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Rethinking testimonials

Testimonials

Do you have user testimonials on your website? Are they all about you? Chances are, they're letters or quotes or reviews that talk about how fabulous your product or service is, how impressed they are with you, how much you rock. If they're anything like some of the ones we have in our books, they suck.

They suck because the focus is all on you, when they should be first-person accounts of how the user kicked ass (or at least improved in some way) as a result of your product or service. Even better would be testimonials that described exactly how they used your thing to become better. In other words, testimonials-as-tutorials. Something that provided value to both existing and potential new users.

Four types of testimonials

1) Completely made-up. I'm assuming that none of you reading this blog would do something that stupid or unethical.

2) Real, but without last name and company name. You know, the ones modeled after the quotes in Cosmo or Maxxim, from Jennifer S., copywriter, or Fred G., IT Director.

These are usually worse than having no testimonials at all. Even if they are real, they look fake. With a few exceptions (for, say, hair replacement or "increase your manhood" products), there's little reason a user wouldn't give you their full name. It's possible that a company doesn't want their competitors to know that they're using your product, but if that's the case, don't use their testimonial!

My first thought when I see these no-last-name-no-company-name quotes is that either they're made up, or the person giving the testimonial didn't like you enough to publicly endorse you. Either way, it looks bad.

3) Real, with name and company, raving about the company.

4) Real, with name and company, talking about themselves. These are the most compelling, and potentially the most helpful to other users (another example of marketing-by-teaching).

The one important distinction I didn't make in those categories is that there are some testimonials whose value is in lending credibility. These are the endorsements from people who other people trust, and who may not be actual users themselves.

These credibility endorsements were crucial to our Design Patterns book, for example, because we took an extremely important and serious topic and made it appear... less serious. That key people in the patterns community (including Erich Gamma and Ward Cunningham, inventor of the "wiki") endorsed the book lent a valuable credibility to it.

But when I look at the most prominent quotes on our back cover and inside pages, way too many fall into the "The book is great" or "You guys are great" category, and only a few talk about the user. But
here's a quote (from an Amazon review of the patterns book) that we should be using:
"Sitting in a developer's meeting yesterday I was really surprised that, while I clearly didn't have the years of experience the other coders had, I had no problem keeping up and was even able to contribute. I'm now moving in to the new assignment fairly well and am confident that I'll be able to pick up the details of this language now that I've got such a good grounding from this book."

And I'd love to go even further--to start using some category 4 testimonials that would be more helpful to others. For example, people in online forums often share study tips with others on how they used the book, or--even better--they talk about how they applied what they learned to improve their real-world work. Those tips make for more useful testimonials.


DoubleClick heading in the right direction

Noah Brier sent me a link to the DoubleClick main page, which recently moved to a more user-focused marketing approach. It showcases real users right up front at the top of the main page, which I think is great (much better than what I've done so far), and the quotes are a combination of category 3 and 4. The quotes aren't big enough to have useful tips, but I applaud them for moving in the right direction.


37signals testimonials... need improvement

I checked out the 37signals main page, and it's full of testimonials from category 3--all real, but talking mainly about how great the product is. Many of these are important for credibility (if BusinessWeek or the Wall Street Journal said something about my product, I'd definitely be showing it), and having lots of users say how much they loved it is important to prospective users. But of all the main page testimonials, only a few are what I'd call category 4.

Here are some of the best ones...

"Basecamp has already been key to winning a project, being the main thing that differentiated us from a very close competitor, and it’s had a massive, positive impact on our working practices, even after just a couple of weeks."

(Describes how the user kicked ass)

and

"I’ve spent the last 3 days working out strategies to completely revamp and streamline my record-keeping and information-storage strategies for my work, personal interests, and scholarly projects. As a librarian, someone in the information organization and retrieval business, this is particularly exciting!"


Not so fast... 37signals has case studies!

OK, so they get about the same grade for their main-page testimonials as I'd give us for our books... C. But, the 37signals folks have something wonderful--category 5, we'll call it, on their case studies page! And it was this page, in fact, that helped sell me on using Basecamp.

So, A+ for the case studies, guys. If you could find a way to pull a few useful pieces out of the case studies, and include them as part of your testimonials, that would be even better. That's something we could all do--get some case studies, and some helpful testimonials from that.

The main point: users don't care about you as much as they care about themselves.

Make the users the heroes--the stars--instead of the company, product, or service. Once you've covered your credibility base, wouldn't users rather hear how other users--people just like them--have used it to kick ass in some way? Anything we can do to elicit first-person language from our users, that talks about what they themselves have done, is far more valuable than a glowing report about you.

If any of you have examples of good testimonials, I'd love to hear about it.

