Skip to main content

Advertising is expensive, in almost all of its forms. What's worse is that, no matter how creative your advertising or marketing approach is, audiences are keenly aware that you are really promoting yourself or your services, from a rather biased perspective.

Customer testimonials, however, can be much more cost-effective and even more powerful to the audience. Not only are they free, but people consider a testimonial a more unbiased view from another person who made an exact purchasing decision that they may be considering. They are comforted by the fact that others have made a similar investment in your product and service, and are glad they did.

It's one of the reasons the Home Shopping Network keeps a tally of purchases made during its broadcasts. As the number of units sold climbs, it is showing you that many people, just like you, are comfortable making that purchase, so you are not alone.

The most common forms of testimonials come in the form of reviews on sites such as Yelp, Google Places for Business, Yahoo Local Listings and Angie's List.

I've written about the benefits of managing your online reputation through third-party sites such as these. Today, I want to encourage you to be even more proactive by using testimonials as an important part of your marketing and advertising strategy and assets.

Applying testimonials to your marketing assets is easy, assuming you have them to start with. If you haven't been collecting these gems along the way, you need to start right away.

You can begin by creating a section on your website that encourages the submission of testimonials. Be sure to make it clear that these submissions may be posted or printed, so you so have the writer's permission. You can even create a dedicated e-mail address for testimonials.

Facebook pages that are set up by businesses encourage comments and testimonials by their nature, but support that by telling customers that they are welcome to leave a comment about a purchase that they made of your product or service on your business's Facebook page. That's way more valuable than just asking them to "like" your page. "Likes" are so common they are sometimes seen as disingenuous, but comments are more personal and allow more specifics about a customer's purchase experience.

For independent professionals and businesses alike, don't forget LinkedIn, where recommendations can be made right on your profile, or endorsements can be offered for particular skill sets of either a business or individual.

Many of the these methods for collecting testimonials come with their own broadcast mechanism (for instance, on Facebook, you collect a testimonial and it is publicly displayed simultaneously). I encourage you, however, to cross-pollinate these comments as well. Copy and paste the most relevant testimonials into your new catalogue , on your business cards, below your e-mail signature and on the new testimonials section of your website.

If you sell online, it would be worth the extra effort to align testimonials you have received about a specific product on that product's description and specification page. Keep more general ones under your testimonials section.

I used to put scrolling testimonials on my company's home page as well. I wanted a new visitor to my website to have a first impression that included the opinions of many others who had done business with my company and were pleased with the results.

While businesses much bigger than yours may have celebrity spokespeople and product placement opportunities, you can compete, and win, by leveraging the endorsements of the most powerful group in your network for business referrals and recommendations: your existing customers.

It is fast, practically free and, most of all, genuine.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.

Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues:

Our free weekly small-business newsletter is now available. Every Friday a team of editors selects the top picks from our blog posts, features, multimedia and columnists, and delivers them to your inbox. If you have registered for The Globe's website, you cansign up here. Click on the Small Business Briefing checkbox and hit 'save changes.' If you need to register for the site,click here.