The Rise and Rise of Social Proof

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - 11:50

Guest post by Greg Abbey

We all know that the way consumers interact with brands has changed forever. The old world model of mass “push” broadcast marketing from brands to consumers has progressively and rapidly evolved towards 1:1 “pull” engagement marketing with consumers in the hot seat.

Consumers are more in control than ever before, simply because they are more connected than ever before. That is a fact! And as a direct result, the purchase decision making process is no longer the old text book linear sales funnel but more a crazy multi-channel maze of activity.

According to Google, online search (50%) surpassed family and friends (49%) as a source used in the purchase process way back in 2011. The number of different channels used has also surged to over 10 … that’s a lot of places to seek out more information about a category or product.

When it comes to the level of influence, perceived independence plays a big role. For example comparison websites (54%), online search (50%) and ratings and reviews (37%) are more trusted than traditional channels like press (27%), direct mail (22%) and TV (16%).

So within this maze of contemporary decision making, social proof now plays an increasingly powerful role. By formal definition, “social proof is the positive influence created when someone finds out that others are doing something.” As a brand, that’s what you want to happen!

In a world full of clutter, social proof helps people to both fast track and de-risk their purchase decisions. The degree of influence of social proof is typically dictated by a combination of different factors - the scale of purchase, perceived similarity and level of category ambiguity.

Some of the best uses of social proof include things like ratings, reviews, testimonials, most popular. Just think about your purchase behaviour lately … how often do you read online consumer or expert reviews or talk to people you know and trust to help make a big decision?!

Social proof helps to provide those “signals of unobservable quality”, but only if the 3rd party holds both credibility and independence. So the real ambition is to simultaneously enhance your brand perception (e.g. performance, preference) and equally reduce perceived risk and the level of info search.

The brand website is probably the most used and one of the most influential sources for consumers, so what better place to start?! Ask yourself these two questions: a) Are are you investing sufficiently in your own website usability?; and b) what more can you do to build in social proof to influence behaviour?

To be defined as strong, a brand must be both unique and relevant. And more than that, a purpose driven brand must be totally in alignment, where what you ‘do’ is exactly the same as what you ‘say’. If you do this really well, you will maximise your chances of positive social proof over time!

Greg Abbey is the CMO and Founder of Steam Marketing.