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Consumer Reviews Count

  |  September 10, 2009   |  Comments

Every brand has the most convincing form of advertising available at its disposal. Isn't it time we started using it?

Eco-friendly consumers everywhere were livid last week when it came to light through a letter posted online that beloved reusable bottle maker Sigg hadn't been completely forthcoming about the composition of its bottle liners. Although the brand's CEO claims it never marketed its bottle liners as BPA free, this was certainly the impression consumers were left with about the presence of potentially dangerous Bisphenol A in their food and drink containers.

This is just the latest in a long line of corporate blunders that have played out online. Major consumer brands like Motrin and Skittles have found themselves at the mercy of CGM (define) after tripping up their marketing campaigns.

It all provides a sobering reminder of how much our role as online media strategists has changed. Whereas once we put our efforts just into creating campaigns that resonated with our target consumers, we now have to also be ready to speak directly with these potential customers -- and hear what they have to say.

It requires a major shift in process and attitude to leave the safety of our glass boardrooms, where we observed our customers' reactions but rarely ever invited them to come inside the walls. By necessity, our campaigns have evolved from one-sided communications to active -- and emotional -- two-sided conversations.

And it is a necessity. According to a new Nielsen consumer study, personal recommendations and opinions from other online buyers are now "the most trusted forms of advertising globally."

It may be unsurprising that 90 percent of Internet users trust recommendations from people they know. But how about the fact that 70 percent also trust the opinions of the complete strangers who've posted their thoughts about products and services to the Web?

The study holds more revelations that are bound to change the way you look at your online marketing strategy. Brand Web sites -- not search ads or display banners -- are the most trusted form of advertiser-led advertising, while only 33 percent of consumers trust banners, 37 percent trust online video, and 41 percent trust search results.

The solution seems obvious: incorporate consumer reviews and testimonials into your online ads. Already, companies are ramping up their onsite reviews as a step toward acknowledging the value they hold for their customers. Last year, Amazon, Orvis, and Petco were among the brands that allowed their users to upload video product reviews.

Not only does such a move stand to improve product sales and positively affect brand perception, but it also provides a resource for these brands to tap when it comes to developing their online ads.

To date, the idea of inserting consumer reviews into ads is still relatively unexplored territory, though some service providers can help facilitate the effort. Online video ad network Tremor Media provides this capability to its clients through its vChoice product. The new suite of units allows advertisers to create nonlinear video experiences by providing Internet users with multiple viewing options, such that advertisers can feature any combination of video clips, which might include TV spots, long-form branded content, and product reviews in a single ad.

Tremor CEO Jason Glickman says he's starting to see more interest in consumer reviews for advertising purposes, particularly in video format.

"The benefits are there, especially for the CPG companies. There's definitely interest, but the interest has shifted toward interactive formats (like vChoice) versus in-banner execution," Glickman said.

Ad network and technology provider Mpire has incorporated product reviews into Flash-based banner ads for shopping engines and consumer electronics companies. Still, its clients aren't yet proactively pushing for these types of ads.

"My guess is that there's concern around content quality, and we have found it tough to extract and represent a review within a confined creative space in a way that encourages engagement or adds value for the user," said Mpire CRO Kirby Winfield.

One solution to the content dilemma, particularly for those advertisers who don't have existing consumer reviews that they can use for their display and video ads, is to partner with a service like Expo. The company has amassed a collection of more than 300,000 video reviews, all created by consumers and used as a resource when researching a purchase online. In addition to syndicating, the content is made available to marketers for advertising purposes.

Of course, the 10-ton gorilla of online consumer reviews, Twitter, can also be leveraged for online advertising. Brands like Intuit's TurboTax have already fed their Twitter updates into their banner ads to extend their tweets' reach. The same approach can be used to disseminate the consumer commentary that companies receive through their Twitter accounts.

Every brand, no matter how obscure, has the most convincing form of advertising available at its disposal. Isn't it time we started using it?


Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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