Testimonial Videos – 10 Steps to a successful video

Authenticity is a key to success for a testimonial videos but what really matters
is capturing the right message from your interviewee.


Authenticity is how a message is delivered. What that message is (delivered authentically or otherwise) is what determines the success or failure of your testimonial video.

No one really trusts you or what you have to say about your own company. Why would they? That’s why testimonial videos are so powerful. People will listen to other people’s opinions about your company.

If they know and trust that person – so much the better. Even if they don’t, they are more likely to believe a stranger (or better yet, a bunch of strangers) talking about you instead of you talking about you.

So is any testimonial video a good one? Not necessarily. It has to accomplish three important things to be successful:

1. It has feel authentic.

‘Being’ authentic is always the goal, but ‘feeling’ authentic is the next best thing. (We’re talking about marketing here. The first time you ask a client to repeat their comment, you’ve taken your first step down the ‘feel authentic path.’ )

2. It has to be interesting.

Testimonial videos don’t get a free pass for needing to be engaging. A talking head is still a talking head no matter what they are saying. Unless you know your speaker is engaging you should plan on having something interesting going on in the video. (Showing a customer using your product or service is a great place to start.)

3. It has to deliver a message which is relevant and that resonates.  

Hearing a customer say “ABC Inc. was very good.” is not particularly informative or helpful.


Testimonial VIdeo

Here are 10 steps that you should consider before you shoot your next testimonial video:


1. Scheduled a pre-shoot meeting. 

The best investment of time you can make is to schedule a pre-shoot meeting with the interviewee to take them through the process. One of the reasons this doesn’t happen is cost – often businesses don’t want to pay for the additional time to prepare for the shoot and yet this is arguably the most important investment of time you can make on the entire project.

You get to know your interviewee, you get them familiar (and therefore comfortable) with you and the filming process, you get to do a site inspection prior to shooting and you get to find out the type of things that he/she may or may not want to say when you start shooting. All of this gives you time to plan and prepare for the shoot. All journalists know that they get the best responses when their interviewees are prepared.

2. Determine the overall style and format of the video before you shoot.

Is your video simply a talking head of someone sitting on their living room couch or behind their office desk or is it a video that incorporates footage of your customer actually using your product or service? Or is it something else?

Budget will dictate how much effort you can put into your video but it requires very little extra effort to shoot the person you are interviewing actually doing something. A few minutes of b-roll can elevate a testimonial video from dull to interesting. Getting your interviewee doing something is a good place to start.

While shooting with one camera is typical for many testimonial videos you’ll give yourself more options in edit if you shoot with two cameras.  Being able to cut between shots makes it easier to cut between sound bites and it also makes the video more interesting to watch as at least something is going on in the video.

3. Decide beforehand who is speaking and who is on camera. 

This is an important decision to make upfront. Having a non-speaking spouse (as an example) or non-speaking business colleague in a video takes away from the flow of the presentation. If multiple people are speaking and contributing relatively equally – that’s great. But if you have a person in the shot who isn’t speaking, that person will take the energy/attention away from the speaker. Two people are distracting unless their interaction is interesting and complimentary.

You need to know if your speaker is articulate, and more important, is he/she comfortable in front of a camera? If your answer is ‘no’ to these first two points then he/she had better be good at taking direction otherwise your shoot is going to be painful.

I remember hearing comments about a testimonial video I had shot saying that my client was so lucky to have such a good speaker to represent them.  I wish the person who made that comment could have been there during the shoot… direction and editing can cover up a world of hurt.

4. Know exactly what you need to capture on camera before you start your interview.

This is the single most important thing to consider. You don’t just show up with a camera, ask some questions and hope for the best – that would likely end up being a colossal waste of time.

Before you approach your customer for an endorsement you have to know exactly what you want to hear them say and you have to know that they are receptive to saying it. Just because you ask a question doesn’t mean you are going to get the answer you need. Even if you get the answer you want it may not be delivered in a suitable manner (I.E. A distracted ‘Ya… they showed up on time” versus an enthusiastic “Those guys were here exactly when they said would be.”

