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Social Proof in Marketing: Why Marketers Are Waking up to the Power of Social Proof
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Martech Advisor logo - Social Proof MarketingThis article, Social Proof in Marketing: Why Marketers are Waking up to the Power of Social Proof was originally published by Martech Advisor, in December 2018.

Social Proof in Marketing

This article looks at the rise of social proof and the benefits it can bring to marketers who leverage the platform. It outlines the environmental factors that enhance the effect, and the importance of establishing recognizable, attractive, and relatable associations, says Philippé Aime, CEO, Convertize.

Social Proof has influenced decisions in every individual’s life. The effect shapes even the most important choices, such as the careers we pick or the relationships we form. It also affects the choices consumers make on a daily basis. As such, it is an essential phenomenon for marketers to understand. As a recent survey across 60 different countries highlighted, 83% of consumers said they trusted recommendations from friends over any other form of advertising.

Social proof occurs when people use the popularity of something to inform their opinions about it. In the world of commerce, the effect tells consumers whether a product is worth their time or money. With digital platforms and social media on the rise, the effects and importance of Social Proof have increased dramatically. Businesses have begun to recognize the centrality of collective thinking to any successful marketing campaign.

Social Proof is a powerful tool due to its perceived impartiality. Coming from customers themselves, it inspires trust more effectively than traditional marketing techniques. However, this doesn’t mean marketers cannot influence the way new customers experience the effect.

There are a number of different ways in which marketers can actively implement Social Proof to leverage their digital platforms. Curated features of the E-commerce landscape, such as customer reviews, testimonials and case studies, recreate the effect of popularity and consensus within a digital environment.

Social Proof is enhanced or mitigated by environmental factors. Three of the most significant variables in determining its impact on a customer are ‘Contextual Uncertainty’, ‘Social Similarity’ and ‘The Principal of Attraction’.

These days, ‘Uncertainty’ is a fact of life. The digitized marketplace presents consumers with a vast number of offers and opportunities. The amount of choice can be overwhelming and, in situations like this, consumers look to their peers for recommendations or advice. According to a recent survey of the most significant influences on consumer choices within the travel industry, customer reviews were the single largest decision-making factor.

However, whilst marketers know they operate in an ‘uncertain’ marketplace, their approach to Social Similarity and Attraction can have a big impact on the success of their products. So, assuming your customers are already looking for social cues, how do you leverage these two factors?

The principle of attractiveness is simple: people are more likely to listen to those who they find attractive. The same phenomenon affects Social Proof. The influence of consensus is significantly enhanced when a customer admires the person or group they are observing.

Even a minor connection between a brand and a charismatic figure can significantly alter how consumers feel about it. For advertisers, this provides an effective way to direct attitudes towards their products.

Marketers go to great lengths to persuade potential customers that their product is popular. In order to give strength to the effect, they will identify their product with those that their target market find attractive.

Another factor that intensifies the impact of social proof is ‘Similarity’; or, the extent to which a customer identifies with the group they are observing. Consumers are far more likely to copy the behaviour of those with whom they feel connected. The most important forms of social similarity for establishing this kind of connection are age and gender.

One of the groups for whom the effect of Social Proof is particularly significant is mothers. Both uncertainty and social similarity combine within this demographic to increase the significance of peer-group recommendations. A study by Babycentre found that mothers made decisions based on friends’ recommendations 67% more frequently than any other kind of shopper. They were also more active on Social Media than almost any other demographic.

The way that marketers appeal to social groups is no secret. However, the way in which they appeal to group instincts is rarely understood. Associating a product with a membership of a particular social category is a powerful strategy and one that can be used across almost all industries and products.

Also Read: How to Convert Visitors into Buyers if You Are not a Pro in Consumer Psychology

The concept of Social Proof is nothing new, however, its influence over our lives is continuously increasing. As smart technologies continue to develop, the effects of imitation and consensus are likely to grow. In the future, Social Proof marketing will become an essential feature of every professional’s toolkit. 

by Jochen Grünbeck

Jochen is co-author of "Smart Persuasion - How Elite Marketers Influence Consumers (and Persuade Them to Take Action)". After an MBA at INSEAD, he began his career at Airbus. Then, he moved on into Management Consulting, focusing on purchasing and negotiation strategy as well as cost optimisation projects for bluechip and midsize companies in France and Germany. His experiences led him to specialise in persuasion psychology, behavioural economics and conversion rate optimisation.