Marketing isn’t just about paid advertising, and it isn’t just about the content your team creates.

One of the most impactful forms of promotion for your company comes from your customers or clients themselves.

From individual consumer reviews in the business-to-consumer space to more in-depth testimonials and case studies among business-to-business organizations, customer input in all its forms can add value that impacts your bottom line.

What do these reviews and testimonials have in common? They all come from third parties, rather than the official mouthpieces of your company.

That’s where the value comes from: These third-party stories provide “social proof” of your business’s excellence.

A single positive review can sway a potential customer more than an avalanche of advertising.

Here’s all you need to know about encouraging positive public feedback from your valued customers and brand advocates.

What is the value of reviews and testimonials to businesses?

Adding testimonials, reviews and other third-party input to your marketing strategy can provide bottom-line value for your company in several important ways.

In addition to giving your business a credible and useful source of promotion, these materials can counteract negative feedback.

Third-party feedback has bottom-line value

Asking your marketing personnel to shift focus and seek customer feedback may be a tough sell unless you bring data to the table.

Luckily, that evidence is easy to find. It’s increasingly becoming clear that prospects like to see positive reviews and testimonials about the companies they’re dealing with.

BrightLocal research determined that among 18-34-year-old consumers, 91% of people find online reviews as credible as actual recommendations from their peers.

Overall, trust in online reviews totals 78%.

If you’re getting positive feedback, more than three-fourths of your audience has just received the equivalent of a personal seal of approval for your company.

Consumer reviews aren’t just valuable in the B2C world, as the B2B product search has become increasingly self-directed and independent.

Pragmatic Institute noted, for instance, that 60% of B2B buyers read reviews while conducting their preliminary product research. An even larger segment, 78%, start the buying journey with some kind of web search.

If they searched for your company, would they find positive feedback or harsh takes?

Unhappy shoppers don’t need encouragement to talk – happy customers might

When customers are unhappy and dissatisfied with a brand, they may make that displeasure public through a review or public comment via social media.

Positive interactions with companies may not provide the same sense of urgency, leading to a scenario in which complaints outweigh praise, even in situations when companies have largely pleased their customers.

Visit the Better Business Bureau page of any business in a field such as insurance or banking and you’ll see this effect in action, with dismally low average review scores being the norm.

Encouraging customers to leave reviews if you’re running a B2C brand, or courting more extended feedback from your clients in the B2B world, can create a counterbalance to the negativity that has become so common in online reviews.

This helps you manage your reputation and gain a competitive advantage over other brands that have been less active in attracting reviews and testimonials from their happy customers.

B2C vs. B2B: How is getting feedback different?

The main difference between encouraging B2C and B2B feedback is one of scale.

While consumer-focused businesses, whether they rely on in-person or online sales, can thrive with dozens of quick customer reviews, the process of acquiring a B2B testimonial or case study is more nuanced and time-intensive.

B2B deals tend to be larger, more drawn-out and less frequent, so each one should contribute more to the overall content marketing push.

B2C vs. B2B: How is the review process similar?

Fundamentally, the two approaches to gathering customer feedback are more similar than they are different.

They both represent a loosening of corporate messaging, which is normally stage-managed in every detail.

Embracing third-party feedback means welcoming other voices into the conversation, while still setting the terms and tone.

Since there’s virtually no way to say “don’t read reviews” without seeming evasive or defensive, it’s much better to dive into the world of customer feedback than to ignore it and lose track of the discussion.

The following are a few of the best practices associated with embracing this kind of review-friendly attitude, divided into B2C and B2B focuses.

These different approaches lead to the same general result: greater credibility and a burnished online reputation for your company.

B2C reviews: How should companies encourage buyer feedback?

Getting customers to care about your B2C company is a challenging task, but it’s not hard to see how reviews can fit into this process.

The first step is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes.

What do you do when you’re considering trying a new business? If you know someone who has bought from that company, you may ask their opinion.

And if not? That’s where online review sites such as Yelp and Google My Business prove their worth, because they present a variety of customer reactions.

Since Yelp was founded in 2004, users contributed 192 million reviews, half of them with 5 stars.

Getting as many positive reviews as possible on these sites can be your ticket to improved reputation, as well as stronger local SEO if you’re based in a specific location instead of operating entirely online.

This need for good feedback doesn’t mean you should game the system or spend hours generating fake reviews – your audience is discerning, and honest reviews are essential.

What you can do is to encourage each happy customer to write a review of your company. If you don’t take these steps, bad reviews may take up more space than positive ones, as shoppers may feel more motivated to post when they’re unhappy than happy.

How to ask for B2C reviews

Asking for reviews shouldn’t be a casual or improvised part of your B2C selling process.

Instead, you should have a focused and fully featured way of gathering feedback and encouraging reviews.

Do set up an automated and repeatable process

Often the best way to request online reviews is to set up an automated and repeatable process associated with reaching out to shoppers. Emails may be the most straightforward review request tools you can use to get consumers’ attention.

