This post was authored by Joel Don, a consultant specializing in digital marketing, social media and public relations services for the technology, industrial and biomedical sectors. Joel has served as ISA's contract social media community manager.
The results of a provocative industry study confirmed a fairly well-known view: Industrial automation and manufacturing is still largely sitting on the fence when it comes to leveraging inbound marketing and social media strategies for business development and customer retention. Among the findings in the report, nearly half of all websites surveyed failed to establish trust via use of social proof.
If you are still conflicted about the merits of social media marketing, the term social proof might be greeted with the same response as nouveau marketing concepts (and buzzwords) such as return on engagement, snackable content, owned vs. earned media, cost per like and clickability. Social proof sounds like yet another term designed to provoke the fear, uncertainty and doubt needed to get you to jump on the digital marketing bandwagon. In this case, however, social proof actually is an asset for an industrial business, and you should maximize its applications in your marketing.
Social proof = more business
A industry study found that a significant percentage of automation and manufacturing industry websites lack elements of social proof. As a consequence, the study also suggested that opportunistic businesses can gain quick advantage by correcting these deficiencies, creating new sales opportunities with prospects and the existing customer base.
So what is social proof and how do you get it? Truth is, you probably already have it – just not necessarily optimized to deliver the best return. Social proof is the impact or influence that people and organizations have on the opinions and behavior decisions of others, and on you. In a business scenario, social proof can deliver an important benefit to the marketing of your industrial products and services.
Let’s define social proof another way. People like to buy from other people and businesses that they know and trust. A quote variously attributed to several authors basically says: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s actually brain chemistry at work. Learning and memory pioneer Jim McGaugh would use the example of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated to explain how the mind imprints permanent memories and positive or negative associations. For the millennial generation, the psychobiologist might use the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center complex. Emotion = memory.
Trigger the human response
To leverage social proof, you certainly don’t need to sign up for the next webinar on the workings of the memory-modulating amygdala and hippocampus brain structures. But it’s still important to know that you are trying to trigger a certain neural response by the way you construct and position social proof in the form of a customer testimonial, case study or industry award. The outcome is either a new business lead, or if you fail, a click to another site. In other words, focus on creating emotional depth to your marketing presence with content that reaches the concerns, values and desires of your customers.
Social proof is vital, because competition in the industrial space is fierce. Industrial technology sites often offer plenty of technical information and resources. You can excel by additionally tapping the neural factor to make your online presence resonate more quickly and deeply so that you can create a conversion opportunity, or the point at which your sales/marketing target performs a desired action. A conversion could be sale of a product or service, completion of a survey, registration to join a mailing list or signing up for your webinar. Use social proof to enlist your community to help you achieve those outcomes.
The short-term perspective from the outbound marketing era was to reach customers by interrupting them with marketing messages to generate immediate sales. That style of marketing has built a resistance factor, so now we approach the objective with an inbound marketing approach that includes the recommendations of customers as well as endorsements from other companies and organizations.
Goal: keep customers coming back for more
Social proof does not generally generate knee-jerk outcomes. If a sale transacts, that’s great but not the primary objective. If no sale occurs, you still have a customer that will remember your brand with a positive emotion, ideally imprinted in the brain for an extended period. Especially in B2B sales, social proof is a reinforcement strategy to encourage customers to keep returning, since studies affirm it’s much easier and cheaper to develop sales with existing customers than to create new ones.
The good news is you don’t have to re-invent the wheel to leverage social proof. If your industrial automation or manufacturing business already has marketing collateral featuring customer testimonials, written success stories, lists of awards and memberships, you already have the basic building blocked needed to demonstrate social proof. If needed, reformulate your social proof content and position it in new and creative ways to elicit the kind of positive brain response that will reinforce your messaging with your customers so they like doing business with your company.
Use the right social proof for your site
Social proof can be leveraged in your website, email marketing and other aspects of your inbound marketing program. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, celebrity endorsements do well for consumer products and services; they may be less effective in the B2B technical space of control systems and instrumentation for industrial automation and manufacturing. But the concept remains the same in leveraging the views, actions and reputation of others to build greater brand and company recognition. Following are five areas where social proof can be developed for industrial businesses:
Good images are compelling. Video is captivating. Yes, there’s more time requited for pre- and post-production time and possibly some additional expense, but video will extend the reach of your social proof far beyond anything you can achieve with words and pictures. Website visitors may not stop read the testimonial of a happy customer or a technical case study, but studies show they will click on a video, watch and listen.
2) Case studies
Development of case studies or written customer success stories has been a standard for automation industry sales, marketing and public relations outreach. Vendors use these stories to demonstrate products in real-world scenarios, often to illustrate solutions that deliver greater efficiency and lower cost. Automation industry systems integrators showcase services, breadth of experience and core competencies via detailed narratives of completed projects. Make case studies a prominent feature of your proof. Are links to your case studies buried deep within your website, or do you showcase them on your landing page? Do you offer a mix of quick-to-read snapshots along with the in-depth drill-downs? Do you leverage technical graphics, charts and photos or images? Automation and manufacturing professionals love technical diagrams.
Customer testimonials or short quotes from satisfied customers can have a strong impact on conversions. Ideally, a quote should include a (quality/professional) photo, along with the name, title and company affiliation. Sprinkle them throughout your website rather than loading them up on one page, so that the visitor receives constant reinforcement of the values and benefits offered by your products or services through the endorsement of others. Are your customer testimonials dated? Keep this element of your social proof current: solicit new testimonials and refresh your quotes often. In other words, demonstrate you have new customers.
4) Certifications & awards
Business and technical accomplishments go a long way toward establishing a baseline of industry recognition. Notice websites that display badges, logos and icons for various awards and certifications. Promoting your achievements and affiliations broadcasts that your company is highly competitive and committed to achieving high technical standards.
5) Social shares
You’ve produced great content, now make sure it’s easy for your loyal followers to share to expand your community of potential customers. There are many simple additions to a website and email marketing templates that can help others extend your marketing reach. Reduce the friction to sharing by making every relevant piece of content instantly shareable with add-ons such as social sharing icons. There are of course other ways to increase social sharing of your site’s content. Since inbound marketing conversion rarely occurs on a single visit, make visitors want to return for more and build trust – organically – over time.