convince you that any testimonial was valid ... short of giving the client's address, e:mail address or phone number?
Do you have any suggestions as to how to provide a truly believable testimonial that even the most cynical amongst us might buy?
luckychucky, just stop over-promoting your pop music sites to your customers who've clearly demonstrated their preference for Mississippi Delta Blues. It's annoying, it grates, it gets on their nerves. If you re-read my posts you'll see that I agree testimonials work. But not with all products, all markets and all customers.
|Testimonials can serve as a powerful trigger to buy |
Please see my reply above.
Liane's problem is a specific market. The more she knows that market the better position she's in to decide whether to try testimonials or not.
|I have been asked by many potential clients to supply references from time to time |
If I was cynical, which I am not ;). doesn't that come across as hmm, seedy? Did "many" potential clients really ask you to supply references? Honestly? Or is that just a pretext to slip in those testimonials that you secretly know are slimy? See my point?
I think you're onto a winner with verifiable testimonials but only if they are from industry recognised figures. Even if, ironically, you have to pay for them.
I think you're also on to a winner with the photos. 1000 photos of people having fun are difficult to fake.
[edited by: oddsod at 7:54 pm (utc) on Mar. 27, 2006]
I think far too many people in this thread are saying "well, I don't like them, so they must not work." It is a bad way to do business, especially since by the very nature of what we do for a living, we are all probably in the upper ranks on the intelligence meter.
As several people have pointed out in this thread, most of the world is made up of people who either can't or don't want to think. A well placed testimonial is all they need to decide if this is a good decision.
Heck, I'll even admit that if I am buying something that I don't have to lay too much on the line for (i.e. low cost, not important to my business or health), I would pick a site with a testimonial rather than one without, if all other things are equal. What do I have to lose? Chances are they are both the same, but a testimonial indicates that the company at least made one other person happy. Not fool proof, but what else do I have. Do I really want to spend a half hour investigating a company that sells, say, t-shirts?
One the web, where all things tend to be equal alot, every little bit helps. When all else fails, there is always testing.
there are gigantic testimonals targetted to those with smarts as well. I believe, for example, that some of the case studies on the major tech and advertising sites -- you most likely know what i'm referring to specifically -- are effectively just gigantic testimonials but placed in a very specific context. I think that case studies can be more effective for those who are skeptics but also capture those who aren't--accomplishing two things at once.
ODDSOD -> "But not with all products, all markets and all customers."
That's just wrong pure and plain. Name one product/service where a testimonial would not work?
Name one market where testimonials wouldn't work?
Name one punter that has NEVER (I mean, never), been influenced by a testimony?
The last question probably can't be answered in truth but it doesn't really matter: We're all influenced by testimonials, in whatever form, and I'd also contest hannamyluv who implies that testimonials are to persuade the "shallow-thinkers" of the world; or they're only "trustable" when there's little risk on-the-line...
... quite the reverse I'd wager: When there's more on-the-line, there's even more to be assured about and an "intelligent" person will seek those reassurances from many sources, including peers and industry-leaders who are using the service/product.
There is HUGE value in having the right testimonial.
It's not as if you're strapped into a chair with your eyelids clamped open, a la A Clockwork Orange. You've got something way more powerful than even a remote control. It's called a computer mouse.
|...just stop over-promoting your pop music sites to your customers who've clearly demonstrated their preference for Mississippi Delta Blues. |
How is anyone visiting your site without LogIn clearly demonstrating any preference(s) whatsoever? You post testimonials on your site. You don't harvest customer info and then spam-eMail a slew of testimonials, or force your visitors to view testimonial popUps.
Photos aren't a panacea for fake testimonials. It'd be easy to go to iStockPhoto (or 'wherever'), buy a ton of really ordinary looking photos of people for next to nothing, and fabricate entire names, testimonials, etc.
The real way to make testimonials appear truly legit is if the testimonial comes from someone who owns a Web site or business, and you can link to it, etc.. as no-one is going to create a fake site or entire persona for each testimonial :)
I always look at the testimonials with URLs attached, because they're almost impossible to fake, as you can always get in touch with whoever made the quote.
