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Why Your Customer Testimonials Are NOT Working

Why Your Testimonials Are NOT Increasing Your Conversions
Is your social proof working? (Image source)

Aileen Lee, Partner at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said it best – social proof is the new marketing. It’s a powerful marketing tool that when done correctly can lead to conversions as high as 68.7%.

As marketers we understand the power of social proof. We use it every day in our marketing materials to build trust with potential customers and convince them to buy.

Examples of social proof include:

  • Case studies
  • Recognizable company logos
  • Vanity metrics
  • Customer testimonials

Customer testimonials are an essential part of social proof. They let us connect with those that are similar to us (in a similar niche) or those whom we aspire to be (big brands).

However, your customer testimonials may actually be hurting your conversions by taking up valuable real estate on your website if they’re not connecting or aspiring your audience.

In this post, we’ll explore the right and wrong ways to attain and use customer testimonials.

The Power of the Crowd

Social proof is a powerful psychological phenomenon where people will behave similarly to the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.

In fact, social proof is so powerful that Stanley Milgram, an American social psychologist, conducted an experiment where he had a group of people stop in a busy street and look up at the six-floor of an office nearby where nothing was happening.

Milgram found that 4% of passersby would stop to join a single person staring up, however that number jumped to 40% when there were 15 people staring up at the office. On top of this, 86% of passersby would at least look up to see what everyone else was looking at.

In today’s crowded world, where companies are vying for consumer attention, social proof plays an important part in the ability to reach new customers.

By accumulating testimonials you are able to create an information cascade where your customers observe the actions of others and then make the same choice that everyone else has made.

As Robert Cialdini famously showed in his book, Influence, we are all prone to social pressures. In one experiment, researchers found that although audiences disliked canned laughter, the use of it “causes an audience to laugh longer and more often when humorous material is presented and to rate the material as funnier.”

The Wrong Way to Use Customer Testimonials

Don’t use Jane Doe from I Don’t Know The Company

Think about how you feel when you see a testimonial from Seth Godin versus a testimonial from Steve Young (of SmartShoot).

One will make an immediate impact on your conversions while the other will have you wondering if it’s THE Steve Young – you know the Hall of Fame quarterback of the 49’ers.

You could have the best written testimonial that talks about the benefits of your product, the pain that it solves and the amount of money it generated, however if the person writing it doesn’t resonate with your audience then it will do little to improve conversions.

It’s the very reason why conference organizers pay recognizable names such as Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin the big bucks. They bring an audience with them.

Instead inspire the “little guys”

Testimonials that Convert Neil Patel

While running his SEO agency, Neil Patel found that although the majority of his customers were mid-sized business, they wanted to see all of the large Fortune 500 companies that he worked with.

“When we showed potential clients all of the small and medium businesses we worked with, our conversion rate of locking them in as a customer decreased by almost half versus only showing them large brands we worked with.” Neil states in his blog post.

Can’t land a big brand as a client? Consider either losing money doing a project with a big brand or even doing something for free. It will more than pay for itself.


Don’t use “easy” and “best”

We’ve all seen those generic testimonials that look like the company wrote it and asked the customer to sign off on it: “This is by far the easiest and best product I ever used. It made the clouds part and the sun shine through! I highly recommend it.”

What you need are real testimonials. Generic terms such as “easy”, “best” and “innovative” don’t tell customers a thing about your product or services. In today’s world, if your product is not “easy” then forget about it; you don’t stand a chance.

Instead show results and overcome objections

Testimonials that Convert Ramit Sethi

How does Ramit Sethi, author of the New York Times bestselling book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, achieve conversion rates as high as 68.7% on his products?

He does an immense amount of research to get inside his audience’s head. Ramit states that “when you can truly deeply understand people, even in fact better than they understand themselves, then your sales skyrocket.”

Not only will you be able to create a product that your customer wants and needs, but you will be able to use their exact language in your copywriting to build a deeper relationship.

As your customers are using your product ask for a lot of feedback. It’s important to ask for accomplishments especially from those who were skeptical at first.

A simple email that states, “Hope things are going well. If you were able to accomplish XX, but you were skeptical then click here.” You can then ask for detailed objections along with their results.

Then add that testimonial to your sales page and your audience will be amazed that you had an answer to their objection before they even had it.


Don’t use an all-in-one testimonial

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

I absolutely LOVE this quote and it’s one that I always go back to.

But how does this relate to testimonials? Well for one, you may be trying to cover all your bases and “stuffing” a testimonial with too many objections, results and customers.

This is especially true when it’s a video testimonial. We’ve all seen the long winded video that includes 2-3 testimonials about the customers and their achievements.

The message becomes convoluted and a viewer is NOT able to connect with the testimonial.

Instead tailor your testimonial to your audience

Testimonials that Convert sharefile
Click for full-size image

In an earlier post on Unbounce, I shared a story about how Sharefile creates landing pages tailored to their target audience. Each landing page uses language that speaks to the intended audience and is accompanied by a testimonial from someone within that industry.

For example, above is the landing page targeted at lawyers. The headline “Securely and easily exchange legal files” clearly states the benefit of a lawyer using Sharefile. The video also has a lawyer talking about how he uses Sharefile and the benefits he’s getting from it.

— Steve Young


About Steve Young
Steve Young is the Director of Product Marketing for SmartShoot, a marketplace that connects businesses and individuals with freelance photographers and videographers from around the world.. Follow Steve on Twitter.
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