Are User Reviews Hurting or Helping?

A 2016 research study conducted by Censuswide for the Chartered Institute of Marketing found that 25 percent of consumers claim they’ve seen a fake online review — and the problem seems to be getting worse. What can you do to ensure user-created content is seen as truth-worthy?

Search and Success: How to Make Your Website, Content and SEO Pay OffI have long been fascinated with neuroscience and the role it can play in marketing ever since that legendary case study of an upscale hotel in Amsterdam selling a hamburger for $20 (in the days when one was typically sold for under $3). In that case, the restaurant presented its menu in a very heavy block of transparent plastic, and discovered that “haptic sensations” (the sensation of touch) created a positive impact on the customer and thus the over-priced burger had a perceived higher, more positive value.

In 2016, as more and more decisions are made digitally — without the benefit of a tactile encounter — marketers have been seeking ways to tap into a consumers subconscious. When, in 2004, Yelp provided a platform for user-generated reviews, brands quickly discovered that the court of public opinion could make (or break) a small business.

One short year later, a user-generated content (UGC) strategy had gone mainstream, but with the brand itself firmly in the driver’s seat. These days, sites ranging from Amazon to the local car dealership encourage customers to provide feedback immediately after purchase. But to what end?

In 2014, a research firm called Impowered partnered with Nielson to study which type of content was most instrumental at various purchase stages in terms of driving a purchase decision. The result? Eighty-three percent considered “expert content” to be more valuable than user reviews.

If expert content is the hero influencing brand purchase decisions, why do companies continue to persist in their pursuit of user-generated content?

Eighty-four percent of Millennials report that UGC on a brand’s website has at least some influence on what they buy, compared to 70 percent of Boomers. In fact there are many purchase decisions, both big and small, that Millennials won’t make without UGC. In fact, one report claims that UGC is the best way to push Millennials further down the conversion funnel since they trust it 50 percent more than any other type of media.

But in a new twist, a 2016 research study conducted by Censuswide for the Chartered Institute of Marketing found that 25 percent of consumers claim they’ve seen a fake online review — and the problem seems to be getting worse.

In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), an independent government department, cracked down on a company that was caught posting more than 800 fake reviews on behalf of 86 small businesses across 26 different websites. And Samsung agreed to pay a large fine to Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission for posting fake positive reviews about its products, and fake negative reviews about its competitors’ products.

Assuming that most brands are not trying to game the system, what can you do to ensure user-created content is seen as truth-worthy?

  • Encourage your customers to provide honest, genuine feedback. Don’t try to unduly influence outcomes in the way you ask the questions. One client asked us to remove the 1-10 rating range of “likelihood to refer” (a Net Promotor Score strategy) and replace it with a yes/no option because in their mind, they knew everyone was “happy” so why not lay claim to 100 percent happiness?
  • Acknowledge all reviews — don’t ignore the negative ones. Instead, turn them into opportunities to educate that customer and prospective customers who will see the review, demonstrating your brand is respectful of all opinions, and is thoughtful about resolving them in a fair and positive way.
  • Timing is everything. Unless it’s a review of a restaurant, don’t send out a survey 24-hours after the product is delivered. How could you possibly get an honest response when the buyer has barely had time to open the box, let alone experience your product? When a mattress company sent me a survey after only one night’s sleep on it, my response, of course, will be positive considering I was replacing a 20-year old incumbent.

Who’s Talking About Me Behind My Back?

Celebrities are masters at constantly keeping their names in the spotlight. Whether on purpose (think Kim Kardashian) or not (think Justin Bieber), these brands are constantly vying for attention through every marketing channel available. While most large businesses have a cadre of resources constantly tracking and controlling their brand image, the nearly 28 million U.S. small businesses are not so lucky

Celebrities are masters at constantly keeping their names in the spotlight. Whether on purpose (think Kim Kardashian) or not (think Justin Bieber), these brands are constantly vying for attention through every marketing channel available.

While most large businesses have a cadre of resources constantly tracking and controlling their brand image, the nearly 28 million U.S. small businesses are not so lucky. From Facebook rants (distributed to a limited audience) to public floggings in a Yelp review, smaller businesses must be ever-mindful that, in the blink of an eye, a disgruntled customer can turn a less-than-stellar experience into a devastating business downturn.