Arriving equipped to an interview with the right questions is only half the battle. You also need to be equipped with the knowledge of the exact sound bites that you need to hear, otherwise you might end up staring blankly at your editing screen wondering what to do with all the useless footage you just shot.

The questions don’t matter – it’s the answers that matter.  Having the right questions only gives you a chance at capturing something useful. Whose responsibility is it to make sure the sound bites are exactly what you need?

Articles about planning a testimonial video will warn you that you should never script an interview. While that advice is true, this advice only tells you what not to do. It doesn’t address why you are there in the first place – to capture sound bites you can use to promote your business.

You need to know the answers you’re looking for before you start shooting and you have to find a way to ensure you get those answers. The best way to know if that’s possible is in the pre-shoot planning session. Ask your client if they are willing to discuss the things you are looking for.

5. Prioritize and have a plan for how you are going to order the soundbites you capture.

Having a plan for what you need to capture helps you to determine if you’ve missed anything before you wrap up your shoot. Let’s assume you capture what you wanted from your customer, are all comments equal? Do you lead with a power statement that nicely concludes what you are going to see in the video or do you just start with the answer to the first question? What you place first is critical in video today.

Online viewers today have attention spans similar to that of a house fly. You need to ensure that the message you deliver at the beginning of the video makes people think – ‘that’s interesting, tell me more.’

I’ve seen too many testimonial videos that start with 30 seconds or more of dull preamble: “Well now… Bob from ABC Inc. gave me a call on Tuesday… no, it was Wednesday…  ’cause that’s when me and Earl go bowling, anyway, Bob gives me a call and asks me how my bowling game is doing – funny thing about that is… ” {And for those still wrestling with the ethics of ‘structuring’ (not scripting) an interview… is editing a testimonial video any different than structuring the questions and answers you want to hear?}.

This will also help you prioritize the soundbites you need. There is likely one or two key messages that you really need to hear and you want that message to be succinct. Those are the things to focus on.

6. Think through how all of your testimonial videos are going to be presented.

Are you doing one testimonial video or do you plan on doing a series of them. Like resume references, it’s not terribly difficult to get at least one person to say something nice about you. The more voices that support your message the better.

Anecdotally, I would suggest three is the optimal number of testimonial videos on any one topic. Two is better than one and three is a bit better than two. After that, it’s hard to imagine your prospects eagerly watching more, especially if everyone is talking about the same subject matter and if everyone is providing the same basic responses.

If you are planning more than one testimonial video on any one specific topic then you should try to structure the videos so there is repetition on the key brand elements you want to promote AND there is also new information in each video. If the videos are identical people won’t watch more than two because they will expect that they are all the same.

If you are planning a series of testimonial videos remember to label them clearly so potential viewers can select the videos that relate to their specific concerns. (I.E. “Bob Smith from Acme explains how ABC Inc saved him $4000 in research costs.”)

7. Be very careful about how your start your video – time is precious.

I recently watched a very well produced testimonial video that had 35 seconds of introductory branding and text. I honestly wonder if anyone other than me made it through that intro.

Do you start with shots of your interviewee, b-roll shots of your interviewee or do you begin with corporate branding and titling? Getting to the message as quickly as possible is critical.

Do you include on screen text anywhere in the video to support what is being said in the video? Using on screen text in your video helps to reinforce a message BUT it may also make the video look more like a corporate/promotional video rather than a testimonial video. (i.e. Having the word ‘Lifesaver’ come up on-screen as someone uses that word would likely seem contrived but having specific technical reference or information on screen as the customer mentions it might help reinforce the point that is being made.)

Ideally your first sentence or two should mirror the title or main thrust of your video. People clicked on your video for a reason – either the thumbnail or the title.

8. Consider including other support material in your video.

As an example, if you are doing a renovation (house, car, person… etc) testimonial video, do you include a ‘before’ shot? Do you illustrate the ‘problem’ that was solved by your company?

It’s always better to show, rather than tell the viewer what the ‘problem’ was – that’s the whole reason to use video. Do you shoot b-roll to support the benefit of your product or service? (The answer is ‘Yes’). B-roll can include anything relating to the content being discussed.