[bonus link: Author, speaker, and branding consultant Tom Asacker has a wonderful PDF (be warned-17 MBs) that's full of great info presented in a visually compelling way. I highly recommend it. It's not about testimonials, but the overlap between what Tom talks about and what we talk about here is heavy. I love this guy, despite our disagreements on a few thing ; ) ]

Posted by Kathy on February 12, 2006 | Permalink

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» IT Isn't (Just) Electricity from People Over Process
My esteemed colleague, Steve O'Grady's notes from OSBC reminded me of the old "IT is like electricity" line of thought that's been kicking around. The analogy goes that IT will become so standardized and cheap that it will be a... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 15, 2006 2:30:48 PM

» Users don't care about you from Coding Horror
Seth Godin presented this slide during a recent presentation at Google: Users don't care about YOU. What's the biggest web design mistake of 2004? 1. Believing people care about you and your web site. Why isn't anyone reading our... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 10, 2006 3:52:42 PM

Comments

"The main point: users don't care about you as much as they care about themselves."

This is such an excellent point. I could really care less on who makes most products. I only worry about how those products will work for me and make me more or less productive. I don't care how many blades are on a razor, I only care about the cost benefit ratio. If I stick with less blades for less money, will I get as good of a shave? It doesn't really matter the company that produces the razor, nor does it matter much to me who uses it. How well does it work for me...

Wonderful article as always!

Posted by: John Cox | Feb 12, 2006 2:20:23 PM

Thanks for the feedback, Kathy. We agree on all points.

Tricky thing with reality: we have to take it as it comes. So when we get category 4 testimonials we're thrilled, but they don't always come in that form. So instead of asking people to rewrite them (bordering on fake) we take what we can get and celebrate that.

As you've noticed we've tried to counter lower category 4 numbers with some case studies (cat 5).

Posted by: Jason Fried | Feb 12, 2006 2:22:45 PM

Jason, I hear you. We're in the same spot. I think my plan is to just start *asking* for more examples or details from some of the people who write, or pulling out different pieces of their quotes instead of the part whey they say the things we want to hear about US. I agree that asking for a rewrite isn't the answer, but maybe just asking for more info--under the right circumstances--and then asking if you can post some of that. But your case studies are fantastic. That's WAY better than anything we've done. And geez... how bad is it when the big problem is that all your passionate users want to say good things about *you* instead of talking about themselves. ; )
Anyway, I think we could all learn from your case studies on both levels -- for the actual content in them (for those of us using Basecamp), and as an example of a testimonial that teaches.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Feb 12, 2006 2:59:03 PM

We have a mixture of 2, 3 and 4. A problem is that some of our best "you helped us kick ass" testimonials are from people who couldn't get signoff for the use of their company name, so just having them as "Joe Bloggs" lessens their impact somewhat.

Also, one of the more tricky aspects of selling our particular product is the "it's only useful if everyone buys into using it" factor, so we've stacked the top of the page with "yes, everyone will use it" quotes.

http://www.atlassian.com/software/confluence/testimonials.jsp

Posted by: Charles Miller | Feb 12, 2006 4:49:03 PM

I use a great product called ClipMate from a company called Thornsoft - they have a comment I sent them as a testimonial on the long list at thornsoft.com/stp_trotator/quotes.php?category=0,1,2,3,4,5. I love the software because it does something very simple but very useful - and the testimonials include nice ideas about what it can be useful for. I like telling people about ClipMate because it is so useful and I think that's the other side of getting good testimonials - thinking why people want to give them to you. In some cases it's because they're a friend and they're giving you the testimonial as much as your product. Coaching and asking for a specific kind of comment is probably a good thing - many people will welcome help with inspiration.

Posted by: mary branscombe | Feb 12, 2006 7:06:26 PM

This article reminded me of 'Jared' from Subway - a success story of a typical user which I'm sure has been a successfull campaign for them as it continues today.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 12, 2006 10:02:22 PM

Back in my Adaptec/Roxio days, I used to hear from a lot of customers about how they were using our CD recording software to do everything from record their band's demo disc to make photo-and-audio memory albums of loved ones. I solicited stories for our newsletters, and when we spun off the company and I got to build a new website, I included a whole section for user tips and stories (unfortunately, this didn't get very developed before I quit the company, and I think was quickly abandoned after my departure).

I "met" many amazing people this way, like the lady who was a retired rodeo rider and truck driver, and now makes enormous sculptures from scrap metal; she sent a CD gallery of her work.

Posted by: Deirdre' Straughan | Feb 13, 2006 2:45:51 AM

Did you see the 'why attend' for webstock:
http://www.webstock.org.nz/attend.php

This has a great set of reasons, and most of them (except the slightly cheesy ones) are clearly what the writer will get out of it.

And hey, it's good for the ego too ;)

Posted by: Donna Maurer | Feb 13, 2006 2:47:06 AM

We just put up our first testimonial a few days ago and we took an interview style approach and most of the questions were about the user and how they use the service. We get a lot of cat 3 emails that we're trying to sort out for more interviews. We also have a showcase page that shows the sites that we dig.

