How to Improve Your Marketing With Social Proof (4-Step Framework)

Building trust with social proof is more than just putting reviews on your website and hoping for the best.

My guest today is Louis Nicholls, author of The Social Proof Handbook, growth consultant, and the founder of Sales for Founders. In this episode, Louis shares his 4-step framework to improve your sales and marketing with social proof.

Listen to the episode:

We covered:

  • What is “social proof”?
  • Examples of social proof in real life
  • What social proof can and can’t do
  • How to map out the customer’s journey of your product or service
  • How social proof can help you answer customers’ objections
  • The 7 sources where you can mine social proof
  • The different formats of social proof
  • How to reach out and get people to give you testimonials
  • The biggest mistake people make when utilizing social proof
  • What Louis thinks marketers should learn for the next 5,10, and 50 years


Full Transcript:

Louis Grenier: Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of, the No-Fluff Actionable Marketing Podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people, who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier. In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to improve every beat of your sales and marketing with social proof. My guest today is a founder, a marketer, a developer. He’s built, grown and sold multiple companies. He sold two companies, an eCommerce store and a company called GymHopper, that is there to help you find the best gym membership in Europe and he also led the growth team at a startup that raised $50 million. He is now a growth consultant and is trusted by a lot of fast growing startup around Europe and around the world.
So super happy to have you, Louis Nicholls on board and it’s the first time I’m interviewing someone with the same first name, so I’m even happier to have you.

Louis Nicholls: It’s great to be here. Happy to make it happen.

Louis Grenier: So social proof, right? It’s something, a concept that I can say that I have read a lot about, like a lot of articles, a lot of blog posts, a lot of newspapers, a lot of TV. Like everyone seems to be talking about social proof and why it’s important. Maybe we can take a bit of a step back and explain first of all, for people who are probably haven’t heard of it. Maybe just to explain briefly what it is. So like for you, how would you define it?

Louis Nicholls: Right. Okay. So I get asked this question a lot and I really hate it. So I think the first place that social proof came around or the term was Cialdini who wrote about it in his book Influence and basically… And I’m paraphrasing obviously, but what he said is that people, when they’re not certain how they should be acting or what they should be doing, that they’re going to look to other people and imitate them and imitate their actions. So that’s kind of the first, I guess, basic description of what social proof is.

Louis Grenier: So why do you hate the question?

Louis Nicholls: Why do I hate the question? Because it then it’s very narrow and it means a lot of different things to different people. And the way I think of social proof is that it’s not something that you add on or tack onto the end of your marketing. It’s something that you have to think about all the way through and it’s a lot more involved than just kind of the way that Cialdini explains it, where you copy others basically. I think it’s more involved than that and we will get into that obviously, but yeah.

Louis Grenier: Yeah. I would agree with you. I think what’s happening a lot is that people use social proof as an add on to their marketing, right? So it’s like, “Oh, we have a website. Now we need social proof. Let’s put some fucking reviews on the site.”

Louis Nicholls: Yeah.

Louis Grenier: Right. And that really doesn’t makes sense. What I prefer to think about is more in term of a mental model, something that you always have to have in your mind about how people behave and why they will look up to others that look like them or their peers. It takes out in decision why they don’t want to seem and look like idiots when they make a decision. Why they always constantly look and seek for approval even if it’s not available approval and all of that. So yeah, I agree with you in terms of add on. It’s not an extension to your marketing, right? It should be part of your DNA, should be part of something you think about constantly.

Louis Nicholls: Yeah, exactly. I mean, for me it really is something where there is no instance of just not having social proof. It isn’t something you add on. It’s either something you’re doing badly or something you’re doing well.

Louis Grenier: Great. And maybe you have some… Like what’s the science behind it? So I know Cialdini is talking about social proof a lot and he coined the term, talking about it in his book that a lot of guests are recommended. Do you have an example of this phenomenon? Explain like an actual example in real life of how social proof can actually play?

Louis Nicholls: Well, I mean there are so many different examples of how it works. So some that people will have seen maybe at home, even if you’re not the marketer is you’ll obviously have seen testimonials on different people’s landing pages. You’ll go to places like Yelp where you have all this social proof, which are reviews. Normally the Facebook like button is a form of social proof. And then a classic maybe from back in the day that Cialdini would recognize is those adverts you see on TV for medicines for example, where it says, “Nine out of 10 doctors recommend this medicine.” So those are some, I guess examples people would know it from an home. If you’d like I can give you my favorite example of social proof.

Louis Grenier: Go ahead.

Louis Nicholls: Which isn’t actually used in marketing at all, but it’s an example I always like to give, which is, I’m hoping you’ve seen the show Friends.

Louis Grenier: Yes.

Louis Nicholls: And you’ll know the character Ross then.

Louis Grenier: Yes.

Louis Nicholls: And I used to find Friends pretty funny. I used to enjoy it and one day I watched a YouTube video of like a minute or two of Friends where Ross is talking and normally there’s this big laugh track on the back of the show so you can hear kind of laughs built in when he’s making a joke. And what they did was they removed the laugh track and put in some kind of ominous, scary music instead. And it makes it very unfunny. So something I would otherwise have laughed pretty hard at. All of a sudden I was watching this and thinking, “Oh, Ross is kind of a psycho.” And that’s kind of my favorite example of social proof. If you take away those laughs of the people who are saying, “Yes, this is something that’s funny, this is something you should laugh at as well,” then instantly it becomes much less funny.