9. Your pre-shoot meeting will help you determine a shooting style for your interview.

Is the interviewee sitting down or standing up? Are they in and around your product or service? The most typical interview shot you see is someone sitting on a couch against the wall or someone sitting behind a desk. Both are visually quite dull.

It’s much more effective if your subject looks engaged. People often look ‘trapped’ sitting behind a desk or in the corner of a room on a chair.

This definitely takes more planning and cooperation from your interviewee but if, for example, you show up at someone’s office and capture a talking head interview in a cramped space it’s going to look like you showed up at someone’s office and captured a talking head interview in a cramped space.

10. Plan on what you’ll need for b-roll, before you shoot.

Assuming that you want to make your testimonial video interesting to watch you’ll likely to need to get people doing something that shows them engaged with your product or service. Remember, a testimonial video isn’t about you or your product, it’s really about the affect your product or service had on your interviewee.

Wherever possible, you should try to demonstrate the use and benefit of your product or service. This may require you to get the interviewee to do something more than standing in front of your camera. The chance of them doing something spontaneous that looks interesting on camera is low (it may happen…) so you are going to have to tell them what you want them to do.

An argument can be made that choreographing anything in a testimonial video is disingenuous and will take away from the authenticity of the piece. While true, you have to balance this with the need to convey important information and get people to watch your video.

Special Note: For those creating Testimonial Videos in the US here is a link to the 2009 FTC Guidelines governing Endorsements and Testimonials.





15 Responses

  1. Thanks Rick. Ya… I appreciate that lighting and framing a moving shot is probably more effort but it’s easier to get a good looking shot if you have the flexibility to move people around a bit.

  2. Great stuff (as usual) Jimm! The only thing that did not ring true was the “it’s much easier to light and frame a shot if you can get somebody moving”. I love the “Two people are distracting unless their interaction is interesting and complimentary” – I ‘m hanging that one on my office wall..

  3. Nice article – I agree, if it doesn’t feel authentic it won’t be believable. While you want the individual in the testimonial be prepared and well spoken, you don’t want it to sound robotic and too rehearsed. Preparation is key, I agree! You need to know ahead of time what you are looking to pull out of each testimonial before you shoot
    Not sure if I agree with this either: “It’s much easier to light and frame a shot if you can get people moving around and looking engaged.’ It depends on what type of equipment you have an how experienced your team is.

  4. Lots of useful points, except … it is definitely not advisable to use more than one camera. It’s an unnecessary expense and complication. All you need is one or two retakes from separate angles, plus some variation of cutaways and different perspectives (close-ups, mid-shots, etc). Much easier to edit afterwards; it can be a nightmare synchronising the edit between two or more cameras, never mind logging and shot-listing the rushes from them.

    Just needs a bit of care in shot-selection. Don’t even need to retake the whole sequence. Selected sections and some specific close-ups and action shots will often be enough.

    Almost all factual broadcast filming is done with a single camera, including documentaries, in the UK anyway (BBC, etc).

    1. Nigel, we shoot two camera set-ups quite often. If there are two or more of us on site, it’s actually quite easy to do. Ideally we set up a medium shot for the interview and then use a long lens for a close-up. It’s nice to be able to cut between the two shots – it gives you more latitude in editing when it’s difficult to put in b-roll. If you have software like Pluraleyes the editing burden is quite minimal.

  5. Hi–great content. Just a suggestion: I noticed some grammatical errors and misspellings in your piece. It might be a good idea to have it proofread before publishing.

  6. You have defined good points, but if a satisfied client speak on video for testimonial, of-course will differ from some one we forced or paid to do this artificially. Thank you.

    1. Ashok, not sure about forcing anyone to speak on camera – can’t imagine that would go well (I can imagine seeing the end of a cattle prod just at the edge of the screen and hearing a voice of-camera saying “JUST SAY YOUR LINE!!!). Regarding ‘incentives’ to get people on camera – ideally you are right, hopefully the motivation to agree to be on camera is to share a great experience. Other times people need to be persuaded.

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