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Why Social Proof is Such a Powerful Neuromarketing Tool
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The article, Why Social Proof is Such a Powerful Neuromarketing Tool was first published in PerformanceIn, in December, 2018

Whether you know it or not, social proof has influenced major decisions in your life. The effect has been proven to shape consumer choices and, as such, it represents an essential tool for marketers to leverage. In one of the largest reports on advertising in recent years, 83% of consumers across 60 countries said that they trusted recommendations from friends above any other form of advertising. Such third-party endorsements are just one example of how marketers can use the phenomenon.

Why Social Proof is Such a Powerful Neuromarketing Tool

Social proof occurs when customers use popularity and consensus to inform their choices. Acting as a decision-making heuristic, it tells them at a glance whether a product is worth their time and money. With the rise of digital platforms and social media, the effect and importance of social proof has been enhanced. As businesses learn to use these channels to reach customers, it is becoming increasingly central to marketing campaigns.

The reason social proof is so powerful is that it comes directly from other customers and because of this, it inspires trust more effectively than traditional marketing techniques. However, there are ways in which marketers can pro-actively implement social proof across their digital platforms. Features such as customer reviews, testimonials and case studies recreate the effect of popularity and consensus in a digital setting.

There are many different forms that social proof can take, and various factors that enhance its effect. Three of the biggest factors in determining the impact of social proof on a customer are uncertainty, social similarity and attractiveness.

Uncertainty and social proof

The modern world presents consumers with a vast number of offers and opportunities. The amount of choice can be overwhelming, causing consumers to defer making decisions about what to buy.

In these situations, it is likely that the consumer will look to their peers for recommendations or advice. Increasingly, such validation is sought through social media. According to a recent study, which explored the most significant influences on modern consumer choices, customer reviews were the largest decision-making factor.

Age, gender and similarity

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 to enhance the effect. A study by Babycentre found that mothers made decisions based on friends’ recommendations 67% more frequently than other shoppers and were 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 membership of a particular social category is a powerful strategy, and one that can be used across almost all industries and products.

Attractiveness and desirability

The principle of attractiveness is simple: in controlled experiments, people are more likely to listen to and comply with people that they find attractive. The same phenomenon affects Social Proof. The effect of popularity and consensus is significantly enhanced when a customer admires the individual or group they are observing.

Perhaps more surprisingly, positive feelings and experiences can be transferred between associated objects or concepts. Even a minor association between a brand and a charismatic figure can significantly alter how consumers feel about it. For marketers, this provides an effective way to establish positive feelings towards their products.

It is a well-kept secret among advertisers and marketers that individual preferences are almost impossible to change directly. Instead, one strategy marketers use is to convince consumers that their product is popular. In order to give strength to the effect, marketers will suggest that their product is popular amongst particular groups of people: those that their target market find recognisable, relatable and attractive.

Although the principal of social proof is nothing new, its influence over our lives is 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.