Guest commentary: Companies should pay attention to online reviews all the time

Link to story in Boston Business Journal.

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By Micah Donahue, principal, contact strategy director at Mechanica.

The influence online consumer reviews have on brands and product selection appears to be unstoppable. Important throughout the year but more so during the holiday gift buying season, online reviews from real customers can be the difference between a company making its number – or not. This holiday season was no different.

Two-thirds of consumers who responded to a survey by Influence Central say they are more likely to purchase a product if it receives a high star rating in e-commerce reviews. Ninety percent of consumers in the survey say that an online review is more important than input from a salesperson. And, according to a Social Trends Report from Bazaarvoice, Millennials – not surprisingly — are even more likely to rely on reviews. Eighty-four percent of them say consumer-written content on brand sites influences what they buy.

But it’s not just consumers who are paying attention to what’s being said about products online. As you might imagine, brands and retailers are paying more attention to online reviews today than at any time in recent memory.

It seems that every time someone buys something—from toothpaste to a new TV or a car—–a follow up request from the store or vendor asking for a review is soon to follow. So many consumers take these opportunities seriously enough that brands are hiring linguists to examine online reviews with the hope of finding clues about what goes into a good review, or a bad one.

In addition to helping consumers make their purchasing decisions, these reviews can serve as vital sales tools and brands are weaving them into the overall marketing and sales process. For example, where I work, we’ve been developing social media strategies for clients that are designed to maximize the positive and minimize the negative impact of online reviews. These strategies include researching and responding to questions and negative reviews, and also showing appreciation to those sharing positive feedback.

In this era of instant access to product reviews, keeping a brand well positioned must include being aware of what your customers are saying, even if they aren’t saying it directly to you. If you know what customers are saying, you can address issues head on, often turning an unsatisfied customer into one that speaks highly of your brand and your willingness to go the extra mile to serve the customer needs.

And don’t be afraid of negative reviews; embrace them as a chance to show how a brand values its customers beyond a single purchase. While customers that contact a company via social media are expecting a response, reviewers typically aren’t.

But they do expect a brand to demonstrate that it is in touch with the needs and interests of its customers.

This forms the basis of trust.

As an added bonus, in both positive and negative reviews– there will be nuggets of information (such as suggested improvements) that may be leveraged to increase sales. See this video from Google on the uptick in sales L.L. Bean saw from paying close attention to a consistently five-star reviewed sweater. Reviews have become a powerful force online, so make your response to them a consistent part of your overall digital strategy.

Micah Donahue is principal, contact strategy director at Newburyport-based marketing firm Mechanica. Since joining Mechanica, Donahue has led business initiatives for Fallon Community Health Plan, Saucony, Kronos, PTC and Communispace, and is currently working to launch a new international gaming platform.

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