Agency: Adam & Eve
marketingmagazine.co.uk, Wednesday, 09 November 2011 12:00AM
As Oscar Wilde once observed, 'there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about - and that is not being talked about'.
Such sites are clearly a danger if your brand either habitually delivers poor products or services, or you suffer from the corporate hubris that prevents you from acknowledging errors.
In a sense, little has changed - technology has just speeded things up. Word of mouth was always key, and those marketers who relied simply on shouting louder than their competitors were always found out eventually.
In the online era, the chance to aggregate negative feedback, whether via sites such as TripAdvisor or tools such as Epic Fail, has accelerated the speed at which consumer sentiment can destroy or, indeed, magnify a brand.
Good brands distinguish themselves by dealing with complaints well, seeing them as an opportunity to engage with customers and show humility.
These sites are a shop window for such behaviour. Ignore feedback or take legal action, and customers will think that you have something to hide.
Social media has revolutionised consumer interaction and engagement with brands.
Many brands invest heavily in activity that encourages consumer participation, with the specific objective of strengthening relationships and building equity.
Product reviews play a role in this engagement and reflect the increasing power of consumers in influencing others in the purchase cycle.
Marketers shouldn't be afraid of review sites, but must embrace them, using the feedback they provide to improve their offering. An online reputation-management strategy is vital to deal with the breadth of feedback.
Everyone's experience is different - 'one man's heaven is another man's hell' - but it's vital that review sites exist, to share a range of independent views.
The recent issue with TripAdvisor highlights the need for an independent body to authenticate online reviews. This would offer consumers the peace of mind they need to make an informed decision, which at the end of the day has to be the primary objective.
If you have a strong product or service, review sites cannot pose a threat. By their nature, these forums reflect consumer experience. If they do jeopardise marketing, it is due to a disconnection between the two, meaning the product has greater issues.
In any case, it is the reality of today's society, so it is important to embrace. Review sites offer unprecedented advantages to the industry. Marketers are now able to listen in to consumers in an unforced environment, providing a rich (and free) source of feedback. Care must be taken if, and when, brands choose to respond, but this is just a case of good judgement. The key is to be open and prepared for conversation.
The reviews market will continue to fragment. Forums such as Which? and Mr & Mrs Smith provide expert peer reviews at the one end, and TripAdvisor open-forum reviews at the other.
Amazon's 'Top 50 Reviewer', an open forum of trusted peer reviewers, selected and rated by the public, is interesting. 'Trusted' general opinion is what consumers seek, and is where marketers should focus their efforts.
Online reviews are an immediate and rich, if sometimes exasperating, source of consumer insight. They should be required daily reading for marketers, and others in the organisation. The challenge for marketers is to analyse and aggregate the mass of anecdotal comment to identify meaningful trends; to skilfully and positively respond to individual comments where needed; and above all invest in the prevention of identified problems.
Any attempts to manipulate negative reviews are doomed to fail. Consumers can distinguish between the genuine, rigged and plain deranged. Having seen the reviews in question, in my view the owners would be better off improving the hotel than fighting legal battles.
I have some sympathy with TripAdvisor. Its reputation relies on doing everything it reasonably can to filter out blatant abuses. Whether its intervention in this case was justified will set an interesting precedent for the review site industry.
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This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk