In the world of online retail, we are always searching for new ways to prove to our customers that our products and services are the best. If we say it, then it is seen as marketing, but if someone else who the customer trusts says it, then it has a stronger sense credibility. This is nothing new, it is the reason celebrities are given huge sums to associate themselves with a brand, and why a whole industry has popped up around UGC. But what is proof or to be more specific, social proof?

Proof can be subjective and one set of facts that lead a person to consider something proven, will not resonate with another. We need to trust the source, and in the world of digital marketing there are five distinct types of proof. Understanding who your customers trust and sharing them ‘proof’ from those groups can be one of the strongest marketing techniques in your arsenal.

Peer proof – Mother knows best

What do PayPal, Uber and Deliveroo have in common? Their hugely successful ‘Refer a Friend’ campaigns may be one of the key reasons these three companies have become the household names that they are today.

It is obvious, but we tend to trust most those who are closest to us. The challenge in tapping into word of mouth recommendations is that they are exchanged often in private online spaces such as Facebook Messenger. The key to success is to entice consumers to make their posts public. One great way to do this is to incentivise customers by running a promotion, clearly communicating your corporate hashtags to ensure that your customers’ photos, videos etc. are easy to find and connected to your brand.

When chocolatier Thorntons ran a Facebook promotion for its ice cream range, it would give people an extra scoop of ice cream if they showed a voucher in-store. Timed for ‘National Ice Cream Day’, the promotion was widely shared on Facebook and led to people uploading photos of themselves with their ice cream on social networks.

Celebrity proof – The Meghan effect

The engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in November 2017 was a pivotal moment for a number of UK brands. The ‘Meghan effect’ is reported to have led to a 2% increase in sales for the British heritage retailer Barbour, with fashion brands Joseph, Self Portrait, Parosh and Aritzia all stating that items from their collections sold out within days of Meghan being photographed wearing their products..

Sending products to celebrities in exchange for a review or photo is one way to leverage celebrity social proof. But you can’t just rely on the whims of Kensington Palace or talent agencies to get products in front of the right people. Having interesting editorial content which is targeted at the followers of celebrities who fit your brand’s personality helps you acquire some star power. For example, eyewear brand Zylowear created a Golden Globes inspired style guide so that fans of Meryl Streep or Oprah Winfrey can get the celebrity look without breaking the bank.

Expert proof – If they say so it must be good

Having a recognisable trust signal such as a sustainability certificate from the Rainforest Alliance or an industry award can reassure consumers that they are choosing a company and products which have been reviewed by experts. In the case of the Rainforest Alliance, studies have shown that 80% of consumers trust third-party certification labels more than any other type of environmental message.

Displaying certificates and industry awards on the homepage and ‘About Us’ section of an eCommerce site can provide the proof first-time visitors need to convince them to stay and shop. Retail chain Jessops are the perfect example. They display their retail awards for excellent customer service on their homepage alongside an award for the technical training they offer to amateur photographers.

User proof – If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me

Three quarters (76%) of consumers believe the content that average people share is more honest than advertising from brands. Selfies of real women wearing a certain dress or a mountain bike video critique that was filmed in the cyclist’s back garden can be much more enticing than photoshopped product shots in a sterile studio setting.

Incorporating this type of user-generated content on a website, within emails and on social channels is a great way to provide proof, as it demonstrates how the customers positively engage with the product. Wex Photo Video invites its customers to post their latest photo creations on Instagram and connect with the company using the hashtag #wexphoto. The very best pictures are selected by Wex’s staff photographers and then shared with its followers on the company’s own Instagram account. The company also includes selected images into their welcome and abandonment emails.

Crowd wisdom – Following the herd

A huge 81% of shoppers do online research before buying and 85% of consumers trust product reviews as much as personal recommendations. Telling consumers what their peers are purchasing plays upon their fear of missing out and provides reassurance that they are following the consensus.

Including positive ratings and reviews in your email marketing and on your website reassures customers that they are choosing the right product. Using established product reviews providers such as Reevoo or Feefo ensures that the ratings were verified to be genuine. Displaying them on the homepage or product detail page is a given, but they are also very effective in lifecycle email campaigns such as cart abandonment messages or product recommendations.

Eyewear specialist Glasses Direct uses five-star product ratings in emails and on their website. It shows a Trustpilot rating snapshot for each item on the product category pages, as well as detailed reviews on the product detail page, giving further value to the customer by highlighting the item’s quality.

By understanding what social proof tactics are most effective for your product and audience, you can deliver the right content to provide reassurance to customers awash with choice that your brand is the right one to check out with.


By Mike Austin, CEO of Fresh Relevance

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