Testimony to testimonials.

Customers may be less likely to listen to you right now. But they're still listening to their peers.

We've written about the power of testimonials before. But now is a good time to revisit the number of ways this type of direct--and indirect--support can be used.

Buyers are particularly wary in this market, because they're being especially careful about parting with their money. They're also being bombarded with more than their share of too-good-to-be-true offers.

There are plenty of desperate advertisers, and many of them are starting to sound desperate--and subsequently, unbelievable. But customers are still listening to one particular group: themselves.

Buyers for both BtoB and consumer products have unprecedented access to peer opinions and reviews, and they're taking full advantage of all resources before making buying decisions. Especially if they think a deal might be a little too good.

So this is a good time to again embrace one of the perennial tools for marketing communications--the customer testimonial. For a good primer, see our previous post, "Customer Spokespeople--The Power of Testimonials."

Since we posted this story almost two years ago, we've made note of some other factors worth considering. Subscription rating services like Angie's List are now large enough in some areas to have impact, (See Angie's List coverage by city here), but they themselves have been subject to reviews and praise or criticism themselves, either for their policies of putting contractors who pay at the top of their lists or from businesses suing because they received bad ratings. Other free services like Kudzu may not have enough comments in a market to be considered credible yet.

So while there are thousands of discussions going on among consumers (especially in enthusiast forums) where you can receive positive reviews, it's still pretty much up to marketers to solicit, gather, and promote good comments they receive. The uses for testimonials are numerous:

1. Websites. A no-brainer. If customers have taken their time to compliment your company, those comments need to be online. And you should include a mechanism for feedback so others can comment. Keep the conversation going.

2. Ads. Our "Customer Spokespeople--The Power of Testimonials" article addresses this in detail. Testimonials can be effective as both primary and secondary elements (think movie reviewers comments at the bottom of the ad for a new flick), and having the right strategy can maximize their impact.

3. Public relations. Testimonials can work in several ways for publicity. If you're introducing a new product or a change on an existing one, including testimonials certainly adds credibility. But you can also use them to distinguish one particular product benefit from those of competitors, to suggest new product uses, or to even refute negative perceptions. Years ago, McCullough chainsaws changed consumer opinions that their saws were hard to start by using testimonials and live events at festivals and shows where individuals participated in a challenge to get a saw to start on the first pull.

There has also been some new research on how testimonials influence people to buy. A study by Brett Martin, Daniel Wentzel, and Torsten Tomczak published in the March 22 2008 issue of the Journal of Advertising reported that different types of people are predisposed to react very strongly to testimonials or to have secondary interest in them. The research addressed individuals' susceptibility to nominative influence (SNI), or how much individuals feel to need to conform to others, to be accepted socially, or to enhance their own image through products or brands.
The research found that people who have a high level of SNI are especially likely to react to testimonials. People with low levels would focus less on the individual and more on the product attributes being discussed.


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