Louis Grenier: Yeah. And likewise, if you remove the laughs, you don’t even add anything, you just remove the laughs. Friends isn’t that funny, right? And this is why the best shows I believe, right? My favorite TV show ever is The Office, US.

Louis Nicholls: The US version. Okay.

Louis Grenier: There is no fake laugh there, right?

Louis Nicholls: Yeah.

Louis Grenier: Yeah, I mean it makes me laugh. I know it’s not for everyone, but I think, yeah, this ad, this cliche thing, and it’s funny because this is the type of stuff that you don’t necessarily realize, right? It’s like you’re watching it and if you asking yourself after the episode was their fake laugh or not, you don’t even know. It’s weird. Isn’t it?

Louis Nicholls: It is weird. Yeah. I mean that’s where you get into that question of, of course, if people were actually laughing and it was recorded with a studio audience, then that’s absolutely fine. But then you also have some shows that maybe can’t afford to do that and paste in the laughs over the top and then you have to start asking yourself whether is that really okay? And I think that’s the kind of social proof that you don’t want to do as well. Because like you say, even when it’s just something as simple as laughs, you can pick up on when it’s fake and it really annoys you even though you don’t know why it annoys you.

Louis Grenier: Okay. So I think you’ve explained the concept pretty well and what it is in simple terms and how it was going on, and a lot of that. So maybe I think we can dive in straight away into the step by step of it and how to actually use social proof to improve sales, to improve your marketing, to improve your sales in general. So I believe you have a sort of a framework to go through, right? So let’s get on with it. Let’s say you work with the company and you consult them or whatever and you feel there’s a need for that. Like what’s step one? Where do you start?

Louis Nicholls: Sure. So I mean maybe we can do two things just to kick off. The first thing is just to talk about what social proof can do and what it can’t do. So what it can do is if you have something that’s already working, at least partly so you have some good copy, you understand what the customer needs and their goals. You understand their objections, you have a product that they would want to buy if they knew that they wanted to buy it. It can kind of increase your conversion rates. It can amplify everything that you’re doing there. And it can even in some circumstances help you to increase your reach, but what it can’t do is fix a broken or a missing message and it can’t help you if your product’s wrong, if the language we’re using is wrong. It just makes whatever you have work better. So that’s kind of the first thing.

Louis Grenier: Yeah. It’s an authenticator rather than something a creator, something that creates things for you. So it’s not going to create customers from scratch. It’s going to help you get more. It’s not going to polish your [inaudible 00:08:35], right? If you have a shitty product to sell, social proof is not going to make it better.

Louis Nicholls: No, it isn’t though. Exactly. And then the other thing is maybe before we dive into the step-by-step it’s always useful to have some examples. So if you have a company or you can even make one up. If you want something that you’d like me to kind of reference as we go through, then maybe that’ll make some of the examples a bit more tangible as well.

Louis Grenier: Yeah. So I mean we can either pick a random example that you make up or you can take an example from a company you work with. You don’t have to show the name or something that you just came up with on the go like this. So it’s really up to you.

Louis Nicholls: Okay. Well, let’s make a random example as we go along in that case, because it depends kind of on what kind of direction we go, what we started talking about. So let’s just make it up on the fly in that case. We don’t need a structured thing.

Louis Grenier: Because of the listeners and the demographic of the listeners, I think a nice example that we don’t take that off and it would be actually from the perspective of a marketing consultant or marketing freelancer, they don’t necessarily have a lot of resources, right? They need to simplify their marketing.

Louis Nicholls: So their own marketing?

Louis Grenier: Yes.

Louis Nicholls: Okay, brilliant. So if we dive straight in, in that case, then the first step that we’re going to take when you’re thinking about your social proof, I like to call it myself a proof framework, but it’s basically all the way through your customer journey funnel. So the first thing that we’re going to do is to work out what we’re even trying to improve. And a really simple way to do that is just to go through your entire customer journey and break it down basically by touch points. So every time that you interact with the customer from the very first time they hear about you, all the way through to really to when they buy, but you can take it even further in some cases and say to the point that they churn. It depends, if you’re early on in your business, then maybe that’s more difficult to do.
So we go all the way through that and then at each touch point, what we need to think about is basically what action you want that customer or that lead, that prospect to take. And then think about why they aren’t taking that action and maybe what objections that they have to taking that action. So this is something you’re probably doing anywhere, right? If you’re a good marketer, but a lot of people surprisingly haven’t done this work when I go in and work with them. So we need to kind of start from step one.

Louis Grenier: Yeah. From experienced people, we know that this must be done, but with time and the different targets, different objectives, you tend to forget about it, you tend to delay it. And yeah, a lot of companies, a lot of marketers don’t necessarily have that. So which brings me into this. So, yeah, marking the customer journey. I’ve heard that 1000s of times, right? Everyone talks about it. But how do you advise to build it? How do you typically go from, “I have no clue what the journey is from the best particular customer to I pretty much know the action they are taking throughout.”

