The Anatomy of an Ethical Testimonial
A while back I received a marketing email for a home study course that piqued my curiosity. It boasted "astounding" results with a money-back guarantee to grow my business practically overnight. It was pricey and I was curious if the seller really got results with his marketing angle, so I decided to investigate...just for fun!
Like any smart business person this guy offered impressive testimonials on his website. They spoke of ease of use, value, and results; all of the critical pieces of a strong testimonial. They also displayed pictures of the customer with first and last names included; more critical components of a believable testimonial. Some consumers would be quite happy with that "proof" and click the buy button right then and there, but my instincts told me to search further for confirmation of the product's value. What gave me the clue?
All of the testimonials boasted that this product was single-handedly responsible for tripling the purchaser's business. Five solo practitioners tripling their revenues with ease - and within a short period of time? Hummm, why hadn't I ever heard this miracle-worker's name? Now I was really curious, so off to Google I went.
This expert didn't have much of a Google presence; no speaking engagements, very few articles or videos on the internet. That alone didn't bother me too much, but what I found next did bother me. He had several other websites offering similar products and the very same testimonials. That's right, they were also from the same people. Wow! These people really like this guy's work!
So I moved on to the next part of the "test" and Googled the authors of 2 of the testimonials. They did, indeed, appear quite successful in their fields so I thought I might have to eat some crow. But not yet. I emailed these two ladies inquiring about the true value of this product and asking if they would still recommend the home study product today. Even I was surprised by the results of my inquiry. Both women called me within the hour.
"What is the name of this product and where did you see my testimonial?" the first one asked? I gave her the url and before long heard a "huff" on the other end of the phone. She explained that she had done a brief stint in a Joint Venture agreement with this person "way back" at the beginning of her career. She'd never used his product but in her early-career naiveté may have provided such a "testimonial" as a part of their partnership agreement. Her next call was to the website owner asking him to remove the dated testimonial.
The second woman recognized her photo on the website as a "very old" image taken from one of her first websites. She had, indeed, purchased the product but didn't recall using it. But she was certain she'd never provided a testimonial on the product. She too put in a call to have the information removed immediately.
In addition to the ethical issues in question here, I also noted that both women were astounded that so many years had gone by since they'd had contact with this individual, yet this information was on his websites. My thought was, this was a technology information product, if its content is half as old as these "testimonials" it couldn't even be applicable in today's web culture. Glad I didn't buy!
Now I doubt that most people scrutinize a product and the related testimonials in this way, but nonetheless, using integrity and smarts to put the seal of approval on your products and services is critical. There's nothing wrong with an old testimonial, as long as it's credible and true. Let the individuals know that you'd like to use their quotes and get their permission to do so. You never know who's out there doing a little detective work!
How do you ask for testimonials? Do you update them or recycle them? What's worked and what hasn't? Please share with us!
Marla Tabaka is a small-business advisor who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She has over 25 years of experience in corporate and start-up ventures and speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness.