Old-school marketing for small and mid-size businesses used to favor simple tactics like coupons and print advertisements, but several factors have caused a major shift in how companies hold onto their customers and get new ones.
The buying public has become empowered. Consumers have far more knowledge at hand than ever before, and they have the tools available to make informed decisions.
As a result, merchants can no longer rely on simple sell messages and flashy ad campaigns, and buyers pay less attention to memorable jingles and more to hard data, unbiased reviews, and easy Internet searches.
Related Article: Easy Ways to Get Happy Customer to Write Online Reviews
The Power of the Crowd
One of the most powerful tools that consumers have at their disposal is that of the crowd.
Buyers don’t just ask their friends and neighbors, they ask total strangers.
The power of the crowd is not lost on marketers today, but harnessing that power continues to be a challenge.
Even with an office full of Millennials that were born with a smartphone in their hands, companies still struggle to figure out precisely how to move the social needle.
The low-hanging fruit and obvious tactics include dedicating one of those Millennials to writing Tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn Pulse articles, and managing the dozen or so other social media platforms that might be relevant, in the hopes that something goes viral.
A largely discredited tactic is to simply buy social media followers, which usually turns out to be tens of thousands of followers from another country who will never buy what you are selling.
Every business guru recommends harnessing the power of the crowd, but where they miss the mark is to imply that the crowd is a discrete entity that already exists, and which you simply need to access.
In fact, there is no “crowd” out there, ready to sing the praises of your products. You have to make your own crowd.
What Does the Crowd Say About You?
Spontaneous discussion about your goods and services that pop up on social media can be a wonderful opportunity, but for many companies, this doesn’t just happen.
You can encourage this discussion on your own social platforms, but a tactic that has gained in popularity is to leverage online review sites, which tend to have a little more permanence than a social posting, and depending on the review platform, carries more authority.
Getting your company reviewed on one of these sites isn’t always easy.
Many require a large purchase of advertising or hefty up-front fees, and many more are nothing more than lightly-trafficked affiliate marketing sites that send commissions back to the site operator.
Related Article: From Zero to Five Stars: Online Reputation Management 101
Finding legitimate review sites takes some due diligence.
“Consumers are much more likely to base their buying decisions on reviews and social input,” said Jeev Trika, CEO of CrowdReviews.com, a crowd-driven platform for reviewing and ranking companies across multiple categories.
“But consumers have a low tolerance for trickery, and they can spot a phony review a mile away.”
Sites like Fiverr are full of kitchen-table writers who will write reviews of products they have never used, and there is certainly a temptation to jump-start the process with a dozen or so fakes, but this tactic seldom bears fruit, and can come back to haunt you.
CrowdReviews makes its ranking algorithm public, you can find it right on the website, and anonymous reviews are discouraged and receive less weight.
“This prevents the incidence of review spam,” said Trika.
By the same token, those quick and meaningless “Great product” two-word reviews are de-emphasized, as average review length also plays a major role in CrowdReviews’ ranking algorithm.
Getting your company on CrowdReviews takes a little more work than other review sites, and you have to go through a verification process.
“It’s an extra step, but it’s one that provides reassurance to consumers that the companies listed, and the reviews themselves, are legitimate,” added Trika.
The First Is Always the Hardest
Getting that first review is probably harder than getting the next hundred reviews. The quick-and-dirty approach of buying reviews, and getting placed on affiliate-driven SEO review sites, frankly doesn’t work, and being reviewed on a spammy site is likely to harm your brand, regardless of how good the review may be.
Consumers don’t just want to see reviews, they want to see real reviews, on legitimate, consumer-friendly websites.
“Reviews can be a positive part of a company’s marketing mix, but if you really want to be a leader, you have to take the time to make sure you’re getting the real thing,” said Trika.
Real reviewers aren’t paid, but the good news is that you don’t have to resort to anonymous reviews to prime the pump.
“The best way to get started is just to ask. Find your best customers, give them the link, and simply ask them to share their experiences. You’ll be surprised how many people will do so.”
Trika also recommends combining the review site with social media.
Related Article: 8 Steps to Getting $8,000 Out of Your Free Yelp Listing
“Savvy marketers track mentions on social media platforms and actively participate,” he says. “When somebody takes the time to spontaneously say something good about you on Facebook or Twitter, then take a moment to respond, thank them for their comments, and invite them to write a full review.”
A sound marketing strategy builds on the power of the crowd, and part of building that crowd is encouraging real users to write legitimate, meaningful reviews.
Madison Avenue’s best and most expensively produced commercials may be the talk of the Super Bowl, but you haven’t really won until you’re the talk of the crowd.