The Truth, and Nothing But The Truth, on Testimonials

The highest form of advertising is W.O.M (word of mouth) and it’s hands down the envy, the goal, of every brand in the marketplace. On the other end of the spectrum is the lowest form of advertising: The testimonial. And yet, so many companies resort to testimonial tactics. A testimonial is quick. It’s easy. And it’s lazy—relying solely on a serendipitous collection of sound-bites from willing interviewees. Clients, and sadly, many marketing and advertising professionals, mistake testimonials as the distilled essence of W.O.M.
But consumers don’t.
Because it isn’t.
And it doesn’t work.

A quick refresher course in the three S’s of consumerism sheds light on why testimonials are ineffective:

1) Selfish: “What’s in it for me?” Linda in Hoboken couldn’t care less what Edna from Oxnard thinks of her (insert product here). Every human operates on the self-interest level when presented with a proposition that is experiential in scope. It starts with our need to touch the stove as kids and feel the burn for ourselves in order to learn not to touch it. Mom and dad’s word? Simply not good enough. Likewise, any testimony given by a stranger on the virtues of (insert product here) is an exercise in futility.

2) Skeptical: “I don’t believe it.” We didn’t believe mom and dad about the stove. And we’re predisposed to not believe anything a company that’s out to make money tells us. Traditional forms of intrusive advertising—broadcast and print—usually precede themselves with a resounding “I’m about to sell you something!” This shuts consumers down. To further compound consumer skepticism with a testimonial from  (A) someone they don’t know, glasses(B) saying something they’re apt to doubt, (C) with the presumption that the person sharing their glowing commentary has been artfully edited, and is being compensated in any of a number of ways, is lethal to credibility.

3) Savvy: “I’m smarter than you think I am.” Consumers hate to be talked down to. They are not amused when a client or agency resorts to a testimonial approach thinking that a few superlatives from a member of their demo will elicit emotional buy-in. Research reveals an inverse ratio in respect to testimonial advertising and perceived brand value. Consumers expect testimonials in as-seen-on-tv spots, in long-form informercials, and with other low-tier brand or product marketing messaging. However, the higher the ticket, the more respected the brand, the more intolerant consumers are for the talking head approach. In that way, testimonials can, and do, damage brand perception.

But it’s easy.
It’s quick.
It just doesn’t work.