Word of mouth marketing has existed for as long as businesses themselves have. In fact, even today, most small businesses rely primarily on virality derived from word of mouth marketing for customers.
According to a Google Trends report, car dash cams skyrocketed in popularity in countries like the UK solely due to roadcam videos shared online by friends and family.
The reason word of mouth marketing works is pretty simple – prospective customers trust the word from people they know more than they trust a marketer. Customers are thus more likely to give your product a try when it is being recommended by people in their social network.
More importantly, word of mouth marketing is cost-effective for the small business owner. As long as you provide a great product or service, you can expect a steady stream of customers to come your way.
But that has been changing in recent times due to internet. Today, you no longer need a friend or family member to recommend a product to you. Customers interested in a business look up reviews online before they make a decision.
The trustworthiness of a service provider is gauged merely by looking at their website. In fact, one study claims that visitors take just 50 milliseconds to form a positive or negative impression about your website.
Although internet has dramatically transformed the way people assess the trustworthiness of a business, the innate tendency to trust the word of a fellow buyer remains. This is exactly why testimonials are so important.
Testimonials are essentially endorsements from past buyers who have been happy with your product or service. Knowing that a person you can relate with has had a positive experience with the business gives prospective customers the much-needed assurance to go ahead and give the business a try themselves.
Websites like Yelp and Angies List have made it so easy for prospective customers to read reviews about the businesses they would like to hire. But ratings and reviews do not always serve their purpose. This is especially true for service businesses where every customer request is unique in its own way.
A service provider who only takes up small projects (that are easy to execute) may enjoy high ratings, but this does not mean much for a customer who needs someone to help them with a complex project. On a similar vein, a business that has taken several large-sized projects may not enjoy a consistently good rating (because of the lower success rates), but they are still a better candidate to take up your projects than one who has only worked on simple projects.
The best way to establish trust is by showcasing reviews from customers who had large and complex projects executed successfully with you. Unfortunately, third party platforms like Yelp do not give business owners all the control they need over what kind of reviews get shown to a prospective buyer.
Testimonials serve that purpose. With testimonials, businesses can demonstrate their expertise with the help of text or video reviews from customers they have worked with. A prospective buyer who lands on your site thus gets to read or listen about some of your best work. This communicates trust better than reviews do.
It is however important to point out that testimonials can come across as fake or sponsored if not executed successfully. Later in this article, we will talk about the various ways you can showcase testimonials in a way that demonstrates credibility and trustworthiness.
Testimonials Vs. Reviews
There is a very clear difference in what kind of testimonials work for B2B businesses compared to B2C. In B2B, the emphasis is often not about what your past buyers have to say about your product, as much as it is on who those buyers are. In essence, your trustworthiness is communicated not by how good your features are, but by who uses these features.
In short, B2B businesses communicate trustworthiness by showcasing their clientele. Here is an example of a CRM company highlighting their clientele on their homepage.
The message being communicated here is that if this product is good for companies like IBM, Audi and T-Mobile, it must be good for your business as well.
This does not however work if you have a service business or a B2B offering targeted at small business owners. In this case, your customers do not enjoy the high level of brand equity that companies like IBM and Audi do. In such cases, reviews and testimonials are a better way to communicate trustworthiness.
Reviews tell prospective buyers what to expect and whether or not they got their need fulfilled by the business. Testimonials, on the other hand, provide the much-needed validation for the customer on the fence to go ahead with the purchase.
Testimonials and reviews thus serve distinct purposes and you cannot replace one with the other. For service businesses and those B2B organizations targeting a small business audience, it is a good idea to have both reviews and testimonials communicate the credibility of your brand.
As a general rule, reviews gather greater credibility when they are hosted on third party platforms (like Yelp, Google and so on). From a customer’s perspective, this is indicative of the fact that these reviews are neutral and have not been doctored. They are thus more trusted than reviews published on your own website.
A customer who is convinced about your product through third party reviews tends to visit your website for a final evaluation. Testimonials from happy customers provide the much needed push towards conversion.
There are a few points to note here. The objective of a testimonial is provide the visitor with a final validation about the quality of your product or service. It should thus come from genuinely happy customers who are willing to take the time to talk about your business. It doesn’t take long for prospective customers to know whether the testimonials were paid for or not. Such fake testimonials tend to ruin all the credibility you have built over the customer’s journey and should thus be strictly avoided.
In addition to making sure that your testimonials come from genuine customers, another way to exude trustworthiness is through the medium of communication. Video testimonials have proven to be a lot more effective in demonstrating legitimacy than text based testimonials like this.
Source: Rosy Salon Software
In some cases, testimonials are not all that effective. This is true in the case of product based businesses for two main reasons. Customers in this case are not concerned about who buys the product. Rather, their main concern is if the product works and would solve their issues. This is also the reason why customers look up reviews for the product on search engines like Google.
By having a dedicated ‘reviews’ section on your website, you achieve two things. Firstly, you make it possible for the customer to look up reviews from other customers without having to resort to third party services like Yelp. Also, you get a chance to rank above such services for the related keywords on Google. This is important since it allows your business to set the narrative and not let it get hijacked by third party platforms, as this example demonstrates.
The Various Testimonial Types
While a business may not have much control over what kind of reviews get posted on third party services, testimonials are easy to control. Given its impact on conversion rates, it is important to pick the right kind of testimonial to showcase.
These are testimonial snippets that include a very short snippet along with a headshot and designation of the poster. This only works if the person offering a testimonial is well-known in the industry or is a mini-celebrity. Use stock photos and generic write-ups can often come across as fake.
These are the most effective of all testimonial types. Someone who goes through the pain of recording and sharing a message about a business has to either be a highly satisfied customer or is a paid poster. Make sure that the poster’s industry background is sufficiently highlighted in order to establish legitimacy.
These work the best when you cater to end-consumers or small business owners. In this case, businesses showcase screenshots of emails and social media messages from happy customers. Some of these testimonials (especially social media messages) are easily verified and thus lend additional credibility.
Creating An Impact
The first rule for any successful business transaction is to make a product or service that is the best that money can buy. No amount of reviews or testimonials can beat this. However, word of mouth marketing is one of the most cost effective customer acquisition channels and in the present day, reviews and testimonials have taken their place.
Customers love to provide testimonials for businesses they are satisfied with. Don’t be afraid to ask. As long as you provide a great product and stay away from fake reviews and testimonials, this is likely to be the most effective marketing strategy for your business.