Social Proof and Infrastructure Marketing

To quote Wikipedia, “Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation… Social proof is a type of conformity. When a person is in a situation where they are unsure of the correct way to behave, they will often look to others for cues concerning the correct behavior.” (emphasis mine)

In one sense virtually all marketing, in any sector, is an attempt to leverage social proof—that is, most advertising makes some attempt to convince prospects that other people are doing it, so you should do it too. It’s why so many advertisers are quick to hand out ball caps, pens, and other gewgaws, and it’s why large companies will pay millions of dollars for stadium naming rights—the simple act of associating a brand with lots of people tends to make that brand desirable.

But in my view, firms selling infrastructure solutions should not use social proof techniques as a primary marketing strategy—I explain my reasons for this in my 2011 blog post, B2E Marketing – What Infrastructure Firms Should Be Doing  and in my white paper, Long Sales Cycles and Skeptical Customers are Good Things: Information Marketing in Infrastructure (free download) . But let’s recap three of those reasons here:

• Your prospects tend to have ‘engineering mindsets’. More than most buyers, those in the market for infrastructure solutions value educational and factual content, and tend to discount simple ‘exposure’ marketing, such as seeing a brand name on a baseball hat.

• Your prospects tend to make buying decisions in isolation—it’s a little unusual for, say, DPWs and paving contractors to be in large groups of peers, except for the one or two times a year they’re at a convention or trade show. This means that, even if they were moved by simple social proof marketing, there are relatively fewer opportunities to appeal to them this way.

• Once installed, infrastructure solutions tend to be invisible, compared to consumer products. For example, consider a novel trenchless repair technique—once it’s installed no one is likely to see it again, even though it’s working perfectly (or because it’s working perfectly). Companies that sell consumer solutions don’t have this problem; if someone is using their dish soap successfully, or drinking their cola product with pleasure, others are likely to notice it. So, infrastructure firms derive relatively little ‘social proof mojo’ when their solutions are used, even if that use is entirely successful.

How Do I Use Social Proof?

Even facing these challenges, infrastructure marketers can’t afford to ignore social proof—after all, the complex of forces we call social proof, or social influence, are probably the most powerful persuasion techniques available. So, how can you use social proof to sell infrastructure solutions?

The easiest, simplest answer is: case studies. Consider case studies in light of the three social proof challenges listed above:

• Case studies are factual, educational content—they teach your prospects about the advantages of your solution. But, they are also definite proof that other people are using your solution. And that’s the essence of social proof.

• When published—in trade journals, on your website, or in your own newsletter or email campaign—case studies bring the social proof to your prospects. Isolation is not a factor. Including additional testimonials with the case study is an important ‘force multiplier’ when publishing case studies, because it amplifies the social proof factor.

• Case studies make the invisible, visible. You can use photos of the installation process, charts and graphs, and other images to visually present your solutions working perfectly. And visual evidence is a key factor when using social proof as a persuasion technique.

Well obviously, I’m being a bit self-serving here; I’ve been producing effective, high-quality case studies, and other marketing content like white papers, since 2002. Want some social proof? Here are some clients and testimonials, and also, why not just google me? You’ll see that I’ve worked for dozens of infrastructure firms like yours, and published over a thousand case studies in journals like Public Works, Trenchless Technology, Cadalyst, Line//Shape//Space, CE News, The American Surveyor, Wastewater Digest, Oil & Gas, Concrete Construction and, well, lots more.

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Angus W. Stocking

Angus W. Stocking, L.S., is a licensed land surveyor who now prepares information marketing content for the infrastructure industry.


Angus W. Stocking, L.S.
P.O. Box 872
Paonia CO 81428
270.363.0033 office