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Positive testimonials are arguably the most powerful marketing tool any business can equip. It’s no secret word of mouth can drive business growth, even if no other marketing systems are in place.
However, the absence of great testimonials or prominent negative reviews can be detrimental. A lack of social proof or a single negative review can result in as many as 51.4% of potential prospects searching for a competitor instead of going with your offering. So your company must show off some endorsements.
Many companies attempt to prove themselves in unethical ways to counter the consequences of having few testimonials. Startups in a rush to start earning profits are the biggest offenders. But I’m here to tell you that it’s never worth it.
Misuse or unethical use of testimonials creeps onto product pages, websites and review platforms daily. And while short-term profits may rise, it could potentially kill your business over time as potential customers catch on.
There are several ways testimonials can get misused and ruin brand trust. Here are 4 of the most common.
Related: How to Get and Use Testimonials, Referrals and Reviews
1. Irrelevant testimonials
Testimonials must accurately represent your target audience — if your potential customers find them irrelevant, they will remain unconvinced you can solve their problem.
An example: If you’re a growth marketing agency selling SEO campaigns for tech companies, decision-makers want to see the results you’ve delivered for those in the tech and innovation space. You don’t want to slap logos of gardening and manufacturing companies on the front page of your website.
This disconnect in testimonials and target audience confuses buyers more than it helps.
2. Outdated testimonials
Take the time to revisit your most prominently portrayed testimonials. Are they recent? Do the results and processes displayed still work today? Many industries evolve quickly, and decision-makers want to know if your company has evolved with those shifts.
Related: 5 Strategies for Getting the Most Out of a Customer Testimonial
3. Fake testimonials
I was once on the verge of buying a $2,000 program from a prominent digital creator promising up-to-date techniques on social media writing. I was intrigued by a new, different approach.
While doing my research, I clicked over to the founder’s Twitter (X) account. It turns out one of his most recent tweets was a picture of him and his roommate. The interesting bit? I immediately recognized the roommate because the large testimonial on the landing page of this program was the same man.
It turns out I was right to complete my due diligence because a conveniently located friend faked the entire testimonial — $ 2,000 saved. And the ongoing consequence for that course creator? I’ll never revisit a single product that person reveals again because any trust is gone.
4. Anonymous testimonials
Adjacent to fake testimonials are anonymous testimonials.
Anonymous testimonials can’t be proven, tracked or verified in any meaningful way. So you may as well leave them off your website entirely. Any business can write nice words and say “Katie” said this about their service. But with no picture, no link to the work, and no company to research, these testimonials may as well be deleted.
How to use testimonials effectively
Every testimonial you decide to incorporate needs to pull the psychological levers of your potential buyers. Don’t copy and paste quotes that match your headlines. Instead, as you start gathering testimonials, focus on these three pillars to maximize their effectiveness.
1. Have authentic testimonials
Not only should you do the obvious and ask permission to display testimonials, but they need to be written in your current (or past) clients’ words.
Testimonials are best believed if they come in natural language. There’s a desire to edit words, change phrases, and get the “perfect” testimonial. Often times clients are willing for you to make adjustments. But I’m here to tell you — don’t do it.
Editing testimonials does more harm than good. It’s crucial to resist the temptation to make edits so the testimonials you display are genuinely one-of-a-kind.
Related: Make Customer Testimonials Meaningful
2. Highlight specific outcomes
Just because I don’t recommend editing testimonials doesn’t mean you shouldn’t request those giving them to speak on specific outcomes. When requesting a testimonial, instead of asking someone to say “nice words,” ask what they have accomplished since working with your business.
How many more leads are you getting each month? How much has MRR increased? How much time is your tech team saving each week? How much weight did you lose, and how fast? These are all examples of great questions to ask former clients.
The bottom line: ask them to quantify the before and after of working with your company. This leads to specificity, believability and trust from future buyers.
3. Display prominently
Most of all, don’t underestimate the value of testimonials. People love safety in numbers and buy when they feel secure with your product.
The more testimonials you can display, the better. Put them on your website, product pages, social media, and marketing materials whenever possible.
Over and over again, remind people of the quality of your work and service. This way, when it’s time for them to buy, they’re thinking of you and your company, not your competitors.