The rise of the online review is one of the more transformative shifts in marketing. Giving or reading feedback on just about any brand (personal or corporate) is only a smartphone touch away. Brand communication is increasingly coming from sources other than the brand.
Reputation management is now a fundamental part of brand management. Gone is the bait-and-switch school of marketing. Marketers have to deliver what we promise, or we get called on it, immediately and permanently.
Eight in ten consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, according to a recent study from BrightLocal. Another study from eMarketer said that consumer reviews are 12 times more trusted than descriptions that come from manufacturers.
A few years ago, Crayola launched Crayola Colored Bubbles. Before online reviews came along, consumers would have been swayed by the Crayola brand, the fun ads, and the marketing pitch: “Put on your play clothes and fill the great outdoors with amazing bubbles in awesome Crayola colors! Blow ’em, chase ’em, catch ’em and pop ’em for imaginative and active outdoor play.”
From those criteria, the product sounds like a hit. Nowadays, though, one click to Amazon shows that over 90% of reviewers gave the product only one star (and the higher reviews seem like they were written by the brand). Crayola Colored Bubbles is one of the worst-reviewed products on the entire Amazon site.
Contrast the marketing message with some of these representative comments from consumers:
“YOU MIGHT AS WELL GRAFFITI YOUR KIDS AND EVERYTHING YOU VALUE WITH PERMANENT DYE. The Crayola people who allowed this monstrosity on the market should be FIRED. The few 5-star reviews are sickeningly obvious CRAYOLA COMPANY REPS trying to save face. What an even bigger insult! SHAME ON YOU, CRAYOLA…”
“This is probably the worst Crayola product I have ever purchased. The bubbles are little more than Crayola paint with a tiny bit of soap in it. The bubbles don’t even float, they drop like rocks…”
“If I could give zero stars that would be better. As others have stated, these bubbles DO NOT WASH OUT! They are thick and messy and have completely ruined my driveway and clothes. Also it rubbed off on to my light colored couch from my children’s clothes and and my poor dog has blue spots all over him as well. WORST BUY EVER!”
“These bubbles are HORRIBLE! Shame on you Crayola! I trusted your brand, and you let me down! My son’s clothes and shoes were dyed green. It took me 3 days to wash the green bubbles off the concrete. I should have known not to buy these when the warning said: Do not use at a wedding!!!”
Marketing can no longer cloak a bad product. Online reviews narrow the gap between what marketers promise and what the brand delivers. Ultimately, they keep brands honest. Brands like Crayola can ignore online reviews at their peril.
I’d love to hear your stories about reputation management.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)
8 CommentsJoin the Discussion
Tim Latham says
As ever a great post.
I’m sometimes asked by clients how they can “deal with” negative online comments. The answer is of course blindingly obvious if a little lacking in sugar coating – “fix the product or service so people think it is great, maybe even if that means diverting some money from marketing to customer service or product development”.
Josh Bob says
Although this is only tangentially related, I’ve been wondering about the feasibility of “Confirmed (Verified) Reviews” for products and businesses. This is from a post that I wrote recently:
From Facebook and Twitter to Yelp and TripAdvisor, peer marketing and social influence have quickly become a primary way for people to make decisions. Restaurant recommendations, product choices, places to work – even university and healthcare options are often vetted through friends and neighbors. This system, however, is flawed – it relies on the premise that everyone who posts about a business has purchased something from that business.
With available purchase data, companies could now offer “Confirmed Reviews” for consumer recommendations on social sites. With a simple API call, businesses would be able to confirm that a consumer has actually made a purchase from a particular business – allowing the review site to add a “Confirmed Review” logo to consumer reviews about stores, restaurants, service providers that they have actually patronized. This information could even be as granular as specific items, provide a guaranteed confirmation that the person who says that they ate somewhere – or something – has actually done so.
Sites that post reviews – Facebook, Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor – would pay for the right to show that a reviewer actually spent money at that business, and could then increase the weight given to those reviews. Taking this a step further, individual businesses could pay for the ability to access and/or message customers who post Confirmed Reviews – perhaps to present them with an offer to return at another time, or to bring a friend. For example, a customer who visits a restaurant on a busy Saturday night is valuable, but one that visits on a slow Tuesday is that much more worthwhile. This system would help attract more of those customers.
Excellent post. I think it’s fantastic that online reviews have really shifted the power balance. The final say on a product now lies in the consumer group – and that’s how it should be.
Online research is now a natural prerequisite for most purchases now. We know that people do this for high-value purchases before they go into a shop. But what about low value purchases – in say beauty products specifically? I can’t be the only one wandering around department stores or pharmacies searching reviews. Seeking out the best Wifi spot in Superdrug is really quite embarrassing. I think the shops that choose to integrate consumer reviews into their shopper marketing plans through – for example – a few central hubs in-store will do really well. Shoppers will purchase items they know they’ll like – which makes them more likely to return.
Stacia Rubinovich says
Thought-provoking article and comments. While I applaud the intentions of the “verified comment” idea, it will not weed out unscrupulous marketers lauding their products (particularly low-priced products), nor equally unscrupulous competitors wanting to trash it – all it takes is a single purchase.
I do like the idea of unhappy (or very satisfied) consumers being able to add a “contact me” request to their reviews, inviting the two-way communication. However, brands need to be careful not to be seen as “rewarding” bad reviews, or they may find themselves inundated with negative comments from consumers wanting a deep discount on their next purchase.
BTW, is today’s cartoon missing a caption?
Katherine Kotaw says
The folks at Crayola must be living in a bubble if they don’t feel the need to respond to such overwhelming criticism of a product. Just like the permanent dye in the Crayola Colored bubbles, the negative reviews aren’t going away. But brands, big and small, cling on to the belief that they control public opinion.
The online review system is less than perfect, however, and it should be pointed out that negative reviews sometimes get more weight than they deserve. The Los Angeles Times has, for example, called out Yelp for favoring poor reviews (and offering companies a way to “fix” the bad publicity with paid Yelp ads.) My personal experience with Yelp (favorable reviews that were never published) makes me less likely to trust reviews from their site (I might have purchased those Crayola bubbles if I’d read the negative reviews on Yelp instead of Amazon.)
Any company caught trying to game the review system will eventually get caught (Crayola) red-handed.
Jess Hutton says
I’ve always been surprised by Comcast’s approach to reputation management. They were so terrible for so long that no one responds positively when you mention. So instead of improving their service, they sent a bunch of people to Twitter to troll mentions of Comcast fails. These people were given ultimate power to move mountains for anyone who took to social media to complain about their service.
I’ve tried it myself and been shocked at the difference between customer service on the phone (which is the only way to order their service) and the customer service on social media. They don’t seem to realize the root of the problem is their TV/internet services and costs, not their reps or their social presence.
To prove Tom`s point, may I present Exhibit “A”:
Just read the post from the 12 year old on August 16, 2013 and then see how “he” was called-out in the comments of the post.
Let this be a lesson to fake reviewers: Not all 12 year olds have perfect grammer and know proper use of punctuation.
great cartoon, No text required 🙂 I’ve sat in a board room that was full of faces like this before. The positive reviews on Amazon stand out as written by someone in the marketing department.
It strikes me as a great chance to rework the product and to a ‘sorry, but dont worry, we figured it out’ style campaign rather than writing fake reviews. Seth Godin talks of a restaurant in the US that placed its 1 star reviews on the t-shirts of its staff, the customers got the joke and it allowed them to own the problem.
‘Sorry’ is a hard word to say ad a human, its even harder for a board room os suits to agree thats the right thing to do. It makes it all the more valuable when its pulled off