The single most effective type of content. Ignore it at your own risk.
“It was truly a pleasure working with you. You always kept us updated with the project status, always met the timelines and kept us informed of any changes that came up in the schedule. It was a huge project involving 5 very large individual projects with multiple files for each project. You handled it all seamlessly. It truly felt like we were one team. The project was a success, big thanks to you and your team. If I had to provide an NPS* score, mine would be a 10 out of 10.”
-Training Manager at a major APAC electronics firm
* If you are not familiar with NPS or Net Promoter Score, you should be. It is a powerful marketing feedback tool.
This is an actual unsolicited quote from one of my clients’ customers. It is marketing gold. Any marketer will tell you that this is powerful stuff. It is even more powerful, much more powerful, when you can attribute it with a name, title and company, preferably a household name or industry leader. W have that attribution for this quote but I do not have permission to use it in the context of this article. But it makes my point.
A testimonial like this is a prime example of social proof, actual evidence that your company is what it says it is and lives up to its reputation, coming from an outside source.
Reputation is the business
Look at that subhead. The reputation a business has is its single most important asset. Lose it and you may go under. Polish it, and business will come to you without marketing effort on your part. It’s that simple:
- What are people saying about you?
- Who can I talk to who has worked with you?
- What did you do for a customer like me and what were the results?
- Can I trust these guys?
If your website, collateral or other marketing materials don’t address this, you’re hurting your business. It’s that simple. Or is it?
Social proof, effective social proof, is not easy
In my experience, having an anonymized social proof item on your site is not enough. In the quote above, the testimonial is so glowing that it sounds fake (it is not!). Add in the true social proof of actual identity and context and it becomes much more powerful. But this isn’t simply a matter of adding the person’s name, title, and company to the quote. You need permission. But isn’t their sharing of this with you giving ou permission? No, because, in this case the compliment was addressed to an internal project manager in an email. No permission was given for public use of the content with attribution. This may be because someone looks at it and says, ‘this implies we are endorsing this company and we don’t endorse vendors’. Or it may get routed to legal for an opinion and they automatically say no, for whatever reason. You have to ask for written permission to use their name and identity information.
A lot of marketers stretch the boundaries with this. They post logos of companies they have done only very small things for (not everyone who does a small job for Apple can put their logo up- they will order you to take it down), which is misleading at best and potentially damaging at worst. This is where the work comes in. You must wade in and ask and stick with it until someone says yes- or no. And then respect what they say.
Social proof based on public collaboration can be powerful
Do you have a story of a successful project or implementation that it is in the interest of both companies to tell? For example, if you’ve helped a company implement a cutting edge solution that demonstrates their technical forwardness, it may be in both your interests to work together on a case study that is co-branded. Both parties can use it. This generally involves working with your marketing counterparts at the other company. My usual approach to this is to suggest the approach and offer to write it up, then send it to them for feedback and approval.
What if you can’t use the name?
If you have a great story but can’t get permission to use the partner’s name, you can write an anonymized version of that case study. This is more effective than an anonymous quote because it gets into more detail about the challenge they faced, the solution you provided, and the results. This model, Problem, Solution, Results, is what defines a case study. If the story is quite specific and can apply to other similar companies, then there is still value in telling it because it has useful content for someone doing buyer research. This can also apply to white papers and eBooks where you use examples to make your point.
Reviews, a double-edged sword
Because I am a B2B marketer, reviews are less of a factor in my social proof arsenal. In part that is because independent companies that review business products often dilute the value of those reviews by selling advertising, which brings their objectivity into question. You see this in consumer review sites like Yelp who have been accused of altering their reviews in exchange for advertising.
Reviews for consumer products have become the dominant form of social proof, as evidenced by Amazon. Reviews are probably the number one factor in buying decisions there and Amazon has very successfully leveraged it, while managing to quell the initial surge of fake, paid reviews that flooded the site early on. But can you manage reviews? In my opinion, no.
It would be easy for an ecommerce site to only show glowing reviews, but this turned out to be a big mistake. In fact, most consumer marketers have shown that including negative reviews, if they are not in the majority, actually improves sales. But what if they are mostly bad? Houston, you have a problem and it goes way beyond marketing. That has to be fixed before you put social proof out there.
Social proof is the modern equivalent of word of mouth
Back in the day, good word of mouth was one of the best tools in a marketing arsenal. It still is, but reviews and and other social proof magnify its value far beyond a small group of influencers. Social proof can show a company is working on a bigger stage, crossing all kinds of borders, and aiming for leadership. These are reputation factors and they are what defines a company, service, or product today in a global marketplace.