Press quotes, too, have the same credibility.
Oh jeez. C'mon now...really? Stock photos don't look anything like normal people's snapshots, with red eyes, glare, awkward placement within the frame and all the rest. You'd have to be really devoted, and hit a ton of garage sales to glean a boatload of old family photo albums to scan in and upload as .jpg files. That's a pretty absurd premise, pretty far-fetched.
|it'd be easy to go to iStockPhoto (or 'wherever'), buy a ton of really ordinary looking photos of people |
|Did "many" potential clients really ask you to supply references? Honestly? |
Over the years ... yes, many. In the period of a year, perhaps 20 to 25 ask for references. Usually, I contact the last three people who have just finished their charters and ask them if I can use them as a reference. I then send the e:mail addresses to the client asking for references.
Its annoying and time consuming ... but its how I have always handled it and it has in 100% of the cases sealed the deal.
When it was suggested that I "consider using testimonials" it got me thinking about the time I might be able to save by just popping a few verifiable comments on the site together with the dates they chartered, the boat they chartered, their names and a couple of photos with their comments.
It would actually be faster than to have to contact three different sets of people, wait for their answers and then contact the prospective client with their e:mail addresses. To be honest, I was looking for a short cut! :)
|from industry recognised figures |
Unfortunately, we get few to no "industry figures" sailing here who don't all use one specific company because they pretty much give them the boats. I can't afford to do that!
The big name racers don't charter ... they bring their own boats here to race!
|I think you're also on to a winner with the photos. |
Yeah ... I like that idea too because as many sailors as there are who come here each year, you'd be surprised how many of them know each other through yacht club memberships, sailing regattas, etc. If they see a name they recognize with a photo to match aboard a yacht which is available on my site ... then it would be pretty hard to deny that the comments are real!
All they have to do is pick up the phone and call them to find out.
I think I am going to do it and see if it has any effect whatsoever. Trust me, it won't be cheesey and I will see to it that people keep their praises to a "real" level. I can't stand gushiness.
And I agree once again with oddsod so will likely change the message from me to read something like:
|The following are unsolicited and unedited comments from past clients. While I myself place very little faith in "internet testimonials", I do get requests for references from time to time ... so here they are. |
If after your charter holiday, you wish to supply your own comments to be published here ... you know where to find me. Just send us an e:mail and include photos if you have them! The newest comments are at the top of the page.
[edited by: Liane at 9:41 pm (utc) on Mar. 27, 2006]
"I always look at the testimonials with URLs attached, because they're almost impossible to fake, as you can always get in touch with whoever made the quote."
... and the person/entity this testimonial links-to just happens to be a mate(s)? Or the same person?
"You'd have to be really devoted, and hit a ton of garage sales to glean a boatload of old family photo albums to scan in and upload as .jpg files. That's a pretty absurd premise, pretty far-fetched. "
... Or go buy some on ebay - This is far from absurd and various enterprises (I won't disclose) use variations of this for huge financial gain, trust!
|This is far from absurd and various enterprises (I won't disclose) use variations of this for huge financial gain, trust! |
Well it won't work for my site. There are too many qualifiers which people can verify. The boat model, name of the boat, background in the photo, etc.
But if you'd like, I can ask them to buy a local newspaper and hold it up for the camera so that they can capture both the date and the name of the newspaper!
A little OTT methinks! ;)
Most times I am going to buy something my first stop is one of the review sites. It may be a digital camera or a holiday, it doesn't really matter. I want to read about other people's experiences. Most other people are the same, is why the net is full of review sites.
I offer all my new web design clients (mostly small, brochure ware sites) a link from my portfolio page in exchange for a one or two sentence testimonial. They almost all agree to this.
On my site and in my correspondence I point my enquirers to my portfolio page and invite them to contact anyone they choose from the list. They seldom if ever do so but this in itself provides them with a measure of security. I have no doubt that his has been instrumental in converting some doubters into clients.
I can't give out my customers' contact info for references. First of all, it's a privacy issue. But more importantly, I sell a product - not a service. It would be like giving my competitors a free mailing list of all my best customers.
|There are too many qualifiers which people can verify. The boat model, name of the boat, background in the photo, etc. |
No offense, but you give your customers way too much credit in how much effort or thought they would put into researching your testimonials.
