Why are customer testimonials so effective?
Some marketing pitches are so over-loaded with testimonials from “satisfied customers,” one wonders if the business is really that good, or if the owner has a long list of friends and family members who are willing to say nice things about the company.
In fact, most testimonials do create a favorable impression — that’s why we use them! The question is: why are they so effective? A recent article in Scientific American gives us an answer.
“How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results” explains why clients sometimes reject the “facts” you might mention during the course of a consultation and instead adhere to unscientific, subjective stories they have heard or experienced, such as customer testimonials. According to the authors, this tendency to reject factual evidence in favor of personal anecdotes has its roots in our primitive survival instincts:
“We have evolved brains that pay attention to anecdotes because false positives (believing there is a connection between A and B when there is not) are usually harmless, whereas false negatives (believing there is no connection between A and B when there is) may take you out of the gene pool. Our brains are belief engines that employ association learning to seek and find patterns. Superstition and belief in magic are millions of years old, whereas science, with its methods of controlling for intervening variables to circumvent false positives, is only a few hundred years old.”
In other words, this behavior reflects a primitive survival instinct. That’s not likely to change anytime soon.
There are several lessons here. If you are a consultant or coach trying to help a client “get real” about their business or personal circumstances, don’t take it personally if the client rejects your factual “evidence.” When they balk at letting go of attitudes or beliefs based on personal experiences or stories, they are just being insanely normal!
Second, you can alert your client to this very human behavior. Explain that your information might seem to contradict what the client has come to believe anecdotally. Having this explanation upfront might at least open up the client to considering information that contradicts what the client already “knows” to be true.
The third lesson actually uses this primitive instinct in a positive way.
There’s a reason why so many effective marketing programs rely on testimonials to “make a case” for a product or service: they engage our basic human instincts. We tend to pay attention and give high value to stories from other humans. That’s just the way most of us are wired.
Even though our rational, logical selves tells us that four or five positive testimonials from satisfied customers are not scientific proof that the service is good for us — perhaps there are, unknown to us, two hundred dissatisfied customers! — our primitive emotional side tends to place greater weight on the positive, anecdotal evidence we read in an ad or on a web site.
Although this Scientific American story seems to contradict other studies about the way humans process information — for example, high-risk, high-involvement decisions often drive consumers to seek factual information before they make a purchase — it explains a human characteristic that most of us have experienced as consultants (at least, anecdotally speaking!).
Bottom line: you can use this lesson to help clients come to terms with facts they might otherwise be reluctant to accept. As for all those testimonials on your web site or blog saying what a great business you have — keep them! Now you know the real reason they are so effective.