CES Speaker Reveals Surprising Impact of Product and Service Reviews

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Most experts have always recommended taking your best product or service reviews and putting them prominently on your website or on social media where potential customers can see them—and perhaps hiding those reviews that aren't as all-in. Apparently, you might want to change this strategy.

Data analysis across 40 product categories looked at the impact of reading reviews on purchases. And Northwestern University's Spiegel Research Center and PowerReviews found that product purchases were most influenced by reviews with an average star rating between 4.2 and 4.5 (on a 5-star system), wrote Tom Collinger, executive director of the center, on TechCrunch last year.

The Spiegel Research Center researches the financial impact of customer and client engagement behaviors that influence financial results. Collinger will be speaking with Jonathan Copulsky, former CMO and global insights leader, Deloitte Consulting, at the upcoming Connectiv Executive Summit, May 3-4 in Chicago. 

In fact, products with five-star ratings were less influential, probably "due to today's skeptical consumers' 'too good to be true' sensibilities," Collinger wrote. "Having a few less-than-perfect reviews decreases a product's average star rating, but [increases transparency] and grows the business more. Why are five-star reviews too good to be true? We think it's authenticity. There's a healthy cynic in us all. We know nothing is perfect. So when [someone] sees only five-star reviews, they smell something fishy, something that causes their BS meter to go off."

It makes sense. With all the fake news out there, perfect reviews can bring on skepticism. A mix of good and bad reviews might work best, Collinger suggested. That would show you're willing to be up front, like a magazine that publishes good and bad "letters" from its readers. Or a travel site that shares some not-so-great resort reviews with the best ones.

"In fact, some shoppers might go so far as to ignore brands or products with only five-star reviews and look for a more genuine alternative," Collinger wrote.

He made these recommendations:

  • List varied reviews and rank as "most helpful." "Include several options for current and potential customers to find the information they seek; customers are always receptive to a more personalized experience." And helpfulness can come in many forms.
  • Look closely at the content of the comment or review. Maybe it wasn't right for that customer but would be just right for someone else. This could help your selling.
  • Respond to comments or reviews that aren't wonderful and make changes when needed. Customers look for negative feedback, Collinger wrote—maybe for the same reason why rubber-necking causes traffic tie-ups. "...To make reviews matter most, it's important to encourage all reviews, avoid hiding negative ones, offer customers the opportunity to expand on their reviews and act on customer reviews based on specific feedback." Customers want you to "listen, respond and, per our research, stay authentic."

That reminds me of what Aaron Kahlow, founder of Online Marketing Institute and more recently Mindful Order of Being, told us. Asked what the publishing landscape may look like in, say, 2020, he responded: "The hot topics will be a lot more focused on trust and authenticity than they are now. So gear up for gathering and engaging influencers and advocates that truly are passionate about your content and products."

Now we might temper that with "not too passionate." But it's still important to try to get those comments and reviews. Surveys after events are always a good way. You can also incentivize your best—and now not quite your best—customers to do it.

"Just remember," Kahlow added, "folks trust recommendations and reviews from friends or connections over almost all other means, except maybe the word of mouth from a close friend or family member. Research has shown this time and time again."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…