Sixty-one per cent of customers read online reviews before they buy. Placing power in the views of our peers is nothing new, it’s how society has operated for millennia, so businesses shouldn’t be surprised that customer opinion holds so much weight when it comes to sales.

Research from Bazaarvoice found that there was, on average, a 58% conversion rate when consumers read peer reviews. The research also confirmed that with more reviews come more sales, with one review increasing the likelihood of a purchase by 10% and 50 reviews by, a not to be sniffed at, 37%.

However reviews can also be damaging. Not because they might portray a product in a negative light - in fact one study reported by the Harvard Business Review found that negative reviews can increase sales. The danger is when the source or authenticity comes into question, and we’re already starting to see the cracks. In a world where performance is measured against star ratings and review counts, how can consumers trust that reviews are real and brands avoid finding themselves in muddy waters?

The answer is of course transparency. But knowing exactly what it is within reviews that makes consumers tick, and focusing on this rather than sheer quantity goes a long way too. A study published in The Journal of Marketing found that positive star ratings didn’t influence sales, if anything, seeing only ‘5 stars’ arouses suspicion. Crucially, content that readers can relate to written using a tone that emanates real user experience had a positive effect on conversation.

The practice of rewarding (read: paying) consumers to review your product has saturated the market and I’m sure we all we know at least one person who’s shared an overzealous post in the hope of winning a year’s supply of free clothes/food/loo roll…this is where working with your consumers comes into play, and it can be a winning tactic.

Consumers no longer want to be at the receiving end of your marketing plan; they strive to be an active part within it. One way brands can collaborate with customers is through reviews and a great place to start is by demonstrating how much consumer opinion is valued. Negative reviews should be seen as an opportunity, both for the business to improve, and for it to resolve an issue for the customer.

Similarly, brands should show their appreciation of positive reviews, not just skim over them in search of the more critical ones. Showcasing amazing user generated content (and the content creator) across other channels will not only be far more rewarding for the consumer than 10% off their next purchase, but will make your content marketing more meaningful too.

Businesses that practice authentic communication by working with consumers in a genuine and open way demonstrate that customer opinion matters and build a foundation of trust in the brand that will ultimately contribute to future sales. This is not radical stuff, but it is all too often overlooked.

Actions speak louder than words. Consumers are intelligent beings and see the difference between reviews that tickle an ego versus those that genuinely contribute to a company’s evolution. Reviews are a hugely important tool for marketers, but they must be respected by brands, or brands will soon lose the respect of their consumers.

 

By Rebekah Mackay Miller, UK MD of trnd.


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