Here's our first try:

http://www.mosaicglobe.com/blog/688/entry/559

Posted by: jim Ray | Feb 13, 2006 7:19:35 AM

Reminds me of one of the most successful selling techniques I had the fortune to use. The whole goal of the sales pitch was to get the potential buyer to paint a picture of something awesome they might do with our product and then direct them in using the product in that way. Most of it hinged on the following series of questions:

What's one thing you want to get from X?

Good, what else do you want?

Terrific, and one more thing?

There are a few subtle keys to the whole thing.
1) Ask your question and shut up.
They're going to paint an ideal picture of what they want from your product. If you're lucky, they'll describe it enough for you to see it.

2) Always praise the answer.
It encourages the person to answer honestly. If you have an issue with praising there answer, you might not want to sell them the item (e.g. they want to use the product to hurt someone)

3) The third question must assure the person that its the last question.
Continues to encourage the person to answer honestly. Anyone who has ever interacted with an inquisitive toddler knows that there is only so many times someone can ask you questions before you stop answering them.

4) After each praise, try to restate their want in a single word or two.
This wasn't shown above, but the goal of this is to ensure that what the person wants and what you think they want is in alignment.

5) By the third question, you want them thinking a bit before they speak.
We want the user to paint an ideal picture of themselves with your product. The clearer the picture is, the more emotional attachment. Clear pictures take time to develop :-)

6) Encourage closed up people to expand into anything, if needed.
People will clam up on question 1 or 2. Many times this is because their vision of your product is in a limited scope. Tell this type of person to think about what it might be able to do for them or what they would like it to do for them and they just might expand that vision
-----------------------------------------------------

I think a similar approach could be taken for testimonials. Ask a user if they'd willing to be given a testimonial. If they agree, take a lot of their work out of it and get them to talk from emotion. Ask them about something they did with your product that helped them kick ass. Follow up by asking for another way they kicked ass with it. Then, ask for a final way they kicked ass with it. I think many of the notes above still apply (except maybe the simplification of what they said).

I think this would come out more honest sounding than many testimonials because the users would be writing about their experiences, which is one of the topics we know best.

Posted by: Bob B | Feb 13, 2006 8:25:15 AM

Great post, I was just thinking about those sort of questions, what kind of testimonials work and such. I think you hit the nail on the head with "users don't care about you, they care about themselves."

Posted by: Avi | Feb 13, 2006 9:43:16 AM

Nothing new really - because since years, that's just how advertisements work: If you buy x, you will get enhancement y out of it, where y might be anything like "better friends", "more muscles", "great flavour", "better sex life", etc. etc.

Frankly, I haven't seen advertisement that's like "buy x because x's producer is cool'" for years, be it on the web or elsewhere.

Posted by: Caster | Feb 13, 2006 11:24:50 AM

Great post - I always look for testimonials from real customers whenever I am shopping online. At CustomInk.com (http://www.customink.com) we give all customers the ability to publish their feedback, the good and the bad, directly to the home page of our entire website.

We call the section on the right hand side of CustomInk.com "Uncensored Customer Reviews (typos and all)". While most of the reviews are positive, and I agree the best ones are saying how the customer, not us, kicks butt, there are some reviews that aren't so positive. We work hard to eliminate negative experiences but knowing that customers can publish their candid reviews of our service makes us work all that much harder for them.

Our thinking has been that since customers can already blog about their experience on their own sites that they might as well say what they're going to say on our site too. The site also provides a searchable archive of past customer reviews. You can find the reviews and archive on the right hand side of CustomInk.com

Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Posted by: Sean Murphy | Feb 14, 2006 5:18:32 AM

I've tended to ignore those category 3 testimonials, they've never resonated with me, I just didn't know why before. Those bug me because they seem like suck-up testimonials. I've always figured that if I was such a great teacher, they'd tell me what or how they'd learned. That's the only feedback I care about. If their testimonials don't reflect what I feel are the most important messages or lessons, it tells me where I've failed. All that's left is for me to figure out how to better structure my message until I get the responses that reflect the absorption of what I'm trying to teach.

Posted by: Kathleen Fasanella | Feb 14, 2006 7:54:53 AM

Great article.

Yes, I get so turned off by companies that have testimonials with no attribution or first names only. So what's the big secret? The boss is going to find out you used someone's product/service to do your job better.

Also, when building a brand, people like a "usage scenario." When a testimonial speaks to that usage scenario, then it just reinforces the brand message.

Posted by: jennifer dlugozima | Feb 16, 2006 1:52:36 PM

Great post!

One caveat I would like to bring up concerning the use of Type 4 testimonials.

I was formerly responsible for producing testimonials for a major B2B software company. Even though we published only the customer's names and company name, a number of them told me that prospective customers would look up their phone number or e-mail address and contact them directly for additional information. After the first few time, it became an imposition and they asked that we remove their testimonial.

I don't know what the solution is.

Posted by: Richard Kuhlenschmidt | Feb 20, 2006 1:06:06 PM

Photo of a dubious testimonial:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dgbalancesrocks/78876436/

Posted by: Silent Scream | Feb 23, 2006 5:53:12 PM

DoubleClick heading in the right direction

Noah Brier sent me a link to the DoubleClick main page, which recently moved to a more user-focused marketing approach. It showcases real users right up front at the top of the main page, which I think is great (much better than what I've done so far), and the quotes are a combination of category 3 and 4. The quotes aren't big enough to have useful tips, but I applaud them for moving in the right direction.


