Reference Marketing: This Is What You Need to Know
References and good reviews from satisfied clients are the best form of advertising. So it's no wonder that freelancers, self-employed people and companies want to use them for their own benefit - be it on websites, social media or advertising materials. However, there are a few things to keep in mind concerning customer references, whether you are asking for them or publishing them. We have summarised the most important facts about reference marketing for you.
Why Are References so Precious?
Nothing is as valuable as a good review from your customers or proof of your work. Especially in e-commerce, reviews play an enormous role in the purchase decision. A study by the SEO platform Brightlocal showed that 76 percent of consumers regularly read ratings and reviews of local businesses. Another study by Capterra showed that around 63 percent of consumers always (20 percent) or frequently (43 percent) read online reviews before deciding to buy a product or service.
However, customer reviews are not only important in the area of eCommerce, reference marketing has also been established in other areas by now. There are several possibilities for creating and integrating customer references, such as:
- Integration of logos on the website and advertising material
- Integration of quotes - preferably in combination with pictures of the persons quoted, as well as their titles in the company (for example CEO, founder, teamlead)
- Case studies: These are best suited for completed projects
- Work references: Especially freelancers or agencies in areas such as advertising, graphic and web design can show their work in this way.
- Success stories: Here, for example, the entire customer relationship can be highlighted.
Case studies and success stories are particularly suitable for content marketing, as they can be implemented in various formats, such as: Texts (on the website or in the (company) blog), podcasts, social media posts, slideshows or even videos.
Use References - but Only with Permission
As a general rule, do not use any reference or evaluation without first obtaining the permission of your clients. This can be done in various ways.
Contractual Agreements on References
References in the form of positive feedback or proof of work are a good way for freelancers to give potential clients an insight into their skill set. It is easier to include an agreement on references in the contract with your client than to ask for permission afterwards.
It is also important to specify exactly what will be published (will the clients be named or only the company, will logos be included, will the service be described in more detail, etc.), where it will be published and, if applicable, for how long. A time limit makes sense, since clients do not have to commit themselves "for life" and outdated references do not convey a good image anyway.
Reviews in the Google Business Profile
Probably one of the most powerful tools in terms of customer reviews is the Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business). According to Google, customers are 2.7 times more likely to rate your business as trustworthy if you have a completed business profile. In addition, your chances of them visiting your location increase by 70 percent.
An important note for Google Business Profile: The service is exclusively aimed at businesses or entrepreneurs who have a physical location, such as a branch or office, where you sell your products or services. Anyone who only offers products or services digitally cannot create a business profile and risks having their Google account blocked.
Customer References and GDPR
If you want to use customer references or reviews on your website or other advertising material, you must list in the declaration of consent exactly which data (e.g. name, job title, company) will be published where (e.g. website, blog, advertising material) (in accordance with "Records of processing activities" Art. 30 GDPR).
Attention: If you have obtained the clients' permission to include the relevant reference on your website and after some time you also want to use it for a flyer or an image brochure, you must obtain a new authorisation for this. It is also important that the clients can revoke their agreement at any time. In this case, you must immediately delete the corresponding references and stored data.
You can also find all the information and current regulations on the subject of the GDPR in our GDPR fact check.
Utilise Designs or Products as References
Completed projects or assignments, such as advertising campaigns, layout designs, illustrations, and websites or apps, are particularly useful for freelancers and agencies as references for future clients. However, it is important to remember: Never use references without permission! Although you may be the author of graphics or designs, the rights of use belong to your clients. Therefore, it is important that you contractually agree on the use of your work as references beforehand or that you obtain permission afterwards.
In both cases, it is important that you specify exactly what you want to publish (for example, in what form the clients will be named, what you want to show of the project or your work) and on which channels (website, newsletter, social media, etc.) you plan to publish. It is recommended that you always get your consent in writing. If other publications (such as flyers) are added later that are not in the original agreement, you will need to get renewed consent for these.
Use of Logos: Notice on Trademarks
Basically, if you want to use a trademark - for example, a logo - for advertising purposes, you must obtain permission. Otherwise this would constitute a trademark infringement for which your clients can issue you with a written warning.
Have Reference Texts Approved
If you want to publish not only the name and/or logo of your clients, but a description of the completed project as well, it is advisable to have the reference texts approved before publishing them. If you also want to use pictures of people, you should obtain written consent for this. This will protect you from possible mistakes and consequences in the future.
Describing a project in too much detail may violate the confidentiality interests of your clients. For example, they may not want details of a project to leak out to competitors. Any confidentiality agreements that may have been made must also be respected. A real exali damage event shows that this often happens more quickly than expected when some IT freelancers included too many details in their LinkedIn profile.
Confidentiality Violated by References in LinkedIn Profile
Several IT freelancers worked for a defence technology company on projects involving encryption and communication technologies. Of course, this is an excellent reference for potential clients, especially on a business platform like LinkedIn. But the freelancers' job descriptions were a little too detailed, much to the annoyance of the commissioning company, which now feared that the competition would find out for free which projects they were currently working on. As a result, all freelancers had to immediately remove the reference from their LinkedIn profiles and sign cease-and-desist letters. In addition, the company threatened to claim damages because of the breach of confidentiality.
This Is How You Protect Your Business Properly
Reference marketing is not the only area where there are many opportunities to inadvertently commit a data protection offence or violate the rights of others. Then it can quickly become expensive when a written warning arrives at your door. This is what damage events from practice show us. With Professional Indemnity Insurance through exali.com you are optimally covered in such a case. Thanks to the integrated Passive Legal Expenses Insurance, in the case of a damage event the insurer always checks first at its own expense whether a written warning and claim for damages is justified - justified claims are paid, unjustified claims are warded off on your behalf.
Professional Indemnity Insurance through exali offers more than "just" Passive Legal Expenses Insurance - the following article shows which benefits are also included: What does your Professional Indemnity Insurance do in the case of a damage event?
Daniela has been working in the areas of (online) editing, social media and online marketing since 2008. At exali, she is particularly concerned with the following topics: Risks through digital platforms and social media, cyber dangers for freelancers and IT risk coverage.
In addition to her work as an online editor at exali, she works as a freelance editor and therefore knows the challenges of self-employment from her own experience.