The how and why of testimonials


It doesn’t matter what kind of not for profit organisation or social enterprise you are involved in, your marketing will be enhanced with testimonials. Properly written and targeted, testimonials can provide information and insight to your services and approach, as well as inject positive comments onto your website or marketing collateral.

Sometimes you may receive unsolicited testimonials such as a thank you letter from a client or positive comments on social media. They can provide a great boost for your staff, but can often be hard to utilise effectively in marketing. If you are keen to use testimonials in your marketing, it’s always best to ask for them.

The first thing to realise is asking for a testimonial is a different process than asking for feedback… because their basic purpose is completely different. Asking for feedback stems from a genuine desire to get better at what you do. By finding out what worked and what didn’t, you identify and quantify possible improvements.

On the other hand, testimonials are used for marketing – pure and simple.

Gathering feedback should come first and, if properly done, will identify contenders to ask for a testimonial.

So how do you ask for a testimonial?

My recommendation is that you first consider what to call them. Not everyone automatically knows what a testimonial is. It can sound quite formal and legal. You may like to use ‘endorsement’ or ‘recommendation’ or even ‘supporting comment’.

Then be honest – tell them it is for use in marketing. And be specific about how you are likely to use it (website, brochures, annual report, social media etc). You will need to have a conversation about using their name or not. Use of names and photos may well vary depending on the sensitivity of your service, but it is absolutely their choice. It is always best to get written approval to use testimonials… name or no name.

So once someone has agreed to provide one, the most effective method is to provide specific questions. Firstly it makes it easier to do, so will increase your chances of actually receiving something. And secondly it is more likely to provide comments you can use.

It’s all about getting the right kind of information that reflects your messaging and benefits your marketing.

Generally I would say get testimonials in writing as it provides the most flexibility in how you use them.  But as that won’t work for everyone you may like to consider video and audio.

I’m not going to give you a list of exact questions to use, as they will vary widely depending on your service and your clients. You may even have different questions for different client groups. However I will provide a five-step process to use to develop your own questions. Be careful to not overwhelm anyone with too many questions.

STEP 1 – All about them

Start with gathering information about the person giving the testimonial. This provides context and authenticity to their comments. Depending on your needs that can include their situation, their location, their age etc. If you are going to use several quotes in one publication, try and standardise this information.

STEP 2 – Then

To find out why they contacted you (or were referred to you) in the first place, ask some questions about what was the issue, challenge, problem they were facing BEFORE they came to you. Did they have any expectations or goals. And importantly – how did they feel before you.

STEP 4 – Now

To give you the ‘before and after’ information ask them how they feel now. What has improved and what outcomes have they experienced.

STEP 3 – The best

To get some comments about your services and approach, I recommend you ask what are the best 3 things about your organisation and why. Using such an open-ended question may provide some surprising answers. If that is not going to work for you, try some specific questions on your services, process or attitude.

STEP 5 – The unexpected

It will depend on the service you offer, but asking clients if they experienced any unexpected benefits can highlight your approach and values. A good example of this is empowerment. While not the actual service you offer, many clients may feel empowered by what you do and how you do it.

You don’t need to use each and every word provided in testimonials. In fact it is rare to use them in their entirety. Pull out the gems. The comments that fit with your messaging. The comments that illustrate your purpose… or your values… or your approach.

Essentially you are looking for comments that shine a light on what you do and why you do it – in your clients’ voice.