Nothing persuades like a customer story. Rather than telling prospects how great you are, let your customers gush about the time you helped them earn $125 million in pipeline. (True story.)

Showing, not telling, is key to sounding credible, and it’s what moves deals forward, says video marketing agency Hed Hi Media founder Tim McManus.

Tim himself is something of a living testimonial for testimonials–his team has filmed hundreds of videos for companies like Marketo, Amazon, and Equifax, and he has some ideas for making your testimonials even more potent.

What’s in a video testimonial?

Testimonials are simple on the surface–a customer appears on camera to champion your product and share their story. Eighty-nine percent of marketers consider them the single most effective tactic and they’re the cornerstone of most marketing strategies.

But the most effective testimonials always involve a non-trivial amount of planning and production.

“You can have the world’s best soundbite delivered by the world’s smartest CEO and it’s useless if the mic pops or the recording is too quiet,” warns Tim. Unlike sales videos or fireside chats, production quality matters. Testimonials need to be visually appealing, concise, and even-paced.

Before you begin filming, ask yourself three questions:

Who should you interview?

The person you place in the interview seat should help you accomplish your mission. That is, they should be able to quickly convey the value of your product or service in a way that guides your prospects down the funnel.

They should be:

  • Credible: Select someone who your audience will identify with. Often, that means an individual whose title suggests power and influence, such as the head of a department or an executive. But it could also mean a teacher or purchasing manager, depending on who you sell to.
  • Believable: Select a customer that’s had some quantifiable successes so they can come prepared with statistics and empirical evidence that your product works.
  • Capable: The person you interview must have the internal clout to help get the testimonial approved internally. There’s nothing worse than crafting an entire video only to have it shot down by the customer’s legal or PR department.

When and where should you film your customer story?

Broadly, there are two places you can film testimonials. Each has own pros and cons:

  • At your events: If you film at summits and conferences, you have a captive audience and can capture up to dozens of testimonials. But there are downsides. You’ll need to pull dedicated staff away from your event to manage the filming, and your testimonials may lack depth. You’ll never get as much time as you’d like with each customer, nor interview multiple people at each firm.
  • At the customer’s offices: If you send your video production crew to the client’s offices, you get to tell a deeper story. You’ll talk at length with multiple stakeholders who may talk more openly because they’re feeling less pressure to perform. Some marketers report that filming onsite is a useful marketing touchpoint and helps them deepen client relationships. The downside, however, is the time investment–you’ll likely only capture one testimonial in an entire day’s worth of filming.

Is it better to film at events or offices? It depends on whether you’re more concerned about quality or quantity. But if you have the luxury, do both and test.

How can you prepare for production?

A single outstanding sound bite can sometimes take tens of hours of interviewing, footage, and edits to produce. The more you plan and prep, the greater chance you’ll give your team of asking the right questions, eliciting the right responses, and getting to that sound bite faster.

First and foremost, find a strong interviewer who can guide your interviewee to the right conclusions, but who also deeply understands your product. They’ll need to:

  • Put the subject at ease
  • Keep the conversation flowing
  • Ask product related questions
  • Tie the dialogue back to the larger narrative

Get your logistics questions resolved well ahead of time. Identify all the people and equipment you’ll need, and don’t skimp on what might seem like trivialities. Hair, makeup, and professional lighting help make prospects look good – literally – and can help ensure they don’t resist approving the video because their face looks shiny.

Deploy multiple cameras to capture multiple angles. This gives your video editors more material and gives you plenty of backup equipment in case things break. And of course, great talent is a  must – an experienced producer, director, and post-production team can help you create great videos faster.

Once you have the footage, don’t rush the post-production: “Boil it down, cut it, boil it down, and cut it,” says Tim. Take your time and “distill the video to its most essential parts.” That means not skipping the sound bite edit, where the video editor clarifies the timeline, or the creative edit, where the editor adds B-roll, product shots, and overlay graphics to make the whole thing flow.

Showing off your customers

Video testimonials are the cornerstone of most marketing strategies. With extra know-how and planning, you can make yours unusually effective.

Simply slow down to ask yourself the right questions before you begin filming: Who should we film? Where should it be? And, what do we need?

Answer those, and you’re well on your way to persuasive snapshots of your product’s greatest success: your happy, gushing customers.

Chris Gillespie