The Anatomy of a Successful Client Testimonial

Best Practices: Four steps to gaining lively and powerful testimonials and maximizing their use.

Customer testimonials can be fantastic tools for driving new business to your door. But boring, photo-free client comments buried deep inside your website are unlikely to do the trick. To quickly capture the imagination (and training dollars) of the masses, it is critical to breathe life into client success stories.

So what makes some testimonials tedious and others terrific? Follow these four steps to avoid the mistakes of time-wasting customer snooze stories. Bring your facility’s testimonials back from the brink—and attract new-member dollars to your door.

Step 1: Find Your Favorite Format(s)

Effective testimonials should encompass different media formats (written, photo and video), says Vito LaFata, owner of Fitness Evolution, a training studio in Laguna Hills, California, and creator of Fitness Profit Systems consulting.

First, Choose a Few
Using a variety of media formats helps widen your appeal to different types of learners and personalities, LaFata says. “Not everyone will sit through a video—some people like to skim through a written testimonial and others love hearing a success story in someone’s own words,” he says.

Be Brief
Choose two to five testimonials for your website, since most visitors view a page for only a few seconds before clicking away, LaFata advises. Video testimonials should range from 15 seconds to no more than 3 minutes, he adds.

Step 2: Get the Details

You know Member Mike’s weight loss journey will easily entice folks like Mike to sign up for your services. But first, you’ll need permission to use his real name, weight and age to bring credibility to his story (after all, who believes a testimonial attributed only to “Member Mike”)? What’s the best way to get him—or anyone else—to allow private details to be used so publicly?

Make Respect Your Record
Never use a client’s image without permission, and always consider how other people in the customer’s life may perceive the testimonial, says Bob Esquerre, MA, a fitness business expert in Boca Raton, Florida, who co-owns the Esquerre Fitness Group consulting firm with his wife, Jolyn.

Get Permission Automatically
Build future testimonial participation into your new-client paperwork, LaFata says. His new clients are given the option to consent or not, he says, yet almost all agree. Why? “Because we inspire and excite them and demonstrate a belief that our program will get them results,” LaFata says.

Use Peer Nominations
People have a hard time saying no when they are nominated by a peer instead of a staff member, says Trina Gray, owner of Bay Athletic Club in Alpena, Michigan, and creator of the Corporate Fit Challenge. At her facility, members are invited to recommend fellow clients to be featured in a success story.

Cultivate Expectation
“We have built a culture of celebrating client success at our facility,” says Gray, whose facility posts a new testimonial every week. “We're known for it, and people are excited when they are chosen to be featured,” she says.

Step 3: Craft Great Content

Successful stories evoke emotion, Gray says. “If testimonials are too generic, others cannot relate.” To create powerful content, use the following tips:

  • Show Solutions
    “We always tie our testimonials to specific client goals and objectives,” Esquerre says. For example, he asks clients if they feel better psychologically, if they are stronger and more confident, or if their posture or wardrobe has changed.
  • Portray the Past
    “My favorite go-to strategy is to collect ‘before’ pictures of clients and then capture video footage of them in their lives now,” Gray says. “The stillness and usually unflattering ‘before’ pictures are a stark contrast to the liveliness and fun of the video showing the clients living a new lifestyle.”
  • Tell a Tale
    “If you can get some photos that show your clients at home and at work before their weight loss, and then chronicle their journey, you can edit together a little storyline and make testimonials fun and exciting,” LaFata says.
  • Give Perfection a Pass
    Testimonials should not come from picture-perfect, super-sexy types who could pass for models, Esquerre says. You want to position testimonials “as being from real people with real successes who live in your community.”
  • Remember That Weight Loss Isn’t Everything
    “Make your testimonials about showing the culture of your business,” LaFata says. At his studio, he highlights a story each month from someone who has done amazing things or has been a great member, not necessarily from someone who has lost a lot of weight.

Step 4: Market Creatively

It’s tempting to just slap a few testimonials on a secondary page of your website and think you are done. But success stories can be used far more creatively than that. Make your testimonials work hard for your business.

Give Public Presentations
If you present health lectures, group classes or boot camp sessions, you can verbally share examples of success. “A real person's success story is a great way to immediately connect with an audience,” Gray says.

Use Social Media
Positive photos, videos and written stories can be posted on Facebook, Twitter, your Meetup group page and YouTube, Esquerre says. However, social media cannot succeed unless you or someone on your team is held accountable for managing the process with subsequent updates and changes, he cautions.

Host Special Events
Gray suggests collecting testimonials over the course of a year. “Then, host an annual members’ social event to showcase and celebrate each client. Give the top five or 10 people a chance to tell their story at the event and give away a prize for the most inspiring story of the year.”

Post Photos in Your Facility
You can use picture-based testimonials throughout your facility as a selling tool on prospective-member club tours. Well-placed photos showing your clients having fun and getting results will inspire new would-be customers, LaFata says.

How the Stories End

Well-executed testimonials deliver a win-win: Your marketing taps the human emotions of your prospective customers, and featured clients are flattered to be recognized. Create lively, real-world narratives and let member testimonials drive the story of your own success.

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Megan Senger

IDEA Author/Presenter
Megan Senger is a writer, sales consultant, and fitness instructor based in Southern California. Act... more less
May 2012

© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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