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GUEST COMMENT Mobilising your advocate army

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by Michael Patterson

In all corners of the globe and across industries of all types – from packaged goods, fashion and travel to consumer electronics, financial services and automotive – research consistently shows that word of mouth content holds enormous influence over consumer purchase decisions. Yet, even as companies increasingly open up their websites and other owned media channels to solicit and share customer feedback, some marketers still struggle with how to tap into the power of consumer engagement programmes.

Like any tool, the effectiveness of online word of mouth content such as ratings and reviews depends on the skill with which it is managed. Consumer engagement programmes can’t be treated with a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality — value can only be achieved when they are nurtured, monitored and promoted.

Encouraging the conversation

Before you can reap a rich harvest of consumer-provided content, you need to understand what motivates someone to put their fingers to the keys and share their thoughts. Our research has found that the most frequent driver is a desire to reward a company for good service or an excellent product, or, conversely, to share dissatisfaction.

Even in these circumstances, where consumers are pre-disposed (if not eager) to share feedback, survey data from Forrester Research shows that “consumers are often in doubt about the impact of their responses.” (1) With this in mind, it’s clear that building a strong advocacy programme requires providing something in return for your customers’ efforts.

Building the volume of content

Implicit in these two indicators of consumer behaviour is the realisation that, by sharing their perspectives, consumers are either providing information they believe will be useful for others’ purchase decisions or they are looking for a sign that the business cares about their experience. Three mechanisms directly respond to this desire for interaction, as well as facilitate and amplify the conversation with customers about your products or services.

A rating and review platform can not only give consumers the ability to rate and share their opinions about the products or services they buy, but offer the ability to respond to and resolve any issues that may rise to the surface. Similarly, question and answer forums provide a mechanism to address questions about a product—a sure way to provide a value-added service that improves the customer’s shopping experience. Third, enabling users to post stories about their real-life experiences can both highlight your products’ benefits and promote an emotional connection with existing and potential customers.

The information in each of these types of content is invaluable – not only can it provide a real time indicator of customer opinion, it can also help build a deep understanding of which aspects of your products and services appeal to, or annoy, the average customer. Using these strategies, Argos has built up a stock of over one and half million reviews, which the company is using to help refine and improve its product range.

Similarly, Aviva, the UK’s largest insurer, responds directly to every customer review that gives them a score of 3.5 or less in a move to improve its service and customer satisfaction levels.

Connecting wherever your customers want to be social

A hallmark of a truly ‘social business’ is the way it keeps regular contact with its most prolific advocates. It’s one thing to engage your customers on your own website, Facebook page or other owned media channel but, today, consumers interact with brands on retailer sites, via search engines, on mobile devices and in brick-and-mortar stores. Enabling user-generated content at all of these points is where the relationship between your social engagement programme and commerce is most effective and powerful.

Among many organisations that have built dedicated programmes to tap into the views of their customer communities is Dell. The computer giant has one of the most active social communities whose members enjoy an inside track on upcoming developments, and can be invited to pre-test new products and share their views in advance of production. One of the company’s notebooks, for example, has 20 features that engineering changed from one generation of the product to the next based on customer feedback. Customer-driven changes cover the spectrum from thermal improvements, to ergonomic alternations, to design enhancements – even in the seemingly smallest considerations, such as where USB entry ports are placed compared to other ports.

This kind of involvement offers companies a unique opportunity to tap into a wellspring of goodwill and make sure that products perform at their best. It’s also a great way of building and encouraging advocates.

Two-way street

Embracing word of mouth content puts customers directly in touch with the business, and gives the opportunity to build deep and loyal relationships through the way that feedback is handled and encouraged.

And not only can marketers find ways to connect with, and utilise opinions of their advocates, companies such as Argos, Dell, Aviva and many others have found, it is one that can give a massive competitive edge.

(1) Consumers reviews and ratings: how much are they worth? Forrester Research, October 2011

Michael Patterson is Vice President Enterprise Sales EMEA at Bazaarvoice

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