Recently, industry analyst Brian Solis wrote a column that speaks volumes about the importance of customer reviews in a business’s location marketing strategy. In “Empowered Consumers Are Searching for the Best and Worst Brands Before They Buy,” he noted that:
- According to Google, mobile searches that include “best” have grown by more than 80 percent in the past two years.
- Searches ending with “to avoid” have grown 1.5 times in the same span.
- Searches for “worst” are also on the rise.
- “Is ____ worth it” mobile searches grew by more than 80 percent.
Solis believes the increase in these kinds of searches indicates that consumers trust brands less and trust each other more. In addition, the proliferation of more powerful mobile phones makes mobile consumers better equipped to do in-depth research on the fly in their social networks and the channels they trust.
Whether consumer trust in brands is eroding is an interesting question. According to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, consumers do indeed trust brands less.
But we also know that word of mouth has always been important to consumers regardless of industry, even at times when levels of trust are high. What’s changed is that a critical mass of social applications such as Google, Facebook, Swarm and Yelp have caused consumer reviews to explode in popularity. Consider:
- 97 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2017, with 12 percent looking for a local business online every day. And 73 percent of consumers say positive reviews make them trust a business more.
- 65 percent of automobile shoppers write reviews when they are satisfied with the car they bought, and one out of five use reviews to seek out salespeople.
- 62 percent of patients looking for new doctors use online reviews.
Brands, your mandate is clear: Customer reviews are integral to building trust, and the more reviews there are circulating, the better for your brand. Even bad reviews can help you because they give you an opportunity to be responsive and empathetic to your customers. The key to winning with reviews is to manage them like precious assets. For example:
- Assign someone on your team the job of managing reviews all year round. Make an improvement in customer reviews part of their job performance.
- Create a systematic way to publish customer reviews on your own location pages. The tools vary by industry. They usually help you automate the process of soliciting, reviewing and publishing reviews. Some of them even provide apps to make it possible for your salespeople to take photographs of happy customers in the store and publish them with the customer’s permission.
- Ask for reviews. For example, badge your location with signage that encourages customers to review your site, and ask them personally to provide feedback online. Doing so demonstrates that you trust your business to provide a great experience and that you trust your customers to provide useful reviews. Generally speaking, the more reviews that exist about your business in the digital world, the more credible they are. Think about it: Are you more likely to trust ratings built on 10 reviews or 200?
- Monitor reviews and respond to them, both negative and positive. Being responsive builds trust so long as your responses are tactful and professional.
- Don’t watch passively as consumers post reviews about your business. Become an active participant in the process.
Jay Hawkinson is a digital marketing professional with 20 years of sales, marketing and merchandising experience including organic search optimization, paid search advertising, local search, mobile and social media. Jay joined SIM Partners in 2006 as an equity partner and currently oversees mobile, social media and emerging technology as senior vice president of client success.