In my personal research I have been intrigued and inspired by the free consumer advocacy that social media facilitates. I am aware that most people don't share my views and question the credibility and authenticity of consumer reviews. I also know that many brands don't use consumer reviews to their full potential but please hear me out.
As a customer, I like that I can see performance and opinion based reviews on the products are services I am thinking about purchasing. Yes, these reviews are predominantly subjective opinions and can be of varying quality but it is the subjective opinions I want to see. Through my research I have found that this is also the case with other consumers.
From an academic standpoint, consumer reviews support the decision making processes through the provision of in-direct product experiences which offer a first impression of products and services before they are consumed.
Brand generated content tends to be more objective in nature, utilitarian, if you like. Consumers are sceptical of brand communication as they are designed to sell. So we look to other consumers for advice. And this is happening, it's not just isolated cases.
We all know that consumers remixing brand messages can be bad for business but what if you used them to your advantage?
I don't often use a case study but let's look at CitizenM as an example of embracing consumer opinion. The trendiest hotel in the world actively uses everyone from staff to customers to improve their online reputation and actively monitor online brand mentions. I also like their approach to co-creation, not just of online reputation but the actual service offering too.
The business culture of CitizenM is clearly illustrated through their social media strategy. Their willingness to work openly, understand their customers and co-create value with stakeholders is really paying off for them.
I want to show you why you can come to love consumer reviews too.
Consumer reviews are not new it's just they were traditionally spoken and not written. Word of mouth communication (WOM), we all know what it is; now WOM has evolved to include consumer reviews. The benefit of reviews over traditional WOM, you know the market reaction to your offerings. It's all there in black and white, maybe colours, pictures and video too.
Putting the argument of 'fake reviews' to one side, through my research I have come to understand that consumers are astute enough to spot fake reviews.
Why wouldn't you want to know what your customers think of you? You then have the opportunity to use positive reviews and build relationships and possibly overcome any negative reviews. In service recovery we all learn the benefit of overcoming a failure, you can create a loyal customer, and it's the same in online circles. Be proactive in harnessing your online reputation.
Brand perception leads us nicely onto the next benefit, innovation.
Consumer reviews provide a deeper understanding of brand offerings. Yes, they can be positive or negative but what if you use both to your advantage? Good internal business systems can allow you to feed the information into the product and development and quality control processes. Thus allowing you to innovate or at the very least improve product or service qualities.
Essentially reviews provide feedback and you have the option to act on that feedback and improve. This can be important in small businesses, sometimes we feel bad reviews are personal attacks especially if we are small business owners. Don't feel like that, take it as constructive criticism and work with it.
The final benefit is one of competitive advantage.
In all industries obtaining and maintaining competitive advantage commands quick reactions and innovations to technological and social trends. In addition to consumer reviews, blogs, groups and other social components are becoming part of the wider purchase experience. They are used in the purchase decision process. In a time when consumer trust is low you can improve transparency and trustworthiness by embracing the consumer generated sources. It works for CitizenM, why not you?
The best thing about it all is that all your competitor interactions are as easily obtained as your own. You can see where you stand up in the marketplace.
I may be wrong in thinking that many brands don't use consumer reviews to their advantage but when I talk to brands they skirt across the consumer review issue, concentrating on the content they produce. Please feel free to let me know if I'm wrong.