Do be specific in what you’re asking for

When asking for reviews in this way, be direct and specific in your request. A vague request to “leave us a review” isn’t meaningful or actionable.

Share a link to your company’s page on your review site of choice, such as Yelp, in your email. The easier it is for customers to leave a review, the more likely they are to do so.

If your company primarily operates in person, it’s not strictly possible to give people a link to click – but you can and should still encourage shoppers to review the company. Business cards and receipts make good places to ask customers to leave a review on Yelp or another site, and these are easy to include with orders.

Don’t bribe reviewers with incentives

One thing you should stay away from is incentivizing reviewers with discounts or other bonuses. Many review sites have rules against this behavior, and breaking the rules in such a way could counteract the hard work you’ve put into earning legitimate reviews for your products.

Don’t stop once the positive reviews start rolling in

Even once you’ve had plenty of positive reviews roll in, you should keep up your momentum.

Not only do good mentions counteract negative reviews, building up a large number of reviews is associated with top companies – average local businesses have 39 Google reviews and top search performers average 47.

Add that to the fact that 40% of consumers base their commercial decisions on reviews two weeks old or newer, and it’s clear that you should set up a repeatable process that encourages a steady stream of feedback.

B2B case studies: What should businesses ask and how should they use the information?

The concept behind B2B customer feedback and testimonials is the same as the idea behind B2C reviews: You want to show potential buyers that your organization has pleased buyers just like them, and that your products and services are up to their standards.

Considering the relative complexity of B2B transactions, however, you’ll have to turn to more in-depth communications than quick mentions on review platforms like Yelp.

This is where extended content types such as written case studies and video testimonials prove their worth, delivering an extended look at the way your company has helped other clients work through their problems and thrive.

The catch is that just as they are deeper and more potentially convincing than a simple Yelp review, creating them is also more demanding.

To get this type of extended endorsement for your company, you’ll have to ask your clients to spend time and effort working with you.

How to ask for B2B case studies and testimonials: Effective strategies to try

As with any favor worth receiving, the key to getting testimonials and case study input from your customers lies in knowing how to ask. Here are some effective strategies to try:

Do set up an automated and repeatable process

As we covered previously, it’s worth creating a recurring process that automatically prompts customers for feedback during different experiences with your brand.

Do start with your best clients

Speaking to your top B2B buyers about a testimonial or case study is a great value-adding idea. These clients may respond well to the request, feeling valued and becoming closer than ever to your brand. Then, the actual material they provide will showcase your company at its best, drawing in the next round of top customers.

Do highlight the promotional benefits of case studies

A separate Content Marketing Institute report highlighted some of the advanced negotiating strategies you can use once you’ve entered discussions with clients. For instance, you can highlight the visibility benefits of the client company being named in the case study, with their name being splashed across your social media feeds, email campaigns and more. This coincidental cross-promotion can be a convincing incentive.

Don’t give up when standard case studies won’t work

Even when your customers have nondisclosure agreements and other policies that forbid them to talk about the services and products they use, there are ways to put case studies and testimonials together. Anonymous and group case studies may still prove the effectiveness of your brand. The impact of such a study won’t be as great and you can’t offer the same kind of promotional opportunities, but asking is still a way to potentially salvage the process.

Improve your B2B case studies and testimonials

No matter how strong the connection is between your brand and a client, simply saying “give a testimonial” isn’t the way to get an ideal piece of content.

Speaking with the Forbes Agency Council, Panache!’s Jacob Hanson laid out the guiding principle behind a good case study: Foreground a problem and show how your solved it. Berkeley Communications pointed out that the actual question-and-answer sessions should be easy for the client to get through, with a live interview conducted by experienced employees who know the situation and will get the right information.

The actual questions asked should follow a pattern, from setting up the background to establishing the problem, noting the solution, determining the benefits and pointing to the future.

The questions should be written down in order to make sure the interviewers are always able to steer the conversation in a productive direction that will get them the results they need, with no follow-up. For a more detailed guide to this process, check out the Brafton ebook on this exact topic.

Modern media can improve the audience impact and value of your completed case study. HubSpot recommended making videos about the client’s results, as visual content is easier to digest than written materials. MoneyPath’s Todd Earwood concurred, telling the Forbes Agency Council that if you can capture the client speaking in their own words, you increase the content’s credibility.

Prove your company’s worth, no matter what you do

Every consumer or B2B buyer is interested in dealing with organizations that provide top-quality service, and your most compelling testimonials come from the mounts of your happiest customers.

If your company is the best in its sector or region at promoting customer reviews, testimonials or case studies, you may be ideally positioned to break through the noise and become an obvious choice. So whether your business is big or small, you should seek out feedback at every opportunity.

Anthony Basile has been part of Brafton since 2012, having written and edited every form of content that Google's algorithm has favored (there have been a few). When off the clock, he sings and plays guitar at the pubs and clubs of Boston.