When looking for a new outfit or wanting the best local pizza in a new city, some look at what Kylie Jenner was wearing in her latest Instagram post or check the top-rated restaurant on Yelp. This is due to the psychological phenomenon known as “social proof,” which refers to consumers tending to believe the actions of others to show the best course of action. Faced with an overwhelming amount of options, shoppers often look to others’ experiences to make their purchase decisions easier and better.
The concept of social proof also shows why customer reviews and endorsements are so crucial for a brand’s ongoing success. This phenomenon is frequently used on web sites, but has recently been put into practice by Amazon’s brick-and-mortar location in Manhattan, which only includes top sellers rated four stars and above and also features actual customer reviews next to products.
Let’s look at three key types of social proof that can be infused into retailers’ marketing strategy:
- Wisdom of the crowd
- User social proof
- Celebrity social proof
Make It Easy To Follow The Crowds
Telling consumers what their peers are purchasing increases conversions by playing upon their fear of missing out (FOMO) and provides reassurance that they are following the consensus.
FOMO can be leveraged by letting shoppers know which products are creating a buzz on your web site, e.g. by showing how often a product has been viewed and purchased in the last 24 hours. Using stock data, you can also highlight fast or best-selling merchandise in your product recommendations. Retailers usually see a 3% increase in conversions from including a ‘trending products’ feed on the homepage. Featuring trending products in your emails is another great way to help shoppers discover new items they might like.
Positive product ratings and reviews reassure customers that they are choosing the right product. Consumers have come to expect them, with one in three (34%) stating they won’t make a purchase if an online store doesn’t show product ratings. Displaying them on the homepage or product detail page is a given, but they are also very effective in lifecycle email campaigns. For example, including ratings and reviews in your cart abandonment emails delivers an average conversion uplift of 38%.
Leveraging User Generated Content
User social proof refers to when retailers let their customers do some of their marketing work for them. A prime example of this was Apple’s 2015 “Shot on iPhone 6” campaign, where Apple crowdsourced photos taken by customers and used them in billboards, commercials and print ads all over the world. In part thanks to this consumer-centric campaign that built widespread awareness of the camera capabilities, the iPhone 6 is one of most successful phones ever.
When shoppers debate whether or not to make a purchase, user generated content (UGC) is often seen as a source of unbiased, genuine material — as opposed to traditional advertising. UGC is so influential for purchasing decisions that as many as 76% of consumers believe content from others is more honest than a brand’s advertising.
Retailers can implement user social proof in their marketing by using social content created by their customers in emails and online. For instance, clothing brand Free People uses UGC on its site, allowing shoppers to see what their products look like on real people and various ways to style them. Emails are another great place for UGC, especially if the content is pulled from social channels in real time.
The Markle Effect: Celebrity Endorsements
Celebrity endorsements leverage the power and influence of public figures to encourage purchases. Whether it’s paid endorsements or the less frequent, yet very effective, organic endorsement, retailers have seen measurable impacts from public figures like Meghan Markle or Kanye West.
Celebrity social proof is successful because consumers trust the choices of public figures they idolize — it’s like the “monkey see, money do” phenomenon. Retailers that were endorsed by popular public figures also cite these endorsements as generating customers that are more engaged and also more likely to share their purchases online.
To turn a sprinkle of royal stardust into extra sales, retailers should make sure to share these endorsements with customers. After Meghan Markle was seen sporting Kurt Geiger’s footwear, the brand was quick to use images of Markle wearing their boots across all communication channels. Showing shoppers how to re-create the looks of their favorite public figures with similar, cheaper products is another strategic opportunity to get your customers on board.
Social proof, from other customers to the most popular celebrities, are a strategic tactic for retailers looking to make their marketing convert better. However, paying for celebrity endorsements can be expensive, so if you are keen to implement social proof into your marketing strategy, invest in a marketing platform that offers you a comprehensive set of tools. Tactics such as star ratings and FOMO-related tactics are easily scalable and can be deployed across the web site and email campaigns. Therefore, they are a highly cost-effective way to increase sales across the board, not just for whichever product the celeb happened to wear. Incentivizing customers to share their purchases through word-of-mouth and on social media is another important step.
Producing effective content and marketing campaigns requires a tremendous amount of time and effort. Retail marketers should be prepared to capitalize on social proof, which is one of the few opportunities where you can benefit from letting your customers do the marketing for you.
Mike Austin is the Co-Founder and CEO at Fresh Relevance. While working at his previous email marketing business, Austin recognized the challenge of data aggregation in the e-Commerce space, launching Fresh Relevance in 2013 with co-founders Eddy Swindell and Pete Austin to solve this data need and optimize the customer journey. A serial entrepreneur, Austin founded his first software business when he was 16 and has been developing software and software businesses for more than two decades. Having worked in digital marketing for the majority of his career, Austin is an expert in tying digital experiences with traditional marketing databases, with a deep understanding of data and how to leverage it.