Case studies offer hard evidence your product or service is beneficial, but charts and statistics don’t tell a story quite like client testimonials do. Creating a narrative about your business through a client advocate generates interest based on social and emotional cues rather than facts and numbers, a psychology-backed approach that works in nearly any field.
Even if your company provides a service that drives measurable results, a powerful testimonial video can be the final key to converting an indecisive lead into a paying customer. The scientifically minded may wonder whether or not investing in a professional quality video testimonial is worth the time and money, but the truth is, there is science behind why client endorsements continue to draw business, even in today’s relatively sophisticated consumer climate.
Below we’ll examine the psychological reasons why testimonials work and discuss how you can best utilize them to produce results, especially in tandem with real data. While we’ll focus on video—the most engaging and versatile testimonial format by far—these concepts also apply to other types of testimonials to a lesser degree.
Follow the Leader
If you’re a pragmatic person, you may not immediately realize the substantial benefits of including a client testimonial video or two on your social media or website. Why, when there are plenty of perfectly good growth and sales statistics available, would an anecdotal story have such a profound effect on whether or not a client decides to make a purchase? Why do people place equal, if not more, value in a personal testimonial than cold, hard fact?
For the answer we’ll look to psychology and the science of social proof, a concept Wikipedia defines as the “phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior in a given situation”. Simply put, most humans have an innate tendency to follow others’ examples, mirroring what they perceive to be the circumstances’ most appropriate response.
Social proof: a psychological and social phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior in a given situation.
While Muzafer Sherif is often credited with pioneering the initial concept back in the 1930s, famed Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram explored social proof to a greater degree throughout the 60s and 70s, providing perhaps some of the easiest to understand examples of social proof in action. In one of Milgram’s experiments, volunteers took to a busy city street and looked upwards at the sky for no apparent reason, prompting 80% of those passing by to mimic their behavior, a result that has been replicated in several similar “obedience experiments” throughout the years. In another, more serious example, he theorized that social proof was a primary reason so many otherwise educated and morally conscious citizens obeyed the Nazi regime during World War II, using a series of controversial tests to back up his hypothesis. His lifetime of research confirmed social pressures affect situations both simple and complex.
Why Testimonials Work
Since Milgram’s time, plenty of other psychologists and scientists have conducted their own experiments, leading to complementary findings. When faced with a situation where the appropriate response is not clearly defined, most people look to others to determine how to act and what to do in order to fit in or avoid conflict, intentionally or not. And so, the actions of our peers are a subtle, yet powerful influence on our lives. It’s a collective means of social survival we’ve developed throughout human history, in which strange or outlying behaviors are often met with ridicule, scorn or punishment. Peer pressure and the fear of the social consequences of noncompliance often trump reason and inner dialogue, even when the stakes are low, and even more so when they’re high.
And believe it or not, the stakes are usually pretty high when potential clients are trying to decide on a purchase, whether they are individual consumers or professionals looking to buy your products or services for their own businesses. Mistakes are costly, and if you or your product fails to meet expectations, they’ll still need to find someone or something that can, meaning more money will be spent than originally budgeted. Wasted time is often costlier still. Even if they are not pressed for time, and even if they have a healthy budget, your business probably has plenty of competition, and the pressure to make the right choice can seem overwhelming at times.
Some suggest it’s a negative behavior akin to herd mentality, but when applied to business, social proof is a respectable strategy. From word of mouth endorsements to the video testimonials we’re discussing today it’s a common practice that, when used ethically, does no harm. In fact, you’re likely missing out if you don’t take advantage.
How To Apply Social Proof to a Client Testimonial
Testimonials can influence a potential client in the same way a random person on the street might get them to look up to the sky without prompting. Hearing another professional or consumer speak to your capabilities will help convince them your products and services are right for them or their business.
The key to social proof is that, as the behavior you’d like a person to emulate becomes more complex, the “leader” must demonstrate more relatability and believability, ensuring their actions will indeed seem like the right thing to do.
A good client testimonial will accomplish all of that naturally. But what makes a client testimonial good?
A testimonial is an endorsement of your business by a customer, someone who has experience with your services and can speak from the heart about how successful your partnership has been. Whether it’s a testament to your character or your competency, prospects watching your video need to relate to the featured client, so think about your target audience and the type of customer to whom your services best apply. Choosing clients from an industry you frequently serve, or who fit your target demographic to a tee, will go a long way in creating a feeling of trust, leading a potential customer to believe, “If this product works for them, it’s going to work for me.”
Horizontal persuasion from another individual perceived to be on your own level is typically much more successful than vertical persuasion from an authority figure. This is why video is our first choice format for testimonials. Text and static images can work, but it’s much easier to relate to or identify with an actual person using their own words, in motion. Creating the feeling that your client is having a peer-to-peer, personal conversation with your prospect should be your paramount concern. Of course, the more clients and the more diverse group of clients you can afford to include in a testimonial video, or in a series of individual testimonial videos, the better. There’s always safety in numbers when it comes to social proof!
Ideally your video will feature clients you’ve worked with for a significant amount of time, who hired you for large or complex projects, or who have made several major purchases over the last few years. A newer client may have a lot to say, but the longer your business relationship has lasted, the more it will prove that what they’re saying about your business is the truth. It’s also important to choose clients who are comfortable, and who sound natural, on camera. You can certainly provide talking points or even a script, but your testimonial should never sound scripted.
This is also where ethics can come into play. Some clients may agree to record a testimonial on your behalf simply because they’re happy with your services, but it never hurts to offer additional benefits, as long as you’re transparent about it. Fully paying for a testimonial isn’t a best practice and may backfire if it’s obviously fake, but it’s perfectly acceptable to offer your client a reasonable discount for their participation in a video review. Alternatively, you can also emphasise the bonus brand awareness your clients will receive thanks to your video. By featuring their logo and business name on your website, you’re giving them a chance to reach an audience they might not have otherwise.
The production, as long as it meets today’s admittedly high visual quality standards, is less important in this case. Slick transitions or special effects are nice, but not necessary. Longer formats can work, but keeping things around a minute or under, even as short as 30-45 seconds, is a good rule of thumb. A professional videographer can recommend the best setting for your unique needs.
In 2017, Forbes stated that customer testimonials are one of the top three most effective types of video content, while BigCommerce suggests companies can grow revenue by up to 62% through online reviews, both of specific products and services and the entire business in general.
Testimonials work, and that’s due in no small part to social proof. While as a strategy it can apply to many other aspects of business, testimonials are one of the easiest ways to use this psychological phenomenon to improve the quantity and quality of your leads. While it may not be facts and figures, it’s still science after all!