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Testimonials: Let customers write your next ad

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in Career Management,Workplace Communication

Like most small business owners, you probably work with a tight advertising budget—if you have one at all. One way to stretch your ad dollars: Use customer testimonials, a powerful and inexpensive form of advertising.

Customers trust human testimonials more than company-made claims. Sixty-five percent of consumers say fellow shoppers' opinions have an important or somewhat important impact on their buying decisions, according to a Forrester Research survey. Testimonials can increase sales by 20 percent or more, marketing experts say.

Include testimonials on your Web site and in hard-copy ads, brochures, direct mail and other promotions. Here are the types of testimonials and how to obtain them:

Unsolicited testimonials. Alert your staff to be on the lookout for kind words in customer letters and e-mail. Highlight the portion you want to reprint, and return it to the customer along with a letter explaining your plans and two copies of a release form. (See box at left.) Include a stamped self-addressed return envelope.

If a customer phones in with compliments, ask if you can put those words in writing. Mail him or her the words along with a release form. If you receive face-to-face praise, ask for the comments in writing on the spot. Some customers might say, "Write something, and I'll sign it." Don't do it. Sincere testimonials are more convincing.

Solicited testimonials. Send a survey letter or e-mail to satisfied customers. Don't request praise. Ask for comments, including suggestions and criticisms. That way, you gain tips to improve service as well as a free advertising pitch.   

Advice: Use testimonials that include detail, not flowery generalizations.

Testimonials should be at least two or three sentences long. Short quotes like those in movie ads ("Blew me away!" "Can't live without it!") seem cheesy.

Create a one-page testimonial sheet to hand out to customers, and include it in sales and direct-mail materials.

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