Louis Nicholls: Right. So I mean we can keep this simple and I mean you don’t have to get this 100% perfect, right? You can get 80% of the results with 20% of the time and you can just look at the main actions that you want the customer to take. And I’m assuming that you already have a product or a service that you’re selling, then you already have sales. So you already know where people are clicking things, sending emails, making purchasing decisions. You should have that information. You must have that information already. So at the beginning just choose the major ones maybe the four or five. For example, what is the first time that a customer normally hears about your… comes into contact with you?
What’s the first action you want them to take? Maybe it’s to go to your landing page. What’s the second action you want them to take there? Maybe it’s to click and sign up for a free trial. What is the third action you want them to take? Putting in their credit card, for example. And maybe those are the first three actions you’d be thinking about.

Louis Grenier: Right. So you keep it quite simple. And from the perspective of let’s say a marketing consultant, it would be maybe the first step is you usually are LinkedIn, then they go to your website, then they subscribe to the newsletter, then throughout they use the newsletter, you receive five emails. Then at the end you’re asked to pick whether you want, I don’t know, want interest in the services or not. Then you get a call. I mean, this is how you can really build this relatively quickly, right?

Louis Nicholls: Exactly. Yes. So hear about you on LinkedIn, for example, go to the landing page, sign up for your lead magnet or your newsletter or whatever it is. Get a series of emails and then hopefully sign up for a call to book you. And there are probably some steps that are from there, but they’re more varied, right? So let’s just stick to those right now.

Louis Grenier: Right. Okay.

Louis Nicholls: Yeah, that’s basically, I mean you can go as complicated as you like depending on how kind of how established your product is and how well you know your customers, right? And how much time you have.

Louis Grenier: Okay. How do you like to map it? Do you put it on paper? Do you use it kind of an Excel spreadsheet? How do you like to map it out, to understand the journey as a whole?

Louis Nicholls: I have a spreadsheet that I like to fill out every template that I use, which is literally just a set of steps followed by… For each step, there’s, who’s taking this? I use the jobs to be done framework to work that out as opposed to the segment. And then what action do I want them to take and what objections do I hear from them about why they’re not taking that action. So obviously you have to do some customer interviews as well if you have the time to work that out.

Louis Grenier: So all of those, are those part of the next steps or is it preliminary work that you need to do?

Louis Nicholls: Basically, if I’m doing this as a consultant, that’s me coming in and helping a marketing team do things that really they should have already done. And a lot of the time this just doesn’t happen. Not because the market doesn’t know they should be doing it or because they can’t do it. It’s more just as an outside person when you’re coming in, you have that kind of level of expertise or that level of… Not expertise, is the wrong word. Level of kind of authority that maybe someone inside the team doesn’t have. So you’re allowed to do things that may be an internal marketing team wouldn’t get permission to do so.

Louis Grenier: So we’ll have the journey with you put it on Excel, you recommend people to produce an Excel. Simply each step is one column really. And then you say the jobs to be done, but again, you need to have also an understanding of what people are trying to achieve when they go through your journey, right?

Louis Nicholls: Yeah. So you need to understand why they should be taking an action and you need to understand why they aren’t taking the action. But I think most people already have this kind of in their marketing funnel already, right? They have set up a funnel, they’ve spent a lot of time working on the copy, on the call to action, on the steps, trying to get the conversion rate as high as possible. And to be honest, there are a lot of easy, quick wins that you can make before you start thinking about social proof too much. This is the kind of thing that you do that amplifies what’s working really well already. It’s not the kind of thing that you do as a magic bullet to pave over any cracks, if that makes sense.

Louis Grenier: Got you. So yeah. The reason why I’m asking is as you know we’ve covered jobs to be done on a few episodes, so you can check it out if you search for [inaudible 00:15:59] or Allen Claremont. We talked about it, we talked about persona with [inaudible 00:16:04] Rivera to build those. we talked about building a funnel as well. So there’s a lot of episodes where you can go into those details if you haven’t done so. But here in this episode right now, we are assuming that you have those basics and foundations in place. You’ve interviewed customers, you kind of have an idea of, as you said, so it sounds like you have three things, right? The step, the action they want to take and what prevents them from taking this action.

Louis Nicholls: Yeah, those are the three things you need.

Louis Grenier: Okay. And so I visualize an Excel spreadsheet with a column for each step and then below the action hey want to take, that’s the row number two and row number three would be the core objection. Am I visualizing that correctly?

Louis Nicholls: You are, yeah. That makes sense. On like the basic level where you’d start off, that’s exactly what you want to have. Yeah.

Louis Grenier: Okay. So if you’re listening to this right now, you can visualize it in your head and then we can move on to the next step then.

Louis Nicholls: Brilliant. Yeah. So the next step, once you have that in your head is the main thing we’re going to focus on is the objection, the reason why, for any of those particular touch points, any of those particular actions you want the customer to take, what is the main objection, why are they not taking that action? And then to think about an intended effect. So the effect that you’re trying to have with the social proof, the way that you’re trying to overcome the objection. And that might sound a bit vague so we can go and do exactly what I mean by that. But if you have any questions?

Louis Grenier: Yeah, as you know I do have questions always.