I believe technically you can get in trouble for false testimonials, as it is false advertising, so I wouldn't reccomend them.
I don't think testimonials work for just shallow items (or people). I would personally reccomend anyone with a business use them. But they work best for shallow items.
EFV pointed out (twice) that direct marketers use testimonials alot. Take a look at catalogs and you will see what he meant. You will see a few testimonials in the Hammacher catalog (high end products), but not many. But a catalog that sells so-called miracle products, like weight loss or baldness cures, they will have them all over the place.
Testimonials work best for things people really want but aren't completely sold on yet. Everybody knows that weight loss products probably won't work, at least not without diet and exercise, but we really want to believe they will. So when some previously heavy woman you never met says "I lost 185lbs", you (as the customer) uses that to justify the purchase. It worked for her, so it might work for me. I challenge you to find a weight-loss product add that does not have a testimonial.
In Liane's case, in the travel industry, I would reccomend picking testimonials that go light on why they should pick you and heavy on the why they should go there. "The weather in Elbonia was perfect everyday. The locals were fabulous. I don't think we've ever had a better vacation. Thanks to ABC Charters for making it happen. A.C. in Texas" ;)
Vacations are things people really, really want, but they cost some big bucks. Any testimioials Liane uses should convince them they should spend the money, and gently remind them that they are on a site that can make it happen.
Come on disbelievers. This is a country that responds to the most idiotic commercials. They want testimonials. It makes them feel justified. It's all they need. Makes them feel confident.
I use one I pulled from a review site. Direct quote and a link back to that page.
Old testimonials [ Up to 4 years old ] on my site and on vendor review areas of forums still drive business to me today.
The rest of my new business comes from direct referrals from existing clients.
I have never traded anything for a referral or paid for one.
|This is a country that responds to the most idiotic commercials. |
It's a good thing the World Wide Web caters for only one country ;)
I cannot emphasise how important it is to know your market, especially when you're selling luxury goods. And to know the culture of the country you're trying to sell to.
For example, in countries where corruption is rife they tend to just ignore the testimonials. They assume the testimonials are fake and consider that par for the course.
In cultures where pushy salesmen are just not de riguer (or seen purely as an American import) you'd do well to not come across as a pushy salesman. There's a difference between making a case for your product and helping me decide. Testimonials are seen, in some parts, as crossing that line.
|They want testimonials. It makes them feel justified. It's all they need. Makes them feel confident. |
It also makes me want to puke. :(
I have a niche market targetted at UK academics who were very vociferous in their opposition when we posted a couple of testimonials. Coming from an Asian culture that was one of the first lessons I learnt in selling to the English.
Please do not see my post as an attack on Americans (or even citizens of the US of A ;)) but if you're aiming to sell to the French wouldn't you take French sensibilities into account? Having Stars and Stripes, Hail President Bush, Victory in Iraq logos and slogans plastered all over your site wouldn't be the best idea. Nor would any talk of cheese and primates in the same sentence.
That there are a lot of people in this thread who don't trust testimonials should be viewed as a potential to learn something. Or, at least, to do some testing in your own niche.
Liane, I've got a couple of suggestions coming up for you, hopefully later today when I get a few minutes.
|I can't give out my customers' contact info for references. First of all, it's a privacy issue. But more importantly, I sell a product - not a service. It would be like giving my competitors a free mailing list of all my best customers. |
In my case I don't give out their email addresses. I provide the web addresses. If my prospective clients want to contact the person who provided the testimonial they must do so through their websites. My clients understand that that this is a possibility when they provide the testimonials. But then they are never going to be snowed under are they?
Oddsod I believe you are correct about the culture thing but a verifiable testimonial provides reassurance in any language.
I partly agree. Verifiable is good but on its own it's not completely reassuring to me if I don't know the person giving the testimonial. He could be a stooge. He often is.
|I have a niche market targetted at UK academics who were very vociferous in their opposition when we posted a couple of testimonials. Coming from an Asian culture that was one of the first lessons I learnt in selling to the English. |
I don't agree (I'm English myself, we make sales to the UK among other countries).
