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The Power of Testimonials: Who Are You Going to Believe?

Testimonial Button on a Keyboard
It’s 5:40 PM. You’re 75 minutes into an urgent search request. Your director just followed up for the second time, reminding you again that she needs the information for an early meeting tomorrow morning. The request is in an area you know fairly well, but all you can find is online sales brochures.

You’re just about to cancel your evening plans when, suddenly, it appears: A promotional piece that combines product information with clear, succinct, specific testimonials. They come from several satisfied customers, and the customers are identified by name and organization. They tell a compelling story. Best of all, one of the testimonials comes from an association executive you saw (and liked) on a conference panel last month.

Who are you going to believe? Which potential vendor or information source earned your attention, your respect and, most likely, your business?

Testimonials are among the most powerful forms of promotional content, powerful enough that it’s astonishing to see associations that don’t use them, frequently and effectively. Testimonials work because they have the power of “social proof”: rather than relying on what you say about your own organization or service, a testimonial tells the story from the recipient’s point of view. That shift in perspective is often what it takes to cut through the clutter of competing messages—including your own, if it isn’t interspersed with independent voices.

Working through trusted intermediaries to deliver an effective message isn’t a new idea. Researchers first came up with the two-step flow theory of communication in a study of the 1944 federal election in the United States when they found that “opinion leaders,” not media messages, were most likely to influence voting behaviour.

What is new is the information overload—the overload on top of overload—that we all experience, at work and at home, every waking minute of the day. In 2008, one television blog reported that the average U.S. consumer is exposed to 5,000 brand messages per day. Last year, an Internet application provider proudly (but perversely?) reported that it had distributed a billion text messages in a single day. No wonder we all think we need to scramble for visibility and audience share!

A short testimonial will help you catch a reader’s eye, whether they see it on your website or blog or in a promotional email. If the message is credible, it might hold their attention long enough to set you apart from the competition (even if the competition is between working with your association or doing nothing at all).

That means a testimonial program could give you an edge that makes all the difference for your next membership, conference, or trade show promotion.