People stick with what they know. They stick with what works. With what’s been around. (Even if it’s not very good.)
Does Goodyear create the best tires? Probably not. Does Starbucks sell the best coffee? Absolutely not. Yet here we are, writing this and reading this from a Starbucks. It’s comfortable. It works. Even if it’s not ideal.
Guess what that means for your new brand? Your new product or service?
It means you’ve got an uphill battle. You’re not just going against competition. In fact, you’ve got to deal with something much worse. Before you even get to the competition.
You have to make people change. To battle their inertia. Which people, inherently, don’t like to do.
Social proof can help. But you might have to fake it at first. Because nobody’s going to roll over and give it to you.
Here’s why (and how to solve this problem once and for all).
What’s preventing you from selling more online?
Going to a new city?
You probably perform the actions every time without realizing it.
- First, you pull up Expedia (or similar) to find new hotels in the area.
- Next, you pull up TripAdvisor (or similar) to start reading reviews for those hotels.
- Then, you pull up Yelp (or similar) to look up local coffee shops, bars, and restaurants in the area.
What just happened?
You did what every other consumer on the planet does now. You started with reviews.
Reviews come from primarily two places:
- Niche review sites
So in our example, you started with marketplaces and other well-known sites. You started broad before going deep. And then you likely started with well-known brand names or boutique places.
Because branding leads to conversions.
59% of people buy products and services from companies they recognize.
So if you’re not looking at an acclaimed five-star property in a new location, you’re most likely going with the Starwoods, Hyatts, and Marriott’s of the world.
Now let’s flip the tables around.
Have you done marketing for both large and small companies?
There’s a big difference.
Money is one problem. But it’s not the problem.
No. Your problem is obscurity.
Nobody knows who the hell you are. Which means they sure as hell aren’t buying from you.
Not when there’s the Starwood, Hyatt, and Marriott’s of the world in the same price range.
So you can either discount your services, leading to decreased cash flow, less capital to reinvest, and less to hire good people. (A losing proposition any way you look at it.)
Or, you can become somebody.
Social proof isn’t just some trick or gimmick.
It’s what gives you a fighting chance. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel.
Have no fear, here’s 5 ways to fake social proof and build your credibility when you’ve got none:
1. Get yo’ self certified
Let’s be completely honest with each other for a second.
What impact, if any, does certification mean in our insane digital marketing arena?
Next to nothing.
To you and me anyway.
But not everyone else.
Not all buyers are educated. They don’t know a canonical tag from a custom audience.
That’s OK. I wouldn’t know a spark plug from a piston.
(Are those real things?)
Social proof is all about piggybacking. You want to align yourself with successful third parties who can lend you their credibility.
Certifications are an easy place to start because they exist in almost every walk of life imaginable.
Many are even free.
Google Analytics, for instance, can help show that you’re not completely inept when it comes to the technical side of the business. (Plus, you might even learn something along the way.)
Finish the lessons, pass the course, and then go get yo’ partner badge, son!
Embed that ish on your site and you’ve taken one giant leap from nobody to somebody. You’ve taken a personal certification and applied it to your entire brand.
AdWords also has a few certifications.
Once again, you’ll get your feet wet in everything from search to display and mobile ads.
HubSpot must see a lot of popularity around their courses, because they’ve been rolling them out left and right for every topic imaginable.
For example, the basic Inbound Certification has paved the way for deep dives into email marketing or content marketing. They’ve even broadened their horizons to design and sales courses, too.
Here’s one from Copyblogger.
Here’s another from CopyHackers.
And these are just off the top of my head!
Certifications are just the first step, of course. They’re a building block.
But good ones can open doors to working with people at the top of their game, like Michael Aargaard at Unbounce.
Then when you start becoming a baller shot caller, you can raise the stakes, becoming one of the few select partners with these organizations.
2. Become a partner company
The next level of an individual certification is becoming a partner company.
Once again, you’re aligning your brand with one that’s much bigger and better.
The good news is that most large companies have these already. People come to them looking for help, so they refer out to those specializing on their platform.
For example, you can become an Unbounce Agency Partner — for free — by filling out this application. (You can’t suck, of course.)
Most partner programs have tiers. Perform well and you move up.
Reaching the upper echelon puts you with the select, few others that get extra attention, exposure, and of course, credibility.
Here, KlientBoost’s trumpeting their Premier Google Partner status.
And AdEspresso can lay claim to being one of the few marketing partners for both Facebook and Instagram.
Best of all? Many of the partners you’re aligning with can give you business.
For example, HubSpot publishes like nine million blog posts a day. That means they get a little search traffic.
So they’ll give back by helping these new visitors find HubSpot partners when they need help.
Certifications and partnerships aren’t the end-all, be-all of course. But they’re a step in the right direction to go from unknown to known.