We use testimonials on our site - all of which are genuine - and the customers seem to like them. It also helps our relationship with the customers who make the comments, they like to see themselves quoted on our site.
We're in a relatively downmarket niche though - I suspect your academics raised hell because they felt they were above that sort of thing. Or that your product ought to be above that kind of thing. My suspicion would be that British academics in general would be unusually hostile to any type of 'sales' approach, in many cases their self-esteem is tied up in seeing themselves as 'above' (more important than) the world of business.
You might find the book "Watching the English" by Kate Fox useful, it's a pop-science anthropological study of the English.
|He could be a stooge. He often is. |
Possibly, but this is a matter for common sense. I think I can spot a phony testimonial a mile off and I am sure that my clients can do the same ;)
Incidentally if I see a phoney testimonial I will seldom if ever do business with the advertiser. Who wants to trade with someone who is clearly happy to tell lies?
|I cannot emphasise how important it is to know your market, especially when you're selling luxury goods. And to know the culture of the country you're trying to sell to. |
|I have a niche market targetted at UK academics who were very vociferous in their opposition when we posted a couple of testimonials. Coming from an Asian culture that was one of the first lessons I learnt in selling to the English. |
I'm in need of a testimonial to back-up what you are sayin I'm afraid. For the more you talk about this, the more I think you are making it all up as you go along.
Celebs make big bucks from advertising deals. Why? Endorsement, association, blah blah... They come to represent the quality and values of the customer-base.
Watch the TV, read the papers, treat yourself to a magazine; celebs are used to advertise anything from smell (deodourant), to hyper-expensive footwear (ya nikes), to frickin exhorbitantly expensive cream derived from whale blubber!
Do you think a "luxury" item is termed thus just because of the price and packaging?
We are a herd animal, 'nuff said!
Something sounds a bit off here. Exactly what kind of opposition: one cranky/crankpot eMail, several eMails?
|I have a niche market targetted at UK academics who were very vociferous in their opposition when we posted a couple of testimonials. |
Speaking of academics - what is a 2nd party book preface, what is a book review, what is a book-jacket blurb?
|the more I think you are making it all up as you go along. |
Absolutely. I get paid huge bribes to peddle my nonsense :)
|I'm in need of a testimonial to back-up what you are sayin I'm afraid |
You'll be needy for a while.
|celebs are used to advertise anything from smell |
JS, Texas isn't exactly a celebrity. When talking about face cream JS from Texas may lack a little of the credibility J Lo has. And credibility is a large part of the problem. (Luckychucky, have another look at those prefaces and blurbs and see if any come from JS, Texas). As I said in msg 61, industry leading figures are good people to get testimonials from; celebs aren't too bad either. Credibility/Trust. It seems we are in agreement on this. I don't know what point you are trying to make.
Attacking me doesn't help you make more sales. To those claiming fantastic success with testimonials - good luck. I'm addressing those who think testimonials come across as seedy, cheap, tacky, crooked, foreign, or puke-worthy.
Liane, I'd approach the root of the problem. Why do you not believe testimonials you see on other sites? To hazard some guesses:
1. You know they are selective and not from a true cross-section of the customer base.
2. The seller is the one "voluntarily" providing the testimonials. They could be from stooges or even completely fabricated.
3. You don't know the party making the recommendation. Perhaps they liked the book but perhaps they have poor taste. You don't trust their judgement.
It's likely your customers see exactly the same problems with testimonials. If you find a way to represent data from a cross section of your customer base that may help. Like an unmoderated feedback page where everyone with an invoice number is allowed one 500 word feedback. There are other ways.
Point two is tricky. I'd ensure that nobody could see a testimonial unless they clicked the testimonial link in the nav bar/right column i.e. don't stuff tests on the home page. Give visitors control. And when they get to the testimonial page I'd ensure they saw no testimonials there... just links to other sites (more below). Huh?
