What's a Testimonial Actually Worth?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Most companies aren't willing to foot the bill for celebrity endorsements. Instead, they seek out testimonials from "regular" people. Have you ever wondered how companies find such credible individuals? I have.

I decided to turn to some consultants for answers. As a "price-conscious" businessman, I chose to forgo paying for their insights and instead looked closely at their own testimonials. It didn't take long to notice something very peculiar: I kept seeing the same names over and over again. The more I researched the matter, the more curious I became.

Here's a visualization of the mystery that I spent hours unraveling. It's hardly complete, but provides a flavor for the interrelationships between relevant parties.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

I can't speak to the intent of the individuals in this diagram, but I think that I have gained significant insight into the process of collecting testimonials.

I've categorized the types of "regular folks" whom consultants might solicit for endorsements, arranged from best to worst:

  1. Someone who has to provide a glowing endorsement: If you look carefully, my chart includes a consultant who received testimonials from one of his employees and another from his wife. [Note: I can't believe I have to say this, but... If you share an uncommon surname with your wife, her testimonial might look a wee bit suspicious.]
  2. Someone who has a vested interest in your success: People who collaborate with you on business offerings are likely to praise you. They are happy to build you profile, because the more famous you become, the faster your joint products will sell.
  3. Someone in your network: Members of a group may provide endorsements, with the implicit understanding that they'll receive a testimonial from another member in the future. You'll see this behavior quite often on sites like LinkedIn where endorsements fly with wanton abandon.
  4. An actual customer without a personal relationship: Finding such folks can entail expensive search costs. Not only is it difficult to find a person who has received great value, but people and businesses are often hesitant to put their names and reputations on the line. You can try to lessen any reluctance with a bribe (offers to profile, endorse or link them), but why go through the hassle?
  5. Someone who doesn't exist: Many marketers simply invent fictional people for testimonials. In a way, this a fantastic technique. You can attribute any quote you like. Please don't do this. If you get caught, you might be prosecuted for fraud. Why take the risk when equally effective options are available?

Sometimes endorsements (or other forms of signaling) only exist to confuse you. Think critically and investigate all evidence presented. If you don't have time to research and understand the data, you should probably be wary of using it.

Do you need help monetizing your products? You can contact me for a consultation. Don't worry; I can provide some truly stellar testimonials.