Content Marketing

“You can’t handle the truth!” Why bad reviews may be good advice…

By September 17, 2014 No Comments
Image showing that bad reviews can be a good thing

We speak on this blog a lot about how the trust you have in a brand is amplified by good, quality content. It’s the essence of content marketing – content that speaks to customers directly and addresses their specific pain points. But what about where seemingly ‘quality’ content can work against you? Southerly’s newest writer Luke Metcalfe comes from a copywriting world of online retail and consumer reviews, where positive content oddly serves to erode the trust in your brand. 

These days, product reviews go a long way in determining buying habits. A study by Econsultancy for example revealed that 61% of UK customers now read online reviews before making a purchase decision. Be it boutique hotel or half-price bog brush, web-purchases are more informed than they used to be. Take the world of online retail: there often comes a time in a person’s life when a regular toothbrush just won’t cut it anymore. Tired of the same old regulation-style brushing? Ready to spice up your life irreversibly? Ladies and gentlemen, a five-speed function (LED) toothbrush is just a few mouse-clicks away.

Speaking from experience – a copywriting job spent breathing life into such a product can be both fun and infuriating in equal measure. Household items of every kind require a description. Luminous juggling balls? Deluxe goldfish bowl accessories? Tan-enhancing vitamins? Nothing escapes a one-paragraph description. The search-friendly description was then married with the correct image, categorised and uploaded onto the site. Weekly blogs were established to generate product-specific content. Email marketing campaigns encouraged repeat customers. So far, so normal. When reading customer reviews, however, alarm bells began to ring. Every score rating was perfect, with unrealistically gushing reviews to boot.  The first few read something like below:

John, Herts: “The 5 speed LED toothbrush is an absolute knock out. Best buy ever. Would recommend!”

Fair enough. But this didn’t change. Over a hundred reviews in and still not one unhappy buyer.

PinkStarGuitar69: “Can’t believe I lived without these juggling balls for so long! Best buy ever. Would recommend!”

And on they went, with no sign of a negative review. This is both weird, and, quite frankly, disconcerting.

Rave Reviews

It may seem obvious – consumers inherently mistrust a retailer that tries to pull the wool over their eyes. Building their trust is essential. In the nitty-gritty of e-commerce, allowing customers to air their honest opinion of a product is vital to establishing this trust. Whether it’s the travel, food or FMCG industry – online buying habits are largely shaped by others’ experiences.

Customer reviews should be democratic. Publishing negative product reviews (as well as glowing ones) boosts transparency and encourages shoppers that they’re buying from a retailer that values their opinions.  Indeed, consumers expect to see unfavourable reviews. Buyers tend to have faith in the quality of a product (perceptions only change when negative reviews constitute over 30%).

Complaints and Compliments

Customers will be able to distinguish between a dissatisfied customer and a blatant troll. Faith in online reviews is growing, too. A whopping 79% of shoppers now trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (BrightLocal 2013 survey). Buyers should be entitled to their true experiences of a product and online shopping increasingly depends on this. Some companies may find a warts and all policy on reviews tough to accept. Once this decision is made however, it’s really a case of trusting the shopper.

As with managing comments on social media, being honest and open helps create a more fluid dynamic. Abraham Lincoln may not have experienced late-night impulse buys online, but his famous quote still applies to editing customer reviews: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time. “ Trust your customers and they will trust you. With reviews, honesty is always the best policy.


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