Nowhere is change more persistent than in modern marketing organizations. However, change is happening at a much faster pace than ever before in the way businesses communicate with customers. The balance of power in branding has shifted — the customer is now in charge.
Gone are the “mad men” days of the 1950s, characterized by a “bullhorn” mentality and in-your-face advertising. Although Net Promoter Score is still an important and meaningful indicator of customer sentiment, it only goes one way. The focus has moved toward relationship-centric marketing, in which brands are engaging in conversations with customers and prospects using all available channels — web, social, mobile and traditional — to create a two-way flow of information.
Consumers are more informed and can investigate products and services on their own. Simply listening to the customer is no longer sufficient. To capitalize on the new dynamic, you have to engage — and you have to manage and influence the conversation.
A New Way to Market
Review sites have literally changed the way brands market. Consumers increasingly rely on their own research to make purchasing decisions, making online reviews and social posts about products and services extremely powerful. In a recent survey of more than 500 women, 91 percent consider an online review more important than input from a salesperson in-store. Only 1 percent say online reviews are not important at all.
Reviews are also changing in-store shopping behavior and decision making. In the same study, nearly 60 percent of respondents said they check online product reviews from their smartphones while shopping in-store.
Furthermore, social networking plays an increasingly critical role in decision making. Facebook dominates when it comes to e-commerce sales generated via social media — 85 percent of social media-driven sales on Shopify stores came through Facebook accounts. And video content on Facebook is one of the highest-converting mediums for companies using social.
In light of these statistics, one thing is clear: you’re co-creating your brand with customers through review sites and social networking. No amount of marketing spend can make up for a suboptimal customer experience propagated online. You can spend millions on the perfect ad strategy, only to be completely derailed by poor ratings on Google or an industry-specific review site. That’s our new reality, and brands must adapt.
Change the Conversation
To the degree you accept this new marketing reality, you’ll either create a virtuous cycle — in which customers become advocates who attract more customers — or get caught in a “doom loop,” where negative opinion creates a brand-damaging downdraft that puts you in a death spiral. Avoiding the latter requires a strategy for managing and influencing the online conversation. Yet with so many sites and so little time, how is that possible?
Online reputation management (ORM) — the discipline of turning customers into online advocates — is helping companies leverage the shift in power to their advantage. With ORM, not only can your team closely monitor what’s being said online, they can respond promptly and effectively. Then you can put the voice of the customer to work, address concerns and make improvements that actually change, and even elevate, consumer opinions and online ratings.
Most ORM platforms offer keyword analysis, which provides insight into what words show up frequently in online reviews. For example, one large healthcare organization was getting bad reviews — but a high number of them centered on a lack of parking at hospital facilities. Keyword analysis revealed the words “parking” and “find a spot” were often-used phrases in the negative reviews. Although it seemed plenty of parking spaces were available, a branching survey through the ORM platform helped isolate the problem: inadequate signage. Once the organization changed the signage, the number of new negative reviews dropped dramatically.
ORM platforms that offer sentiment analysis provide a more in-depth understanding of customer feedback and how you’re performing relative to competitors. Through sentiment analysis, words associated with troublesome keywords are also flagged. For instance, a rental car company may be tracking instances of the word “odor” in reviews. ORM platforms employing sentiment analysis will also find words such as “reeked” or “smoke” and associate them with instances of the word “odor” for a more accurate reflection of the customer experience. Organizations can leverage this data to determine sentiment across multiple locations for greater operational intelligence.
Negative reviews can be damaging, but ORM enables teams to leverage them for a better understanding of the customer experience, and work to address and resolve issues that could otherwise lead to more negative reviews. On the flipside, ORM enables you to share and promote positive reviews and wins, while creating community through social engagement.
Build a Winning ORM Strategy
Used strategically, ORM can help you influence customer sentiment about your brand — and that’s how you take charge of the conversation. Here are a few things to consider when building out your ORM strategy:
- Request reviews to help increase volume, which, in turn, boosts ratings and search rankings for better outcomes. Our research shows a location’s first 10 online reviews can move you from the search engine netherworld to the top half of the first page, and 50 reviews generate a 266 percent improvement in clickthrough rates.
- Respond to all reviews — positive and negative — to manage the conversation happening online about your business. Reputation.com recommends responding to at least 20 percent of positive reviews and 100 percent of negative reviews.
- Business listings must be accurate and consistent if you want customers and prospects to find you — both on the web and on the road.
- Use ORM to stay on top of social so you can actively engage in conversations as they occur.
- Leverage analytics to understand public sentiment about your business, and apply learnings to improve the customer experience.
Choose the Virtuous Cycle
Allowing online reviews to go unmonitored, unchecked and unanswered is no longer an option. To initiate the feedback loop that builds customer advocacy, you must not only pay attention to what people are saying about your organization, you must engage in the conversation. While the internet provides platform, ORM provides the means for you to take control of your brand and the customer’s perception of it. Once information begins flowing both ways, brand becomes a living entity that you can influence though creating meaningful, high-quality customer relationships.
Mark Lange is chief marketing officer at Reputation.com, an online reputation management company.
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