How to turn user reviews into an asset for your business

In many cases, the first time your customers hear about your brand will be from someone else. The rise of online channels, from Facebook to Amazon and everything in between, has turned the traditional customer purchasing journey on its head. And in many contexts, widened the top of the marketing funnel.

In today’s connected era, consumers rarely take a brand they don’t know for its word because they don’t need to. Instead, we scour the internet for reviews and testimonials that recount customer experiences and then search for the best offers. Recent statistics indicate that a vast 92 per cent of consumers now read online reviews and when those don’t come into play, they rely on friends, family or other influencers for product recommendations and experiences, rather than responding directly to marketing campaigns from brands.

Whether they like it or not, as brands grow, a plethora of good (and bad) reviews will begin to appear. But how can you use this user-generated content to promote your products and drive sales?

Step one: gauge the conversation

Before you start using reviews and other user-generated content for your marketing efforts, ensure you provide a space where people can openly talk about your brand and signpost other popular channels available. It’s important to permit transparency around sentiment as this will confirm the authenticity of those comments, while censoring bad reviews will actually destroy trust and credibility.

Pooling reviews to build volume is also recommended since this promotes the feeling of ‘safety in numbers.’

With that in mind, ensure you regularly monitor the reviews customers submit via your website and other channels, in order not only to grow the number, but also present a balanced selection.

Step two: use reviews to improve your customer service

When it comes to online shopping, consumers aren’t just looking for reviews about product quality — they’re also looking for cues to help them order the right size, colour, volume and so on, first time. Make it easy for them to find and read reviews, so they can order correctly and avoid the disappointment of having to return items. A great way of doing this is to include a cumulative reviews score. This provides anyone browsing with a quick snapshot of what other customers that bought the very same product thought.

Reviews can also help brands resolve issues as soon as they appear. By identifying reviews from dissatisfied customers when they happen, brands can rectify the situation as quickly as possible to protect their brand in the long run. According to one study 95 per cent of unhappy customers will return to purchase from a brand when problems are resolved quickly and efficiently, proving that customer experience doesn’t end after a product is dispatched but continues well beyond the purchase.

Step three: find your fans

With influencer marketing expected to be worth between $5 and $10 billion by next year, fans and potential ambassadors of your brand will make themselves known. On social media in particular it’s easy to find a customer who loves your brand, because they’ve likely tagged you in an image.

When you find your supporters, reach out to them, and ask if you can re-use their images, perhaps in exchange for a discount code. And if you don’t find the images you want from social media, why not create a campaign asking customers to post pictures of themselves using your products? You can run a prize contest for customers who submit their content, helping improve the overall user experience of your brand.

Step four: create ambassador-led campaigns

When creating a marketing campaign featuring user-generated content, email is a great place to start. It’s most likely your highest revenue-driving channel, and your richest source of contact information for your customers.

Most marketers will be experienced in creating a segment of contacts who have bought similar products and crafting a purchasing journey that speaks to them. Where user-generated content can help, however, is by providing additional authenticity.

Putting images of customers using your product/service at the heart of your message shows you consider them an ambassador for your brand, and demonstrates to potential customers that your product is trusted and valued by your audience. This approach can then be rolled out across other channels, including social media and display marketing.

Step five: let user-generated content bolster your website

User-generated content can also have a permanent role improving the UX of your website. Where possible on your product pages, add user-generated content that features the product. You can do this by monitoring social media sites to find customers mentioning your brand in their posts. If customers are creating content and tagging your brand in it, why not take advantage and show other consumers? It not only shows that people love your brand, but it also that you love your customers.

 Lastly, while it’s important not to censor, there is every reason to highlight particularly glowing testimonials. Showing the reviews in full amplifies the voices of your customers, and is a great way of further endorsing brand advocacy and encouraging further conversation around your products.

Today, customers are inundated with marketing communications every day.

Finding a way to stand out is becoming increasingly difficult. By making your brand’s content go further – whether generated internally, or by users – you give your brand a unique advantage. Not only does this give customers a great experience, but it will also put you top of mind for purchases in the future.

Grant Coleman is the VP and market director, UK, SC and MEA for marketing automation firm Emarsys