Louis Nicholls: Sure.

Louis Grenier: So yeah, maybe it would be better to illustrate it with an example. So illustrate that point with an example, if you can.

Louis Nicholls: Sure. So let’s say that the main thing… Let’s take the [inaudible 00:17:51] of clicking on… So we have our marketing consultant and they have managed to get someone from LinkedIn to click through to the landing page and they now want someone to sign up for the their newsletter, their lead magnet, whatever it is. They want them to enter their email address. And the main objection, someone maybe experiencing the main reason why they’re not ready to take that action and sign up for the email address. It may be, for example, that they don’t trust you to provide a great quality content. They don’t think that it’s going to be worth it for them.
So obviously there is stuff you can do in the copy and everything to make them feel better about that. But the effect that you want to have with your social proof to strengthen the likelihood that they are going to sign up is to give them this distrust basically. They’re the main three ones, kind of across anything. I have a big list of kind of effects that are useful and that you may want to go for. But the big three are basically trust, attention or expertise. So getting someone to trust you is the main effect. Getting someone just to pay attention to a particular piece of content or a particular call to action, that might be more on the LinkedIn side of things.
For example, let’s say I’m recording some content to try and get you as a potential customer for my consultancy to click through on LinkedIn. If I’m saying that or if I’m asking you to say that, that might get less attention than if I get, I don’t know, a Gary Vaynerchuk or someone to say it. They’re more likely to pay attention because they’ll see that name.

Louis Grenier: And they might recognize the face and whatnot.

Louis Nicholls: Exactly.

Louis Grenier: So it’s trust, attention and the last one is?

Louis Nicholls: And expertise, which is very similar to trust. And trust, authenticity, expertise, they all kind of get mixed up together. Trust is more of a side of I trust you to behave well and to do things well. And there’s a personal connection there to some extent, whereas expertise is more that a nine out of 10 doctors recommend you use this medicine, if that makes sense.

Louis Grenier: Yeah. The authority is right, right?

Louis Nicholls: So yeah.

Louis Grenier: Do they recognize you as an authority?

Louis Nicholls: Yeah, I actually use authority for something different or authorities is one that you very rarely come across as an effect, but it also happens in medicine. There’s an interesting brand I worked with which produces something in the baby, the prenatal space. And they obviously have FDA approved, for example, as a form of social proof, which has then the authority. It’s coming from a position of, “You can trust this, we stamp it and we’re there for that.” But it’s very similar again. Yeah.

Louis Grenier: Okay. And so those are the top three that you see over and over again as the objection or as the remedy to those objections or those are probably linked?

Louis Nicholls: Yeah. So the objection is for example, I’m not sure I can trust you. And then obviously just social proof by itself isn’t going to help them overcome that, but it’s going to strengthen whatever you’re trying to do to help them overcome that in the first place. So instead of you saying you can trust me because of X, it’s better to have someone, a source of social proof that will make them trust you implicitly, for example, if that makes sense.

Louis Grenier: It does. So those are the top three things. And as you said, we have the step in the Excel spreadsheet, we have those objections. We have the key action people want to take. And we now know like basically the top three that we need to take care of, usually that is the most common. So how do we go from there?

Louis Nicholls: Sure. So now that you know basically what affect your going forward, your social proof, whether you’re trying to increase the customer’s trust in you, whether you’re trying to grab their attention, whether you’re trying to convince them of your expertise that they can trust you because of that. You then basically… This is the point where we switch and actually start thinking about the social proof itself and think about the source and the format of the social proof. So what I mean by that as a source is obviously who is the person or where are you getting that social proof from? And the format is more like, “Is it a case study? Is it a testimonial? Is it a rating? Is it review? Is it one of those FOMO style widgets, other providers of that are available?
Yeah. So which of those are you going to use? We can dive kind of into those separately maybe and take a look at the source first.

Louis Grenier: Yeah, let’s do that.

Louis Nicholls: Sure. So I actually have seven different kinds of sources that you may want to appeal to. We don’t need to look into all of them, but some of them I can give you. Let’s go back to our example of the marketing consultant again and let’s say we still have our lead on our page and we’re trying to get them to trust us and we’re trying to get them to click on that kind of newsletter to sign up for, right? So there are a couple of different ways you could go to build that trust, right? So the main one that people tend to go for is a lookalike source of social proof, which means someone who is very similar to that customer, who is going through the same thing, who they can relate to, giving them the feeling that they can trust you.
Because implicitly if someone else like me is doing this, I should be doing it as well. That’s the classic kind of Cialdini social proof thing, right?

Louis Grenier: Right.

Louis Nicholls: But you could also go for example an aspirational source of social proof, which would be more something like… I don’t know. Who is your personal favorite marketing consultant?

Louis Grenier: My personal favorite marketing consultant?

Louis Nicholls: Yeah.

Louis Grenier: Apart from you?

Louis Nicholls: Apart from me. Who’s the person you’d like to be?

Louis Grenier: The cliche would be maybe Mark Ritson

Louis Nicholls: Okay.

Louis Grenier: Yeah. I think he’s pretty good consultant.