37signals testimonials... need improvement

I checked out the 37signals main page, and it's full of testimonials from category 3--all real, but talking mainly about how great the product is. Many of these are important for credibility (if BusinessWeek or the Wall Street Journal said something about my product, I'd definitely be showing it), and having lots of users say how much they loved it is important to prospective users. But of all the main page testimonials, only a few are what I'd call category 4.

Here are some of the best ones...

"Basecamp has already been key to winning a project, being the main thing that differentiated us from a very close competitor, and it’s had a massive, positive impact on our working practices, even after just a couple of weeks."

(Describes how the user kicked ass)

and

"I’ve spent the last 3 days working out strategies to completely revamp and streamline my record-keeping and information-storage strategies for my work, personal interests, and scholarly projects. As a librarian, someone in the information organization and retrieval business, this is particularly exciting!"


Not so fast... 37signals has case studies!

OK, so they get about the same grade for their main-page testimonials as I'd give us for our books... C. But, the 37signals folks have something wonderful--category 5, we'll call it, on their case studies page! And it was this page, in fact, that helped sell me on using Basecamp.

So, A+ for the case studies, guys. If you could find a way to pull a few useful pieces out of the case studies, and include them as part of your testimonials, that would be even better. That's something we could all do--get some case studies, and some helpful testimonials from that.

The main point: users don't care about you as much as they care about themselves.

Make the users the heroes--the stars--instead of the company, product, or service. Once you've covered your credibility base, wouldn't users rather hear how other users--people just like them--have used it to kick ass in some way? Anything we can do to elicit first-person language from our users, that talks about what they themselves have done, is far more valuable than a glowing report about you.

If any of you have examples of good testimonials, I'd love to hear about it.

[bonus link: Author, speaker, and branding consultant Tom Asacker has a wonderful PDF (be warned-17 MBs) that's full of great info presented in a visually compelling way. I highly recommend it. It's not about testimonials, but the overlap between what Tom talks about and what we talk about here is heavy. I love this guy, despite our disagreements on a few thing ; ) ]

Posted by Kathy Sierra on February 12, 2006 | Permalink
TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/220252/4246742

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Rethinking testimonials:

» IT Isn't (Just) Electricity from People Over Process
My esteemed colleague, Steve O'Grady's notes from OSBC reminded me of the old "IT is like electricity" line of thought that's been kicking around. The analogy goes that IT will become so standardized and cheap that it will be a... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 15, 2006 2:30:48 PM

» Users don't care about you from Coding Horror
Seth Godin presented this slide during a recent presentation at Google: Users don't care about YOU. What's the biggest web design mistake of 2004? 1. Believing people care about you and your web site. Why isn't anyone reading our... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 10, 2006 3:52:42 PM
Comments

"The main point: users don't care about you as much as they care about themselves."

This is such an excellent point. I could really care less on who makes most products. I only worry about how those products will work for me and make me more or less productive. I don't care how many blades are on a razor, I only care about the cost benefit ratio. If I stick with less blades for less money, will I get as good of a shave? It doesn't really matter the company that produces the razor, nor does it matter much to me who uses it. How well does it work for me...

Wonderful article as always!

Posted by: John Cox | Feb 12, 2006 2:20:23 PM

Thanks for the feedback, Kathy. We agree on all points.

Tricky thing with reality: we have to take it as it comes. So when we get category 4 testimonials we're thrilled, but they don't always come in that form. So instead of asking people to rewrite them (bordering on fake) we take what we can get and celebrate that.

As you've noticed we've tried to counter lower category 4 numbers with some case studies (cat 5).

Posted by: Jason Fried | Feb 12, 2006 2:22:45 PM

Jason, I hear you. We're in the same spot. I think my plan is to just start *asking* for more examples or details from some of the people who write, or pulling out different pieces of their quotes instead of the part whey they say the things we want to hear about US. I agree that asking for a rewrite isn't the answer, but maybe just asking for more info--under the right circumstances--and then asking if you can post some of that. But your case studies are fantastic. That's WAY better than anything we've done. And geez... how bad is it when the big problem is that all your passionate users want to say good things about *you* instead of talking about themselves. ; )
Anyway, I think we could all learn from your case studies on both levels -- for the actual content in them (for those of us using Basecamp), and as an example of a testimonial that teaches.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Feb 12, 2006 2:59:03 PM

We have a mixture of 2, 3 and 4. A problem is that some of our best "you helped us kick ass" testimonials are from people who couldn't get signoff for the use of their company name, so just having them as "Joe Bloggs" lessens their impact somewhat.

