Customer Testimonials as Marketing Tool

By Glenn Muske

Rural and Agribusiness Enterprise Development Specialist
North Dakota State University Extension Service – Center for Community Vitality

Glenn Muske from North Dakota
State University shares his
small business knowledge.

What people say about a product or service can have a big impact on a business’ success.

No matter whether the purchase is large or small, consumer behavior often is directed, if not driven, by what we hear from others about a specific product or about a business. In the world of marketing, we have been influenced by a ‘customer testimonial.’

My family and I are a good example of customer testimonials at work. We are probably headed out to a new restaurant this weekend. Our choice was not influenced by the commercials we heard. Our choice was driven by the positive comments others have offered about the restaurant.

Customer testimonials have been used in marketing for years. Whether informal, such as word-of-mouth, or more formalized through print media, online or video, hearing what others say has a tremendous influence on our behavior.

However, customer testimonials are more prevalent today than ever before. Consumers can leave comments on business websites, post them to social media sites of the business, use a third-party review sites such as Trip Advisor or Yelp, or simply make a post to their own online social media site.

What comes as a surprise to many business owners is the general acceptance of such posts as legitimate. Whether you know the person making the comment or not, research suggests that well in excess of 50 percent of those seeing the reviews accept the comments as accurate. And nearly one-third of respondents indicated they have been influenced by those comments.

Yet less than 30 percent of businesses include customer testimonials in their online marketing, and even fewer include them in their traditional advertising.

The use of customer testimonials in marketing often is perplexing to small-business owners.

Common questions include:

  • How do you get those testimonials?
  • When can you get them?
  • Where can you use them?
  • What if the person does not offer positive comments?

The answers to these questions are surprisingly simple. Getting them is simply asking. You can ask anytime you interact with the client, especially if he or she had a positive experience. Then you use them everywhere: online, in-store, in printed material, in advertising, etc.

Make providing a testimonial easy for the customer. The simplest way is to offer comment cards just as the customer is leaving. Better yet, ask if they would do a short video. Adding a visual element strengthens the impact of their words. Give them a disposable camera to take pictures or ask them to share their videos and pictures.

To effectively use customer testimonials, you want them to be authentic and specific. You also want to have a diverse set. Change them periodically. And let your clients know that you have used their comments.

It is important that business owners remember one thing, and that is to get written permission to use the testimonial and any pictures. Also ensure the claims are truthful as outlined by the Federal Trade Commission rules and avoid misleading claims. For example, don’t promise ‘everyone will have the same experience.’

Customer stories or testimonials are a powerful marketing tool, so consider using them when developing your marketing strategy.

For more help with testimonials, consider what is available at your local Extension Service office. Also visit North Dakota State University’s small-business support website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/smallbusiness and sign up for the monthly newsletter. Small businesses anywhere in the U.S. should check out www.eXtension.org/entrepreneurship.

The Small Business Administration and its related organizations, such as the Small Business Development Centers and Service Corps of Retired Executives, and USDA Rural Development, along with many other state agencies, also can be valuable resources.

Glenn Muske is a true grass-roots expert on small business. I was impressed with him back when he worked in Oklahoma, and that carries on to his work in North Dakota. He shares articles like this with the county extension agents there, and he’s kindly granted us permission to share them here. Follow Glenn on Twitter for more small business info and links. –Becky  

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About Glenn Muske

Glenn Muske is the Rural and Agribusiness Enterprise Development Specialist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service – Center for Community Vitality.
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Comments

  1. says

    Good morning, Glenn.

    Good advice! I’m working with a client now to appropriately place testimonials in key places on her website. Matching the message to the service offered is part of our strategy.

    Christopher Wallace, a VP at Amsterdam Printing, shared in a recent post that placing a testimonial in an automatic email response (when someone signs up for an email newsletter) might also be appropriate for some companies. I thought that was interesting.

    I also can not recommend SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) enough. My partner and I receive guidance from two counselors there and their input is priceless.

    Thanks for your post, Glenn! Have a great day!

    • says

      Don, I like the idea of gathering up reviews from other online sites and keeping them together on a page. But you could also sprinkle shorter testimonials throughout your site.

  2. says

    Love, Love, Love comments from Glenn Muske! He rocked in OK and is evidently doing the same in ND. great information and thanks as always for the kind words about the SBDC network!

  3. says

    Hi Glenn,

    Customer testimonials are goldmine to every business since this will give you an immediate feedback on what is great and what needs to be improved in your business.

    I believe that we need to ask for customer testimonials all the time and thank them for giving their time to share their thoughts about our business. It doesn’t need for you to give a token or a freebie, just a thank you will do, or a personalized card with your handwritten thank you note in it. :)

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