Louis Nicholls: Right. So if he was recommending it and saying you can trust this, then of course you’re likely to trust it as well. And the other thing you can go to is an expert, which in this case is pretty much the same. But it could be a review from some marketing journal or from HBR or something saying, “This is a great source of information. You should sign up for this newsletter.” I know it’s a pretty silly example, but those are kind of the three main ones that you tend to get.

Louis Grenier: So you sparked my curiosity by saying they are seven, so you have to give the seven now.

Louis Nicholls: I have to go through all seven.

Louis Grenier: Yes.

Louis Nicholls: Okay, well let me get it in front of me. I don’t keep these off by heart unfortunately. So all of the seven that I’ve identified and this is something that I’m not saying these are the only seven. This is just how I define them in my head.

Louis Grenier: Yeah, sure.

Louis Nicholls: The first source of social proof that I see a lot is something I call Warm Bodies, which is basically, it doesn’t matter who it is, doesn’t matter where they come from, what they’re doing, it’s just the only thing that matters is there’s a lot of them. So you see this a lot on Amazon, right? 500 people who have bought this, you don’t care who they are. They could all be living in the same small Russian village, but just the fact that 500 people have bought this today it kind of means something.
Then another one is or the second one I like look at is relationship. So it’s from a personal source of social proof. Someone that you already know. So it doesn’t matter necessarily whether they are the right target, they don’t have to be the same kind of person as you. It’s enough that someone that you know and trust is recommending something to you. A third one is like we’ve just mentioned is the look alike. So I’m a marketer. If I see that you’re using something, I’m likely to trust it and give it a go because you’re using it. Aspirational we’ve just covered as well, is your favorite marketer recommending it. Expertise, again, the same thing. And then the last two, well, one that we hardly ever see that we touched on before is official, which is the government or some official standards body saying, “This is something that’s good, you should use this.”
They’re a great source of social proof if you’re worried about safety, security, that kind of thing. You see that more in eCommerce around food, around electronics, around data security, those kinds of things. And the last one, which is mainly useful for a really early stage business is where they don’t have a lot of customers yet, is just simply yourself being a personal source of social proof where you make yourself very visible. You make sure that people can hear your voice, that they can see you, that they know what you look like and just that is enough to make them trust you. So yeah.

Louis Grenier: The last one you see that a lot in, I mean for marketing consultants and freelancers where you show your face on the website, front and center, right? And you have a nice picture, you’re smiling, you’re looking in the camera. I see that as a pattern for a lot of consultants freelancers out there. They use it, tend to use the same kind of similar model for that, right?

Louis Nicholls: Exactly. So when I think does a really good job of that is Brennan Dunn who is… Yeah.

Louis Grenier: So Brennan Dunn actually was in the podcast a few months ago and he’s the founder of and a software called RightMessage. And if you go to, the first thing you see is his face basically asking you to sign up to this email, right?

Louis Nicholls: Right. Yeah.

Louis Grenier: And a lot of other consultants are doing it. I mean, have plenty of names right in my head appearing as soon as you mentioned it. So anyway, as you say, seven sources, right? Some are more important than others. Some of us use another’s. Can you remind me the top three you said that are the most important?

Louis Nicholls: Well, I mean obviously it depends what you’re doing, right? But in general, there’re three that I tend to grab for the most often are look alike. So it’s someone who’s similar to you. Aspirational, so that’s more of the influencer style of someone you’d like to be and the expert and then obviously it really depends what you’re doing because if you’re selling eCommerce then you’re using a lot of warm bodies for example. You’re using a lot of just ratings and reviews and it doesn’t really matter who the person is. They just want to see that other people are buying it, right? So there’s no real kind of top three. Those are just like in my day to day business, I work mainly with B2B companies. Those are the three that tend to get used.

Louis Grenier: Okay. So now those are the sources. What’s next?

Louis Nicholls: So then once you have your source you know what effect you’re trying to get with them, you then need to work out the format. And the format is basically, “How are you going to display this social proof to get the effect?” So you’re thinking, “Okay, what is the intended effect? Who is the customer? And what is their mindset and where are we showing them this social proof?” Because, for example, if, let’s say you’re just trying to nudge someone to sign up for the email newsletter, then making them read a five page case study first probably isn’t going to make them likely to increase conversions and signups, right? Whereas if you’re selling a really, really expensive piece of enterprise software, making people flick through a case study or giving them the option to flip through a long case study first may actually increase conversions at the end of the day.
So you have to kind of bear in mind that the stage and the location and the mindset of the customer when you’re doing that. And there are all different kinds of format. So it depends whether you’re trying to give them a big nudge or just a little nudge to kind of encourage them. I guess a classic example is just a very small testimonial next to the credit card form, for example, when you’re paying for something.

Louis Grenier: So what it sounds like is that you use the format and the source as a way to proportionally reply to the objection. So maybe the bigger the objection, the bigger the action they need to take, the bigger the nudge and therefore the format must be proportional to that and even the source, right? So you might need a big hammer to put down this nail if the action is a massive one and the objection is quite strong, right?

Louis Nicholls: Exactly. Yes. That’s a great way of putting it.

Louis Grenier: So you’ve listed the source, you’ve listed the type of format we can we… As you said, it could be a one-sentence testimonial, it could be a long case study, it could be a video testimonial. What other format do we have?

