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How to bring anonymous customer reference stories out of the shadows

As any B2B marketer worth their salt knows, customer references are valuable. Like, gold bullion valuable. Easily one of the most effective assets in a marketer’s toolbox, testimonials given by satisfied clients are proven to give buyers confidence in making purchasing decisions—and not by a small margin. In fact, a full two-thirds of buyers say they’re more likely to make a purchase after watching a testimonial video demonstrating how a business, product, or service helped someone like them.

Okay, but what about those instances when a client can’t go on record? 

It happens! There are times when clients want to share their story but, for various reasons, it’s just not allowed. This could be due to company policies, legal concerns, or because they work in regulated industries. Whatever the reason, the question for the marketer becomes: to tell or not to tell [that customer story]?

Because, let’s be honest, telling a compelling customer story when you can’t name names presents challenges. Now you have to worry about things like credibility, authenticity, and specificity (basically, all the “ities”).

But this doesn’t have to derail your grand plans for a spectacular customer testimonial. You can still tell a compelling customer story even when you can’t name names. We call these “anonymous customer reference stories” and they can be just as (or even more) effective as traditional testimonials. You just have to be a little creative in how you bring them to life.

Below are three recommendations for bringing anonymous customer reference stories out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

Find Strength in Numbers

One of the simplest and most effective ways to handle anonymous storytelling is through batching: including the anonymous client story in a group of other impressive client stories increases its credibility and dilutes any negative association with its anonymity. Marketers with a large number of customer stories they can tell can use this approach to essentially overwhelm their audience in a good way. The reader or viewer, depending on the format of the stories, will walk away with their heads swimming in information and positive associations about their brand from several different sources. Be sure, if using this approach, to include a mix of anonymous and non-anonymous stories, as it’s the non-anonymous ones that lift up and give credibility to the anonymous ones.

Break the Fourth Wall

Taking a cue from Deadpool and Ferris Bueller, this approach uses a scripted voice over that speaks directly to the viewer in a way that is fun and engaging. It openly acknowledges and addresses the fact that you can’t name the customer while also playing with viewer expectations of who it may (or may not) be. For example, the voice over may say:

“This story is about a large North American airline. You probably know the one I’m talking about. You may have even flown with them. But, for top-secret legal reasons, I can’t tell you their name… at least not yet.”

By winking at the audience and letting them in on the mystery, it shifts the storytelling experience to be less about compensating for missing information and more about celebrating what’s special and distinctive about it.

Go Big on Style
The final trick we recommend for telling compelling anonymous stories is what we call the “go big or go home” approach. Without a client name to latch on to, why not give them another memorable name? This could be a big-name influencer, actor, or celebrity. Like, say, Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame.

There are always going to be roadblocks in marketing, and required anonymity is just one of them. But like every good marketer knows, getting through the roadblock is where the magic happens.

Need help just getting your clients to agree to a customer story at all? Read the top five things to say to a customer to make them beg to be a reference.