How to Create the Perfect Testimonial

Making good use of your marketing budget

We’re all trying to make the world a better place, aren’t we? We’ve created a useful product, fulfilled a needed service or found a beneficial niche. We made a better sandwich, sang an inspirational song or figured out how to do that one little logistical thing you hate to do yourself.

The next step is just to tell people about it. In business-speak, it’s the testimonial. You’re building audience through a marketing strategy that demonstrates one of the most effective ways of selling what it is you offer. Creating videos to do that should be built into today’s marketing budget.

From a client’s point of view, a well-done testimonial will tell me what you can do to make my life — or someone else’s life — better or easier.

These are some of the things you need to think about and prepare for when you are ready to create a testimonial video:

  • Keep it short. Don’t let the final edited piece go more than two or three minutes. 

  • You want to be prepared, but Don’t Script It. You do not want anything that comes across as phony or forced.

  • Review the points you want to hit with your on-camera subjects, and then let the interview guide the content. 

  • Avoid yes or no questions. Encourage and/or prompt your subject to answer in complete sentences. Don’t be shy about asking someone to repeat an almost-perfect response.

  • Testimonial 101: Ask your subject to respond by repeating the substance of the question in his/her answer. ‘Where do you see this project in five years?’ ‘As we grow, I see this project opening doors we never realized were there when it comes to ….’

  • Choose a proper setting for each interviewee that fits the situation and puts the person at ease.

Jeston Cole Lewis, the Managing Director of Argos Productions, has several personal pieces of advice for a perfect testimonial:

  • Make your subject comfortable. Creating an inviting environment will make or break your interview.

  • Have your subject tell a story about how they were transformed by what you had to offer them. Getting your customer to say nice things about you is great, but it doesn’t let others know why they're going to benefit from what you do. In fact, if your video doesn’t answer the question ‘why?’ then you don’t have a testimonial.

  • Give yourself time for a flowing conversation. You can always take out the ‘umms’ in post-production.

  • Use multiple cameras. This way you can smooth out the transitions.

The following is an example of a very bare-bones testimonial using two cameras. (And some unscripted, natural emotion.) This shows the effectiveness of editing an interview when you use two cameras:

Erica Deshner Cornwall is the COO and Creative Director of Argos Productions, and here is her advice:

  • Keep a list of the key points your subjects are going to talk about. Coach them as necessary and repeat the best sentence they said. Some people will give you their abridged version the first time around. You’re looking for the most personal version.

  • Don't be afraid to do several takes. Sometimes it takes a while to find your voice and forget you’re on camera. In fact, start rolling as soon as the cameras are ready and before the interview has ‘officially’ started. Likewise, some of the best quotes happen after the ‘official’ interview is over and everyone feels relaxed and natural. (Thank them while you’re still rolling.)

  • Find the Easter eggs. Even the best-planned interview will surprise you. Let them share, they may have forgotten something. Feel free to explore those possibilities. There is often a gem in there.

  • Check your list. Did they answer all your questions and hit all the points? Also ask them if there is anything else they would like to add. (‘Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you thought I would?’)

Good testimonials tell stories. What led to the development of the product or service? There is always an underlying story. How will your clients benefit? If you’re the client, how did the service or product solve your problem and improve your life or workflow? How does it add to your life?

The following testimonial video is an example of a more substantial production that involves a lot of accompanying video that tells the emotional journey of a young man who created a product using Intel Edison technology. While this video is less than two minutes long, you feel as though you’ve just watched an emotional movie:

To review, videos can bring emotion to what you are doing better than almost any other medium. Video has a higher retention rate than the written word, and people are more likely to share a video link than other options. Good equipment and a professional video crew can also make a difference. You’d be surprised how far quality audio and well-shot b-roll will take you. Throw in some professional graphics and text (supers, repeated key phrases, etc.) and it adds even more depth.

Of course, creating a great video testimonial isn’t as easy as it sounds. It does take a greater investment of time and effort than some other marketing methods — and probably should be outsourced — but it can be a very valuable tool in your marketing toolbox. 

Not to mention that the tone of your video can match the tone of who you are and what you have to offer. Again, this video does a lot in only 2:20:

Dan Parnell

‘Dusty’ Dan Parnell has worked in radio, television and newspaper in the Treasure Valley for more than 30 years. He’s been a deejay, a newspaper editor and a live sports cameraman, in addition to a few other inexplicable talents.