Proof train car #8: third-party proof

Philip Morgan

We're getting towards the end of the proof train! As a reminder, I'm giving you examples that relate to this quote:

Never make your claim bigger than your proof. And always join your claim and your proof at the hip in your headlines, so that you never trumpet one without the other. -- Gary Bencivenga

The next form of proof involves referencing highly believable third-party sources when doing so helps your cause.Ex: “TechCrunch reports that startups using [thing you do] have a 37% greater chance of gaining traction.”This brings up the question: who or what are the most believable third-party sources?Generally I'd put things in this order:

  1. Science
  2. Niche authorities
  3. A preponderance of your previous clients
  4. Anything you say about yourself in your own words (in terms of believability this item should really be numbered something like 36 on this list, but the HTML OL element doesn't work that way :) )

The main idea here is that almost anything is more believable than things you say about yourself in your own words. Claims made without supporting proof simply trigger your prospective clients' "yeah, right" reaction. And rightly so! There's a ton of bullshit out there but you can separate your marketing from that bullshit with proof.Except for certain controversial issues, people generally trust scientific inquiry as a tool to gain better understanding and control over the world we live in. Is there a study that supports your approach to solving problems for your clients? If so, don't miss an opportunity to use that as proof!Is there a niche authority that your clients trust? Would it be possible to get a quote from that authority about your work? Or if that authority is a publication, can you get published in that publication? The answer to both questions is: probably yes. BTW, I recently invited an expert in getting published in niche publications to give a Dev Shop Marketing Briefing. You can see that recording here: /dev-shop-marketing-briefings/dsmb-getting-published/What are your previous clients willing to go on record and say about you? That's the next most impressive form of third-party proof. It's lower on the list than science and niche authorities because we all know that client testimonials and case studies are not 100% objective and they focus more on the positive aspects of your relationship with a client, but they're still more credible than things you say about yourself.In my client work I've audited a ton of software development firm websites, looking for positioning, value propositions, messaging, and other key marketing elements. I've developed a sort of personal heuristic for speeding this up. It goes like this:

  1. Who has hired them?
  2. Have they published any original research or well-thought-out content that makes me re-think something or casts new light on a familiar subject?

That's it. If I'm moving fast in my evaluation of a company's website, those two things are what separates the top tier firms from everyone else. Those are the only two things I'm really looking for as I assemble a shortlist.I'm not saying that there aren't great businesses that lack an impressive client list or original research/compelling content. However... the presence of those elements in your marketing does a lot to convince a jaded, hurried prospect that you're worth a closer look, and so I think you should do everything you can to make sure your marketing spotlights those things.Getting an amazing clients list and producing original research/compelling content can take a lot of time and effort. The other two forms of third-party proof (science and niche authorities) are more readily attainable, often with just a little bit of online research.So get crackin' on that!If you need help fashioning a strong claim of expertise, check out: http://thepositioningmanual.comThe caboose on the proof train is up next,-P