Category Archives: Marketing Strategy

Introducing Quadrant Corner! All of Your Problems Solved!

The best kept secret in business – – really – – that the nation’s top business schools are keeping from you is that all management issues can be solved through the use of quadrants.  Really, all of them.

Quadrants

This introduces Quadrant Corner, which will periodically shed light on how you can better understand some of the thorniest, as well as some of the most obvious, issues – – simply through the use of quadrants.

The best quadrants have two axes, where the resulting intersections have meaningful insights.

We promise to not bother you with stars or barnyard animal nicknames or anything like that.  That stuff is yesterday’s news.  And we definitely won’t use things that look like quadrants but are really just a way to stuff related ideas into a box to look more profound (and charge higher consulting fees).  Like the annoying SWOT chart – – which is just 4 semi-related ideas smashed together in a graphic.  Cha-ching!

Band Set List Quadrant

We begin with the inspiration of music.

As someone who periodically plays music to get fellow old people to dance, I can tell you that the party song list is really important.  Every song must either be something danceable or something familiar – – and the best songs qualify in both categories (songs that have neither attribute are a quick trip to a short party).

You need to jam the list with upper-right songs that everyone knows well enough to sing or air-guitar along with while they spill their G & Ts while unwittingly doing great Elaine imitations.

Elaine

It’s fine to throw in the occasional the danceable but less universally known songs – – your Beck, your Skrillex – -but don’t overdo it.  Similarly, fine to mix in a few stadium songs or ballads or Bohemian Rhapsody – – but don’t let your crowd get too comfortable.

The quadrant above shows the relationship between the appeal to the group (danceability) and the need to minimize effort (familiarity).

Business quadrant 2

The same theory could apply to implementation of new business practices (I know, I know – – just stay with me for a minute).  In a business context, appeal to the group is changed from can you dance to it to ‘what’s in it for me’ – – the expectation that the outcome of orientation/ training will be immediately beneficial (more $, greater chance for promotion, less tedium, etc).

On the other axis, the ‘required effort’ measure is defined as ease of putting the new approach into practice.  Like familiar songs, it’s comfortable to attend training where the concepts are easy and there’s a catered lunch.  However, a steady diet of familiarity – – or in this case, ‘fun’ training – – with no substantial hope of personal benefit, may be a welcome break from the routine, but is not a good long-term proposition.

So thanks for reading this first Quadrant Corner.  We need to check out now, to refresh ourselves on the deep learning of those well-regarded consultants EW&F.  Their first and most critical guiding principle:  never, under any circumstances, succumb to pressure to play ‘Celebration’.

EWF

 

Mainstreaming #Foodporn – – has it come to this?

Posted on

A story, perhaps apocryphal, describes the past-his-prime comedian who, when the laughs just aren’t coming, drops his pants, revealing brightly patterned boxer shorts.  Unfailingly it gets a reaction.  Problem solved.

There is an analog if you’re in the business of selling consumer products – – you need to have a compelling story to tell.  Brands who don’t know why they’re better than the competition often resort to fail-safe attention-getting tactics – – puppies, babies, tear-jerker stories, corn syrup…

…and of course, sex.

Burger Girl

Carl’s Jr./Hardees and GoDaddy.com are just two of the many who made sex their Unique Selling Proposition.  You can check their commercials out on YouTube; I cannot safely post a link here.

Both appear to have moved on, ostensibly to broaden their audiences as they move out of copywriting adolescence.  In the #MeToo era, many advertisers have thankfully become more sensitive in how they go to market.

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 11.26.16 AM

But there is a convenient alternative: #FoodPorn.  With a wink and a nod and a hashtag that telegraphs ‘we’re hip’, #FoodPorn is titillating with words otherwise not used in general conversation, but without the photos.  The buzzword gives permission.

In the most recent Super Bowl, Kraft Heinz’s Devour frozen food brand actually advertised on a real porn site, Pornhub.com, blurring the line between metaphor and reality.  The brand is positioned as ‘flavor first’, the very embodiment of FoodPorn, and thus this stunt was all a humorous, one-time attempt to make the point and get some attention.  But based on their website, they’re sticking with the FoodPorn angle.  Not sure what the results were, other than a ton of attention.

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 11.38.55 AM

But do we want to go there?  Despite the old adage, not all attention is good attention.  Most brands would prefer to focus on the product and avoid the crass associations that undermine credibility and turn off potential customers.  But not all.

Burger 1

At a favorite burger chain recently (not fast food – – burgers are $10-14), where it talked about ‘friends and family’, part of the menu was blacked out.  Upon inspection, it revealed that the blacked out words completed the language: “Post that #BurgerPorn and tag us.  We never get tired of seeing them sexy burger shots.

Burger 2

Upon conversation with the waitress, this is a case of man bites dog.  The headquarters marketing staff decided to send sexed up menus to all of their restaurants, and in at least this case, the local owner disagreed with their judgment and took a marker to it.

I’m guessing the owner knows his customers, sees a lot of moms and dads, and drew the connection that they might not be interested in explaining to the kids what that all means.  (I had a similar experience explaining the Clinton impeachment hearings to single-digit aged kids).

The irony is that these guys have a great concept – outstanding quality, reasonably priced food in a very pleasant environment.

Why mess all that up and distract attention with references to #FoodPorn?

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 12.00.24 PM

Lawmakers Left and Right Shake Hands to Eliminate a Surprisingly Sinister Bias

Posted on

Washington, D.C. – in an increasingly rare act of bilateral cooperation, legislation was recently introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives to remove long-standing institutional bias against left-handed people.

Sistine

Adam – the first Lefty

With broad support, House Resolution 23B, titled “Leave No One Left Behind”, was reportedly instigated by prominent left-handed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with behind-the-scenes lobbying from current U.S. Senator Rand Paul and former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, both also left-handed.

RBG

While unable to comment due to conflict of interest issues, RBG discussed the subject at length in an appearance on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart in 2012: 

People identifying as other-handed are 11% of the population, and while some extremely accomplished people are or were left-handed — for example Barack Obama, Leonardo da Vinci, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Jimi Hendrix, and Keanu Reeves — most walk amongst us largely unseen, unacknowledged and disempowered, and face bias every single day.  

Many civilizations’ conventions have ancient roots – – personal hygiene with the left hand, eat with the right, those sorts of things.  This was a necessary approach when washing one’s hands was not as easy as it is now.

However, a remarkable amount of bias remains, from the design of commonplace household objects, to the more insidious prejudice in our very language – – ‘left-handed compliment’, ‘left behind’, ‘on the right side of history’, for example – – and extends even to institutional infrastructure such as driving on the right side of the road and handshakes only with the right. 

Those identifying as left-handed, as well as ambidextrous (who are usually referred to as ