Marie Osmond says she lost 40 pounds with NutriSystem, so the FTC says that better mean I can expect to lose 40 pounds if I try NutriSystem, too.
The truth is no longer good enough for the FTC. With its new rules that take effect December 1, 2009, the FTC acknowledges that while a statement may be technically true, it can also be misleading or downright deceptive. This change in guidelines may affect your business if you use endorsements or testimonials in your marketing. Here’s what you need to know in order to stay clear of an investigation.
What are your typical results?
Say you manufacture heat pumps, and your ads contain testimonials from three customers who claim they lowered their heating bills by $100, $125, and $150. Consumers could interpret that ad to mean that they can expect similar savings if they buy your heat pump.
So you’d better have proof that this is true.
Under the FTC’s new rules, the “general impression” of your testimonials must make claims that are accurate for most users. If your three heat pump testimonials are actually best case scenarios, rather than typical results, you could be in trouble.
A weak disclaimer like “results not typical” doesn’t get you off the hook anymore. You now need to spell out what most consumers can expect, with a precise statement like “the average homeowner saves $35 a month,” or “most families save 10% on their heating bills.” This disclaimer needs to be “clearly and conspicuously” presented – not buried in the fine print.
But what if you don’t know what your typical results are?
If your executive sales training program is brand-spanking new, you might not have a lot of data to back up a testimonial of a client who landed a $10,000 sale two weeks after taking your program. Or maybe the results can vary widely, depending entirely on the individual using the product or service – so maybe that testimonial isn’t really that far-fetched after all.
Don’t sweat it. You just have to put the testimonial into context.
Internet marketing expert Michel Fortin explains that your testimonials must both real and realistic. Couple your testimonial with results one can realistically expect. If there are no “typical results,” then explain how the customer in the testimonial used your product or service, so people can understand how those results were achieved.
Convert your testimonials into case studies
Fortin suggests you consider converting your testimonials into case studies. In the hands of a good writer, he says, case studies can become powerful sales tools. They’re better than blatant testimonials because they give clarity, context, measurability and weight to testimonials. And they build relationships with your customers based on mutual trust and respect.
So take the time and the space to explain that the client with the $10,000 deal was already a seasoned sales professional with a well-established pipeline of potential new business. Or explain how the customer who used your heat pump and saved $150 a month on his utility bill also took these five steps to winterize his house as well.
These strategies just make better business sense, anyway. As Fortin explains, these case studies are “more believable and concrete, which may even boost your sales.”
He would know. He’s tested it. Go ahead, ask him for proof!