The Power of Real People

“You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.” —Bill Bernbach, CEO of Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) 

The primary role of an ad agency is to create ads, so it stands to reason that advertising is often scripted. A brand is paying large sums of money to control a specific, tailored message to a mass audience.

Sometimes these scripts are handed to celebrities who have the professional training to convince you they really use and love a particular product. Other times scripts are handed to seemingly ordinary, everyday people who are heavily coached to sound like, well, ordinary, everyday people.

But sometimes, there’s no script at all, just everyday people being themselves, speaking from the heart about their passion for a product. They sound so convincing because they actually are. Of all the testimonial marketing you could employ, social proof from consumers like these is the best option.

If someone you identify with likes or approves of something, it must be good, even in the absence of real data. Money magazine referred to these third-party endorsements as “one of the most powerful forces in the universe for anyone marketing a product.”

In a CRN International poll of brand marketers and ad agency decision-makers, 93 percent said they were very pleased with the results of radio campaigns that employed testimonials from regular people. That came as no surprise to us. Our CRN consumer research report confirmed consumers’ interest in listening to real people and an increased consideration and likelihood to buy the sponsored product.

Smart broadcast advertisers understand that when real people talk about their real use of products, their stories and recommendations are more likely to motivate and persuade. Yet too often, well-intentioned ad people will source, manage, edit, and shape real people like clay until they sound like ceramic voiceover talents in overproduced spots, basically defeating the purpose and turning consumers off.

So keep it real, folks. The spotlight in marketing should be on the power of human influence, and that radio is an ideal real-person medium.

Our basic guidelines for successful real-people marketing:

  1. Be real. No celebrities or hired talent here. Authenticity matters – big time.
  2. Comfortable and natural. With radio, there are no distracting stage sets, makeup artists, wardrobe racks, lights or cameras. Comfortable settings with people in their own environment and clothes combined with unobtrusive microphones will yield a more natural story or conversation.
  3. Make sure they are consumers. The people delivering a testimonial need to experience the product, preferably at their homes and for an extended period, long enough to seed real stories. Encourage them to share.
  4. No scripts or “copy points.” You want real people to use their own words, pauses, “you knows,” bungled grammar, and all. This is how people speak. They need to be the ones telling their stories – not the copywriters.
  5. Choose a very competent interviewer. You’ll need a guide who is truly skilled in interviewing, listening, and drawing out the best story. Try a focus-group moderator, reporter or a talk show host.
  6. Think local. Your friends, family and neighbors wield a great deal of influence. Local people reflect the entire community in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It may be a regional accent or turn of phrase or a local reference, but it creates true authenticity that translates to influence.
  7. Extend stories to other media. Repurposing real-people testimonials is a must, particularly since the work to generate these stories has already been done. Extend them to the web, social media and product brochures, as well as to radio stations’ own digital and social assets.

We were able to put the concept to work not long ago when the Affordable Care Act had enrollment numbers well below expectations. The CT Exchange simply wanted a campaign that would blanket the state with advertising. But we asked real people of all ages and all walks of life to tell personal stories about their health and express their comfort in knowing they had coverage. We wanted to deliver the benefits of joining the healthcare exchange through natural, relatable storytelling.  

And it worked. The CT Exchange received more calls, more website visits, and more signups than ever.

Proof of the power of people.

Learn more about real-people testimonials by viewing our Access Health video case study and more about influencer marketing here.



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