Customer Testimonials: How Important Are They to Your Artisan Business?

Customer Testimonials: How Important Are They to Your Artisan Business?photo
By: Marcia Passos Duffy

You're doing all the right things to market your product. Your Web site is search engine optimized. You have lovely brochures and sales flyers. You're Twittering. You're networking on Linked In and Facebook.

But you may be overlooking the most important marketing strategy that can make or break a sale: customer testimonials.

Customer testimonials are not just for diet or beauty products. These third party endorsements, when used correctly, adds credibility to you as an artisan, and your work.

"For artisan businesses, whose products often have a much higher price tag than mass manufactured products for the same use [customer testimonials] are a big factor," notes Shel Horowitz, a marketing consultant based in Hadley, Mass., and author of six books on frugal, effective and ethical marketing (http://www.frugalmarketing.com/). This is particularly true if the product is purchased over the web or from a catalog, "...where you don't get to see and touch and smell the product," he says.

Testimonials are one of the most powerful tools artisans have for marketing themselves, says Sarah Nelson, a marketing consultant based in Portland, Maine (http://www.npressnewsletter.com/) "Testimonials move you from saying, in effect, 'I'm great and you'd better believe it!' to 'I'm great and here are real people who say so,'" says Nelson.
Susan Martin, a business coach and consultant from Brooklyn, NY who works frequently with artisans and creative professionals (http://www.business-sanity.com/) notes that creative people often have trouble tooting their own horn. "Testimonials are a great way to get others to do that for you," says Martin.

How to Get Testimonials

But how can you get testimonials? Sometimes raves about your product come unexpected through your email or snail mail. Perhaps you already have collected a stack of this kind of "fan mail."

The only thing left to do is to email or write the person thanking them for their kind words and asking their permission to use their quote and name for your marketing materials. Most people will agree.

But what if you don't have any usable testimonials? Then you will need to ask your customers. But it doesn't have to be a request for a long-winded testimonial - and it doesn't have to be formal.

"Many people are under the impression that a testimonial should take the form of a complete signed letter on company letterhead," says Nelson. But you'll get more usable quotes if it is an easier, less formal process. "...simply go after two sentences from each testimonial-giver."

These short testimonials can be found in any letter of thanks (use the strongest two sentences for your promotional materials), when someone spontaneously utters quotable praise (grab a pencil and ask, "Can I quote you on that?" and write it down). Another approach Nelson recommends is to call your best customers and say you are collecting success stories from customers and if they would like to be included. "Putting it that way flatters [customers] and presents the idea to them as a compliment rather than a burdensome request," says Nelson.

What a Testimonial Should Include

1. Full name and location. Make sure you get permission to use any quotes in your print and online marketing materials. Don't add partial names or information, which makes the quote look dubious, such as "Joe S. from the mid-west."

2. Short sentences about specific benefits. Make sure that the testimonial is not vague kudos, such as "Your hand-crafted axe works great!" Instead, suggests Horowitz, make sure that the words convey the benefits received, such as "I get so much enjoyment out of using this hand-crafted axe that I can't imagine ever using a chain saw again."

3. Emotion. The ideal testimonial should be a heart-felt sentiment in a customer's own words. It should contain some kind of simple explanation of a situation that existed before the customer did business with you, and the problem you helped them to solve with your product, says Martin. "Now an artisan may be confused about the 'problem/need' scenario...but even if you are selling a beautiful object, the problem may be that the customer wanted to add beauty to a drab apartment," says Martin.

How to Use Testimonials

There are many creative ways you can use these testimonials once you have gathered them. They can be added to your Web site, brochures, advertisements, blog posts, postcards, catalogs, email and more. They can even be used during a presentation at a trade show.

When posting testimonials on a Web site many people chose to create a separate section, but Martin prefers to place testimonials in a text box into the content of an appropriate page, "...so that when they're reading the description of your work, that specific chosen testimonial can lend credibility without having to click to another page," says Martin.

Pablo Solomon, an artist and designer based in Lampasas, Texas, (http://www.pablosolomon.com/) says that testimonials - and showcasing them -- are one of the great joys of doing good work.

"As artists, we often do not get feedback that we really consider to be meaningful. Usually our feedback -- good or bad -- is from other artists or art critics that should not be taken too seriously. However, when paying clients give you good feedback, this should be treasured," he says.

Testimonials are a powerful tool you can use to gain credibility, trust and generate more sales. But you ought to know there are FTC guidelines regarding testimonials.

Testimonials that you use in marketing materials must reflect typical experiences of your customers and must be able to be substantiated. You also must make it clear that you did not pay to obtain a testimonial. For more information on FTC rules regarding the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising click here:http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/endorse.htm

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MARCIA PASSOS DUFFY (http://www.backporchpublishing.com/) is a freelance business writer based in New Hampshire and is a member of the state's artisan and business organization, NH Made. Marcia's articles have appeared on Yahoo Finance, CNBC, Bankrate.com, NFIB.com, Smart Business Magazine, The New York Times Lifewire, The Weather Channel, among others; she is the author of the book, Be Your Own Boss. She also publishes two online magazines, Home Office Weekly.com (http://www.homeofficeweekly.com/) and The Heart of New England.com (www.theheartofnewengland.com). Marcia wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.