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Testimonials: The Rules of Effective Social Proof in Healthcare Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

baby typing on laptopPuppy dogs (and kittens) are cuddly cute. Babies (and kids) are scene-stealers. But in healthcare marketing, there's nothing more convincing-and downright effective-than an excellent testimonial.

Sorry canine cuteness, but testimonials have been called "the single most powerful marketing tool." They are a close relative to word-of-mouth advertising, and they are effective in "closing the sale" for many of the same reasons.

After all, what people say about you is many times more convincing than what you say about yourself. (With that in mind, see this page of comments.)

What's more, testimonials are highly versatile. They can be used in brochures, printed materials, on your website, as well as in video format online (website, YouTube, etc.) and in many marketing, advertising and promotional applications. Testimonials are often key elements in television broadcast commercials such as these examples.

Unfortunately, testimonials are often done wrong; well intended, but next to useless.

Of course we recognize that this is a tool that is not ideal for every medical marketing or healthcare delivery situation. What's more, HIPAA considerations have many practices and hospitals a bit "gun shy" about anything that approaches privacy boundaries. (If you're curious but cautious, talk to your legal counsel.)

Nevertheless, testimonials—when they are done properly—can provide an energetic element of convincing "salesmanship" to the marketing message of many healthcare products, services and situations.

Why testimonials are effective.

Testimonials work for many reasons, and chief among these is that they are a form of "social proof." On a psychological level, most individuals want to know that others, like themselves, have made this same choice and benefited from that decision. Testimonials build trust and reinforce the buyer's inclination or decision to purchase a product or service.

By extension, the consumer takes comfort in joining his/her peer group, and further, can anticipate achieving the same benefits. The process reduces or overcomes doubt. In short, the consumer is empowered by a lower sense of risk and a greater sense of reward. Further, this assurance originates with a third-party.

Four ingredients of powerful testimonials.

An unguided and spontaneous testimonial can be enthusiastic but ineffective:

"I was really delighted to find [provider] and just loved [product/service]!! I don't know anything like [it/him/them] anywhere!!! Much better than [something else.] Gracious sakes...it's really the best!!!!"

Subtract the energetic tone (and the four exclamation marks) and this comment doesn't actually say much. Mindful of policies and regulations, here is a list of slightly overlapping key ingredients that produce powerful and effective testimonials.

  • BENEFIT-DRIVEN - A good testimonial clearly describes how the recipient derived benefit from the product or service. What was the problem, need or compelling circumstance that was overcome or resolved?
  • SPECIFICITY - This is what or how the product or service produced tangible or quantifiable positive results. The more specific the better.
  • PERSONAL - Preferably a testimonial is first person; about themselves and not others... and in their own words or voice.
  • EMOTIONAL TOUCH - An audio or video testimonial can help communicate the positive energy, sense of satisfaction, and/or pleasure related to the product/service. How did this produce some form of happiness...feel better, look better, able to do things?
  • CREDIBLE/BELIEVABLE - Where possible and appropriate, a good testimonial will include a person's name, location, photo and other details that allow the reader to relate to this being someone like them. Are they someone from a similar locale, situation or demographic?

Highly effective testimonials can reinforce your branding and further differentiate what you have to offer from the competition. Of course you'll need signed permission to use the words, image and/or voice of the person who provides the testimonial.

Finally, have a system that guides and gathers testimonial comments. (Although many people may genuinely appreciate your products or services-and would welcome the opportunity to say so-they need a channel to express their thoughts. Help them. There are some how-to tips on this topic in this previous article.

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