6 Tips for Customer Testimonials

The rise of social media and prevalence of online ratings and customer reviews on e-commerce sites tells us that today’s consumer values the opinion of her peers over that of the marketer or company. This online phenomenon translates into direct mail in the form of customer testimonials, a direct mail fundamental.

“What the testimonial is, and this is the same thing that we’re seeing online, it’s that the consumers are turning to each other to get confidence in who to trust,” says Russell Kern, founder and president of The Kern Organization, located in Woodland Hills, Calif. The customer testimonial takes the product endorsement out of the marketer’s hands and puts it into the consumers’ hands, adds Ken Schneider, direct mail copywriter and president of Ken Schneider & Associates, based in Houston.

In order to successfully implement testimonials in direct mail, marketers may need to dig to find the best comments to match with their selling points or mail package, and do some testing. Below are some tips from Kern and Schneider to get the most out of your testimonials.

1. Solicit Customer Testimonials
Kern says that sending an e-mail to customers is a quick and easy way to conjure up content for your mailing. “You can actually do an active testimonial solicitation process and do it online for offline applications,” he says. For example, it could be a three-question survey asking, “Are you currently satisfied?” “What do you like about the product?” and “Is there a positive comment that you’d be willing to share with other customers like yourself?” he illustrates.

2. Find Testimonials in the Media and Online
One of the first places Schneider looks for testimonial copy is within the company’s existing marketing collateral. In the case of a publication mailing, Schneider advises checking the media kit and past issues for any positive letters to the editor. Another bit of market research that mailers can tap into are existing conversations about their product or service on blogs, Twitter and in references on social networks. “Look at the conversations that are happening about your products to see what quotes are out there,” Kern advises. Schneider adds that testimonials don’t always have to come from the customers; he frequently uses reviews or endorsements in major newspapers and publications as testimonial content.

3. Keep the Content Focused
It’s about quality, not quantity. “We’d rather go with one good testimonial than five or six that don’t say that much,” says Schneider, who recommends that each testimonial be as specific as possible to a particular selling point in the mailing. “Each testimonial should be small and short and focus on a single [selling] point, but the sum of testimonials should be the entire sales message,” Kern explains.

4. Include Names and Locations
Including a customer’s name, title and location along with the testimonial paints a picture of a real person and adds further credibility to her comments, Kern says. In some instances, including a location is crucial; Schneider gives an example of a mailing for a Southern cookbook. “You could have testimonials from locations throughout the South to drive home the point that the users are from the South, and if the Southern customers like this book, then it must really be a true Southern cookbook,” he describes. If you cannot use a person’s full name, Kern recommends using her initials instead.

5. Test Placement
If he had an unlimited testing budget just for testimonials, Schneider says he would test the placement of testimonials before the content. For example, he would do an A/B test of one package with testimonials only on the outer envelope versus one with testimonials only in the letter, or two packages: one with a testimonial-devoted lift note and one without. “I don’t have a golden rule of when to put them where. It has more to do with the overall flow of the package and where it needs testimonials,” Schneider says. For example, a cookbook mailing may show images of each recipe, and if you had a testimonial that matched an image, then it’d be best to place them together on the same page, while a general testimonial could work anywhere in the package.

6. Don’t Drop the Ball
Kern illustrates a big misuse of customer testimonials in a leading insurer’s direct mail package. The front of the outer envelope is splashed with quotes about how much customers love working with its agents, yet the quotes are not attributed to anyone in particular. So the testimony is questionable from the beginning. Then inside the package, there is no mention of the testimonials teasers from the outer. “By the time you get inside the package, there is a total disconnect of what this was supposed to be about—people loving their insurance agents—and then they just drop you into a hard sell,” he laments. When you’re using testimonials, Kern concludes, be sure you deliver comments that feel honest because in today’s marketplace, consumers know when they’re being manipulated.

(Originally published in Inside Direct Mail, May 2009)

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