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FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2008

Sinatra and Social Proof: Rethinking the 4th Deadly Claim

By Jeff Sexton
January 2nd, 2008

chairman of the board“If Oprah uses it, it must be amazing.”

Now, you may disagree with that statement, but there’s no arguing with the sales boosts and success that Oprah’s “Favorite Things Show” routinely bestows upon her selected items. And while this falls more nearly under the principle of appeal to authority than social proof, the mental shortcut involved is largely the same — it’s what Chip and Dan Heath coined the “Sinatra Test.”

When Frank crooned, “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere,” he was using the same mental shortcut, one where a single symbolic examples is enough to establish credibility. An example supplied in the Heath brothers’ book, Made to Stick, was an Indian shipping company that handled the Harry Potter book launch, thereby establishing their credibility for any shipping job.

So what does this all have to do with the 4th Deadly Claim (“We’re #1“)? I suggest you use a variation on — or an implied — Sinatra Test to leverage social proof for times when you don’t really have the numbers make a frontal assault on the “#1” position.

Here’s how it’s done

Step 1: Take the problem your product solves and find groups or niches who are particularly known for encountering that problem.

As a real life example, I’ll use Airborne Effervescent Health Formula, since they already use this technique. The problem they (allegedly) solve: The need to strengthen your immune system in the face of increased exposure to germs. The groups and subcultures who face this problem on an extreme scale? Teachers, frequent flyers, parents of young children, and nurses come to mind, right?

Step 2: Show your popularity with most — or, preferably, all — of these niches.

And how does Airborne do this? First the product is almost synonymous with “Created by a School Teacher.” And second, the company actually provides a “Who Uses Airborne” list on their Website.

Frankly, I think they broaden out the list a bit too much, but what they do next is perfect: They provide testimonials from exactly the groups on this list; a soldier, public speaker, Junior High School teacher, etc.

None of this is groundbreaking. In fact, the only thing that separates this technique from a simple endorsement is the use of groups rather than individuals (or official governing bodies), but the result is significantly more credible than a blanket claim to being the #1 or fastest-growing product.

So, there you have it. When tempted to use the 4th Deadly Claim, you can always dance the Sinatra/Social Proof Two-Step.

[Editor's Note: Think Jeff's posts are #1? Want to get concrete advice on your Web copy? Jeff will be teaching our Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar on January 14th in sunny Orlando, Florida, where you will learn how to fine-tune your online message.]

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Comments (5)

  1. I like the use of groups and representative members. The other day I read the blurbs on a book jacket marketed to preteens and about half of the testimonials were from preteens, a couple were from parents, and a handful were from “experts.” The balance worked well.

  2. Interesting comment, Sarah. I can’t help but thinking that, hypothetically, if this book were for Time Management for Teens, they might have a testimonial from a teen in an International Baccalaureate (or AP-type) program, a teen competing in a time intensive sport like competitive gymnastics, and a typical involved-in-everything teen. Then you could have the mix of parents and experts. So you wouldn’t be implying that all teens find the book useful, just the super busy, over-scheduled ones.

    Do you see how this is one of those situations were a perceived narrowed focus really isn’t narrowed at all? That’s really the power behind this technique.

  3. Agreed. This particular book didn’t narrow it down (or suggest that they were narrowing it down) to that level, but I can definitely see how that takes it a step further.

  4. [...] – It’s practically a self-made Sinatra test: whose immune systems are more challenged than grade school teachers?  If Airborne works for them, [...]

  5. I like his song.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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