Motto: “Others should praise you and not your mouth, a stranger and not your lips.”
Advice nr 21, 100 orthodox bits of advice
It is probably a common practice in business to be asked “for whom have you worked”, to observe the experience in the field. When you have worked with a known project, the potential clients trust you. This article targets freelancers as well as small and medium sizes companies that wish to obtain clients through an intelligent promotion using references.
The testimonial, as an instrument
The word defines a written reference, filmed, or recorded audio, signed by the one who gives it, as a client, collaborator or evaluator of a certain provider of products/services, which includes a succession of words (that can vary in length from a sentence to 3 paragraphs), through which the one that perceives the message forms a good impression about the product/service discussed. It is a promotion instrument which satisfies the potential client’s/partner’s/employee’s need to verify from more sources, the conformity between the self-promoted image by the company and the identity observed by others through contact.
The testimonials can be a true blessing for those who have them and they are good and a true disaster for those who do not have them, or have them and they are poorly made. Seemingly, this aspect is not a big deal. But actually, the management of testimonials implies a lot of effort, detail and communication; some would even suggest it is a real art. Without going into many details, I will begin in this article, continuing in the ones from the following weeks, to examine the rules and suggestions for having successful testimonials.
Unfortunately for the creative individuals, who like variety or for those who like a general picture or prefer to be oriented toward objectives, I have very bad news for you: the management of testimonials is a very procedural activity, which does not leave room for mistakes and implies a lot of attention to details. I wish it would be different, but studies and experience in this field show this is the ways things are.
The importance of a testimonial
A testimonial is judged as valuable from a number of aspects. First, from the content. Content may be excellent, no matter where it comes from. Despite all this, those which will provide the best testimonials will be the people who work in the field where you offer your product/service and this is because they will know to point out exactly what they know interests the client, as they from experience know precisely to underline the needs of someone familiar with the field.
A second criterion is the one regarding the importance of the one giving the testimonial. First, if it is the case of a personality renowned in the field in which the product/service is relevant, it is excellent. Imagine how it would be if a marketer would have a reference written by Jack Trout, Philip Kotler, Jay Conrad Levinson or Jay Abraham. It would be the best business card! But, if it is to select criteria, most important is that the individual is well-known, and then in second place is to be from the field. The more renowned, the more people will be impressed by this fact. Once, I received an e-mail from somebody who had been impressed that in my list of references from clients was a person in charge of a multi-national corporation which had a turnover of over 50 million euro the previous year.
The degree of which somebody is representative of the product/service you sell is judged considering the target audience you have. If it is the case of a product/service aimed at a big mass of people, as the refreshing drinks are, I doubt you would have a big success with a recommendation from Jay Abraham as you would if you would sell a course in neurological branding for marketers.
Moreover, another important thing is the name of the company for which the person recommending you works. I know the example of a Romanian branding agency which first worked for extremely little money for foreign customers, whom the managers had met during studies in foreign countries, only for them to build a portfolio of references. I know the example of another manager from a Romanian branding agency, who told me personally how he was chosen on the criterion of the notoriety of a couple of good references from some companies for which he had made successful campaigns. If this has not convinced you, I will tell you that a Romanian ad company worked a few years ago only for 2000 euro/month for a multinational cash & carry in the Republic of Moldova, just to attract some strategic clients on the Romanian market.
It is important to be careful how you use the name of the companies when you use references from some employee of theirs. The moment you have a contract signed with the company, and an individual from within the framework of it recommends you for your performance contract-based, it is OK to make a list of the type: “I have had clients from: company X, company Y, company Z”, or references from the companies X, Y, Z.
