Many books open with forewords, introductions, and acknowledgments; Harvey Mackay's best-seller Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive opened with 15 pages of testimonials from everyone from President Gerald Ford to the Reverend Billy Graham.

The kicker? By the time the reader read those 15 pages, they were so convinced that the book would change their lives that what followed practically didn't matter.

Welcome to the power of the testimonial, a potent plug that can make people as much as seven times more likely to buy or try than if they saw a paid advertisement.

Email-based testimonials can be just as persuasive, but the key is to maximize their power. Here's how to do that...

Gather intel

There are many effective ways to garner beneficial testimonials for your brand. Email surveys and customer ratings are the leading way to accumulate textual testimonials, but don't discount the comments made to your customer-service staff.

If you are recording your customers' telephone conversations ("for training purposes" only, of course), you will likely discover a treasure trove of kudos and props. Simply contact those customers again and ask for permission to use their comments as testimonials while offering them a thank-you gift or discount.

The policy of providing incentives for testimonials can bear considerable fruit in the video arena as well. Now that anyone with a webcam, single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, or cell phone can record a video, many of your customers may jump at the opportunity to broadcast their opinions on your website.

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Hal Licino is an award-winning freelancer, author, email marketing expert, and blog contributor for Benchmark Email, a leading email marketing solution.