Value Propositions: Social Proof
We don’t like to think that we fall for advertising.
Part of our brain knows that ads are full of half-truths, misleading indicators and unrealistic promises.
But subconsciously, the other part of our brain loves it.
It can't process all the available information out there, so it looks for shortcuts.
One of these shortcuts is to follow what other people are doing.
This is doubly true when it comes to people we like, and people we know.
If our friends like a company, we’ll take it seriously.
That makes social proof an incredibly powerful Value Proposition.
So how does a company create the appearance of social proof?
Let’s look at some tactics and examples:
Most customers won’t trust one review in isolation, but they’ll happily trust a consensus.
Luckily, the internet has made consensus easy to find (and easy to manipulate).
Think of Amazon reviews, with hundreds of individual opinions categorised by rating, and by how helpful others found them.
Or think of Zomato, thousands of customers casting a vote about the meal they just ate, leaving their praise and criticism.
Or think of TripAdvisor, allowing tourists to distinguish between the magical experiences, and the let-downs.
Funnily enough, I take reviews seriously, yet never leave any myself.
This leads to bipolar opinions – we only think to write a review if we have a terrible or remarkable experience.
If the product or service is a 7/10, we simply move on with our lives.
Reviews work particularly well when there’s more available options that we can process.
If there are 2-3 options, we trust our gut.
If there are 200-300 options, we trust the crowd.
Once you’ve found a handful of customers, you may want to ask them for help.
They probably knows others exactly like them, and can arrange an introduction.
Those of you who take a class, say in dance or karate or pottery, may have been to a “Bring A Friend” night.
If you love a hobby, chances are you’ve been talking it up, and have captured the interest of your friends.
Taking a risk on something new is daunting, but going with a friend removes the risk.
It’s more fun for the initial customer too – they now have someone else to go with, and it increases their retention rates.
Of course, the company will happily sweeten the deal.
Both the current customer and their friend get a benefit (i.e. a discount or bonus), and the company doubles their audience without wasting their marketing budget.
Uber do this well – offering incentives for established customers who sign up their friends. The customer gets a discount, as does their friend.
Uber know that the new customer will take the offer seriously because it comes through a trusted source, and once they’ve tried it, they won’t look back.
They’ve done exactly the same thing with UberEats, using social proof to overcome that initial hurdle of placing the first order.
ING Direct do this too – offering $75 for both the referrer and their friend.
$150 sounds like a lot to acquire a customer, but ING know that an incentivised customer becomes an evangelist – and a relatively cheap one at that.
Popular = Good
Some brands will use their sales statistics as evidence of quality.
Channel 9 is currently advertising The Big Bang Theory as “Australia’s Favourite Comedy”.
As if to say, you should watch it because it’s popular, and therefore must be good.
There’s another term for this – Lowest Common Denominator.
But I can’t imagine Channel 9 advertising that.
We believe there’s safety in numbers - “A million people can’t be wrong!”
Of course, history shows they can.
They used to use this approach to sell cigarettes.
And yes, we now have lots of emphysema patients.
That doesn’t mean it was a good idea to smoke.
The issue is, our minds can’t process many of these claims.
Fujitsu spend every summer calling themselves “Australia’s Favourite Air”.
When did we vote on that?
What was the question?
Ridiculous when you think about it.
But if you asked me to name three brands of air conditioner, Fujitsu are top of mind.
They earned that spot by constantly telling me that they are our favourite.
Popular = Low Risk
Your customers might not even want to make a decision.
What if they get it wrong?
For most large purchases, the upside is minimal, and the downside catastrophic.
They’d rather someone else made the call.
IBM took advantage of this.
The old maxim was “Nobody got fired for buying IBM”
Not that they were the fastest, or the cheapest, or most innovative.
Just that lots of other people have chosen them, and therefore you will be safe.
We get the same advice when buying cars.
Go for something common – it’ll be easy to find spare parts.
You won’t have to pay an unreasonable amount.
It’s the same way holidays are pitched.
Your family might only have one holiday a year, so you can’t afford to get it wrong.
So where do we pick?
The same places as everyone else – unoriginal and reliable.
Sure, there may be long queues and too many tourists, but it won’t fall flat.
It’s easy to look down on clichés, but they exist for a reason:
People like knowing what they’ll get.
Fear Of Missing Out
Also known as FOMO, this stems from the idea that everyone else is having fun except us.
We don’t want to be at home on a Saturday night, seeing our news feeds fill up with our acquaintances having “the best night ever”.
This fear makes us active, going to events we don’t like or buying clothes we don’t want, in order to avoid being the odd one out.
Clever companies use this fear, creating targeted offers that highlight how you’re not quite “part of the in crowd”.
Theatre companies use lines like “See the show all of (your city) is talking about!”
Tourism Australia had “Where the bloody hell are you?”
Yellow Pages had “Not Happy Jan!”
Media companies use “Only available on (Netflix/HBO/Amazon)”
The message is clear – our offering is so popular; you might want to join us if you want to remain relevant.
Try it for yourself – use clever messaging to turn your existing audience into an asset.
Find your own version of these approaches to gather more interest and ultimately, more sales.
For more of the Value Propositions Case Studies series;
Part One featuring Louis Vuitton, AFL, Uber and TOMS
Part Two featuring Nespresso, Heineken, and Shoes of Prey
Part Three featuring a variety of Men’s Watches and Chocolate brands
Part Four featuring the classic iPod ads, Whiskey, Hardware, Butter and Barossa Tourism
Being The Best explores how companies frame themselves as industry leaders
Being The Cheapest covers strategies for demonstrating value for money
Social Proof examines how brands make themselves look popular and trustworthy
Cologne looks at how intangible gains are conveyed through imagery and design
Bottled Water compares ten brands selling the same product in different ways