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The evolution of social proof

bigstock-Customers-Using-Mobile-App-To--433020437Q: What do PRIME drinks and Wedgwood pottery have in common?
A: Social proof

You may think satisfied customers or influencers endorsing a product is a relatively new phenomenon – after all, social proof has become one of the key tools in the modern marketer’s toolbox, right?

Wrong – the use of testimonials in advertising dates back to the 18th century, with one of the earliest recorded instances traced to the late 1700s, right here in the UK.

Josiah Wedgwood's pottery business began to flourish in the late 18th century, and he sought to promote his products by gathering endorsements from both satisfied customers and prominent individuals.

He would use these testimonials in his promotional materials to build trust and credibility for his pottery. This early use of testimonials in advertising was instrumental in establishing the practice as a common marketing strategy.

In today's digital age, the concept of social proof now plays a pivotal role in almost every aspect of our lives. From choosing the right restaurant, to making significant financial decisions, social proof has become a guiding force.

What is social proof?

Let’s start with a modern-day definition of social proof. It’s a psychological phenomenon where people tend to conform to the actions and opinions of others when making decisions. It's the idea that if others are doing it or endorsing it, it must be the right choice. This concept has deep-seated roots in human psychology, and businesses have capitalised on it for years, as in the case of Wedgwood.

There are various forms of social proof, including celebrity endorsements, user reviews, and social media likes. Each type carries a different level of influence, depending on the context and the perceived credibility of the source. Understanding the psychology behind social proof can help you harness its power. Factors like scarcity, authority, and consensus play vital roles in shaping people's decisions.

Engaging endorsements

There’s no better example of the power of combining celebrity endorsements and scarcity than PRIME energy drinks. In 2022, two YouTube stars, KSI and Logan Paul founded Prime, a sports hydration drinks brand.

The initial launch was so successful that bottles of the £2 drink were advertised at around £400 on eBay thanks to the crazy demand fed by their social posts. Now more readily available from major supermarkets, scarcity is a marketing tactic the brand still uses. Just this week for example, PRIME launched limited edition Glowberry bottles, telling fans that 10% of the bottles are ‘Rare’ and only 2% are ‘Ultra Rare.’


What are testimonials?

Testimonials tend to differ from endorsements as they are personal recommendations or reviews from real life satisfied customers or clients. They provide an authentic and unbiased perspective on a product or service, making them a potent form of social proof, carrying significant weight.

Collecting testimonials requires a proactive approach. Encourage satisfied customers to share their experiences and highlight the key benefits they received. Where you use third-party review platforms like Trustpilot, Feefo or, consider hosting on your own site or repurposing positive reviews in ads or native articles.

Authenticity over everything else

Testimonials foster trust among potential customers, ultimately leading to higher conversion rates. When people see others benefiting from your offerings, they are more likely to engage with your business – the key is to ensure that it feels as authentic as possible to resonate with your target audience. Take this video for meal replacement drink Huel:

It feels authentic, following a bricklayer on the job during the day before he heads to the gym in the evening. It clearly shows how he uses the product in the day as a time saver while explaining how he benefits from the nutrition it provides. Essentially, it humanises the brand and makes the use of the product seem relatable to prospective users.

No matter how advanced AI becomes, the authenticity of testimonials will always hold value. People crave real stories and genuine experiences, making testimonials a timeless marketing technique. So, don't underestimate the impact of testimonials. Start collecting and showcasing them strategically to leverage the power of social proof.