That said, what can a smaller business do to better manage those voices in the marketplace?

  • Stop the rant before it starts: This seems obvious, but it’s too often overlooked. As soon as you encounter that disgruntled customer, offer to make it “right.” Sometimes that means suffering a financial loss on an order, but just remember these stats: The average American knows about 600 people, and the average number of friends of a Facebook user is 359. Each of those Facebook friends has 359 friends (on average), so the bad review/rant can be distributed very quickly across a vast network of people. One small loss to keep a customer happy isn’t worth the uncontrollable spread of bad publicity.
  • Understand the pesky truth about Yelp: Yelp receives hundreds of thousands of reviews each day, and uses filtering software to analyze and post those reviews that their software algorithm deems as most accurate. Their goal is to weed out the “fake” reviews and not include them in the overall rating of your business. However, if you carefully look at the bottom of your Yelp page, you’ll see how many additional reviews you’ve received noted as “(X other reviews that are not currently recommended)”, and if you click on that link, it will take you to your other reviews. In some instances you’ll see great reviews and other examples are terrible reviews. The reality is, Yelp aims to give publicly displayed reviews that best reflect what the software has analyzed to be “most accurate.” Realize that you can always add commentary to a bad review with an explanation of what you did to try and make it right with that customer.
  • Instantly monitor mentions of you on the web: Google has a nifty tool that allows you to monitor the internet (within Google’s database) for content that contains any keyword you want to monitor. So if I wanted to monitor my business (Goodman Marketing or Goodman Marketing Partners), Google Alerts sends me messages when those keywords appear on other websites or blogs. This allows you to respond to a positive review or address a negative review quickly. You can also monitor your competition (and take advantage of an issue!). The only requirement is that you have a gmail account.
  • Stimulate positive conversations about your business: This is the real benefit of engaging with social media. By posting interesting content on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or constantly providing links to worthwhile content on LinkedIn and Twitter will help increase your legitimacy, value and “likes” in the marketplace. I try to post regularly to both LinkedIn and Twitter—not just about content that I’ve created, but to content that I think is valuable to others in my marketing sphere. Read and post comments on the blogs of others, respond to questions within LinkedIn Discussion Groups, and add value that can demonstrate your expertise. All these efforts will help improve the perception of you and your business in the minds of your audience.

Be the Wave—Or ‘The New Marketers’ Manifesto’

Don’t ride the wave, be the wave. A friend of mine named Devin, who works as a management consultant, recently taught me this phrase. I simply love it. I interpret it to mean: Make your destiny; don’t succumb to it. For marketers, I think this phrase has incredible relevance in today’s rapidly changing landscape.

Don’t ride the wave; be the wave. A friend of mine named Devin, who works as a management consultant, recently taught me this phrase. I simply love it. I interpret it to mean: Make your destiny; don’t succumb to it.

For marketers, I think this phrase has incredible relevance in today’s rapidly changing landscape. It’s no secret that the ground is quite literally shifting beneath our feet as a radical transformation takes place in the way people interact with companies, and marketers are being forced to pivot in a brave new world that is largely unknown.

What’s happened is the Buyer’s Journey has been turned on its head. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, I described it in a recent post. Buyer’s Journey refers to the process prospects go through as they make their decisions on which companies to do business with or buy products from. It’s is a complex evolution that spans the entire progression, beginning with identification of the underlying need, and ending with product selection.

Not long ago, Buyers were relatively uninformed, and the Buyer’s Journey was controlled lock-stock-and-barrel by the marketer. To be successful, marketers essentially needed to try out different approaches, through trial and error, and see what worked. Kind of like throwing stuff at the proverbial wall to see what stuck. Once you found a successful formula, all you needed to do was repeat it again and again.

Companies simply told their customers what they should buy and what they needed to know to buy it. Not surprisingly, firms didn’t really know too much about their customers. They didn’t need to. All they needed to know was what worked from a utilitarian point of view, not why it worked.

