Remember in high school when all the nonconformists hung out, wore the same clothes, and listened to the same music? Maybe you were one of them. High school is a fantastic laboratory to examine the socio-psychological effect known as social proof.
Social proof basically means that we look to others, usually in some social group with which we identify, to validate our choices. It's why a lot of women shop together, why trends happen, and why people tend to always vote for their party's candidate.
It may make you uncomfortable to think that your choices are influenced by mob mentality, but it's a an empirically sound phenomenon. There have been many studies that have shown social proof to be an extremely powerful force in decision making. Experiments have been conducted where the subjects sometimes even ignores what their senses are telling them to go along with the crowd.
Social proof tends to happen on an unconscious emotional level. We don't tend to think, "all these other people are wearing purple sneakers ... I'd better get some too!" We see dozens of people with purple sneakers and one day we have to have them.
You can see the negative effects of social proof in Nazi Germany, riots, and gangs. People sometimes succumb to social proof and go along with the pack even if the pack is doing something stupid, destructive, or dangerous.
Why do we do this? Think about human beings in the stone age. Compared to the animals that we hunted or hunted us we were slow, had weak claws and teeth, and weren't very strong. Our ancestors survived by being social.
They lived and hunted in groups for increased safety. They shared the technology to make tools, hunt and gather, and make fire with each other. To keep from killing each other off they needed to act together and cooperate. If you saw three cave-people drinking from a stream, you could assume the water was safe. If all the people in your tribe made arrowheads the same way, you could assume it was a good way to make arrowheads.
Advertisers have long understood the effect of social proof. The next time you're watching TV, notice how many commercials talk about how many customers a company has, or show testimonial after testimonial. After opening weekend, many movie ads will talk about how well they did. The idea is that if they sold $45,000,000 in tickets, it must be a good movie.
Some ways you can use social proof in your marketing
- Collect and use testimonials.
- If you are the most popular brand, talk about that in your marketing.
- Get your product, t-shirt, or bumper sticker into the hands of as many people as possible.
- Focus on building buzz with beta-testing, or focus groups.
- Have special "bring in your friends" events.
Social proof can be a powerful convincer strategy. When you use it intentionally and well, your business will grow.
J D Moore - Marketing Comet