Louis Nicholls: There are so many, and I think a lot of things that we don’t even realize the social proof are. Common ones that I see are, like you said, testimonials, video testimonials, a link to a podcast or an embedded podcast. For example, a case study or ratings reviews. Those FOMO style widgets, embedded tweets, influencers, for example, on Instagram. That’s just a couple of off my head and I’m sure there are more that I can’t think of right now.

Louis Grenier: Okay. So we have those two things. What’s next? How do we package it to answer this objection and how the intent that we want to have?

Louis Nicholls: Right. So, I mean, the last thing, the last step basically other than testing and personalizing and updating stuff is basically just to obtain or to create the content that you’re going to use for that piece of social proof. So I think the main thing here, when you’re trying to get that content, obviously you have to work out in advance. The reason we’ve taken it this way instead of starting with asking a customer for a testimonial, for example, and then working out how to build that into your website or into your sales funnel, which is something that a lot of marketers tend to do. The reason we’ve gone the other way around is to make sure that we know exactly what we need to be said and exactly what format and exactly who we need to be saying it to make the customer or to make the lead take the action we want them to take, right?

Louis Grenier: Right.

Louis Nicholls: So what you want to do is to make sure that you’re involved in creating or obtaining the message, the copy of the content that you want to be created there. And the way to do it is to make it as easy and as beneficial for the source as possible and to do as much work for them as you can. So you want to be suggesting what you would like them to say. Obviously you don’t want to be doing anything disingenuous, but a lot of people, especially on the eCommerce side of stuff, they are very busy. And if you give them a statement and say, “Would you agree with this?” For example, that can be a great way to get a testimonial, for example.

Louis Grenier: Okay. So you basically reverse engineer the objection in order to find the right people to actually talk about it in the right way. So you wouldn’t come up with a random testimonial just at a specific place in the funnel because you did social proof. So what I understand from your methodology is that every single time you place some sort of social proof, it’s there for a reason, right? It’s engineered there for a reason.

Louis Nicholls: Exactly, yes.

Louis Grenier: So yeah, I mean I think we should talk about that in more detail on how to reach out to people, because I think one of the most common ways is what you call the look alike. You’re like those clients, the similar clients, those experts as well, that might vouch for you. I’ve done it a lot in the past, like this case in this and I think Sean D’Souza from the Brain Audit that we had on the show talked about it a bit as well. And he has a similar approach of engineering testimonials, not faking them, but really making sure that you have testimonials that are there for reason.
And my personal way to start a good testimonial, a good case study is really to make sure that they say, “Before I started using this product, I was afraid of X, Y, and Z. I wasn’t sure if X, Y and Z was true.” And you basically make it way more truthful by letting the customer admit that they were scared as much as you are now looking at the website, that they were doubtful as much as you are now. And from my experience at least, it really removes the suspect of this sounds like a fucking fake testimonial, right? This sounds fake as fuck. And it really tells it on it to inside and into real story and something that you want to believe because it’s true.

Louis Nicholls: Yes, of course. Yeah, I agree with that 100% and definitely I wouldn’t recommend faking testimonials. People just have a sixth sense for this kind of thing. It won’t help and it’s just not a good thing to do anyway. What I’ve seen work really well in addition to the stuff you’ve just said is that I think all good testimonials and basically nearly all good copywriting in the first place, it comes from your customer’s words anyway, right? So it’s either from that customer or it’s something you’ve heard from a lot of other customers and you’re just making it easy for them to repackage that. But genuine, compelling copy, that comes from your customers.

Louis Grenier: So what are the sources of genuine, compelling copy? Like where do you tend to take this copy from?

Louis Nicholls: I mean, it depends obviously again on the source and what you’re trying to achieve, right? So maybe if we have an example of let’s go back and say you liked the idea of the look alike audiences. So we’re trying to build trust on our page from marketing consultancy, trying to get someone to sign up for that newsletter And we decided, “Okay, we want a look alike audience, a look alike source. So I’m going to reach out to Louis Grenier and ask him to give me a…” Let’s say we’re going to go for a testimonial. In this case, a short testimonial, just saying something along the lines of, “Okay, we need to build some trust. So we want you to say something along the lines of I signed up for this and it’s been a great decision. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Now this is slightly easier because I would just kind of formulate that sentence based on reasons I’ve heard people saying why they’ve signed up and why they were worried about signing up in the first place. And I probably have asked them that by email or on the phone after they had signed up. People who’d signed up before. So that’s a relatively easy way of doing it. I would just reach out and say, “Hey, I’d love to get your feedback on this. Here’s something I’m interested in hearing. Do you agree with this statement? Yes or no? And do you mind me telling other people about whether you agree with it if you do?” Obviously I would use different words, but that’s kind of the basic way I’d go about something as simple as a testimonial.

Louis Grenier: Okay. And what’s usually the response rate? Because as you said, from experience it’s rather difficult to get people to agree to give those, right?

