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How social proof could help save your company from the gallows

As you may remember from your high school history classes, the UK got its first professional police force in 1829. But have you ever wondered how the legal system functioned before that?

Prior to this, a person’s reputation was typically the main factor in determining their guilt in a court of law. While this thankfully isn’t the case any longer, having a good social standing is just as important in the world of business as it ever was.

Read on to find out what law and order in medieval society can teach you about building your company’s reputation.

Any slight on a person’s character was a serious insult in the Middle Ages

I’ve always thought one of the best traits of the British people is that, on the whole, we’re very level-headed.

This trait is a boon for historians since instead of solving our disputes with fists, Brits have always preferred to take their issues to court. The records of these cases can give us a fascinating glimpse into the lives of ordinary men and women throughout the ages.

One particular example that has always stuck in my mind was a court record from the 14th century which involved a slander case.

The defendant was charged with accusing the plaintiff of being “a villein, a damned villein, and a villein by blood”. The term ‘villein’ isn’t one we tend to use any more, but it means a poor farmer who was tied to the land like a serf, so essentially the man’s crime was calling his neighbour a chav.

If someone offended you like this now, you’d probably just roll your eyes and carry on with your day. It certainly wouldn’t be worth your time to take them to court.

In the Middle Ages, however, even a small slight like this on your character was a very serious matter and that’s because the legal system was fundamentally different to how it is today.

Most medieval police officers were typically poorly trained and unreliable

As I mentioned earlier, before the 19th century there were no professional police officers in the UK. As you can imagine, this made fighting crime somewhat difficult.

Of course, this is not to say there were no police at all. Theoretically, all towns had at least one police officer called a constable, although their reliability tended to vary wildly.

At their best, a town constable was a well-respected local volunteer with a strong sense of justice and community. At their worst, a constable could be a literal criminal, only given the role as a punishment in the hope that it would straighten him out.

At any rate, even the most dedicated constables didn’t get much of a chance to gain experience, since their service only lasted for one year.

If this description doesn’t fill you with confidence, you’d probably be right – unless the constable caught a criminal in the act, there may be no physical evidence of them committing a crime at all.

This meant that, in a system where evidence was virtually non-existent, character judgements had to make up a significant part of the legal process.

A person’s reputation could play an important role if they were ever accused of a crime

To better understand what this means in practice, let’s use an example.

It’s a warm spring afternoon in 1321 and I have just left Ye Olde Yardsticke Agency to get my lunch. I saunter down the street to Gregory’s Bakery, where I pick up a steak bake and a sausage roll.

But just as I’m leaving, the man behind the counter begins shouting and cursing, accusing me of pocketing a jam doughnut while his back was turned. The town constable, hearing the commotion, wallops me over the head with his truncheon and carts me off to the cells.

At court, however, the magistrate faces a problem. The baker and I were the only people in the shop at the time, so there were no witnesses. Furthermore, the jam doughnut was not found in my possession, although I could have easily got rid of it.

Without any hard evidence at his disposal, the magistrate would have to interview my neighbours and co-workers to get a judge of my character. Did this seem like the kind of thing that I would do?

Was I a good man, sober and hardworking, who gave alms to those in need and was always willing to lend his neighbour a hand?

Or was I a ne’er-do-well who could regularly be found in The Cross Keys on a Friday evening, frittering away my pay on alcohol, playing dice games, and in the company of disreputable women?

With a bit of luck, the people that knew me could testify that I was a good guy who generally stays on the straight and narrow. If their testimony didn’t satisfy the judge, however, it’d be the gallows for me.

Client videos can be an invaluable way to boost the reputation of your business

In the modern day, while character judgements have taken a backseat in law, reputation continues to play an important role in the world of business. A good reputation is essential for any company, but particularly for ones that involve a high degree of trust, such as financial planning.

As I’ve discussed in a previous blog, one of the biggest issues which many planners face is that people typically don’t know the value of financial advice until they’re already receiving it. To remedy this, it’s important to show prospective clients how they can benefit from working with a planner, and one of the best ways to do this is in the form of testimonial videos.

In these, your satisfied clients can freely talk about what they have gained through working with you, such as greater feelings of financial security and confidence. This can be an excellent way to demonstrate why your company deserves its good reputation.

These videos are the “gold standard” of social proof and can be invaluable for not only communicating why a prospective client should seek advice but why it should be from you.

Get in touch

While having a good reputation is no longer a matter of life and death for you, it can still be for your business.

If you want to know more about showcasing the value of your advice with testimonial videos, get in touch with us at or call 0115 8965 300.

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