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Un-Advertising: The Power of Testimonial Video in the Post-Advertising Era

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Mad Men-style advertising, based on interrupting the audience's entertainment or news-gathering experience, is still with us—but most marketers these days recognize that it's unsteady on its feet (maybe because of all those martinis). The reality is that people are tired of being "targeted" with ads and so are inclined to take evasive action.

The intrusive nature of ads is only part of the problem. A bigger issue is that ads, whether B2B print ads for circuit chips or TV commercials for cars, simply don't elicit trust. We know that they're trying to sell us something, so our guard goes up.

In fact, I would argue that if you have to advertise a product these days, it probably isn't so good. We, the consumer, are secretly thinking, "If this [widget] is so great, why haven't I heard about it already?"

Today, in our post-advertising, Web search-obsessed, media-overloaded world, it's time to dust off the tried-and-true customer testimonial, and turbo-charge it for your website with video storytelling.

Video testimonials from satisfied customers are must-see TV for today's websites. Here are the top 5 reasons why, plus 10 tips for making testimonials work harder for you.


Why

1. Credibility. Having real people on camera who have had a great experience with your brand lends unassailable credibility to your message. Your customers are your very best salespeople. They are the ones who can honestly and credibly explain to potential customers that their solar panels are cutting their electric bill, or that their vacuum cleaner is the best.

2. Your website is a TV channel. Make sure it has good content that people want to watch. The video player technology from companies like Vimeo and Brightcove is first-rate (and free or cheap), making it easy to post videos on your site and ensure they play properly. Your web TV channel is on 24/7. And the best part is, since you're not paying a network to air your commercial, or a magazine to place your ad, your media costs are zero. Accordingly, the process of having customer testimonials on your website is simplified.

3. More referrals. Customers are honored to go on camera and praise your business. They know that what they say matters and that you value their opinion. It's a source of pride for them. And what do proud people do? They talk with their friends about what they've done. They become, in effect, a more motivated ambassador for your brand. Often, the result is additional qualified sales leads and a lower cost for customer acquisition.

4. Give people something to Tweet about. Good content and social media go hand in hand. People see something, then send tweets about it to their friends—amplifying the power of your testimonials.

5. Get across the personality of your company. The era of un-advertising on the Web is much more personal and human than the brochure-ware of the past. Nothing speaks to the unique personality of your company better than the people who trusted you—and are glad they did. Your customers are your brand, and they have a lot to say.

How

Clearly, video testimonials are a perfect fit for most any company—including yours. Now, here are some tips for how you can make them truly effective.

1. Tell a story

Before you interview people, think about what story you want to tell. For example, do you want to get across that wind farms benefit local economies? Or that your software is easy to use? Once you know what story you want to get across, develop a list of questions that are likely to inspire the interviewee to tell the story you're looking for.

If you are planning to have multiple people in a single video, you can edit the piece so that the various responses string together to create a compelling narrative.

(See these examples of video storytelling created for First Wind, a developer and operator of wind farms.)

2. Make your videos "snackable"

Keep each video less than four minutes—ideally not more than 1-2 minutes long. People hunt for information and prefer to nibble short videos.

3. Aggregate your videos in an online media center

A media center (like this one from Alteris Renewables) makes it easy for customers to browse.

4. Guide viewers into your online sales funnel

Picture people at their computers, watching your videos. They've watched three or four, and now they're ready to take the next step... perhaps to request an estimate. The layout of your Web page that's displaying the videos should clearly show your offer and encourage viewers to click.

Think of your videos as cups of delicious Starbucks coffee at Barnes & Noble. The longer people hang around, the more likely they are to buy. Just make it easy for them to take action when they're done sipping, or you'll lose them.

You have to be careful, however; you don't want to be in the customer's face, selling overtly. Remember that this is un-advertising: You're educating your customers, but also making clear that you are there for them when they're ready to buy.

5. Encourage absolute honesty

When you interview customers, encourage them to tell the unvarnished truth and not to gild the lily just because they're on camera. People see right through BS; they also recognize the truth when they see it.

You might even want to have a customer talk about a situation where, for example, a problem occurred with the product you're selling, and how your company recognized the error and fixed it. That approach gets to the heart of credibility, and your customers will appreciate it far more than canned expressions of delight.

6. Optimize your videos for search

Do some research to see what search terms your target audience is using to find solutions like yours. Then give your videos titles that include those search terms.

In addition, when you post the videos to your Web page, include some text that's relevant and searchable and make sure the text is in close proximity to the video. Some companies actually publish transcripts or abstracts from the videos on the same page as the videos because search engines can quickly locate text, but not necessarily video files.

In addition, when you publish your videos on sites such as YouTube, add "tags" to each video that put them in easily searchable categories (e.g., solar power, cars, widgets).

7. Keep publishing new videos

Just as you're constantly gathering customer case histories for print, it's important to continuously publish videos to your site. Customers like seeing new, fresh stuff on your site. And search engines will rank your site higher if it's frequently updated with new content.

8. Interview customers who reflect your ideal new-customer profile

Look at the buyer personas of customer groups that are most likely to buy from you, then find current customers to interview who match those profiles as closely as possible. You want your Web audience to relate to the person they see onscreen.

Also, remember that you're not looking for models. You need people who look real—not like they just jumped out of a J.Crew catalog.

9. Intermix shots of your customers with images or video of your product

Seeing just customers on camera can get a bit dull. Spice up your testimonials with B-roll showing customers using the product.

10. Pre-interview your customers

Have a call with each customer before the shoot to give them a sense of what you'll be talking about. You don't want to tell them what to say, but talking with them beforehand in general terms about the subject can set their mind at ease and help them to be more relaxed during the interview.

Note: This article is based on an e-book, "How to Make Customer Video Testimonials." Download the e-book here (no registration required).


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Ted Page is cofounder and creative director of Captains of Industry (www.captainsofindustry.com), a marketing agency and video-production company based in Boston. Ted oversees the creative development of websites, logos, videos, and interactive Web marketing campaigns for a range of renewable energy and clean-tech clients. Ted is the author of The Willoughby Chronicles, a memoir.

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