The Truth About Customer Reviews & How Big Brands Use Them to Increase Conversions

These days it is easy to get so caught up in the social media marketing hype that we can sometimes forget that there are other components to a marketing campaign which are as important, if not more important in certain stages, than social media.  One of those all-important campaign tools is customer reviews.  Customer reviews have always mattered to consumers, but consumer interest in reviews has increased steadily in recent years.  The internet gives users unprecedented access to share their views on products (or services) and their experiences with companies.  Customers trust each other more than they trust you, so building up customer reviews will help you to build trust with other consumers.

Most marketers are already aware of the importance of reviews.  A survey in 2010 showed that 91% of companies were planning to add a Facebook page to their marketing stratagems within the next year.  But that same survey indicated that 85% of companies were also planning on cultivating customer reviews, meaning almost as many companies realize the significance of customer reviews as appreciate the relevance of social networking.

Many companies are hesitant to welcome customer reviews because they are worried about the impact of negative reviews on their business.  In reality, negative reviews, so long as they are not abundant, are not necessarily going to be as harmful as many business owners fear.  A negative review in some cases points toward a legitimate problem.  While it would be preferable for the customer to contact the company directly, at least the company can become aware of the problem and fix it.  Showing customers that you take their feedback into account and fix problems can actually add legitimacy to your brand.  A few negative reviews thrown in the mix can actually add to the validity of your positive reviews too.  People are more likely to believe that positive reviews are real if they see some detractors mixed in.  “The customer wants a more objective voice saying, ‘I own this, and these are the things you need to know about it,’” says Denise Incandela, president of Saks Direct.

An eMarketer survey showed that 92% of US internet users read online reviews.  46% were influenced to purchase products by reviews, and 43% were influenced not to.  But only 3% of users said that they were unaffected by the reviews.

A study published by PowerReviews shows us how users are taking more time to read reviews than they used to.  64% of shoppers spent ten minutes or more reading reviews in 2010, vs. 50% in 2007.  39% of customers read eight or more reviews before purchasing a product, vs. only 22% in 2007.

Another interesting study is the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer, which tells us that consumers trust information about US companies from many other sources more than they trust information from their friends.  Business magazines, analyst reports, articles in newspapers, and radio communications are all rated as more credible than friends.  The credibility in friends has dropped from 35% in 2009 to 27% in 2010.  What could account for this sizeable drop?  Perhaps it’s that in the Facebook era, “friend” now means any distant connection on a social network.  People don’t actually necessarily respect or value their opinions that much.

Another study by PowerReviews indicates that users do value customer reviews, but want to place them in context.  Nearly all surveyed participants stated that they trusted reviews to some extent, but wanted to place them in a context of further research, or wanted to be sure they were unbiased.

Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelmann sums this up nicely:  “People have to see messages in different places and from different people … It’s a more skeptical time.  So if companies are looking at peer-to-peer marketing as another arrow in the quiver, that’s good, but they need to understand it’s not a single-source solution.  It’s a piece of the solution.”

Further surveys point toward males as being more likely to read reviews than females, and people in the age bracket 25-34 being more likely to read reviews than the total population of internet users.

Getting customer reviews is only part of the equation.  How can you use those reviews in innovative ways to sell more products?  One idea is to use customer language to pinpoint keywords for your products which you can then target in search features on your site.  For instance, now allows customers to search for “the most comfortable running shoes” based on customer reviews.  TurboTax allows customers to sort tax-return products based on reviews by customers in similar scenarios.

There are lots of other uses you can make of product reviews.  Consider including quotations from customer reviews in your advertisements and marketing emails.  Rubbermaid is going to implement an innovative system to allow a mobile phone camera to scan a barcode in their physical shop so that a shopper can see customer reviews for a given product.  Other companies are utilizing customer reviews in their banner ads, television ads, and in their shops.  Google now accepts reviews to their Google Product Search feed as well.  Brands are integrating social networking and reviews by providing users the quick ability to share their reviews on Facebook after posting them on the brand’s website, and also by allowing users to import their own profile information into the reviews they write.  This can add an air of legitimacy to the reviews.

In conclusion, customer reviews are a matter of ever-increasingly importance online and should be a core part of your marketing plan.  Half of the equation is getting those reviews; the other half is utilizing them to the fullest extent.  This means re-purposing reviews into advertisements and using them to reach out through other means to potential buyers.  Don’t shy away from negative reviews if you receive them; publicly reply to the concerns that were voiced and what you’ve done to redress the grievances.  In this way you can turn both positive and negative reviews to your advantage.

Spencer Belkofer is the owner of Lumin, an Alabama SEO company. In addition to SEO, PPC, and other online marketing services, Lumin also offers infographic and website design. All design work is custom, hand coded and programmed, and is optimized for SEO and conversions.


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