Also, one of the more tricky aspects of selling our particular product is the "it's only useful if everyone buys into using it" factor, so we've stacked the top of the page with "yes, everyone will use it" quotes.

http://www.atlassian.com/software/confluence/testimonials.jsp

Posted by: Charles Miller | Feb 12, 2006 4:49:03 PM

I use a great product called ClipMate from a company called Thornsoft - they have a comment I sent them as a testimonial on the long list at thornsoft.com/stp_trotator/quotes.php?category=0,1,2,3,4,5. I love the software because it does something very simple but very useful - and the testimonials include nice ideas about what it can be useful for. I like telling people about ClipMate because it is so useful and I think that's the other side of getting good testimonials - thinking why people want to give them to you. In some cases it's because they're a friend and they're giving you the testimonial as much as your product. Coaching and asking for a specific kind of comment is probably a good thing - many people will welcome help with inspiration.

Posted by: mary branscombe | Feb 12, 2006 7:06:26 PM

This article reminded me of 'Jared' from Subway - a success story of a typical user which I'm sure has been a successfull campaign for them as it continues today.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 12, 2006 10:02:22 PM

Back in my Adaptec/Roxio days, I used to hear from a lot of customers about how they were using our CD recording software to do everything from record their band's demo disc to make photo-and-audio memory albums of loved ones. I solicited stories for our newsletters, and when we spun off the company and I got to build a new website, I included a whole section for user tips and stories (unfortunately, this didn't get very developed before I quit the company, and I think was quickly abandoned after my departure).

I "met" many amazing people this way, like the lady who was a retired rodeo rider and truck driver, and now makes enormous sculptures from scrap metal; she sent a CD gallery of her work.

Posted by: Deirdre' Straughan | Feb 13, 2006 2:45:51 AM

Did you see the 'why attend' for webstock:
http://www.webstock.org.nz/attend.php

This has a great set of reasons, and most of them (except the slightly cheesy ones) are clearly what the writer will get out of it.

And hey, it's good for the ego too ;)

Posted by: Donna Maurer | Feb 13, 2006 2:47:06 AM

We just put up our first testimonial a few days ago and we took an interview style approach and most of the questions were about the user and how they use the service. We get a lot of cat 3 emails that we're trying to sort out for more interviews. We also have a showcase page that shows the sites that we dig.

Here's our first try:

http://www.mosaicglobe.com/blog/688/entry/559

Posted by: jim Ray | Feb 13, 2006 7:19:35 AM

Reminds me of one of the most successful selling techniques I had the fortune to use. The whole goal of the sales pitch was to get the potential buyer to paint a picture of something awesome they might do with our product and then direct them in using the product in that way. Most of it hinged on the following series of questions:

What's one thing you want to get from X?

Good, what else do you want?

Terrific, and one more thing?

There are a few subtle keys to the whole thing.
1) Ask your question and shut up.
They're going to paint an ideal picture of what they want from your product. If you're lucky, they'll describe it enough for you to see it.

2) Always praise the answer.
It encourages the person to answer honestly. If you have an issue with praising there answer, you might not want to sell them the item (e.g. they want to use the product to hurt someone)

3) The third question must assure the person that its the last question.
Continues to encourage the person to answer honestly. Anyone who has ever interacted with an inquisitive toddler knows that there is only so many times someone can ask you questions before you stop answering them.

4) After each praise, try to restate their want in a single word or two.
This wasn't shown above, but the goal of this is to ensure that what the person wants and what you think they want is in alignment.

5) By the third question, you want them thinking a bit before they speak.
We want the user to paint an ideal picture of themselves with your product. The clearer the picture is, the more emotional attachment. Clear pictures take time to develop :-)

6) Encourage closed up people to expand into anything, if needed.
People will clam up on question 1 or 2. Many times this is because their vision of your product is in a limited scope. Tell this type of person to think about what it might be able to do for them or what they would like it to do for them and they just might expand that vision
-----------------------------------------------------

I think a similar approach could be taken for testimonials. Ask a user if they'd willing to be given a testimonial. If they agree, take a lot of their work out of it and get them to talk from emotion. Ask them about something they did with your product that helped them kick ass. Follow up by asking for another way they kicked ass with it. Then, ask for a final way they kicked ass with it. I think many of the notes above still apply (except maybe the simplification of what they said).

I think this would come out more honest sounding than many testimonials because the users would be writing about their experiences, which is one of the topics we know best.

Posted by: Bob B | Feb 13, 2006 8:25:15 AM

Great post, I was just thinking about those sort of questions, what kind of testimonials work and such. I think you hit the nail on the head with "users don't care about you, they care about themselves."

Posted by: Avi | Feb 13, 2006 9:43:16 AM

Nothing new really - because since years, that's just how advertisements work: If you buy x, you will get enhancement y out of it, where y might be anything like "better friends", "more muscles", "great flavour", "better sex life", etc. etc.

Frankly, I haven't seen advertisement that's like "buy x because x's producer is cool'" for years, be it on the web or elsewhere.

