The persuasive power of “social proof”

Great bit of insight from Steve Martin, author of "Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion", read in BA's Business Life magazine. Yup, been flying a lot lately ;-). Its about the persuasive power of "social proof". What's cool about Steve's stuff is that its backed up by scientific evidence.

We might like saying we all want to be different and individual. In reality, most of us are influenced by what everyone else is doing: this is social proof. 

Steve quotes a fascinating example of a hotel trying to get guests to re-use towels. Research showed that 40% of people did this. The words on the card in the bathroom were changed to read "The majority of guests you stay in our hotel re-use their towels". Guess what this small change did? Towel re-use went up by 26%!

My own name for social proof is the "busy boulangerie" effect, learnt when I lived in Paris.
My missus Anne-Marie told me to always buy bread from the place with a
queue round the corner, as it meant it had the best bread.

Steve suggests social proof explains why, when done well, testimonial advertising can be highly effective. For years Whiskas catfood maintained market leadership with its campaign based on "8 out of 10 owners said their cats preferred Whiskas". Even though the brand hasn't used this idea for years, I bet consumers still play it back in focus groups.

Picture 2
Testimonials can also work well in the business world. The one that sticks in my mind is Oracle's poster campaign, quoting results from leading companies who have used their products, or plugging the fact that 97% of the Fortune 500 use their brand. Would you really want to be in the top 3% if you had to buy business software for your big business?

The power of social proof is one reason what its hard for follower brands to attack Leader Brands. Provided Leader Brands do a good job of constantly renovating and refreshing their core business, people will tend to stick with what most people see as the best product or service.

  Picture 3

In conclusion, may be worth looking at how you are using the persuasive power of social proof on your brand, especially if you are a Leader Brand.