More than 90% of consumers report that a word-of-mouth recommendation is the top reason they buy a product or service, according to Nielsen. It’s partly why Angie’s List, an online aggregator of consumer reviews, now has a market cap near $US1 billion — because consumers want and use reviews they can trust.
That’s the central theme of digital marketer Paul Rand’s new book “Highly Recommended: Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business.” In it, he argues that the number-one thing that drives business today is recommendations. To win, he says every business, from the corner dry cleaner to a major corporation, should strive to become the most highly recommended brand in its category.
“We’ve seen the impact of social media, and every brand has gotten the foundational things in place,” says Rand, the founder and CEO of Zocalo Group, a division of Omnicom. “As that impact increases, businesses are asking what’s next.”
Here are Rand’s top five strategies for harnessing the power of social media and online recommendations to grow your business.
Make sure your energy and focus goes into the aspects of your business that you want to be known and recommended for. “Social media has allowed recommendations to go on steroids,” Rand says. It’s important to constantly monitor what’s being said about your brand and position it to be talked about in the focused way that you want. A yogurt maker, for example, might strive not only to be known as healthy, but as the best yogurt for digestive health. Then all social media interactions need to be focused on that message of its digestive benefits. What’s more, Rand advises that business owners use the 90/10 rule: Spend 90% of your time sharing relevant information and engaging with people interested in your category and 10% of your time actively sharing your brand message.
Every customer is now a reviewer — treat them like one. If there are three or more negative reviews of a product, 70% of people won’t buy it, Rand says. That makes being responsive and engaging with customers one-on-one more important than ever. Social media allows brands to do this more efficiently and in real time, he says. For instance, Procter & Gamble has reshaped its marketing model to have a one-on-one relationship with customers. In the beginning of 2012, it slashed its marketing budget by billions and moved away from traditional TV and print advertising to digital marketing, where it now focuses on prompt responses on social media, asking questions to spark dialogue, and seeking customer feedback.
Some of the best product innovations will be suggested by your customers. Soliciting feedback and listening to customers can spur new ideas you would have never considered, Rand says. Brands and customers can now work together to be co-creators of products that serve the customer best. Kraft did this with its 100-calorie snack packs, he says, which came out of online focus groups. And Clorox has a website called CloroxConnects, where it asks people how to make their products better and share ideas for new ones. Here, redheadgrandma6 is perhaps the most prolific, offering surprisingly creative and smart ideas. By crowdsourcing innovation, “you get great insight in the beginning, and when the product comes out, it ends up becoming more accepted,” he says.
Be human, transparent, and live up to mistakes quickly. An unhappy customer is equally as likely, or perhaps even more likely, to talk about their experience as a satisfied one, says Rand. “When you screw up, you better own it,” he says. “Otherwise it will fester.” It used to be that brands pushed out information and heard very little back, but now that they get instant feedback, they have to respond quickly and in the right way. AT&T got blowback last month when it posted a message on Twitter tied to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, with many users complaining that it was capitalising on a tragedy. The tweet was taken down in an hour, and the next day the CEO personally apologized.
Structure and manage your organisation to be recommendable from the ground up. Customers aren’t a company’s only constituency. Today, employees, suppliers, vendors, and investors can all see what’s being said about you online, which influences their decision to do business with you. For instance, gaming companies such as EA Sports and Activision hinge on talented developers and programmers, Rand says. But if potential recruits checked out employee reviews on Glassdoor.com and discovered that many hated working there, they might think twice about signing on. He advises building the organisation, from human resources to operations, in a way that will make it highly recommended.
“Be purposeful about your brand,” says Rand. “Recommendations are as important as your reputation.”
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