Let us take a concrete example. At this address, you will find a list of references. Someone who would have this type of list would be tempted to say: “I have worked for The Group, Junior Chambers International, Psihologia Azi, Mind Software, Dasteco, Banca Italo-Romana, Kapital, Identity Compass International, Medicover, Overseas, Coca-Cola HBC România, RCS&RDS, Image Media, Cafe Arte, Data Investments & Consulting, Rofilco.”. WRONG! You have not worked for these companies; you have gotten some references from the people that work at this moment for these, which is not the same thing. Actually, as long as you have not had contracts with these companies, it is better to not even use an enunciation of the type: “I have had clients from/representatives of the companies…” This means that if you use these kinds of statements for promotional purposes, any of the companies above can sue you. First, as a rule of testimonial management, if the person that gave you the reference offered it for work for the company that gave you the reference, you will keep the name of the company besides the person and you will write the function he/she had in the company with “ex” in the front. If you offered to consult with the person per se, then you will replace the name of the company every time that person changes its job.
This is an additional reason for keeping in touch with your former clients.
On the other side, the name of the company can have a negative impact. Imagine a testimonial from somebody at CARITAS, British Petroleum, Morgan Stanley or Chase Manhattan Bank. Or imagine how something like ”manager, Jack Impex Inc.” sounds. The best in this situation is to be careful it is OK not to use the name of the company. Also, it is possible sometimes the person who offered the testimonial does not consent the name of the company being mentioned. On other occasions, on the contrary, he/she might ask you to put a link online to the company. On other occasions, you will have permission to use the name of the company, but not link to it. The key word is permission. And it is important to know what to ask for, in order to obtain without making too many requests. More of this in the next section.
Another important thing is the individual’s title and function. This can be of the type: eng., dr., Ph.D., assist./lect./conf./univ.prof (it is recommended if the person only has a tutor degree, not to use it), prof., Psych., M.D., Att. Each of these titles is worth mentioning, as it increases the credibility of the reference. In general, in Romania, every kind of professor has a lot of credibility, excessively much compared to other European countries. In spite of all this, if you are going to address a number of businessmen, too many academic titles and too little positions as “manager”, “CEO”, “consultant/counselor” (the consultant is from the exterior, the counselor is assigned to the organization), “director”, “expert”, “jurist/accountant” will pretty much result in failure. And if you are not addressing those in human resources or to another group sensible to this title, it might be useful to avoid using “psych.” in Romania. The title confers a status that might be relevant to the audience you are addressing, which can consider it an authority.
Another important thing is the relative diversity of the directions from which you have received the respective references. I remark “relative”, because in the first place you are addressing your target audience. This means if you are going to address students, you will have more testimonials from students (and not only that). If you are going to address businessmen, you will have more testimonials from businessmen (and not only that). And in the moment you offer, certain services for organizations, it is good that the domains of the companies for which you have worked to be pretty diverse, since testimonials have the purpose to bring you as many clients as possible from the target audience by the fact it reflects the opinions of some people indifferent of their active field. Otherwise, criticism may appear of the kind: “only those working in the X domain can consider the respective services useful”.
Another aspect is the number of testimonials. The truth is… you can never have too many references! In the USA, direct marketing research showed how the longer a sales letter is, the more willing will the clients be to buy. Of course, from all these, depending on the context, you will use a certain, limited amount. Remember that 5 to 9 items are the appropriate number of items to use in a certain context so that the reading person’s memory will process them. I invite you to visit www.hypnoticmarketing.com to get an impression of how to integrate testimonials in a promotional graphic layout. If you have on your site a section only for references, then you can put them all there. This will help you measure how much people look only at testimonials if you use Google Analytics or another instrument to measure the traffic for each page separately.
In order to obtain as many testimonials as possible, I recommend you to be all eyes and ears all the time and look for people who have watched you working with/for somebody with that exact service, or who have been able to form an impression of your abilities in a certain professional framework. It is a good idea not to request testimonials from relatives, friends, lovers, people close to you, etc., especially if your relationship with that person is publicly known.
An example is given for testimonials you are able to “collect” at conferences, presentations and other opportunities of public communication. You can even prepare questionnaires you can give to the participants. Generally, it is a good idea to begin doing this even at the beginning of the career; this will help you in being perceived as a person willing to learn from others’ feedback, which is also the case to happen. In spite of all this, use testimonials only when you have sufficient, qualitatively and quantitatively, so that they are relevant.
Happy Self Branding!