Louis Nicholls: I haven’t found it that difficult. Definitely the thing that helps is… I mean this is the thing you should be doing and any message to customers or potential customers anyway, it’s just leading with the value to them, right? And in a one line kind of testimonial like that, there isn’t really one, you’re just asking them to send you, “Click here for yes, click here for no.” Kind of thing. There isn’t really any value in that. But it gets the case studies and larger things where maybe you want to include a photo or a logo or whatever, then it’s always best to formulate it and to make sure the actual content of the case study or whatever it is, is kind of showing and presenting the value for that customer first.
So in a case study, I like to format it actually as how amazing that company is or that client is, what an amazing job they’ve done in doing whatever they did with my product. And throughout that I will include some hints and some nudges reminding people who are reading the case study about where they managed to do this and why they managed to achieve this with my product. But first and foremost, I’m going to put that company, that client first. And that’s something that they then obviously… They’re not being asked to provide you with something that’s going to help you, but you’re asking them if you can feature them and how amazing they are. And that tends to give you a much better response rate.

Louis Grenier: Right. What I’ve seen from the past about those types of testimonials and case study as well is you shouldn’t underestimate the power of making people feel good about themselves and their status, right? So even if it’s a one line testimonial when you’re introducing your checkout page, saying that your name and company will be exposed, will be shown to tens, thousand visitors a day. Even if there is no link back to their website, will probably make them feel quite good about it.

Louis Nicholls: Exactly. Yeah. So leading with that value is absolutely the right way to go. And especially taking it back to this kind of… Our consulting example from before, they’re selling what you’re selling consulting services normally to someone inside a company. Normally there’s someone who will have had to get buy in for that decision and who’s taken on a certain level of risk within the company. Let’s say it’s their head of marketing, for example, their head of growth inside the company. So you can make a distinction between the value to the customer, like the client and the value to the person, your contact person at that company as well. And having that kind of that feature, that case study of what an amazing job they did, what an amazing decision they made to work with you, is something that they are going to be really happy to have, that they can take that back and show it to their boss and show it to other maybe prospective employers later down the line. That’s something they’re going to be really happy to have.

Louis Grenier: So apart from those lookalikes reaching out to people and mentioning all of the stuff you mentioned, like making sure you lead with value, I would also say don’t be afraid to reach and to start with the negative first. Or not the negative, but the fears they had in their head that connect directly with the objection you an answer before they started using you or even during, after they fixed it and that kind of stuff. So apart from those concepts, are this when it’s about reaching out to customers and experts, maybe we can take another example from another source that is not as easy to get and see how we can use it to answer those objections.

Louis Nicholls: Sure. Which other concrete example in mind or an idea of it.

Louis Grenier: So outside of you said the lookalike ones are reaching out to customers, reaching out to clients to potentially experts. Do you feel like there is a difference between reaching out to lookalike, people who are customers and happy customers and experts and authorities? Should you approach it differently?

Louis Nicholls: It’s difficult to say. I mean obviously authorities, there’s normally like some kind of vetting process, right? So you’d be reaching out to say the FDA and it’s going to be a long thing with probably some lawyers involved and some testing and it’s going to cost money and take your time. So I think the risk there is relatively low. The reply rate is obviously going to be very high, but it’s going to take a long time and it can be quite expensive. Whereas with happy customers, I think the main thing to think about there is that you have to ask them at the right time. And the way I like to do that is to think about, “Okay, once I’ve…” Let’s say for I lookalike once I’ve onboarded somebody I’m going to look ahead to look at the aha moments.
The moments once they become a customer, when they’re very happy and when they realize the value of the product to them. So with a consultancy, let’s say the first time that they get a new sale because of something I did, that’s the moment I’m going to reach out and ask them for a testimonial. That’s the moment I’m going to reach out and ask them for a review or a rating or whatever it is.

Louis Grenier: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s a big advice, right? You need to anticipate the fact that you got to need case study and testimonial in the future. And it might even be part of your sales process saying, “By the way you’re using this product, just want to make sure you’re happy to give us a testimonial in the next three weeks after using it.” Really trying to dissipate that as much and as much as possible, making sure that people know, so they’re not surprise if you ask it is absolutely the right approach, right?

Louis Nicholls: For sure. Yeah. And I actually build that into my terms and conditions for consulting and also for most products where I have some line obviously it’s not the most important one. But it’s one or two sentences just saying both parties commit within the first 60 days to release a mutually beneficial press release or something like that. Some simple one. One or two sentence lines.

Louis Grenier: Nice. Okay. So I think as you said, we’ve gone through the framework, we’ve gone through the process, have we forgotten any steps?

Louis Nicholls: No, I mean the only other thing is obviously to remember what a lot of people don’t do is then they’ll work with me or they’ll do this themselves and they’ll set it up and then they’ll forget to test it. They’ll forget to update things as things change. Because we mentioned branding and RightMessage before anyway, obviously different kinds of people, different customer segments will respond well to different sources of social proof. And we’ll have different objections and different worries. So if you do get a chance and you’re a bit larger and you have the time and the scope, it’s worth personalizing this stuff, right?

Louis Grenier: Yeah. And this is the next step, right? Once you really getting smart and once you have social proof in the right parts of the funnel and you know they work, then you can go the next step, which is showing specific testimonial to specific people based on who they are or what they believe in or the jobs to be done. And you can go very deep and very advanced once you have the basics. But I mean, from what you said and from experience, I can say that the basics are usually not in place anyway. And that very few companies are at a stage where they can personalize their experience based on who they are, who those people are and where they land on the website and all of that, right?