Posted by: Caster | Feb 13, 2006 11:24:50 AM

Great post - I always look for testimonials from real customers whenever I am shopping online. At CustomInk.com (http://www.customink.com) we give all customers the ability to publish their feedback, the good and the bad, directly to the home page of our entire website.

We call the section on the right hand side of CustomInk.com "Uncensored Customer Reviews (typos and all)". While most of the reviews are positive, and I agree the best ones are saying how the customer, not us, kicks butt, there are some reviews that aren't so positive. We work hard to eliminate negative experiences but knowing that customers can publish their candid reviews of our service makes us work all that much harder for them.

Our thinking has been that since customers can already blog about their experience on their own sites that they might as well say what they're going to say on our site too. The site also provides a searchable archive of past customer reviews. You can find the reviews and archive on the right hand side of CustomInk.com

Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Posted by: Sean Murphy | Feb 14, 2006 5:18:32 AM

I've tended to ignore those category 3 testimonials, they've never resonated with me, I just didn't know why before. Those bug me because they seem like suck-up testimonials. I've always figured that if I was such a great teacher, they'd tell me what or how they'd learned. That's the only feedback I care about. If their testimonials don't reflect what I feel are the most important messages or lessons, it tells me where I've failed. All that's left is for me to figure out how to better structure my message until I get the responses that reflect the absorption of what I'm trying to teach.

Posted by: Kathleen Fasanella | Feb 14, 2006 7:54:53 AM

Great article.

Yes, I get so turned off by companies that have testimonials with no attribution or first names only. So what's the big secret? The boss is going to find out you used someone's product/service to do your job better.

Also, when building a brand, people like a "usage scenario." When a testimonial speaks to that usage scenario, then it just reinforces the brand message.

Posted by: jennifer dlugozima | Feb 16, 2006 1:52:36 PM

Great post!

One caveat I would like to bring up concerning the use of Type 4 testimonials.

I was formerly responsible for producing testimonials for a major B2B software company. Even though we published only the customer's names and company name, a number of them told me that prospective customers would look up their phone number or e-mail address and contact them directly for additional information. After the first few time, it became an imposition and they asked that we remove their testimonial.

I don't know what the solution is.

Posted by: Richard Kuhlenschmidt | Feb 20, 2006 1:06:06 PM

Photo of a dubious testimonial:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dgbalancesrocks/78876436/

Posted by: Silent Scream | Feb 23, 2006 5:53:12 PM
We LOVE to hear from you, and we think of this blog as a big dinner party. Y'all are our invited guests, but if you're being rude and obnoxious we'll let the bouncer toss you. So please, stick to debating and criticizing ideas rather than personal attacks. Also, if you don't see your comment right away, it means we've turned on moderation to fight the evil spammers. It'll show up soon.

Posted by: qt | Aug 12, 2007 12:30:02 AM

DoubleClick heading in the right direction

Noah Brier sent me a link to the DoubleClick main page, which recently moved to a more user-focused marketing approach. It showcases real users right up front at the top of the main page, which I think is great (much better than what I've done so far), and the quotes are a combination of category 3 and 4. The quotes aren't big enough to have useful tips, but I applaud them for moving in the right direction.


37signals testimonials... need improvement

I checked out the 37signals main page, and it's full of testimonials from category 3--all real, but talking mainly about how great the product is. Many of these are important for credibility (if BusinessWeek or the Wall Street Journal said something about my product, I'd definitely be showing it), and having lots of users say how much they loved it is important to prospective users. But of all the main page testimonials, only a few are what I'd call category 4.

Here are some of the best ones...

"Basecamp has already been key to winning a project, being the main thing that differentiated us from a very close competitor, and it’s had a massive, positive impact on our working practices, even after just a couple of weeks."

(Describes how the user kicked ass)

and

"I’ve spent the last 3 days working out strategies to completely revamp and streamline my record-keeping and information-storage strategies for my work, personal interests, and scholarly projects. As a librarian, someone in the information organization and retrieval business, this is particularly exciting!"


Not so fast... 37signals has case studies!

OK, so they get about the same grade for their main-page testimonials as I'd give us for our books... C. But, the 37signals folks have something wonderful--category 5, we'll call it, on their case studies page! And it was this page, in fact, that helped sell me on using Basecamp.

So, A+ for the case studies, guys. If you could find a way to pull a few useful pieces out of the case studies, and include them as part of your testimonials, that would be even better. That's something we could all do--get some case studies, and some helpful testimonials from that.

The main point: users don't care about you as much as they care about themselves.

Make the users the heroes--the stars--instead of the company, product, or service. Once you've covered your credibility base, wouldn't users rather hear how other users--people just like them--have used it to kick ass in some way? Anything we can do to elicit first-person language from our users, that talks about what they themselves have done, is far more valuable than a glowing report about you.

If any of you have examples of good testimonials, I'd love to hear about it.

