Customer Testimonials The Copywriter's Problem-Solver
Faced with a copywriting challenge? Consider how a few good testimonials can help strengthen your copy platform.
Customer testimonials are a highly effective creative tool for building instant credibility. They also provide a quick countermeasure to the buying objection "it sounds too good to be true." They are an asset for adding new life to a waning control mailing as well as introducing a new product concept. If you aren't already building a library of your customers' comments, now is the time to get started.
I recently received this e-mail from Lands' End (shown at left). When I opened it, I immediately saw two customer testimonials for Lands' End custom clothing—no scrolling required. And while I'd seen this new service advertised in the Lands' End catalog as well as on the Web site, I'd assumed "custom" meant custom hemming, not a complete custom fitting (and, frankly, I wasn't interested).
Then I read what Lands' End customers Laura, Kim, Pam, Melinda, Jeff and John had to say. After reading their comments, the corporate claim was much more credible:
Lands' End customers have already created hundreds of thousands of Lands' End Custom garments for themselves. And they haven't been shy about sharing their opinions. Or holding down the emotion.
The customer comment that was most convincing was Jeff from Utah's. He said the Lands' End $49 custom dress shirts he bought were better than the $120 shirts he previously had purchased from custom shops. Jeff, you sold me!
Focus on What's Genuine
Whether the testimonials you use are solicited or not, it doesn't matter. What matters is that the words ring true and don't sound as though they were written by an advertising copywriter.
If you're not flooded with "white mail" (unsolicited comments) or kind words from customers, pick up the phone. I'd rather spend 10 minutes talking with a customer, jotting down what he or she has to say, than trying to create a testimonial and asking some customer to sign it. The end result is rarely the same. And if you're lucky, while you're listening to customers talk, you'll learn some things that can help with much more than just your testimonial tally.
For example, I once faced what seemed like an insurmountable challenge. I had been asked to write a lead generation mailing for AT&T targeting the general managers of rural feed and grain co-ops. The reason for the challenge: The mailing went out shortly after phone deregulation, when AT&T was first facing competition (and everyone wanted to buy any brand but AT&T), the ad economy was at an all-time low, and the objective was to generate leads for a new and pricey concept in small-business phone systems.
I initially thought I'd taken on the type of project one colleague calls a "work-me-a-miracle," but then I found the hook for my copy platform when I asked the AT&T team if they'd sold any of these new systems to co-ops. As it turned out, they'd sold four. So I got their names and phone numbers. I hit pay dirt when I talked with the office manager at the first co-op I called. For starters, this woman had an answer for every buying objection I knew I had to address in my letter. Then she gave me an unexpected, and perhaps little-known, piece of information that helped me reorganize my letter copy to make it more effective.
While the AT&T product manager had proudly told me about all the whiz-bang high-tech features and benefits this new small-business system offered, the customer told me the feature she had never had before and now used the most. Bet you can't guess what it was—the hold button! Based on the long list of features and benefits I'd been handed, I hadn't planned on even mentioning the hold button. But because of my conversation with this customer, I not only used this woman's comments as the all-important opener for my letter, I moved the hold button up to the top of the list of bulleted benefits. The end result was a letter that successfully generated qualified leads, because the argument it made rang true for the audience it addressed.
Whether you're involved in business-to-consumer or business-to-business direct marketing; whether your communications vehicle is e-mail, a catalog, direct mail or space advertising; or whether you're trying to beat a control or spark your new customer acquisition efforts, the sooner you start allowing your customers to speak on your behalf, the better. Testimonials are one of the most powerful marketing tools you have available to you.
Testimonial Treasure Chest
Here are some tips for how to put testimonials to work in your direct marketing program:
>Have a company-wide system in place for gathering testimonials. Good sources are customer service, salespeople and white mail.
>Don't confuse celebrity endorsements with "real people" testimonials. They're not the same, and your prospective customers—who value useful information to help them make the right buying decisions—know the difference. Endorsements are paid. Testimonials are earned.
>Build a library of positive comments. Most companies receive white mail from customers who either love them or have problems. Follow up on both, but be sure to save the positive comments.
>Get a signed release that gives you permission to use a testimonial. When you get a testimonial worthy of use in future advertising, thank the customer for his or her kind comments, then officially request permission to use it.
>Tell the customer your company's policy for identifying testimonial sources in advertising. Lands' End
e-mail uses first names and states only. The Title Nine Sports catalog for women (see sample page, above) identifies customer models—a visual testimonial—by first name, occupation and a variety of other specifics including favorite food, car, last book read and role model. The goal is to be as specific (and appropriately credible) as possible without intruding on the individual's personal privacy.
>Encourage testimonials by inviting customers to send you their comments. Make the invitation available on your Web Site, on your order form and in package inserts that go out with every order. Periodically, call a panel of recent buyers. Make sure to write down their comments and get releases.
>When using testimonials in B-to-B marketing, consider which elements of identification help meet your marketing objectives such as name (or initials), title, company name, company type, company size or geographic location.
>Always say "thank you" when you receive a compliment, whether or not you plan to use it. It's both good manners and good business.
>Segment your testimonials much like you segment your customer base. Prospective customers identify with first-time customers who have been in their shoes. If you're cross-selling your auto service department to new car buyers who have never tried your service, use comments from others who have made the switch. The more your reader can identify with a testimonial and the person who shared it, the more effective the testimonial becomes.
>Feature testimonials in "hot spots" where they will get noticed and read, such as the Johnson Box in letters; headlines and subheads in brochures, space ads and e-mails; envelope teasers (shown on p. 139); lift letters; postcards; front or back catalog covers (see NEBS catalog cover, left); and package inserts.
>Don't bury good testimonials on the back of a brochure or in fine print next to your legal disclaimers. The stronger the testimonial, the more bold you should be about where and how you use it. Lands' End used its testimonials in the e-mail headline and body copy. Title Nine Sports uses its customer comments as photo captions.