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What Brands Need To Know About Online Reviews: 5 Questions With NYT Bestselling Author Bill Tancer
Online review expert and author of "Everyone's a Critic" explains why brands need to pay attention to what consumers are saying online.
In 2008, Publishers Weekly said Bill Tancer’s Click – What Millions Do Online and Why It Matters was, “…destined to become a primer for online marketers and usability experts while shedding new light on the mindset and curiosities of the average Web surfer.”
Tancer followed the success of his first publication with a deep dive into world of online reviews for his most recent book Everyone’s a Critic: Winning Customers in a Review-Driven World.
The New York Times bestselling author has been researching consumers behavior patterns for more than a decade.
“During that time, I’ve been immersed in studying how millions of consumers interact with over one million websites,” says Tancer who serves as the general manager of global research for Experian Marketing Services.
According to Tancer, more than 80 percent of consumers check online reviews before making purchase decisions. His research shows that online reviews play an undeniable role in a consumer’s purchasing decisions, and that brands are missing out by not giving the channel more attention, “Failure to understand the channel has led to a huge inefficiency and untapped opportunity.”
“No other social media channel is as influential as online reviews,” says Tancer, “Many brands and business owners are put off by online reviews given that the channel appears to be beyond their control.”
Next month, Tancer will share his extensive knowledge and understanding of consumer behavior at SMX West 2015 as a keynote speaker, offering in-depth insight into the world of Yelp reviews, TripAdvisor posts and more.
Before he takes the stage in San Jose, Tancer was gracious enough to answer our five most pressing questions about online consumer behavior and the importance of customer reviews.
5 Questions with Online Review Expert Bill Tancer
Amy Gesenhues: What do brands fail to understand about online consumer behavior?
Bill Tancer: Generally, that online consumer behavior, if observed and analyzed with rigor, can provide very valuable insights into how consumers make purchase decisions.
To this day, many marketers rely on gut instinct to guide marketing decisions, their chances of launching successful campaigns increases when those decisions are fueled by observed behavioral data.
The biggest mistake most brands make is to not engage with online reviews.
In Everyone’s a Critic, I discuss the latest research in how consumers perceive business responses to both positive and negative online reviews. When considering an appropriate response, an inappropriate response and no response at all to a negative review, study participants ranked no response as the worst for a businesses reputation.
I often tell my clients that their responses to online reviews should mirror how customers are treated in a face-to-face interaction. If a customer came up to you in your store and complained about an experience, ignoring that customer and walking away without responding wouldn’t be perceived well.
Why would business owners act differently when the interaction is online?
By simply analyzing the reviews for their own business and brand and those of their competitive set, many businesses could gain valuable insights into improving their businesses position.
Amy Gesenhues: Speaking of Everyone’s a Critic, you have a chapter titled, “How Reviews, Even Bad Ones, Are Good For You.” Can you expand on how bad reviews can be a good thing for businesses?
Bill Tancer: One of the main reasons businesses ignore reviews is that we have a problem handling criticism. However, as I point out in Everyone’s a Critic, research from NYU indicates that a few bad reviews can actually be good for your business, especially if those negative reviews don’t deal with deal-breakers.
Behind the research, given the volume of fake or sham reviews, a few negative reviews give some credibility to the positive reviews that a business receives.
Amy Gesenhues: In your opinion, which brands get it, and which brands are missing the boat?
Bill Tancer: I think one of the most forward thinking brands in the review space is Sephora.
Sephora has used online reviews as a way to bridge the gap between online and offline. In some of their brick and mortar stores, Sephora provides their customers with touch panels to read online reviews for products.
Recent research indicates that consumers give more weight to online reviews than they do to opinions from sales associates in retail settings. Combining that research with the fact that the mere existence of online reviews on a retailers site have been shown to increase conversion, I believe Sephora’s incorporation of online reviews into offline shopping experience is very smart.
I still have some retail clients that have not incorporated online reviews into their product pages.
When research indicates that the mere presence of those reviews can increase conversion between three to five-percent, not putting those reviews on their site is just throwing money away.
Amy Gesenhues: What do you find most fascinating when it comes to how consumers interact with brands online?
Bill Tancer: I think the motivation that consumers bring to the online review conversation. While writing the book, I had the opportunity to interview several different reviewers, from Yelp Elite to TripAdvisor’s top reviewers to the #1 reviewer on Amazon.com.
What I found fascinating was what compelled these individuals to spend so much time writing reviews. What I found was that motivations vary, from wanting to right a wrong, to wanting to contribute to a community, the desire to reach a status level, or for some the motivation is simply finding a channel to express their creativity.
Most business owners that I talked to are unaware of these varying motivations.
Amy Gesenhues: What significant trends do you see taking shape in how consumers interact with brands online, and how will they impact the way brands do business?
Bill Tancer: While reading reviews has become a ubiquitous online activity, the act of writing reviews, while currently skewed towards specific demographics, will grow over time (primarily fueled by the sharing economy).
This will lead to the growing importance of online reviews and the necessity for better tools for consumers to navigate the space and business owners/brands to leverage.