Managing the New Word of Mouth

There was a point, when only big-ticket items like cars, homes or expensive electronics received pre-purchasing attention. Today, people engage in discovery before purchasing just about everything. 'Let me search for it online' has taken precedence to 'let me ask a friend.'

All these crossed categories of shopping behavior mean that consumers are exposed to different elements of a brand much earlier in the purchasing cycle. So, as a marketer, how do you accommodate for this? How do you successfully deliver 'your' message, even when so many other channels are telling potential customers what they should think about your brand in advance?

Consumer (Created) Guides

As a marketing professional you must first understand that there are no barriers to access. Today's shoppers carry access in their pockets with smartphones, laptops and tablets. 

As such, consumers are creating their own consumer guides with reviews, tweets, blogs, social network post and videos for products of all kinds - including yours. As marketers, this has created a new thought process and an entirely different conversation we must learn to manage. Don't believe this? Open up a new window tab and type the name of your company's flagship product or any product you like. Hopefully, you rank near the top. Now add the word reviews. You will see ratings and opinion sites, online stores, images, coupons, demonstration video, social network pages and even competitor sites. 

Were you able to even find your product? If you found it, were you happy with what you saw? Based on what you saw, will somebody buy your product? This is where brands win or lose customers; this is where engagement and truly being present is most important. You can't be afraid or ignore the skeletons in your closet if you put them there.

It's Not the Review, its How You Handle It

Shopper Sciences partnered with Google, in 2011, to produce a study, which came to the conclusion that an average of 10.4 new media or traditional sources were being utilized in research by consumers before a purchase was made. This number represents two times the sources used just the year before and spread through both the B2C and B2B spectrum. Word of mouth has spread into the digital medium through these sources, so instead of being one-on-one interactions; it's now one-to-millions. Thus, anxiety about online ratings and reviews is understandable- especially when it comes to opening up your own site for user comments (in an effort to drive deeper levels of engagement). What if somebody says something negative? What if a whole lot of people do?

My response is usually to take a deep breath and relax. Most word of mouth is positive. According to Bazaarvoice, 80 percent of product ratings are 4 or 5 stars out of 5. Additionally, reviews on the site of a given retailer are typically written by the top 20 percent of their customers (by lifetime value). Negative reviews and how your brand deals with them add authenticity and truthfulness. If the product you're marketing is truly a good one you shouldn't fear the occasional negative comment. 

Whether it's on a medium you control or a number of other channels that consumers utilize, it will happen regardless. However, even negative reviews present you with an opportunity to make things right with the consumer. Ideally, you'll have created a plan in advance for negative comments and others will also be able to see that, as a brand, you at least made an attempt to resolve the issue. One plan could be to take things offline. Ask the user who left a negative comment to email you to discuss the situation. You may very well still lose the customer that posted the negative review, but by choosing not to engage negatively, you haven't turned off potential buyers. 

About the Author: Bryan Young is CEO of BEC, an award-winning digital agency that teaches brands to be more knowledgeable of the social ecosystem around them.