The Dark Side of Testimonial-Driven Sales Copy

It’s always a great idea to throw lots of testimonials into your copy. Except when it isn’t. Here are some times when you might not want to run a testimonial past your audience…

When it’s emotionally unsatisfying and vague:
“I found your book useful.”

When it’s too gushy:
“I love your book! It’s the best one I’ve ever read! It’s so awesome that I’ve recommended it to everyone within a 500 mile radius of my house and now the exclamation point on my keyboard is stuck!!!”

When it’s too polished or pretentious:
“We delight in your intrepid and yet profitable handling of territory so treacherous as options investing.”

When you’ve used stock photos instead of real ones:
(Rule of thumb: Most of your customers probably do NOT have bleached teeth or airbrushed faces. And most of them do not wear t-shirts that have been pressed and dry-cleaned before the photo shoot either.)

When they’re a legal risk or just plain fake:
“I’ve secretly used this investment newsletter to pick stocks for years. I’d be working at McDonald’s without it.” – Warren Buffet, Omaha.

Or when the customer seems too embarrassed to sign it:
“I like your stuff, really I do. – Anonymous”

We could go on finding many ways testimonials won’t do what you want them to do. But how about how to make sure you get good testimonials and use the properly?

Here’s a truism based on experience:

Good products, first and foremost, are the better your chances of getting good testimonials. But even then, you need to identify the person on the team that’s got enough passion for the product to cull and archive a strong testimonial file. This could be the product manager, but more likely, they’re getting their best stuff from the front lines. That is, from the people who deal most directly with the customers.

Don’t be afraid to ask customer service if you can look at their letters or if they’ve seen something good. Often the good stuff is buried in letters asking support questions.

If the company is going to do surveys, make sure they leave room for open-ended questions at the end. And if they’ve done surveys already, look for ones where you can follow up to get enthusiastic customers to elaborate. A day of phone calls to buyers can pay off with testimonials you’ll use for years.

If the company corresponds via emails or an online customer forum (and who doesn’t these days?), ask if it’s okay to follow up with buyers electronically. Or better, ask the product manager to follow up, since replies to their requests might sound more natural (customers have a tendency to fancy-up their praise when they find out it’s going to go in a sales letter.)

Bottom line: There’s no way to get good testimonials without applying a little elbow-grease and a little creative harvesting.

That said, copywriting legend John Caples had a tip. Try running a testimonial-gathering contest. Caples liked to give customers a chance to fill in the following line:

“Finish this sentence in 25 words or less: I like (name of product) because…”

And in return, he would offer every participant a small prize.

Here’s another great idea, based on an insight from friend Michael Masterson, over at www.earltytorise.com: “Ask them what their life was like before they got your product… what their life is like now… and, specifically, how your product helped them make that change.”

Good ideas, don’t you think?



  1. John, terrific post on testimonials. I’ve also found that it’s helpful to ask clients for testimonials around specific topics, like customer service, quality, product performance, etc., so that you have credibility support for a variety of talking points in ads and marketing collateral.

  2. I am rarely impressed by testimonials.

    Especially on line.

    The most prolific and visible on line “experts” laud one another’s work with such frequent and often uninhibited praise an aware reader could only believe the testimonial writer had suddenly been enlightened by a competitor’s work even though the testimonial writer had only recently written something almost identical in content and of equally questionanle value.

    I’m turned off at seeing the same cluster of names testifying to the greatness of each other’s latest infoproduct.

    I also find suspect the practice of adding bonus products with a claimed value is excess by multiples of dollars than the product being offered for sale.

  3. hi George, yes, sometimes it’s smart to ask the client re-write the testimonial or ask for editing, and you can re-phrase it to showcase a specific feature or benefit of whatever it is you’re selling.

    How does that work in your industry?

  4. By chance, do you have any metrics on whether testimonial boxes–color, placement, etc.–improves conversion, etc?

  5. Brandon » None with specific numbers, I’m afraid. At least not at my fingertips. An excellent site that deals with exactly that kind of precision, though, is Anne Holland’s “whichtestwon.com”:


    Definitely worth checking out!

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