Direct Marketing, Mail Order, and E-commerce News from the National Mail Order Association
by Robert W. Bly
Using testimonials - quotations from satisfied customers and clients - is one of the simplest and most effective ways of adding punch and power to brochure, ad and direct mail copy.
But how do you get testimonials? How do you use them?
Here are some tips for using testimonials:
1. Always use real testimonials instead of made-up ones. Even the most skilled copywriter can rarely make up a testimonial that can match the sincerity and credibility of genuine words of praise from a real customer or client.
If you ask a customer to give you a testimonial, and he or she says, “Sure, just write something and I’ll sign it,” politely reply: “Gee, I appreciate that, but would you mind just giving me your opinions of our product - in your own words?” Fabricated or self-authored testimonials (those written by the advertiser or their copywriter) usually sound phony; genuine testimonials invariably have the ring of truth.
2. Prefer long testimonials to short ones. Many advertisers are hooked on using very short testimonials. For instance:
I believe that when people see these ultra short testimonials, they suspect that a skillful editing job has masked a comment that was not as favorable as the writer makes it appear. In my opinion, longer testimonials - say, two or three sentences versus a single word or phrase - come across as more believable. For example:
“Frankly, I was nervous about using an outside consultant. But your excellent service has made me a believer! You can be sure that we’ll be calling on your firm to organize all our major sales conferences and other meetings for us. Thanks for a job well done!”
Sure, it’s longer, but it somehow seems more sincere than a one-word superlative. Which brings us to....
3. Prefer specific, detailed testimonials to general or superlative testimonials. Upon receiving a letter of praise from a customer, our initial reaction is to read the letter and find the single sentence that directly praises our company or our product. With a blue pencil, we extract the words we think are kindest about us, producing a bland bit of puffery such as:
“We are very pleased with your product.”
Actually, most testimonials would be stronger if we included more of the specific, detailed comments our client has made about how our product or service helped him. After all, the prospects we are trying to sell to may have problems similar to the one our current customer solved using our product. If we let Mr. Customer tell Mr. Prospect how our company came to his rescue, he’ll be helping us make the sale. For instance:
“We have installed your new ChemiCoat system in each of our bottling lines and have already experienced a 25 percent savings in energy and material costs. Thanks to your system, we have now added an additional production line with no increase in energy costs. This has increased profits 15 percent and already paid back the investment in your product. We are very pleased with your product.”
Again, don’t try to polish the customer’s words so it sounds like professional ad copy. Testimonials are usually much more convincing when they are not edited for style.
4. Use full attribution. We’ve all opened direct mail packages that contained testimonials from “J.B. in Arizona” or “Jim S., Self-Made Millionaire.” I suspect that many people laugh at such testimonials and think they are phony.
To increase the believability for your testimonials, attribute each quotation. Include the person’s name, city and state, and (if a business customer) their job title and company (e.g., “Jim K. Redding, vice president of manufacturing, Divmet Corporation, Fairfield, NJ”). People are more likely to believe this sort of full disclosure than testimonials which seem to conceal the identity of the speaker.
5. Group your testimonials. There are two basic ways to present testimonials: You can group them together in one area of your brochure or ad, or you can scatter them throughout the copy. A third alternative is to combine the two techniques, having many testimonials in a box or buck slip and a smattering of other testimonials throughout the rest of your copy.
I’ve seen both approaches work well, and the success of the presentation depends, in part, on the skill of the writer and the specific nature of the piece. But, all else being equal, I prefer the first approach: to group all your testimonials and present them as a single block of copy. This can be done in a box, on a separate page or on a separate sheet. My feeling is that when the prospect reads a half dozen or so testimonials, one right after another, they have more impact and power than when the testimonials are separated and scattered throughout the piece.
6. Get permission. Make sure you get permission from your customer to reprint his words before including his testimonial in your copy.