Here's the unusual idea: If a lot of your customers have websites persuade them to host the feedback on their sites. That way you promote your product without giving the appearance of p*mping yourself. All your talk can be to build credibility in the party you're linking to. Praising someone else is cool.
We were delighted to have Brett Tabke as a guest last summer. Brett is founder and CEO of the #1 webmaster site in the world and a pioneer... blah, blah, blah. Pictures at: ht*p://*www.webmasterworld.com/our-holiday-last-year.htm .
P. Green, chairman of FTSE100 company Widgets Ltd, who is a regular customer, has posted some pictures on his blog: h*tp://w*w.pgreen.com/liane's-fantastic-cruise.htm.
You don't even need to mention that those sites have comments/ feedback/ testimonials. Let the customer find them. He trusts it more when it's not thrust upon him.
Get up close and personal with the people who use your service and find out what they think. Get a market intelligence company involved to get a feel for what makes them tick and how they respond to testimonials. I'm sorry I can't recommend a good company but I know that it's crucial it's done properly. Asking a bunch of far easterners, "Do you trust testimonials?" will get you a 100% resounding "Yes". But that's because they believe it's rude to say "No".
Who knows, you may even discover that your particular customer simply laps up even the most puke-worthy testimonials. And, if they do, then your life becomes a lot easier: You can just follow the herd :)
WhippingPost, as you point out, celebrities endorse. I think this thread is more about testimonials from existing non-celebrity customers - the type you get on so many websites today - rather than endorsements by the celebrity ones.
|My suspicion would be that British academics in general would be unusually hostile to any type of 'sales' approach... |
andye, and do you beleive it likely they carry that hostility to pushy sales even when they're visiting online shops not related to their work? If so, are there other classes of people who are normally antagonistic towards testimonials (there seem to be a fair few in this thread :)), and does one just write them off as cranks and not bother to cater for them on a general purpose, wide-appeal site?
That sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for the tip.
[edited by: oddsod at 6:37 pm (utc) on Mar. 28, 2006]
Correction: change "know" to suspect or assume
|Why do you not believe testimonials you see on other sites?...You know they are selective and not from a true cross-section of the customer base. |
...or she may come acoss as a genuine fellow human consumer rather than a sleb tout who only endorses products when they park a dumptruck full of money in her driveway.
|JS from Texas may lack a little of the credibility J Lo has |
Trust is conveyed via a great many factors, each adding holistically to the overall effect or feel of your website. Some techniques tend to diminish trust; neon blinking banners of teddy bears with targets on them, screaming for you to shoot the bear and win, are a nice example. Your site is your salesperson, your site is your pitch. Testimonials are no more sleazy than a sleazy pitch, and no less convincing than a truly masterful, convincing pitch highlighting the buyer's best interests, and delivered with honesty and integrity. Same source code, different delivery. I can use the same knife to be a serial killer, as to artfully serve beautiful sushi. Doesn't mean knives are bad.
|change "know" to suspect or assume |
You assume too much. Isn't that for Liane to correct me on? ;)
Though it seems like many "sophisticated" users/customers claim to show disdain and skepticism for testimonials, I can't help but notice that the top marketing experts seem to use them religiously, such as on those endless marketing spiel sites that we've all seen. Does they use them because they don't work?
My philosophy for any such question where I have no particular expertise is to "see what the experts do", which leads me to conclude that they must work.
|My philosophy for any such question where I have no particular expertise is to "see what the experts do", which leads me to conclude that they must work. |
I've been a real advocate of testimonials here on this thread, but I do see both sides. I think that it depends on the nature of what's being advertised. If you're selling vacation adventures and can get some nice photos of people who look like they are having a great time, and some words that support that, then it seems like a no-brainer to me.
If you are selling advertising and run testimonials that make claims about how great your ads work, then the testimonials might be more suspect. The only saving grace in that case might be if the people making the testimonials are celebrities or well-known to your audience. Even then, a more educated consumer would probably be suspicious, but the overall effect of the testimonials might still be positive, especially if the potential customer were also looking at other advertising venues that had no testimonials, or none from anyone familiar.
I agree with Henryo - we use them
See? Amythepoet and Henryo use them.
(... nice testimonials)
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