3. Get ink
Now’s about the time that in an article like this, the naive writer who’s never done anything in their life will tell you to “Speak at conferences!” and “Get interviewed!”
Here’s the problem with that.
Nobody wants to hear from nobodys.
Harsh, but true.
So flip the script at first.
Don’t try and give interviews when you’re a nobody. Instead, go out and try to interview the somebody’s in the world.
Then they’ll get some of the benefits as a byproduct of brand association.
You don’t always need the big brand names, though. The important part of an interview is the story.
So find an interesting story, even if nobody’s heard of the company, and highlight their lesson. Here’s a perfect example about generating 600 emails with $90 bucks in Facebook ads.
Recognizing a good story is the key to getting ink. Because then you can turn around and pitch that same story to other people.
Most big sites are on the constant lookout, willingly accepting new applicants if you can bring the goods. Peruse each blog until you strike gold with a contributor link.
Here’s a real life scenario to show you how this works.
A little persistence can find you good opportunities, like writing for widely read publications.
Do good work, tell good stories, highlight other successes. No ulterior motives. Just good work.
Mention and cite and promote other people are doing an amazing job and they’ll reach out.
Then it opens more doors and leads to more things that you wouldn’t have necessarily expected otherwise.
Which then leads to even more unexpected opportunities.
Two lessons here.
First, things snowball. It takes time.
Second, the best opportunities happen serendipitously.
You can’t always growth hack the best growth hacks. You show up, lots of times, and be good.
Then things happen.
4. Highlight your customers and partners
The quickest way to work with big names is to start working with big names.
Success begets success. You need to get that flywheel going.
So land a few early success stories and highlight them.
Here’s a perfect example.
Early we looked at a review of the ConversionXL certification program. Well, guess what they’re doing on the homepage?
There’s no tricks or shortcuts here. It starts with an awesome product or service. Then you get a little attention.
When customers do start rolling in, you find out more about them. And highlight them.
HubSpot has an entire section of their site devoted to telling customer stories.
These case studies go in-depth, providing everything from basic stats to full video interviews.
Buffer does something similar, highlighting the success of their customers to show (not tell) the value of their brand.
Only have one or two customers? No problem.
Landing a single testimonial can go a long way.
AdEspresso doubles down on the homepage with both customer logos and testimonials from featured companies.
Look, even if your first client is your mom, you can still build a case study out of it.
If you grew your mom’s traffic by 3k in one month, write about it.
Doesn’t matter if it’s some random dentist from Boise, Idaho or any other no name client.
You don’t always need to name drop. Just state the facts.
Everyone’s gotta start somewhere. So perform some work for free in exchange for their numbers and logo if you have to.
Whatever it takes to get a few wins under your belt.
5. Show me the numbers
Now’s the time to put your foot on the gas.
Highlight the logos and numbers you do have to get more numbers and logos.
Here’s Slack, highlighting every credibility indicator under the sun.
Kissmetrics pops up again showcasing just a sample of their 900 customers.
HubSpot has over 21,000 businesses in 90 countries.
Are all of those huge, popular companies? Of course not. In fact, most aren’t. And that’s ok.
You just highlight the ones that are and otherwise mention the rest in aggregate.
HubSpot then follows this up with providing every stat for everything they’ve ever done in their entire lives.
This is important, because it allows you to run rail-proof ad campaigns like this:
There’s no arguing with 10k+. One or two success stories might be lucky. Over ten thousand is not.
The most expensive cost in most new companies is your cost of customer acquisition.
That’s why freemium works. (At least initially, anyway.)
You lower the barriers to entry, drive up your number of customers by driving down the cost. And then leverage that early success to bring in new customers (at a bigger rate later).
You create a new Facebook ad but run it in private. That way you can easily build up social signals including likes, follows, and shares.
Only then you push the button to go live, when it already looks like a success.
Two months ago, Sunny Co Clothing was a nobody. Then this happened:
Over 750,000 shares and 550,000 Instagram followers later, they became an internet meme heard ‘round the world.
Sure, it was a fluke. Call it what you want.
But now? They’re everywhere.
Even the Time magazine! Who F-ing cares if it wasn’t super flattering.
They got a link from the Time mag.
And for a nobody from nowhere, that’s something to build off.
Business is hard.
But it’s especially hard when nobody knows who you are.
Recognition and trust make all the difference.
You could be good at what you do. You could deliver on what you say you can.
But until there’s other people vouching for you? Good luck.
Make your life easier by aligning yourself with the biggest and best names in the industry.
They’re not going to leave you a glowing testimonial on day one of course.
So start with what you’ve got. Help them, volunteer, provide value for free.
Whatever it takes.
“Fake it till you make it” has a negative connotation. In the beginning, though, you don’t have much of a choice.
Do what you have to do until others start doing it for you.