I suggest that you send a letter quoting the lines you want to reprint and ask permission to include them in ads, direct mail, brochures, and other materials used to promote your firm. Notice I’m asking for a general release that gives me permission to use the customer‘s quotation in all current and future promotions, not just a specific ad or letter. This lets me get more mileage out of his favorable comment and eliminates the need to ask permission every time I want to use the quote in a new ad or letter.
More Tips on using testimonials
Whenever a customer sends a letter with positive comments about your company or product, immediately seek permission to use this testimonial in your ads, brochures, direct mail, and other promotions.
The easiest way to do this is to send a “release letter” to the client (along with a photocopy of the testimonial letter, with the passages you want to reprint highlighted in yellow).
Your release letter can follow this basic format:
Mr. Mike Jones
Thanks for your letter of 12/12/87 (copy attached). I’m glad you’re pleased with our product!
I’d like to quote from your letter in the ads, brochures, direct mail, and other promotions we use to market our product - with your permission, of course.
If this is OK with you, would you please sign the bottom of this letter and send it back to me in the envelope enclosed.
The second copy is for your files.
Many thanks, Mike.
YES, YOU HAVE MY PERMISSION TO QUOTE FROM THE ATTACHED LETTER IN ADS, BROCHURES, MAIL AND OTHER PROMOTIONS USED TO MARKET YOUR PRODUCT.
I always enclose a self-addressed stamped reply envelope plus a second copy of the permission letter (for the recipient’s files).
If your customers don’t send you letters of praise (and many won’t), then you can ask them to give you a testimonial. How? Simply send a letter to clients and customers who are happy with your product or service and ask for their comments. Here’s a letter I use (feel free to copy or adapt it):
Mr. Alex Samuels
I have a favor to ask of you.
I’m in the process of putting together a booklet of testimonials - a collection of comments about my services, from satisfied clients like yourself.
Would you please take a few minutes to give me your opinion of my consulting services?
There’s no need to dictate a letter - just jot your comments on the back of this letter, sign below, and return to me in the enclosed envelope. (The second copy is for your files).
I look forward to learning what you like about my service...but I also welcome any suggestions or criticisms, too.
Many thanks, Alex.
Regards, Bob Bly
YOU HAVE MY PERMISSION TO QUOTE FROM MY COMMENTS, AND USE THESE QUOTATIONS IN ADS, BROCHURES, MAIL AND OTHER PROMOTIONS USED TO MARKET YOUR SERVICES.
Note that I am asking for an “opinion” instead of a testimonial, and that I urge Alex to give me criticisms as well as positive comments. In this way, I’m not just asking for a favor, I’m getting information that will help me serve my clients better in the future. Thus, I’m not the only one who profits; we both do.
If you solicit testimonials from your satisfied clients and customers, and you always get permission to use any unsolicited testimonials that people send you, you’ll soon build a thick testimonial file. Because you’ve gotten people to give you a “blanket release” to use their comments any way you choose, you can use these testimonials in any or all of your marketing materials - from ads and sales letters, to brochures and catalogs.
One quick and easy way to use these testimonials is simply to type them up single-spaced and reprint them on an 8½-by-11-inch sheet of paper. The headline reads: “WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT (your company or product).” If you have a lot of testimonials, you can print on the reverse side or go to a second sheet. Don’t forget to include your address and phone number at the bottom of the page. Use the testimonial sheet as a handout, as an additional enclosure in direct mail packages, or as a supplement to your sales brochure.
Always give the sheet and a duplicate of your full testimonial file to any ad agency, copywriter, or marketing consultant you hire. It will be tremendously helpful to them when they create ads, brochures, and direct mail packages for you.
BOB BLY is an independent copywriter and consultant with more than 25 years of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct marketing.
He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas … and has won numerous industry awards.
Bob is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt & Co.). His articles have appeared in numerous publications such as DM News, Writer’s Digest, mtrak Express, Cosmopolitan, Inside Direct Mail, and Bits & Pieces for Salespeople. Visit: www.BobBlyMarketingBooks.com
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