This 1930s social proof strategy built a $400m empire

by Jeremy Wallace on October 2, 2014
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As famed showman PT Barnum said some 150 years ago, “Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.”

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Social proof has been an effective persuasion principle for a long time, and its use in advertising is filled with examples of success through creativity.

In 1938, when Sylvan Goldman first introduced the “shopping trolley”—now known as the shopping cart—people were hesitant to use it.

Men thought it ‘effeminate,’ and women felt it demeaned their ability to carry a shopping basket.

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But Sylvan put a very simple (yet creative) social proof strategy in place.

He hypothesized that shoppers would become more comfortable with carts if he saw others using them, so for 2 years, he paid people to push his invention around grocery stores.

So, was Goldman’s experiment with social proof a success?

When he passed away in 1984, he was worth more than $400 million. And chances are you’ve never seen a grocery store where carts aren’t used.

Today, social proof is one of the 6 most powerful persuasion principles as noted by social proof expert Robert Cialdini.

Testimonials, reviews and case studies have been around for a long time, and many businesses have reaped the rewards of their powerful social proof.

Exploring social proof theory

A noted professor of communication studies, Everett Rogers, developed a popular theory on the success of social proof. He wanted to assess how new ideas spread.

Ultimately, Rogers’ theory developed into the innovation adoption curve:

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The theory suggests that it is quite difficult to penetrate the mass majority with new ideas. However, by focusing on getting the innovators and early adopters to spread the word, a snowball effect is created.

But no matter what type of influencer you’re trying to win over, creative chops still rule when crafting a cutting-edge social proof strategy. So let’s look at a few social proof examples to get those creative juices flowing…

1. C&A Brazil gets creative with social media proof

With over 1.3 billion users on Facebook alone, social media has become one of the best ways to spread influence.

One business creatively integrated Facebook’s digital marketing right into their physical store presence.

C&A Brazil linked their Facebook account to digital counters embedded in clothing hangers. These hangers gave a real-time reading that displayed the number of current Facebook “likes” on each article of clothing.

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This innovative strategy proved to be a huge win. Part of the collection was sold out in the first day alone, and overall the campaign was a huge success.

2. Naked Wines takes customer reviews to the next level

Reviews are potent. Econsultancy reported that a product with high ratings increases the likelihood of a purchase by 55%.

One business used the value of reviews to creatively add leverage to their rating system.

Rather than just give a rating, Naked Wine’s customers are specifically asked which wines they would recommend to others. In essence, it compels customers to encourage each other to make additional purchases.

They also display the percentage of customers who would buy that wine again.

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3. Book Depository & Ling’s Cars use ‘geographical proof’

The Book Depository offers free shipping on books delivered to customers worldwide. To add social proof to their website – they use Google Maps in their Book Depository Live to pinpoint and display the location of other shoppers who have just purchased in real-time.

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The approach gives a universal feel, and proves their claim about having customers all over the world.

Ling’s Cars (one of our favourite websites because it defies every UX and CRO principle imaginable) takes this a step further by revealing customer testimonials each time a ‘pin’ is clicked, as per the screenshot below:

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Adding testimonials is a nice addition to this strategy, since word-of-mouth and testimonials are a factor in up to 50% of purchasing decisions.

4. Channeling the social aspect of products

Modcloth uses a style gallery to enforce social proof, customers display the look they have put together after purchasing clothing items from the site.

They also provide the links where visitors can get the clothing pieces to create the same look.

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Fellow clothing retailer Sephora Claus demonstrated similar creative chops during peak holiday season. They turned wish lists into a form of social proof by giving visitors the opportunity to tweet their desire for certain products.

Sephora then granted some of those wishes to visitors who had participated. Not only were they able to create fun and grant product wishes, they were also able to display those wishes showcasing popular items as well as the number of wishes and the number of wishes granted.

Amazon has always showcased social proof through ratings and testimonials. But one of their newer features identifies “best sellers” as voted by other site customers.

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5. Adding a twist of urgency

Hotels.com adds a little bit of urgency to their social proof by showing visitors the number of people that booked hotel rooms during the past several hours.

Not only does it verify to visitors that other people are booking rooms, but it also implies that visitors better book quickly before they’re all gone.

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A tool to enrich your social proof strategy

Userstats.com provides a social proof tool that allows visitors see what other people are doing on your site.

It takes website analytics that are normally only visible to you, and makes them visible to your audience.

It does this by displaying a stats box on your site as visitors browse. So instead of visitors shopping in an isolated experience, they can now see what everyone else is doing.

The effect is similar to coming across a busy restaurant. If a restaurant is busy, it must be good, right?

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TweekStork found that by implementing UserStats to their website they were able to increase sign-ups by 17.2%.

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BzzyBids.com also experienced an increase in sign-ups by 18.6% after using UserStats.

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UserStats offers a free trial allowing you to first see how it affects your conversions and weigh the return on investment.

How & When to Use Social Proof

On the web, landing pages, homepages, checkout pages, and exit overlays (pop-ups) provide the canvas for your social proof strategy.

In the case of exit overlays, adding a dose of social proof just before a user abandons your site can be a tipping point for capturing a last-second sale or sign-up.

Here are a couple examples of exit overlays with effective social proof, first from Preneur Marketing, who use the bullet “Used by 115,826 businesses worldwide.”

exit-overlay-social-proof-2

And also from the popular marketing blog VideoFruit, who uses a more personal social proof claim by naming a specific entrepreneur:

exit-popup-social-proof

Takeaway

  • Shoppers are uncertain for good reason: they face difficult choices every day
  • Naturally, hearing from other shoppers—friends, experts, celebrities—can ease the difficulty of these decisions
  • So if you can use social proof to give customers confidence to make decisions on your products or services—especially in a unique and innovative way—take every opportunity to do so
  • Utilize your social proof on landing pages, cart pages, homepages, and exit overlays (pop-ups)

Have you seen examples of creative social proof? Drop me a comment!

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