Testimonials are like C4. They’re horrifically unstable. They can easily blow your campaign up in to a blaze of failure, tears, and regret.

They can also be pretty good. Pretty damn good.

For this reason, you need to know when to use them, how to handle them, and what alternatives are available.

When to use them...

  • When trust is an issue – Trust can make or break you in many industries. These are the companies that tend to get more business through word of mouth. And really, that’s what a testimonial is. It’s a captured opinion. Some companies grow through word of mouth because consumers feel more confident using a business’s service if a friend can vouch for it. These businesses include financial, medical, and other professional services. People don’t want to get screwed. That is true of any business, but more so when you offer invasive products (like lasik eye surgery) or confidential services (like a mortgage broker.)
  • When you want to brag – It’s hard to brag about your own business. It makes you seem really self-centered. So, it can be better to have someone else say it for you. I don’t think this is the best use of your advertising dollar. But, it can do the trick for you. Just make sure to keep it really short. Nobody likes people (or businesses) that talk about themselves too much. People will figure the trick out if you prattle on for too long.
  • When you have an endorsement – Endorsements are just another style of testimonial. The exception is they’re voiced by a person of influence, instead of a stranger. It can be any recognizable person. It’s best if you use someone who would easily be associated with your product. In the end, you’re just buying a celebrities clout. Their brand transfers to your brand. It can work well, but it will cost more.

How to handle them

  • Use Real People – Ending up with a phoney sounding testimonial is what makes this strategy so risky. Everyone can pick out a fake person. That’s why you shouldn’t hire a voice actor. Take the extra time and find someone who really did have a personal experience with the product or business.
  • Don’t use a script – Real people cannot read a script casually. Don’t expect them to. Interview them instead. You need to make sure they’re loosened up. They will be nervous voicing into a microphone with strangers asking them questions. Take the time to make them feel comfortable. Then, when they’re ready, ask them about their experience. Make sure to use open ended questions. Ask a lot of them, and repeat yourself. You can never have too much to work with. In the end, you’ll edit the session down to the useable pieces. Having them explain in their own words is the only way to make them sound real. If they don’t sound real, don’t use the commercial.
  • Don’t over edit – It’s really hard to leave in “umms” in a voice over if you’ve been doing this for a while. It feels wrong to leave them in. But, it is the right thing to do. “Umms,” stammers and little mistakes make people sound natural. Your listeners will be less suspicious if they sound like a real human being.


  • Owner Voiced – This applies to the trust point. You may be able to build trust a lot quicker by voicing your own commercials. It’s easier to trust someone when you can hear from them. If they sound like a good person, you’ll be more likely to trust them. I think this is a better option for some businesses to garner trust.

Don’t take this advice lightly. Airing a bad testimonial is one of the worst things you can do with your advertising budget. If the final cut of your testimonial leaves you in doubt, throw it away. It’s not worth testing it out. Don’t attach your brand to anything subpar. Testimonials are high risk, high reward. Ask people if it sounds phoney. If they say yes, kill it, and avoid the risk.