The difference between a testimonial and a recommendation

...and a review, and a case study, and a referral.

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I was chatting with a customer recently who was asking me the difference between a testimonial, a review, a customer quote, a recommendation, a case study and a referral.

They are all different but in many ways about ‘feedback’, which is important for business development.

Each one also plays a very important role in the marketing mix and can be used in many different ways across the customer journey to help people come to an informed decision to buy and keep buying from you.


Here’s my take on each and how, when and where to use all these things in your marketing and why:


A testimonial is a comment or statement given to someone about their product, service or business that validates the quality of effectiveness of that product, service of business. People can give testimonials about people too. Much like a reference on a CV.

It’s like asking for or receiving feedback – something that actually should be best business practice to help you develop.

  • How do you get them: Testimonials can be given verbally, in the written form (like in an email or a letter or via a website or social media platform) or even on film or video (does video still actually exist?). Anyway, they can come from people, businesses (or a representative of) or even anonymously. They can be given voluntarily and sometimes apparently at random, or you can ask for them – don’t be shy – you’ll be surprised what people will give you if you just ask.
  • When would you get or ask for them: You would usually give or receive a testimonial once you have been using a product or service for a while, or after settling into a new business relationship – when you have had enough experience of something to actually say something about it, and keep saying about it.
  • Where to us them: Well, err, everywhere. Positive testimonials are powerful way to send a message about you and your services that don’t come from you (‘don’t take our word for it’ sort of thing). One thing to always keep in mind though is to always get permission before using someone’s name for your own marketing purposes and business gain.
  • Why would you use them: Testimonials are all about proof and evidence – backing up the claims or promises you make. See leaks 5 and 6 in the Watertight Marketing methodology.


Much like a testimonial but more often left on a public platform like Amazon for books, Trust Pilot for businesses or Trip Advisor for hotels. Anything that might also include a star/rating system for easily understood reviews (good and bad).

By the same account, a business or individual may even ask you for feedback about their product or service, sometimes in the format of a questionnaire or survey, and they often ask you to say a bit about it at the end.

  • How do you get them: Make available a tool or platform like those mentioned above where someone can easily and with little effort submit a review. Sign post them across all your materials and also send out surveys and questionnaires to encourage a response. Alternatively simply phone people up and ask them for one, or mention the tools in your regular conversations and correspondence.
  • When would you ask for them or send them: Unless prompted for, a review is often given in the heat of the moment – when someone is highly delighted or deeply disgruntled. Especially if all they have to do is hit a star rating or slider scale of happy/sad faces. If you are expecting or would like a longer review, then someone may take a little longer to craft their review, so you at times must be patient.
  • Where to us them: Reviews are often linked o from said platforms, but no harm in using snippets across all your materials.
  • Why would you use them: Same as above -proof and evidence.

Customer quote

I would say this is a short snippet about something positive someone has said about you, your business or service. Ideal for including on materials, literature and customer communications, not to mention as a post on social media or peppered through a website.

Again always get permission to publish someone’s name, which makes a quote more powerful. It also advertising a brand or customer you might be working with, which could attract similar brands or people to our business. ‘They helped with them, so they must be able to help me’.

Get them and use in the same ways as testimonials, and for the same reasons..


A recommendation is when someone (not you) recommends you, your business, or your products and services to someone else. Or you recommend someone else’s’ business, products or services to another person. Similar to a referral, it’s an endorsement and much powerful because it is spoken from experience.

Recommendations often happen by means of ‘word-of-mouth’. They often come up during conversations around researching a product or service like the one you offer, but are also the name of a specific feature of LinkedIn that can be used to showcase your skills and client base. They are also way of highlighting who you have worked with, or are working with.

Case study

A case study is an article or piece of content that’s longer than a testimonial. It has a start a middle and an end that set-out the challenge or issue a customer had and walks the reader through how you helped them overcome that challenge or problem.

It is powerful in demonstrating your products and services and could include all of the above. It needs to demonstrate the affect and outcome that they had in using your products and service.

It can be digital and/or in paper form (video even) and can be used in multiple ways across multiple materials to great effect. It can also be chopped-up into smaller snippets – idea for using in social media (awareness).

On the whole, case studies come into their own in the Interest stage of the customer journey (see leaks 6 and 7).


See ‘Recommendation’. However, when you start getting a return for a recommendation, this then turns in to a referral or affiliate scheme. These type of schemes can be recommendations or referrals in exchange for something – money/payment or something else. I could write a whole separate blog about that, but you get the idea.

A note about complaints, service level agreements and working charters:

A complaint is also a review of your business, product or service and should be handed swiftly with courtesy and skill. Converting a disgruntled customer into a happy one of life’s great joys and completely possible. Let your customer service shine.

Whole books have been written on these topics, so I feel I’ve only scratched the surface here. What success have you had in suing these methods and techniques in your business development?

You might also like my blog on how to structure a case study (what to include and what not to include).

Cheryl Crichton

Helps small businesses stop wasting money on marketing. Watertight Marketing Certified Practitioner, MCIM Chartered Marketer and mentor.

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