11 - Laws, Rules, and Guidelines: Things to know about testimonials and case studies

This section is being offered for information only and is not legal advice.

So let's talk for a minute about things that we need to watch out for when we're making testimonial videos. I want to make a distinction right now between the actual production and publication of the video versus the elicitation that we do in the interview itself when we're making the video we need to be aware of these rules and laws. However, the rules and laws should not stop us from gathering the information in the actual interview. So what do I mean by this? In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission regulates testimonials specifically testimonials that had a claim of results or outcome. So what do I mean by that? Let's give a specific example here. Going back to our personal trainer let's say that I'm going to do an interview with someone who has lost 12 pounds in six weeks by working out with this particular personal trainer? We can talk all day long about what those results were in the interview. It is very useful to talk about how they felt after those 12 pounds came off what part of that losing that week was the most difficult. Where else did they find that things were difficult? What was the most surprising thing about it in terms of what was easiest what is their goal for the future etc, etc.? We should ask all those questions. However when it comes to actually producing and publishing the video or in a case study documenting this outcome the challenge that we face is that we can't use a testimonial that claims specific results without jumping through a ton of hoops with the FTC.

So for instance if in the testimonial, the person who we were interviewing says “thanks to X Y Z personal trainer I lost 12 pounds in six weeks.” We're going to have a lot of challenges with that. So what do we do? How do we talk about this and make this testimonial connect instead of making the video about results specific outcomes specific measurable tangible outcomes in terms of pounds? We talk about the experience that the person giving the interview had with the trainer. We talk about how that trainer made the interviewee feel how the trainer made the interviewee feel understood how they worked within the limitations of the person's body how they worked within the limitations of the person's time that they had how they really sat down and talked with the person that we were interviewing as a coach, as a personal trainer to understand the times where they had tried this before and has been successful with them and where they hadn't been successful. We basically talk about all the areas that lead to a successful outcome but not the actual successful outcome itself. I know it's challenging it's challenging because everybody wants to talk about the 12 lbs in 6 weeks or however much much this same thing with medical outcomes are even more restrictive. You don't want to talk about some doctor or a chiropractor curing a specific case securing a specific illness. You definitely do not want to talk about that in the actual video that you produce.

You can talk about that in your interview all day long. As long as you don't share that publicly as long as you don't produce that as a commercial product to you know as a commercial testimonial for this business it can't be published… Of course it can be used internally for reference to see what a lot of times testimonials are used internally merely to document what someone's experience was and how they how the language they use to talk about the provider but from the perspective of the actual published video that you put out there you want to talk about how from the moment the client went into the chiropractor how they felt welcome how they felt understood how they felt that the doctor spent the time with them to get to understand the problem that they were facing the challenges that they were facing and also how that impacted their life on a daily basis. And how just knowing that made them feel better and then also how that the treatment plan felt like it was aligned with that person's lifestyle. And we haven't made any medical claims here we haven't talked about anything from a medical standpoint but someone viewing this testimonial is going to say wow, this doctor understands how important it is for me as a patient to be understood. We can't even talk about the doctor's credentials and the experience and we can say from the perspective was the doctor through.

Now we're not talking about results here we're not even talking about specific diagnoses but we can have the person that we're interviewing. Talk about how thorough they felt the doctor was in terms of. Yeah, they asked me a variety of questions that I had no idea how it was even related to what I originally came in. Therefore my back was hurting and he's asking me all these questions about where I grew up in. And you know stuff that happened 20 years ago and it turns out that that was actually very helpful in helping me to get where I wanted to be. And so once again we're focusing on the experience and a lot of times people care more about that experience than they do about the specific outcome. There are areas where we can include the specific outcome in a organizations additional marketing material that's not tied directly to that testimonial or case study but we just remember as long as you are not tying specific results to a testimonial then you are good. The challenge is there are always exceptions to this. You have to really make sure that especially if you're working with a larger organization that everything that you do goes through their compliance department. This is one reason for example financial advisers especially if they're not independent if they're attached to a larger organization. No testimonials at all. Not even about the experience. They will not. They don't want it simply because there's too much risk for them.

The compliance department is just going to say “you know what… no, we're just going with our party line because there's too much risk in having a testimonial published.” This is true even if someone says something about their experience such as “I felt like this financial adviser really took the time to understand me and get to know me.” There's no claim at all being made there but a lot of times larger companies they want to stick to the party line. They're not even willing to go that far. So I just wanted to share this with you and share why this was so. The reason that the Federal Trade Commission came out with these rulings was because some people were abusing testimonials because testimonials, as we've discussed, are super powerful they're extremely powerful in getting across someone's lived experience that people were buying in looking for specific results. But I'll tell you it's not the power doesn't actually come in the promise of the results. The reason that those people were listening is because of the connection they're tying it to the specific results because those people were using testimonials that weren't real they were fabricating testimonials and making them up. And as a result of that, they were getting people to buy because once again the testimonials are so powerful. So bottom line no claims of results. Talk about the experience and how that went for the interview. I'm sorry. Talk about the experience that the interview subject had in the video that you publish.

But when you're actually conducting the interview with them talk about everything and record everything but only publish things that are about experience and leave all of the information regarding specific results on the cutting room floor.

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