[bonus link: Author, speaker, and branding consultant Tom Asacker has a wonderful PDF (be warned-17 MBs) that's full of great info presented in a visually compelling way. I highly recommend it. It's not about testimonials, but the overlap between what Tom talks about and what we talk about here is heavy. I love this guy, despite our disagreements on a few thing ; ) ]

Posted by Kathy Sierra on February 12, 2006 | Permalink
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Comments

"The main point: users don't care about you as much as they care about themselves."

This is such an excellent point. I could really care less on who makes most products. I only worry about how those products will work for me and make me more or less productive. I don't care how many blades are on a razor, I only care about the cost benefit ratio. If I stick with less blades for less money, will I get as good of a shave? It doesn't really matter the company that produces the razor, nor does it matter much to me who uses it. How well does it work for me...

Wonderful article as always!

Posted by: John Cox | Feb 12, 2006 2:20:23 PM

Thanks for the feedback, Kathy. We agree on all points.

Tricky thing with reality: we have to take it as it comes. So when we get category 4 testimonials we're thrilled, but they don't always come in that form. So instead of asking people to rewrite them (bordering on fake) we take what we can get and celebrate that.

As you've noticed we've tried to counter lower category 4 numbers with some case studies (cat 5).

Posted by: Jason Fried | Feb 12, 2006 2:22:45 PM

Jason, I hear you. We're in the same spot. I think my plan is to just start *asking* for more examples or details from some of the people who write, or pulling out different pieces of their quotes instead of the part whey they say the things we want to hear about US. I agree that asking for a rewrite isn't the answer, but maybe just asking for more info--under the right circumstances--and then asking if you can post some of that. But your case studies are fantastic. That's WAY better than anything we've done. And geez... how bad is it when the big problem is that all your passionate users want to say good things about *you* instead of talking about themselves. ; )
Anyway, I think we could all learn from your case studies on both levels -- for the actual content in them (for those of us using Basecamp), and as an example of a testimonial that teaches.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Feb 12, 2006 2:59:03 PM

We have a mixture of 2, 3 and 4. A problem is that some of our best "you helped us kick ass" testimonials are from people who couldn't get signoff for the use of their company name, so just having them as "Joe Bloggs" lessens their impact somewhat.

Also, one of the more tricky aspects of selling our particular product is the "it's only useful if everyone buys into using it" factor, so we've stacked the top of the page with "yes, everyone will use it" quotes.

http://www.atlassian.com/software/confluence/testimonials.jsp

Posted by: Charles Miller | Feb 12, 2006 4:49:03 PM

I use a great product called ClipMate from a company called Thornsoft - they have a comment I sent them as a testimonial on the long list at thornsoft.com/stp_trotator/quotes.php?category=0,1,2,3,4,5. I love the software because it does something very simple but very useful - and the testimonials include nice ideas about what it can be useful for. I like telling people about ClipMate because it is so useful and I think that's the other side of getting good testimonials - thinking why people want to give them to you. In some cases it's because they're a friend and they're giving you the testimonial as much as your product. Coaching and asking for a specific kind of comment is probably a good thing - many people will welcome help with inspiration.

Posted by: mary branscombe | Feb 12, 2006 7:06:26 PM

This article reminded me of 'Jared' from Subway - a success story of a typical user which I'm sure has been a successfull campaign for them as it continues today.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 12, 2006 10:02:22 PM

Back in my Adaptec/Roxio days, I used to hear from a lot of customers about how they were using our CD recording software to do everything from record their band's demo disc to make photo-and-audio memory albums of loved ones. I solicited stories for our newsletters, and when we spun off the company and I got to build a new website, I included a whole section for user tips and stories (unfortunately, this didn't get very developed before I quit the company, and I think was quickly abandoned after my departure).

I "met" many amazing people this way, like the lady who was a retired rodeo rider and truck driver, and now makes enormous sculptures from scrap metal; she sent a CD gallery of her work.

Posted by: Deirdre' Straughan | Feb 13, 2006 2:45:51 AM

Did you see the 'why attend' for webstock:
http://www.webstock.org.nz/attend.php

This has a great set of reasons, and most of them (except the slightly cheesy ones) are clearly what the writer will get out of it.

And hey, it's good for the ego too ;)

Posted by: Donna Maurer | Feb 13, 2006 2:47:06 AM

We just put up our first testimonial a few days ago and we took an interview style approach and most of the questions were about the user and how they use the service. We get a lot of cat 3 emails that we're trying to sort out for more interviews. We also have a showcase page that shows the sites that we dig.

Here's our first try:

http://www.mosaicglobe.com/blog/688/entry/559

Posted by: jim Ray | Feb 13, 2006 7:19:35 AM

Reminds me of one of the most successful selling techniques I had the fortune to use. The whole goal of the sales pitch was to get the potential buyer to paint a picture of something awesome they might do with our product and then direct them in using the product in that way. Most of it hinged on the following series of questions:

What's one thing you want to get from X?

Good, what else do you want?

Terrific, and one more thing?

There are a few subtle keys to the whole thing.
1) Ask your question and shut up.
They're going to paint an ideal picture of what they want from your product. If you're lucky, they'll describe it enough for you to see it.

