“I don’t need to advertise.  I rely on word-of-mouth. My customers tell their friends.”  

How often have you heard those words?

Personal referrals and recommendations are powerful, especially when we’re considering the purchase of a product or service from a new or unfamiliar source.

Successful online retailers from Amazon to Zappos understand the value of customer ratings and recommendations. Ebay created a whole new retail channel, where strangers could buy from strangers with confidence, based on ratings and testimonials of other strangers.

Yes, it sounds funny, but it works.  And it all boils down to word-of-mouth.

We prefer buying from people and companies we trust.  And trust is developed over time, on the basis of familiarity and experience.

For those of us in radio advertising, “word of mouth” has a special significance. It is, after all, how we earn our living. The primary tool of our trade—indeed, mankind’s primary means of communication—is human speech.

Now, all of this serves as a rather lengthy introduction to the real topic under consideration: the power of real people stories in advertising and marketing.

Perhaps you’ve created commercials built around customer testimonials. Hopefully, they worked well for you.  Unfortunately, even the most well-meaning customer, reading from a script, can be reduced to ridiculous in seconds.   Even worse is the spot that purports to feature a “satisfied customer,” played by a staff announcer or an office assistant coaxed into the production studio to voice the role.  (Incidentally, fraudulent testimonials, no matter how innocuous or well-intentioned, violate the Federal Trade Commission’s Truth-in-Advertising laws. Google it.)

A valued mentor, Roy H. Williams*, likens testimonials to nitroglycerine. Done well, they’ll produce explosive results. Done poorly, they’ll blow up in your face.

Let me illustrate.  Meredith was a patient of Dr. David Leach at Clearview Eye Clinic in Moscow, Idaho. They’d asked Meredith to write up her story and read it in her own voice. Here’s that spot as recorded and mixed by a busy production person at a local radio station, prior to my involvement.

Fortunately, the client realized that even though Meredith’s story is true, the message sounded contrived or forced. They asked me if I could come up with a better presentation.

So, I arranged to interview Meredith. We had a casual, comfortable conversation over coffee. In the space of 30 minutes, she shared her story. Later, I interviewed both Dr. Leach and his nurse, Rhonda, to get their side of Meredith’s story. Then, armed with nearly an hour’s worth of audio, I began editing the audio files, weaving together the three stories into one.  Here’s how it turned out:

Hear the difference? Of course, you do. It’s the same set of facts in both spots but while one just talks at you, the other grabs you and pulls you into the story. It’s authentic, believable, engaging…and effective!

Word-of-mouth is powerful.  And radio, the only pure audio medium, is uniquely suited to sharing your story with new prospects and future customers.

*I shared a couple of these spots with Roy. His comments made my day.

About Rod Schwartz

Rod Schwartz backed into a lifelong career in radio advertising in 1973 in Springfield, Illinois. He joined the Pullman (Wash.) Radio Group in 1979, where he worked until his retirement at the end of 2022. Since 1991, Rod and his family have operated Grace Broadcast Sales (GraceBroadcast.com), providing short-form syndicated radio features to radio and TV stations across the U.S. and Canada. Rod also operates an independent advertising, marketing, and communications consultancy for small business owners and professionals, FirstStrikeAdvertising.com. An avid photographer, Rod shares some of his favorite images of the Palouse at PalousePics.com and on his Viewbug gallery.
This entry was posted in Advertising (General), Branding, Client-voiced commercials, Communication, Problem-solving, Professional Services Advertising, Radio Advertising, Radio Commercials, Radio Copywriting, Radio Production, Sales & Marketing, Storytelling and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Terrific insight, Rod. The best testimonial ads sound like the client is sitting in her living room, telling the story to her best friend over a cup of coffee. Broadcast — radio or TV — can duplicate that atmosphere, but it takes a lot of hard work to make it sound that way. The spots you did with Rod and Meredith definitely hit the mark.


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