Erika Heald

People Love Your Brand, So Why Are Your Testimonials Terrible?

By: Erika Heald | February 7, 2017 | 
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Customer Testimonials Visit just about any business-to-business (B2B) website, and you’ll find customer testimonials front-and-center.

That’s not just a case of copy-catism either.

Survey after survey has shown people trust recommendations from people like themselves significantly more than they trust a brand.

Unfortunately, too often you’re wasting the many hours of work which go into these intensive pieces of content.

You’re creating something that falls flat with your audience.

Something your sales team will never use.

It’s not that the customer doesn’t love your brand.

It’s that the content you create and slap their name on simply doesn’t feel authentic.

Every day, your social inboxes are full of your fans and followers sharing their love for your brand.

So how did you end up with the bland, boredom-inducing, customer testimonials published on your website and in your sales materials?

Why aren’t your teams capturing that same enthusiasm and love for your brand when they sit down with your customers?

You Aren’t Asking Customers the Right Questions

Several years ago, I was working on a series of customer testimonial videos for a B2B technology platform.

In one of the best performing of these videos, a customer who worked in the finance department, professed their love (yes, they actually said love) for the platform.

Let that sink in for a moment.

No, we weren’t cutting onions in the adjacent room while we were filming them.

So how’d we get that 10-second soundbite of a senior level customer professing their love for the brand by name?

Through a tested series of questions that began with sharing the pain of getting their day-to-day work done.

Next, we had them share the criteria they used to make their decision.

And only after all that, did we ask them how their daily work changed thanks to the product.

That is where the profession of brand love came in.

You Aren’t Warming Up the Customer

When you start the testimonial interview with questions about the pain points which drove them to look for a new technology solution, you tap into your customer’s feelings.

You are then able to get them started on sharing authentic frustrations and concerns their peers can relate to.

By the time you get around to asking them to share specific thoughts about your product, you’ve built rapport.

They’ve warmed up to talking with you.

This makes it much more likely you’ll have one of those authentic ‘brand love’ moments.

Too often, customer testimonial interviews begin by asking the customer to share how they use the product. Then asking them what they like about the product.

This gets the interview off to a factual, but not especially dynamic start.

Take a look at your interview process.

Make sure you are asking a progression of questions which allow your customer to share compelling testimonials.

Questions which allow them to tell their story—versus just providing short answers to leading questions from your product team.

You’re Ruining Customer Testimonials in the Editing Process

So many brand case studies present themselves as a customer testimonial. But the customer’s words are nowhere to be found in the content.

Instead, you see paragraph after paragraph of words that are on message with the brand’s talking points…and a customer name sprinkled in here and there.

No one who reads that sort of content will think for a second that it’s a real customer testimonial.

When you revise a customer’s words in a testimonial to align them with your brand messaging, you take away the personality and quirks that give it its weight.

Think case studies without even one quote from the profile’s customer.

Or news releases with a series of customer testimonial quotes, each a slight variation on the next.

Anyone who reads testimonials which the brand has edited substantially can tell.

How? Because regular everyday people don’t talk like brand marketing collateral.

Stop trying to force your customer testimonials into your brand mold!

Instead, trust that sharing their actual words—the way they said them—will be much more likely to have a positive influence over potential buyers.

You’re Not Asking the Right Customers

We’ve all been in the situation where we’re down to the wire working on a news release when our boss asks us to get just one more customer testimonial in there.

We scramble around trying to determine which customer is most likely to let us put their name on something we write and text them, in the next 30 minutes.

Or, we’re told to only include testimonials from our Fortune 500 clients.

Even though those are the ones most likely to go through a legal, compliance, and communications team review before we even see them.

Sucking out all the enthusiasm and authenticity along the way.

Isn’t there a better way than waiting until you need a customer testimonial, then scrambling to get one?

Why not gradually gather them during the course of a year, and use them as needed instead?

This approach allows you to identify the right customers to profile.

The decision-makers who are responsible for numerous referrals.

The everyday customers who are always giving you a shout-out on social.

Customers who are so much more likely to want to share their story with you for the benefit of their peers.

Customer testimonials can be an incredibly powerful marketing and PR advantage.

But only if you take the time to uncover people with great stories who are willing to share them.

About Erika Heald


Erika Heald is the chief content officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She leads the content operation for the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, with the global domination goal in mind. When not writing for Spin Sucks, you can find her on her blog erikaheald.com, or hosting the weekly #ContentChat Twitter chat.

  • Great tips, Erika.

    Not asking the right questions is such a common “trait” among brands. And it’s a shame. If you pay attention to what people like, how they interact with your brand, it’s very easy to have a testimonial from them.
    People want to know you care about them, not only about you.

    • A lukewarm endorsement from a big brand may sway some people. But an enthusiastic, passionate endorsement from someone who truly loves your brand is going to work harder for you in connecting with the right customers.

  • paulakiger

    What a great post and the response could go so many directions. As you point out, it is helpful to gather ideas and resources for positive testimonials as you go ……. when I was at Healthy Kids (before social media especially), we would get frantic requests for “a couple of happy families in [XYZ] city who love the program and are willing to talk about it!” WELLLLL first of all, families (even happy ones) who are on subsidized health insurance programs understandably are sometimes reluctant to go on camera —- even when they ARE, there are the logistics of getting to them, prepping them, etc. I learned to keep a small folder of happy reports (it was small because I was over disputes so I heard much more of the “yuck factor” stories despite the fact that there were MANY happy families) … to try to be prepared when asked.

    • It takes time to cultivate relationships that lend themselves to great testimonials. It’s sad/funny/exasperating that gathering these contacts and comments is so frequently a fire drill.

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