Trust Economy - The Vital Role of Social Proof in B2B Marketing

August 16, 2023

Which matters most to your buyer: the price of your product (or service) or the benefits it delivers?

Your answer will be industry and use-case specific, but when it comes to making a B2B buying decision, there’s something that matters even more.

To tap into its power, you must first realize that B2B buying decisions are made largely based on emotion.

Logic and data—including features, benefits, and price—are brought in later to help justify the decision that’s already been made.

Social Proof—a psychological phenomenon that can be used as a marketing tool wherever buyers consider the actions of others in their decision-making process

The elixir is called Social Proof—a psychological phenomenon that can be used as a marketing tool wherever buyers consider the actions of others in their decision-making process.

Which is practically everywhere and every time.

With B2C marketing and purchases increasingly dominated by peer-to-peer reviews and testimonials, it’s unsurprising to see a similar trend taking hold in the B2B sector.

Let’s talk about why it works and ways you can use it to your brand’s advantage.


Why Social Proof Works (and Matters)

The principle behind social proof—more formally known as informational social influence—is the human tendency to assume the actions of others reflect correct behavior.

We look to others’ behavior to determine what we should do, especially where we find ourselves in uncertain or ambiguous situations.

It is rooted in our evolutionary need for community, where conforming to group norms and behaviors ensured our acceptance and safety.

Our innate tendency is to trust and imitate the behavior of the majority, rather than adopt something new or unusual.

When we deploy social proof in B2B marketing, it instills trust and credibility—showing potential clients that similar businesses have found value in our product or service.

The presence of social proof reduces perceived risk and simplifies the decision-making process

The presence of social proof reduces perceived risk, simplifies the decision-making process, and thus influences a prospect's willingness to engage in business.

Several studies have demonstrated the importance of social proof in B2B marketing, including Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Study, which found that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, and 70% trusted consumer opinions posted online.

Although the Nielsen data is largely from a B2C context, it illustrates the general power of social proof, which logically extends into B2B.

In researching its B2B Marketing Trends Report, WebDAM (now part of Bynder) found that customer testimonials have the highest effectiveness rating when influencing B2B buyers.

Similarly, the 2020 B2B Buyers Survey Report from Demand Gen Report showed that case studies were the preferred content type used to make B2B purchasing decisions by 79% of respondents.

The same report also found that 65% of B2B buyers rate peer reviews and user-generated feedback as “very important” when making purchasing decisions.

So, what are the different types of social proof, and what makes them successful?


Examples of Social Proof that Influence B2B Buyers

Here are nine examples of social proof, roughly in order of the effort required to collect and deploy them.

1.     Customer Logos

Logos of businesses with which you've worked, displayed on your digital properties (website, social media channels, etc.) with the customer’s permission.

Although this approach is as old as the hills (well, it surely predates the internet), associating recognizable logos with successful deployments is still a visually impactful way of signaling your worth to prospects.

2.     Client Testimonials

Statements from satisfied customers highlighting the quality of your product or service, collected through feedback forms, email surveys, or online review aggregation services.

An impactful testimonial is specific, addresses known objections about products or services like yours, and comes from a relatable source (preferably including the author’s name and affiliation).

3.     Social Media Shares

Posts from users who share your content or write positively about your solution, the frequency of which can be improved by publishing valuable content that encourages peer-to-peer sharing.

Shareable—and therefore impactful—posts should be of genuine value to your audience and therefore to your audience members’ own networks. The most impactful shares will come from audience members whose opinion matters to both your audience and theirs.

4.     User-generated Content

UGC can be anything from reviews and photos to videos or blog posts created by your customers. You can encourage UGC creation by hosting contests, featuring user content prominently on your channels, and responding to content whenever it makes sense to do so.

For UGC to have maximum impact, it must be high quality and deliver valuable insight into the usability and effectiveness of your solution.

Although most UGC ought to speak positively about your brand, the occasional ho-hum review—and appropriate response from your side—demonstrates authenticity and transparency, which helps to further build trust with your audience.

5.     Peer Reviews

Written assessments of your product by customers, usually collected on third-party platforms, which you can encourage customers to leave after they purchase.

Impactful reviews are naturally written (i.e., they sound genuine), express diverse opinions, include detailed feedback, and rate your solution against the competition on one or more quantified scale.

6.     Press Mentions

Positive coverage in media outlets, obtained through PR services, by reaching out to journalists directly, or by being involved in newsworthy events.

For maximum impact, the press mentions should come from reputable sources and highlight a meaningful event, business milestone, or product achievement.

7.     Case Studies

Detailed accounts of how your product or service solved a client's problem and delivered a substantial return on investment, usually developed in collaboration with the customer to accurately document their journey to success.

There are many types of case study, ranging from simple application examples to in-depth, multi-million-dollar implementations. To be impactful, they should be sufficiently in-depth for the reader to find the story compelling and should include representative before-and-after data to demonstrate the benefit that was realized.

8.     Influencer Endorsements

Recommendations for your products or services authored by an industry influencer and shared with their network, often developed under a sponsorship or partnership agreement.

Influencer marketing can be a very powerful source of social proof provided the endorsements are authentic, relevant to the influencer's audience, and presented by an influencer who is trusted by their followers.

9.     Certifications and Awards

Recognitions issued by authoritative bodies within your industry, either because your solution is novel or outstanding in its field or because your practices have been audited and meet the standards required for certification.

The more difficult a certification is to obtain (or award is to win), the more impactful it is likely to be. Avoid pay-to-play awards and “Top 10” lists, which buyers are quick to ignore and can have a detrimental effect on your brand’s credibility. The word "authoritative" matters here.


The Bottom Line

B2B buyers are human beings. If you’re not paying attention to social proof, their human nature to seek reassurance from the crowd will be working against you.

Instead, pick one or more of the social proof examples listed above and develop a strategy for boosting its impact on your brand.

A word of caution: no matter which type of social proof you choose to pursue, it must be honest and credible.

Fake reviews and paid-for media coverage can hurt rather than help your brand’s reputation and have a correspondingly negative influence on potential customers.


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Image credits: Adobe Stock

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