Few forms of marketing have more credibility than testimonials, particularly when they're delivered by clients on behalf of a remodeling company that spent weeks or months in their kitchen, master bedroom, or other personal spaces. Todd Polifka calls these people “advocates,” and he says their first-hand recommendations are so powerful that “you would be crazy not to go with them. They're kind of a walking infomercial.”

Polifka's company, Vision Remodeling of Little Canada, Minn., enlists help from satisfied clients through a number of avenues. First, VR expands its potential advocate pool by posting a notice on its Web site (www.vision-remodeling.com) that offers anyone — clients or not — a $250 gift certificate for referrals that lead to a signed contract. About 70% of clients come from direct referrals, Polifka says.

Once on board, clients agree to contract language that “the builder shall have the right to use all photographs of the project for promotional use without further compensation to the owner.” But “you don't get advocates when you sign the contract,” Polifka says. “You get them by developing a relationship and delivering really good service.” Satisfied clients often want to help, he adds.

STAR POWER When a job goes spectacularly well, Polifka or his associates may ask the client to make a marketing appearance. Opportunities vary depending on their comfort level, as does how much identifying information they want to provide.

Video testimonials set in clients' homes are the latest addition to Vision Remodeling's  marketing toolbox.
Video testimonials set in clients' homes are the latest addition to Vision Remodeling's marketing toolbox.

For instance, Dawn and Joe Keller (shown) were happy to let VR enter their remodeled lower level in local and national design competitions, and to feature it in magazine and newspaper articles. When VR asked the couple to participate in a tour of remodeled homes, however, they declined. “It's not what they're comfortable with,” Polifka says. “We respect their home and their wishes.”

Most recently, Polifka's company has engaged the Kellers and other advocates for video testimonials — short video interviews and tours conducted in the clients'remodeled homes and posted on VR's Web site. Each cost between $600 and $800 to produce, says Polifka, who anticipates extending their shelf life beyond the Internet to DVD form. “I can totally see showing the testimonials in our conference room,” he says. “Prospects will be able to see our culture, and how we treat our clients.”

VR's video testimonials and Web site were created by Prime Advertising & Design ( www.primeadvertising.com).