Louis Nicholls: Yes. I think that’s a fair assumption to make. That’s definitely what I’ve seen. Yeah.

Louis Grenier: So before we move on to another set of questions, different topic, but what would be the biggest mistake people make when trying to do all of this? Right? And you mentioned a few, but is there another one that comes to mind?

Louis Nicholls: The biggest mistake people make when they’re doing all of this, I think is honestly, it’s just not realizing that social proof isn’t something you can add on. And then probably the second biggest mistake, which is something we’ve also kind of covered, is just this idea that when you’re trying to find the right source of social… Or the right content, they’re trying to kind of pigeonhole, or they’re trying to fit a testimonial that they already have into a place where it’s not really needed. And I think when you look at a lot of landing pages, especially, you’ll see some logos, you’ll see a testimonial here or there. And other than proving that there are actually people using that product, it doesn’t add anything at all.
And it can be a distraction in a lot of case, and I’ve see a lot of them that are actually harmful, where people, especially like let’s say I’m selling to you, so we’re back to the consultancy and I want you to buy my consulting services. And I slapped down Salesforce and H&M and Walmart as my logos of social proof of people I’ve worked with, you’re probably going to be questioning whether you’re going to be able to afford me and whether I’m going to be the right fit for what you’re trying to do. Whereas if I had say Baremetrics and maybe Stripe or someone else, you’d probably be much more interested. So social proof, if you don’t think about it, it can be kind of more harm than a help. A lot of people don’t realize that.

Louis Grenier: Yeah. It could absolutely backfire, right? So if you have a testimonial that is all like another part of another social proof that is not well engineered, it might raise objection in people’s head that they hadn’t thought about before, right? So you need to be very careful about the way you handle those objections or lack thereof and not make the prospect overthink when they shouldn’t and add too many testimonials, too many social proof that make it seem like there’s so much that it might be untrustworthy afterward. So [inaudible 00:46:43] test everything you do to make sure you don’t fuck up your funnel.

Louis Nicholls: Yeah. But this comes back to the main problem I think that nearly every marketer has, which is they just don’t spend enough time understanding their customers and what they’re trying to do and what their mindset is. So go back to your customers, talk to them more, do more discovery, spend more time talking to them. It’s something I think we all need to do. It’s definitely something I keep needing to remind myself to do more of.

Louis Grenier: Yeah. The podcast is here for that. Everyone listening, speak to your customer more often and I’m also telling that to myself. It’s super important. So thanks so much Louis for spending the time to go through this framework with me. I just have a few questions left before I let you go. What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?

Louis Nicholls: Well, leading straight on from that, again, just how to get people to open up to you and to tell you the stuff that you need to hear. So I think it’s sales, but not in the way that maybe we think of sales as being kind of trying to force people into buying things, but into understanding them, into kind of finding a shared goal or win-win situation and setting them on that path to seeing that. So I think that’s definitely the thing that over the next… Or even in 20 years or in 50 years, it’s still going to be people that are buying. And if you can understand what they’re trying to do and what they’re worried about better than everyone else, then you’re going to have a good shot at convincing them to buy and helping build a really good product for them.

Louis Grenier: Yeah, absolutely. And on the back of that, maybe what are the top three resources you recommend listeners? So it could be books, podcasts, videos, conference, events, whatever.

Louis Nicholls: Right. So this is just for generic marketers at any stage. Well, I’m going to be kind of a cop out and say for number one, I really do think people should be listening to this show. It’s the only marketing podcast that I listened to on a regular basis. I really enjoy it and I love the choice of speakers. I think you’ve obviously slipped a bit with this one, but otherwise it’s been great. I’m not going to plug my own stuff as well. So a piece of software I think that people should check out pretty much anybody to be honest is RightMessage. We’ve mentioned it a couple of times. It has made a massive difference to my business and it’s apart from the team just being super awesome and amazing people. It’s the one piece of software I’ve started using in the last 18 months or so that’s made the biggest difference.
And lastly, I would take a book that you were going to read or a course or a podcast you were going to listen to or something and don’t do that and go and talk to your customers instead. So set aside that time to do that.

Louis Grenier: Yes. Amen to that. And yeah, RightMessage is really good tool. And even though I wish that those episodes can be listened to like in 10 years and 20 years it still be relevant, I have to say that yeah, that software is really good. And whatever Brennan Dunn does is good. So I can vouch for that in 20 years, this should be here and whatever he’s doing, it’s still going to be quite good. So Louis, thanks again for your time. Really appreciate it. I’m pretty sure people listening right now might have questions for you. They want to reach out to you. How can they do that?

Louis Nicholls: Sure. So they can find me online. My website is and there’s an email address there. And otherwise I’m pretty active on Twitter @LouisNicholls_. So that’s probably the best place to reach out. And I love talking to people and helping on sales and marketing stuff. So I’d love to hear from everyone.

Louis Grenier: How do you spell your last name?

Louis Nicholls: N-I-C-H-O-L-L-S.

Louis Grenier: All right. Well, Louis, once again, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much.

Louis Nicholls: Thank you very much.

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