Some days, it may seem like testimonials were born when Yelp hit its stride in 2005. However, because humans are a herding species, we have always been influenced by insight and advice from others--even when we don't realize it.
The brain concept being activated with a testimonial (or review or other form of word of mouth) is called social proof. It was first introduced by Robert Cialdini, professor of marketing and psychology at Arizona State University, in his 1984 book, Influence.
Seeing or hearing that someone else likes something is incredibly influential when it comes to decision making. This is why testimonials are useful. Unfortunately, now that reviews and testimonials are everywhere, it's harder to create an effective one that stands out from the crowd.
If you want to have effective testimonials that actually influence the behavior of your potential customers, there are three easy things to do.
1. Treat it like a movie trailer.
Movies do a great job of including social proof through very short snips of a quote someone may have actually written or said. "Fantastic" "Epic" "Amazing"--it is unlikely that the full testimonial from the outlet was only a single word. That means the people creating the trailer edited it down to its essence by using the most impactful word.
"Fantastic" may have come from a full line like, "This movie was fantastic. I really loved it."
Including the full quote makes the key word get muddy. It is buried in unnecessary fluff that encourages many people to not read the full sentence or truly take it in. The human brain is lazy and has a lot going on. Take the time to edit your testimonials down so they are as engaging as the trailer for the next Marvel movie.
2. Consider the platform.
One-word testimonials are great for videos, social or website headers, speaker sheets, billboards, advertisements, and anywhere else where you need to grab attention quickly.
In other cases, it is useful to include a testimonial with a little more meat. These can and should still be edited down to make them into manageable pieces, but when someone has gained some interest in what you are selling and is looking to see what others thought about working with you, they may need a little more detail.
Perhaps you have a testimonials document when you send out proposals, or a page dedicated to them on your website. It has also become popular to do meme-style word art on social-media posts with a powerful quote.
Think about the context of where someone is coming from when they will see the testimonial to determine what they need to hear at that moment. How might a few words from another person help move them forward to the next step in the process? If you have a common concern from potential customers that keeps them from buying at a certain point, a well-placed quote showing how someone else overcame that same fear--like: "I was concerned the shelf wouldn't be strong enough to hold my books, but it was incredibly sturdy and looks great!"--can do wonders.
3. Including a name or title can work against you.
Not every quote and testimonial needs to be attributed to a specific person. Keep a record for yourself in case anyone asks, but similar to not needing to show the testimonial in its entirety, if a name is not helping you, it is not required.
In some cases, including those details could actually be a negative thing.
The human brain is biased to be most influenced by people whom we believe are like us--part of our in-group. When you can show the quote is from someone exactly like the person reading the testimonial (say, a CEO of a small manufacturing plant) it is useful to show that the quote came from someone like them. It properly triggers in-group bias and has more influence on the decision.
If you have a very diverse customer base, putting a quote from a specific person can trigger the opposite--out-group bias, which will make someone question if the product is really for them, or just for "those types of people."
When there is no attribution of a name or business type, the brain sort of glosses over this detail. The testimonial is from a human person--a group we are all a member of.
Where to Start
You can approach testimonials in two ways. First, start with the area where it needs to go (social post, proposal) and then find an existing quote that fits. If you don't have one--ask.
Then, start with the testimonials you have and look for ways to edit them down--then determine where they will best influence future customer behavior.