Over the years, we have had several clients ask us about the idea of using testimonials in advertising, an technique that is almost as old as sending people out into the streets wearing sandwich boards and ringing bells. It's not that we don't think testimonials are workable - they can be! But as in counterfeiting $100 bills, the devil is in the details, and it takes a lot of work to make a believable testimonial. See this article we read today in the Toronto Globe & Mail.
So what does WBAM have to say about testimonials?
We have tried to utilize testimonials for various clients in different ways, and each one was an education on the strengths and weaknesses of the approach. For example, a testimonial is only as good as the testifier - if you have a person that mumbles or speaks in his own words in an uninspiring manner, it can be hard to pull out the best parts. These are real people, not actors, and it can be hard to get something usable and powerful in a five-second sound bite without scripting.
Scripting will only make it worse, however. The testifier probably isn't used to memorizing lines, and the words will sound stiff and unnatural.
For the client, there can be pitfalls as well. For example, Client "A" has three of his best customers do testimonials that are published in mass media. A fourth client, bent out of shape that he wasn't asked to provide a testimonial, wonders why he wasn't invited to the party, and the Client has to spend a lot of time on concillatory phone calls and expense-account lunches to convice customer #4 that they are important to their continued success as well. OR - one of the other three customers has a bad experience and stops using Client "A", and demands that the business quit using his testimonial, which the Client has to respect. Wasted production costs will be regretted.
The article does an excellent job of outlining all the challenges of a successful testimonial campaign, and if you have ever considered doing it yourself, be aware of the positives - and the negatives - of this tried-and-true advertising strategy.