What Is a Testimonial in Research? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: David White
Whether it's on consumer products or social research, testimonials can have a tremendous impact. Through this lesson, you will learn how to define a testimonial and explore some of the ways that they are used in various areas of society and culture.

What Are Testimonials?

If you've ever had trouble sleeping at night and flipped through the television channels, chances are good that you've found an infomercial or two. Maybe it was a celebrity talking about how much they love a particular beauty product or an 'ordinary' consumer gushing about a weight loss program. These celebrity and consumer reviews are known as testimonials, and they are crucial when attempting to persuade others.

In the broadest sense, a testimonial is a statement given by a person about something or someone, usually in a supportive way. For example, those infomercials that are all over TV in the early morning hours are full of celebrity testimonials talking about how much they love a particular product. In this case, the advertisers are using testimonials in an effort to convince you to buy something, which is why they are always overwhelmingly positive.

Though they are most common in marketing and advertising to consumers, testimonials are also applied to people. If you've ever used an employment social network, like Linkedin, you may have noticed that many people have certain skills that have been endorsed by others. In this case, someone is providing a testimonial that supports a person's claim of a certain skill. Similarly, when someone is called as a character witness in court, they are usually expected to tell the judge and jury about how wonderful a person is, while avoiding any negative commentary.

Marketing and Advertising

You are probably most familiar with testimonials from your position as a consumer. Although many commercials for products have high production values and slick designs, those with lower budgets might rely on testimonials in order to convince you that you should buy their products. These types of testimonials are known as endorsements, and they can come from celebrities or ordinary people.

Whether or not a celebrity endorsement will be effective generally depends on how heavily the viewer is to things like peer pressure. A recent study found that people who are more susceptible to things like peer pressure or those that place a high value on normalcy are significantly influenced by celebrity testimonials. Imagine that Lady Gaga were to appear in an ad for Coca-Cola talking about how much she loves it and that it's the only thing she'll drink. People who look up to her or feel that it's important to fit in with the larger society might be compelled to start drinking more Coca-Cola because of her endorsement.

For those who don't really care about public opinions or celebrity endorsements, these types of advertisements tend not to be very effective. These individuals are more influenced by the quality and technical aspects of a product.

Testimonials in Social Research

Although they are common in marketing, testimonials are not exclusive to the consumer market. In social research, testimonials can be an important part of the data collection process. When it comes to research, it's important to keep in mind that testimonials are rooted in opinions more often than facts. This means that they are less likely to provide empirical evidence and should generally be treated as supplemental data, which is used to support stronger evidence or data.

Say, for example, that you were conducting a study on FEMA's efficacy in the wake of a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina. You would gather all kinds of technical data on timelines, rates of response, or people rescued and homes repaired, but you would also want to hear from the citizens served and conduct quick interviews or surveys with residents to find out about their experiences with FEMA and whether or not they feel that FEMA was effective.

Even though FEMA's rescue efforts aren't exactly a product, these are still considered testimonials because the individuals are telling you whether or not they approve of FEMA. They may tell you that FEMA rescued them from their room after their house was flooded and they are forever grateful, which would be the type of endorsement that is typical of testimonials. They could, however, tell you that they were stranded and it took FEMA twelve days to help them, which is not a positive endorsement.

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