Ad It Up

Talking Heads

Who hasn't seen a celebrity testimonial? Suzanne Sommers touting the Thighmaster. Dionne Warwick plugging the Psychic Network. Whether it comes from a celebrity or an unknown consumer, a testimonial is timeless and offers a simple message: If this person likes your product, it must be good.

MJ Research Inc., a biotech equipment manufacturer based in Waltham, Massachusetts, with $50 million in annual sales, decided to give the strategy a try after a biologist in the Czech Republic sent a letter about her positive experience with one of the company's oldest products. MJ's in-house advertising department combined the letter with a picture of the actual scientist holding the product to make the ad. "All we needed was the photo. It was an easy and low-cost process," says CEO and co-founder John Finney, 41. The text of the biologist's letter-which cheerily tells the story of how the product survived a flood-appears alongside her photo. A banner at the top says "Amazing Lab Stories: Flood in the Czech Republic."

The ad runs in a number of scientific publications, including Cell, Nature and Science. It was a big departure from the company's years of informational ads aimed at the skeptical biologist used to to wading through through dense research studies. "We've done a lot of text-rich ads that have become recognized by the scientific community," Finney says. He sees this customer testimonial conveying something different: a unique person, place and experience that will fascinate scientists.

Is the ad working? John Hansen, MJ Research's vice president of communications, says the company's gotten more inquiries from its educational ads featuring newer products: "We believe this testimonial captured attention, but the ad was not a champion lead generator." The company's sales continue to grow at 20 to 40 percent annually.

How to use testimonials: In a customer testimonial, customers should be fair and truthful-but not overstated-in what they say. Ask the customer to focus on one key benefit of your company. "A well-crafted testimonial can be effective. But it must be truthful and substantial," says Wallace S. Snyder, president of the American Advertising Federation in Washington, DC. Along with the customer's comments, adding a seal of approval or other logos that further testify to the quality of your product can be useful.

While it's always tricky to guess the response to an ad, knowing how to use these strategies to link your product to a selling point can put you a step ahead of the competition in getting your message across. "If you can do this," says Patterson, "you've done really well."

Chris Penttila is Entrepreneur's "Staff Smarts" columnist.

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog,

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This article was originally published in the May 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ad It Up.

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