Driving new business by encouraging meaningful user-generated reviews

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Companies continue to pour millions of dollars into Madison Avenue for clever television commercials, but the simple “buy me” message sent into your living room, accompanied by music and attractive movie stars enjoying your products, is no longer enough. Consumers want proof that what you have to offer will deliver as promised, and they want that proof to come from third party, unbiased reviews.

Empowered by the Internet, social media, and the ability to easily compare you against your competitors, today’s consumers are firmly in control. Buying an ad in the Super Bowl may still be the gold standard of advertising, but after the game, consumers aren’t going to go straight to the store to make a purchase – instead, they will go online and find out what others are saying about you, and whether your competitors are offering a better bargain. Kissmetrics estimated that 55 percent of shoppers find reviews to be important in making purchase decisions, and online reviews and social interaction has to play a prominent role in a company’s marketing strategy.

The consumer knows: The perilous path of paid reviews
You can’t pull the wool over the consumers’ eyes. P.T. Barnum may have said “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but in today’s environment of empowered consumers armed with information, the sucker isn’t the buyer – it’s the vendor who thinks they can fool people with fake reviews.

Paid reviews – though easy to come by – should be avoided, as they are often obvious, provide no meaningful feedback to readers, and are likely to harm your brand. These sorts of reviews are remarkably easy to come by, and there are hundreds of websites and providers blatantly providing paid review services. Legitimate retailers like Amazon, whose business is driven by unbiased reviews, took a bold step last year and filed suit against several online sites that produce paid reviews for as little as five dollars each. Compensated reviews are prohibited by Amazon’s policy, and many other large retailers have followed suit. Furthermore, companies like Amazon, Yelp, and others have implemented sophisticated algorithms to spot fake reviews – and consumers themselves have become more adept at spotting shady reviews. The algorithm used by CrowdReviews.com, made available to the public on its website, guards against fakes by giving less weight to anonymous reviews and single-line reviews, and by figuring in the average age of reviews, and whether negative reviews have been resolved.

The right strategy – organic reviews
Product reviews don’t always happen spontaneously, especially for smaller companies or start-ups. But given the need to have reviews take an integral part of the marketing strategy, these companies face a dilemma. User-generated reviews – especially if they are unsolicited – are perhaps one of the most important tools for engaging customers and encouraging loyalty and new business. The hardest part is getting the first one.

The easy path of paid reviews is fraught with peril and is likely to bring long-term harm to the brand. It is certainly possible to go out and buy a hundred reviews at five dollars each, and it will give you the numbers you want, and fast – but you need more than numbers. You need quality, authenticity, and legitimacy. A hundred positive but superficial reviews, which consumers are likely to spot as fakes a lot more quickly than you would think, will do more harm than good. But at the same time, getting the first few legitimate reviews is always a challenge.

A successful review strategy will encourage legitimate reviews on consumer-focused review platforms as well as on your own website and social media outlets. Smaller companies may have to jump-start the process, but it can be done effectively without resorting to black-hat tactics. Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Key components of a product review strategy include:

    Monitor social media for mentions or your brand or products. If a positive mention is made on a social platform, engage with the user, thank them for their feedback, and ask them to write a review. In many cases, the customer will feel honored to have been asked personally to share their experience.

    Implement a policy of personalized interaction and superior customer service. A quick follow-up with a customer to ask about their purchase may yield an opportunity to ask for a review, if the customer reports a positive experience.

    Make it easy. Place a “Write a Review” button on your website, with an easy link to an appropriate review platform.

    Ask for it at the point of sale. Your online checkout, the paper receipt generated at your brick-and-mortar store, and your email confirmation should all go beyond basic functionality to incorporate the request for a review. Remember that customers are most likely to write a review shortly after they have purchased a product and it is still fresh in their minds.

Advertising will never be the same
Traditional advertising has always been uni-directional. The strategy was to push a message to the consumer. And although it was often a very polished message, full of song, dance, catchy logos and sometimes movie stars holding products, it still only went one way, and the prevailing philosophy of Madison Avenue was to tell consumers what they wanted. Today’s consumers tell each other what they want, and it’s up to marketers to listen to what they have to say – and to participate in those venues where consumers are the leading voice.

Jeev Trika
Jeev Trika is CEO and founder of CrowdReviews.com, a crowd-driven platform for reviewing and ranking companies providing goods and services across multiple categories, for both businesses and consumers. The consumer-friendly site is the first unbiased and fully transparent reviews site to be driven completely by the crowd.

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