Testimonials about companies show up on TV, radio, and the Web every day. So when and how are they effective, and should home improvement contractors use them?

What makes testimonials work is honesty, says Charles Stack, sales and operations manager for Ron Sherman Advertising and Teleproductions, in Little Rock, Ark. The company specializes in infomercials, commercials, and Webcasting for home improvement companies. “The main thing we want is an honest opinion of whatever product we're asking about. We want people to tell us exactly what prompted them to pick the company that did the work,” Stack says. “If someone stages a testimonial, it comes across that way. People can tell.”

BUILD CREDIBILITY Schmidt Siding & Window, in Mankato, Minn., uses testimonials on TV and in radio campaigns, and plans to put some on its Web site (www.sswc-mankato.com). “We've created ads around what customers said,” president Dale Brenke says. “You need to use credible people, not actors.”

Some of the best testimonials are offered voluntarily, rather than solicited. Midwest Construction and Supply, in Mason City, Iowa — which has included testimonials for seven years among its TV spots — has one such testimonial from an “average Joe,” says Paul Despenas, vice president of marketing. This man and his wife had previously had a bad experience with another contractor, but when Midwest Construction finished their job, the homeowner told Despenas to call him if he ever wanted him to come to a booth at a home show.

That kind of testimonial is exactly what Larry Chavez is talking about when he says, “Anything you can do to show that other people are pleased with your work adds credibility.” Too many homeowners are not happy with their contractors, explains the president of Four Seasons Sunroom/Renewal by Andersen of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and getting credible testimonials builds trust.

GOOD, BAD, UGLY TV makes the most effective use of testimonials, Stack says. “People can see and perhaps identify with that homeowner. It also gives them the opportunity to determine whether the homeowner [in the testimonial] was in a similar situation as they are in, say, with faded siding.”

Chavez, however, has found that what works best for his Four Seasons and Andersen franchises is to put letters and copies of surveys — including less-than-glowing client comments — in sales presentation materials for the homeowner. “By showing everything, it makes them more believable.” —Diane Kittower is a freelance writer in Rockville, Md.