There are a few things you need to know to stay on the right side of the law when using testimonials.
First, you need to disclose any relationship you have with the endorser. For example, if you provided a free review copy, if the endorser is your cousin or employee, if you are business partners, etc.
Rule of thumb – when in doubt, disclose.
Second, the FTC tells us that endorsements must reflect honest opinions, findings, beliefs or experiences of the endorser.
Here’s an example straight off the FTC’s website that shows how honesty about products should be conveyed:
“An advertisement for a weight-loss product features a formerly obese woman. She says in the ad, ‘Every day, I drank 2 WeightAway shakes, ate only raw vegetables, and exercised vigorously for six hours at the gym. By the end of six months, I had gone from 250 pounds to 140 pounds.’… Because the endorser clearly describes the limited and truly exceptional circumstances under which she achieved her results, the ad is not likely to convey that consumers who weigh substantially less or use WeightAway under less extreme circumstances will lose 110 pounds in six months.
“If the advertisement simply said that the endorser lost 110 pounds in six months using WeightAway together with diet and exercise, however, this description would not adequately alert consumers to the truly remarkable circumstances leading to her weight loss.”
Third, if results aren’t typical, you need to disclose that fact. For example, “Kelli lost 55 pounds on Nutrisystem.” And the right underneath in smaller print: “Results not typical.”
Now you might be thinking that just about no testimonial reflects ‘typical’ results, since everyone’s experience is different. And you’re right, which is why you should talk about this in your sales copy or sales video.
Fourth, get written permission from your customers to use their testimonials. And yes, an email is sufficient for these purposes.
Keep a file of all the emails granting you permission, just in case anyone ever wants to see them. You know… like those pesky FTC guys.
Another reason to keep written permission on file is to protect you in case a customer wants to retract their testimonial.
Fifth, don’t ‘lift’ testimonials from other sites. If you see a good testimonial for your product on a review site, don’t just copy and paste it without permission. Most review sites clearly state that user-generated content is owned by the user and licensed to the website.
Instead, contact the original poster and ask if you can use their testimonial on your site. Or better still, ask for their feedback using the questions we talked about earlier to get a new and even better testimonial.
The sixth and most important thing to know is that I am not a lawyer, I don’t play one on TV, and nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.
In conclusion, testimonials are one of the most under-utilized tools we as marketers have.
Once we start putting as much effort into getting great testimonials as we do in writing sales copy, our sales will go through the roof.
That’s because everyone wants to hear from real life product users before they purchase a product.
Social proof works like gangbusters, but only if you learn how to work it.