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Testimonials: Are You Asking The Right Questions?

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

A client or customer connected positively with your service or product. Hey! That's a win! And, now that client/customer wants tell the world how great you are! Woot, woot, what!? Double win!

Here's the thing though.

You cannot assume a person is good at telling his or her story. Resume writers, marketing consultants, and freelance writers exist for a reason.

Photo Credit: Matt Love, LoveCreative
Photo captured while filming testimonial of christian missionary, John Bailey

You need to think of your interview subject like a sponge that's full of water. A sponge can't wring itself out. It may drip, drip, drip bits of water, but if you really want to empty it, you're going to have to do the work.

As a former broadcast journalist, I can tell you successful testimonials are won or lost on preproduction and interviewing. Interviews make people nervous and putting a camera on someone can only stand to amplify the jitters. So, you need to be prepared for the possibility your awesome testimonial subject might clam up a bit when he sees the red recording light pop on.

1) Ask 'Why' Based Questions

You've likely already pre-interviewed this person. If you haven't, then go do that right now. Seriously. Stop reading and call or email this individual to get as much detail about his story as you can. Focus on the first 4 'W' questions: who, what, where and when.

These are the facts-based questions that should encompass a pre-interview process. You're just gathering the details to fill out the narrative. Who referred you to us, what did you know about our service, where did you find us, when did you decide to use our product? See what I mean. These are all pre-baked questions that will come with a very straight-forward, facts-driven response.

The fifth 'W' is 'why'. The 'why' is where the emotion, or the "good stuff" you're looking for, resides.

Why do you love our product? Why do you feel so strongly about our service? Why should someone call us now? Why do you think we're the better choice?

Interviewing is 100% an art form. I by no means purport to be an expert in the field, but I can tell you with certainty that making sure your questions are anchored in 'why' is critical to capturing a testimonial drenched in emotion and authenticity.

2) When to Roll?

I did the broadcast thing long enough to know that people give the best sound bites when they think you are not recording. It's only natural right? When you don't feel the heat of the spotlight, you're more likely to be yourself and speak from the heart.

So I quickly picked up on a little trick using this experience to my advantage. I call it the "secret roll".

Have a signal for the videographer letting he or she know you want to start filming now. The signal needs to be subtle so that your subject won't pick up on it. Then, begin the interview and say something like, "We're going to just talk a bit while we get a sound check." If the subject gives you great sound bites during this time. You can go back later and say, "Remember when we were doing the sound check? We were actually recording that, and you did such an amazing job telling your story. Are you ok if we use it?" I promise you, 99.9% of the time he or she will say, "Oh sure! I was less nervous then anyway."

You can do the same thing once the interview ends. Just keep rolling for a little while without saying you're still recording.

3) What's the Purpose?

This one seems obvious, right? It's a testimonial. I need this person to talk about how great we are, I am, or my company/service/product is.

Well, yes and no.

You need to think specifically about the audience you're trying to reach with a testimonial. Are you trying to reinforce loyalty with your current customer base? Are you trying to grow a new audience? Are you trying to convert? What's the method of delivery for this testimonial? Are you going to air it as a commercial ad :15/:30/:60 seconds? Or is it stronger presented in a longer format (making it more desirable for the web)?

The last point here is critical.

Let's say you have a customer with a great story to tell about how your service changed his life. He has amazing pictures to share, some video footage, and there are others around this story that can offer meaningful perspectives too.

It can be a challenge, dare I say a complete waste, to try and squeeze this type of testimonial story into a :30 second commercial ad. So yes, it is important to know the specific purpose for your testimonial upfront.

I am a huge proponent of testimonial advertising.

I talk about it with clients all the time as a smart approach on a budget. There is truly nothing better than hearing from a satisfied customer. But capturing real, authentic emotion and a genuine tone from this person requires forethought. Take the preproduction process seriously and develop an intentional line of questioning.

You have to frame the narrative ahead of time to ensure you "wring the sponge dry" and emerge with the most powerful story possible to share.

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