The Enduring Appeal of the Testimonial

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Scott Baradell
Published: Aug 10, 2020

"Trust signals" are appeals designed to build trust in your brand. The term was popularized with the emergence of internet commerce 20 years ago -- but the concept has been around much longer. In fact, we can trace it back more than 2,000 years, to the work of Aristotle.

Aristotle taught that a speaker's ability to persuade an audience is rooted in appeals to ethos (credibility), logos (logic) and pathos (emotion). While many trust signals rely on all three of these dimensions, most emphasize some more than others.

Customer testimonials, for example, primarily persuade through ethos. The source providing them is key. If it's not someone the audience can identify with, respect or believe, what they say doesn't matter. That's why the vague testimonial quotes on many websites (e.g., "Great product! -- Andrew K., marketing VP") have virtually zero impact.

Testimonial quotes go back centuries. You can find them in the earliest American newspapers, touting everything from medicinal cures to farm products. In fact, sometimes these testimonial ads included the actual home address of the person leaving the testimonial. That's some serious ethos-building.

Ethos with a Side of Pathos

While testimonials are like case studies in appealing first to ethos, testimonials tend to rely more on pathos while case studies are based on logos. It's a function of length more than anything else.

There's an old saying that "the more you tell, the more you sell," and certainly this is the approach of the case study. The case study shows a specific use case of your product or service, details the results delivered and goals met, and includes an endorsement from your customer. That's a logos-based appeal.

Testimonials, on the other hand, go for quick impact on people scanning your website. The most effective testimonial quotes speak to results, but do so in the context of the feelings those results produced. So the best testimonials persuade through pathos. This appeal can be communicated through words, but also with images --such as the expressive faces of your customers showing happiness, relief, joy or other emotions.

More than 70 percent of consumers say testimonials increase their trust in a business, and the more testimonials the better -- as studies show that a higher number of customer quotes correlates with a higher visitor conversion rate. 

Ready to collect more testimonials for your website? Try these useful tips and tools from the customer analytics company Baremetrics.


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