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Social Proof and the importance for marketing

BY ROB MCGOWAN, STRATEGY DIRECTOR

I was lucky enough to live, study and work in Florida for a couple of years between 1999 and 2001.Everyday as I cycled home from FSU I went past a McDonalds which had a sign similar to the one in the picture below.

At the time I was immersed in the academic world as a geographer and when looking at this sign my main preoccupation was wondering how many cows that equated to and the consequent impact on farming, methane and the global environment. Since then however my working life has been in the marketing world. One of the areas I have been most interested in recently is in how user generated content – and reviews of products and services in particular – is changing the way we decide what we do in our day to day lives.

The idea of ‘social proof’ revolves around the fact that humans are given to place a high degree of reliance on the feedback of others to determine what is right or wrong in a particular situation. Social media and the increasing popularity of review sites such as Trip Advisor and Yelp present individuals with an opportunity to broadcast their opinion on everything from restaurants, to hotels and even teachers and lecturers (unfortunately www.ratemyprofessor.com didn’t exist when I was at university). How then, do brands respond to this? My personal view is that it should be embraced – people will be talking about your brand anyway, so if you can bring that conversation within your own ‘walls’ (be they your website or physical store) so much the better. We can see this happening as brands start to place more importance on publishing their customer reviews and NPS scores online (see http://www.admiral.com/home-insurance/reviews/ for a nice example of this). However, perhaps the most simple message is that delivered by McDonalds in the sign above. If billions and billions have been served…how bad can it be?