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What does a testimonial look like?

“My last rent check to Ashley Park Apartments. How sad!! XOXO (signature)”

The note was hand-printed in blue ink on a lined 3-by-5 index card with the signature clearly legible. The paper clip where the check had been affixed still clung to the top of the card, although its contents had already been sent to the bank.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s just a note from one of our residents. He was here for three years while he was in medical school,” Valerie replied. “He loved living here and didn’t want to move. He got a residency in the Midwest.

“We actually have a lot of those,” she continued, pointing to a file an inch thick.

“Do you ever show them to anyone?” I asked.

The index card was probably one of the best testimonials I had ever seen. Why?

It was short and could be read in a second or two. All too often, testimonials look like the owner’s manual for a VCR: verbose and difficult to get through. This was clean with its two simple sentences. Anyone interested in renting an apartment and looking for an affirmation of value could read this with zero effort.

It communicated a deep appreciation (if not love) for the product. The resident was SAD to leave the community! This answers one of the questions that burns in buyer’s minds: “Will your product be as good as you (the salesperson) says it will be?” Since the note clearly indicates the reluctance of the resident to leave, of course the product was good!

It communicated value received. Incredibly, the sadness of departure was applied to the rent check. There are few people happy to part with their money for any reason, but it seems that this person didn’t mind writing rent checks to the property because they received VALUE in return. This answers yet another question echoing in the buyer’s mind: “Is it worth the price you’re asking me to pay?” The two sentences answered this quite definitively: “Yes!”

It was heartfelt and honest. This was not the prototypical testimonial letter that has been carefully crafted at the request of the salesperson (or, more scandalously, written BY the salesperson and signed by the customer). It wasn’t on corporate or personal stationery in some pre-meditated expression. This was a quick note thrown on the nearest available item (an index card). Its very vehicle of delivery screams its authenticity and the underlying emotions.

This combination of elements made this simple card a powerful answer to yet another question buyers have: “You are paid to say nice things about your product. Who says so besides you?”

So what does an appropriate testimonial look like?

Testimonials can be anything that answers the questions above and communicates them in the ways this index card did: short, honest, specific and value-driven. Testimonials do NOT have to be old-style formal letters. They can come in any form: email, card, note, audio file on your smart phone, text message. In fact, they’re more believable that way. It’s still smart, ethical, good manners and good business to ask the sender for permission to share their expression with other people.

Later in the day, as prospective residents filed in and out, I heard a one ask Valerie, “Do people say they like living here?”

“Just look at this note we got!” came the reply.