Recently, C&A Brazil did an interesting and innovative Mother’s Day campaign: They linked the coat hangers in store with Facebook so that each hanger showed the number of Facebook ‘Likes’ each piece of clothing received. The campaign was a huge success with part of the collection being sold out on the first day.
One reason for this outstanding result lies on the use of social proof, a powerful persuasion technique.
What is social proof?
We all believe ourselves to be independent thinkers and that we make our decisions following well thought out decisions based on rational reasoning.
Well, this is not entirely true as our decisions are highly influenced by what other people do and what we believe to be the accepted social behaviour in a particular situation. This mostly occurs subconsciously, indeed it has been estimated that around 95% of the decisions we make (including purchases) are made without conscious, rational deliberation.
All this has been investigated scientifically for decades and we now have a good understanding of how this ‘social proof’ effect (and other persuasion effects – see later posts) works. With this knowledge comes the ability to use this phenomenon to create positive actions by customers.
Power of the crowds
Back in 1951, an experiment to test the power of group consensus asked people in a group setting to do an easy task that was very difficult to get wrong. The twist was that only 1 person in the group was actually being tested while the rest were actors who together deliberately gave wrong answers. When faced with this group behaviour people often followed the group choice, even when the consensus was blatantly wrong.
Another ground-breaking study looked at the number of people it takes doing something to influence others to do the same. In this case it was found that, on a busy street in New York as the number of actors looking up increased, more passersby also looked up creating a positive feedback loop of traffic jamming proportions!
These experiments, and others since, show:
- it is part of human nature to conform to group behaviour, and
- the larger the group the more irresistible becomes the urge to conform
Applying social proof to persuade customers
When a decision process is complex and people are uncertain about what to do they tend to look at what others are doing or what they did for cues. This works as a shortcut that can make decisions easier. – when a view or behaviour is popular people tend to see it as the correct option.
Retail has been quick to capitalise on this behaviour and examples of it being used are abundant.
With the social web, e-commerce has an excellent platform for taking advantage of this human trait to persuade customers. In my next post I will discuss some techniques to take advantage of the persuasive power of social proof to drive online sales.
 G. Zaltman, How Customers Think: Essential Insights Into the Mind of the Market. Harvard Business Press, 2003.
 S. E. Asch, “Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgments,” Organizational influence processes, pp. 295–303, 2003.
 S. Milgram, L. Bickman, and L. Berkowitz, “Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size.,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 13, no. 2, p. 79, 1969.
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