Buy This Product, Friend: The Hidden Power of Testimonials


When we make purchasing decisions, we like knowing that we’re doing the right thing. Every day there are more options out there, whether we’re talking about groceries or automobiles. Testimonials are one of the easiest ways for sellers to reassure buyers that a particular product is the right choice. After all, if someone else is willing to tell you that she’s truly pleased with her purchase, you can expect that you’ll be pretty happy, too. And therein lies the problem. How do we know we can trust the testimonial? (See also: Advertising Jargon That Aims to Mislead)

Interpreting Testimonials

As you’re reviewing testimonials available for a given product or service, you want to make sure that you're seeing a reliable recommendation. You want what's called "social proof" — a recommendation that can be linked back to a real, identifiable person. Marketers consider video testimonials and other indisputable recommendations to be the most effective, and for good reason.

But Is It Trustworthy?

Even if you're looking at written testimonials, there are a couple of characteristics worth considering. If the seller has posted a text testimonial with just a first name (or maybe even no name), we’re tempted to trust the testimonial as honest or reliable. But if someone doesn’t want their name to run with their testimonial, maybe there’s something else going on. It’s good to see a full name at the least. Even better is a link back to a review, social media account, or website.

Strength in Numbers

You also want to see more than one testimonial.

If a business has been operating for awhile, there should be plenty of examples of how well they can do, just as there may be multiple reviews of the business on Yelp and its counterparts.

It’s a little concerning if the testimonials all sound the same, by the way. It’s not necessarily an indicator that the seller didn’t get the testimonials from a wide variety of buyers, but it can mean that the seller gave suggestions on what to write or asked submitters to follow a certain format — which is less helpful for shoppers deciding which product or service to buy.

Understanding the Appeal of Testimonials

When you're purchasing, it's important to understand the impact a testimonial can have on you — on a basic level, we're programmed to trust other people's opinions. A survey conducted by Nielsen in 2009 found that 90% of consumers will trust recommendations from people they know. Seventy percent will trust opinions posted online, which can include reviews and testimonials.

Most of us are more willing to make a purchase when we see a testimonial. It's not the only factor, but it's one that we need to be aware of in order to make an accurately informed decision.

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Guest's picture

Nowadays, you can get good information and advice through your trusted network. If you have a couple hundred friends on Facebook and you're looking for advice on a particular product, there's a good chance at least one or two people would be able to offer feedback. This is more valuable than feedback on review sites or product sites, which can often be fabricated or influenced. I definitely advocate using your social networks in situations where it makes sense.