Recent technological advances have completely altered the landscape—evolving it to a state that would have been unrecognizable a mere dozen or so years ago. For one, today’s marketer confronts a highly sophisticated, engaged and informed consumer who is comfortable with the digital landscape, and familiar with the latest gadgets and tools. Native to the Web and connected to multiple Social Media networks via the latest devices, today’s buyer may know as much about a marketer’s products as the marketer’s sales or marketing teams. For most marketers, this is a truly frightening concept.

Now add to the mix that many marketers are quickly discovering, to their great consternation, that the sale is often won or lost before the relationship even begins—as greater numbers of buyers educate themselves using the vast resources available on the Web, which include customer reviews , referrals from peers on Social Media, and so on. The Buyer’s Journey of yesteryear has been turned on its head.

This brave new world calls for a brave new approach—one that not only leverages the latest advances in technology, but more importantly focuses on the central narrative of the new way brands engage with their customers and prospects. No, having a slick website and a cursory presence on social media isn’t enough. Marketers need to use technology to transform how they do business.

Today’s firms not only need to get to really know who their customers are, but where they go, what they do, and what affinities they share; they also need to engage them where they’re comfortable, which is increasingly on their mobile devices and in the vast and constantly changing Social Media universe. I know it sounds daunting, but the good news is that marketers can learn to leverage the same technologies that created such change in the first place.

Let’s take a quick look at mobile. Let’s say, for example, I’m in Chicago on business, it’s dinnertime and I’m hungry. I spot a steakhouse across the street from my hotel. But because I’ve never been there, I pick up my iPhone and open up the Yelp App, where I pull up the listing to see what others have to say. Turns out that someone went there last week and had a really, really bad experience … and wrote a review trashing the place. And it’s the only review. Well, looks like I’m not going there tonight.

But fortunately it’s a double-edged sword. Let’s imagine instead that the owner had employed a strategy to drive customers online, specifically to give a review on Yelp. This strategy could involve placing a QR Code on the menu, along with a special offer for a free appetizer for all who give a review—or maybe a deal with Foursquare, Groupon, ScoutMob … or one of many mobile companies offering merchants tools to leverage this exciting new channel. Now instead of seeing just the bad review, I would see many good ones from happy customers.

And this is but one example of many. Another is the best-practice use of QR Codes for Augmented Reality by Best Buy and other electronic retailers. Armed with a smartphone, you can now scan QR Codes affixed to the in-store displays for products you’re interested in. You can obtain detailed product specs, warranty information … even detailed product reviews. Plus, by connecting to social media, it’s even possible to see what friends or followers have to say.

Okay, looks like I’m running out of space. But I guess the main message is: Embrace technology and use it to control your own destiny—don’t let it control you. And the good news is we can take this ‘philosophy’ and apply it to really any type of firm. Take a close look at your company and see how technology can be used to change the way you do business.

Instead of ducking your head in the sand, use new tools—whatever they may be—to give your customers new and improved ways to engage with your company and its products. Delight them. In the end, firms that do so will enjoy great success in coming months and years. Those that don’t … well, they might not be around. Be the Wave.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: Google, Bazaarvoice Partner to Bring Reviews to Google Search and Ads

I heard some interestng news this week: Google and social commerce firm Bazaarvoice announced an industry-first partnership to bring product reviews to Google search and ads.

I heard some interesting news this week: Google and social commerce firm Bazaarvoice announced an industry-first partnership to bring product reviews to Google search and ads.

Through the partnership and with client permission, Bazaarvoice said in a press release, it can now “share high-quality product review content from Bazaarvoice client sites on Google Web Search, Google Product Search, and Google AdWords ads.”

Bazaarvoice said the partnership will enable retailers and manufacturers using its services to “easily leverage their product review content to drive more high-quality traffic from Google, as well as provide brand exposure to qualified shoppers.”

What’s more, “consumers benefit from immediate access to opinions from other customers as they research and complete purchases, adding relevance and authenticity.”

The integration is immediately available as Bazaarvoice’s SyndicateVoice for Search offering.

To me, this is an important partnership. It elevates the value of user-generated content as a search tool. I imagine retailers will be excited about it, in that it will bring more exposure to their brands with minimal effort on their parts. What do you think? Any retailers out there care to comment? Let me know by posting a comment below.