2) Always praise the answer.
It encourages the person to answer honestly. If you have an issue with praising there answer, you might not want to sell them the item (e.g. they want to use the product to hurt someone)

3) The third question must assure the person that its the last question.
Continues to encourage the person to answer honestly. Anyone who has ever interacted with an inquisitive toddler knows that there is only so many times someone can ask you questions before you stop answering them.

4) After each praise, try to restate their want in a single word or two.
This wasn't shown above, but the goal of this is to ensure that what the person wants and what you think they want is in alignment.

5) By the third question, you want them thinking a bit before they speak.
We want the user to paint an ideal picture of themselves with your product. The clearer the picture is, the more emotional attachment. Clear pictures take time to develop :-)

6) Encourage closed up people to expand into anything, if needed.
People will clam up on question 1 or 2. Many times this is because their vision of your product is in a limited scope. Tell this type of person to think about what it might be able to do for them or what they would like it to do for them and they just might expand that vision
-----------------------------------------------------

I think a similar approach could be taken for testimonials. Ask a user if they'd willing to be given a testimonial. If they agree, take a lot of their work out of it and get them to talk from emotion. Ask them about something they did with your product that helped them kick ass. Follow up by asking for another way they kicked ass with it. Then, ask for a final way they kicked ass with it. I think many of the notes above still apply (except maybe the simplification of what they said).

I think this would come out more honest sounding than many testimonials because the users would be writing about their experiences, which is one of the topics we know best.

Posted by: Bob B | Feb 13, 2006 8:25:15 AM

Great post, I was just thinking about those sort of questions, what kind of testimonials work and such. I think you hit the nail on the head with "users don't care about you, they care about themselves."

Posted by: Avi | Feb 13, 2006 9:43:16 AM

Nothing new really - because since years, that's just how advertisements work: If you buy x, you will get enhancement y out of it, where y might be anything like "better friends", "more muscles", "great flavour", "better sex life", etc. etc.

Frankly, I haven't seen advertisement that's like "buy x because x's producer is cool'" for years, be it on the web or elsewhere.

Posted by: Caster | Feb 13, 2006 11:24:50 AM

Great post - I always look for testimonials from real customers whenever I am shopping online. At CustomInk.com (http://www.customink.com) we give all customers the ability to publish their feedback, the good and the bad, directly to the home page of our entire website.

We call the section on the right hand side of CustomInk.com "Uncensored Customer Reviews (typos and all)". While most of the reviews are positive, and I agree the best ones are saying how the customer, not us, kicks butt, there are some reviews that aren't so positive. We work hard to eliminate negative experiences but knowing that customers can publish their candid reviews of our service makes us work all that much harder for them.

Our thinking has been that since customers can already blog about their experience on their own sites that they might as well say what they're going to say on our site too. The site also provides a searchable archive of past customer reviews. You can find the reviews and archive on the right hand side of CustomInk.com

Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Posted by: Sean Murphy | Feb 14, 2006 5:18:32 AM

I've tended to ignore those category 3 testimonials, they've never resonated with me, I just didn't know why before. Those bug me because they seem like suck-up testimonials. I've always figured that if I was such a great teacher, they'd tell me what or how they'd learned. That's the only feedback I care about. If their testimonials don't reflect what I feel are the most important messages or lessons, it tells me where I've failed. All that's left is for me to figure out how to better structure my message until I get the responses that reflect the absorption of what I'm trying to teach.

Posted by: Kathleen Fasanella | Feb 14, 2006 7:54:53 AM

Great article.

Yes, I get so turned off by companies that have testimonials with no attribution or first names only. So what's the big secret? The boss is going to find out you used someone's product/service to do your job better.

Also, when building a brand, people like a "usage scenario." When a testimonial speaks to that usage scenario, then it just reinforces the brand message.

Posted by: jennifer dlugozima | Feb 16, 2006 1:52:36 PM

Great post!

One caveat I would like to bring up concerning the use of Type 4 testimonials.

I was formerly responsible for producing testimonials for a major B2B software company. Even though we published only the customer's names and company name, a number of them told me that prospective customers would look up their phone number or e-mail address and contact them directly for additional information. After the first few time, it became an imposition and they asked that we remove their testimonial.

I don't know what the solution is.

Posted by: Richard Kuhlenschmidt | Feb 20, 2006 1:06:06 PM

Photo of a dubious testimonial:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dgbalancesrocks/78876436/

Posted by: Silent Scream | Feb 23, 2006 5:53:12 PM
We LOVE to hear from you, and we think of this blog as a big dinner party. Y'all are our invited guests, but if you're being rude and obnoxious we'll let the bouncer toss you. So please, stick to debating and criticizing ideas rather than personal attacks. Also, if you don't see your comment right away, it means we've turned on moderation to fight the evil spammers. It'll show up soon.

Posted by: qt | Aug 12, 2007 12:31:15 AM

It was the best ever. Try them out.

Posted by: jim smith | Aug 15, 2007 10:52:55 PM

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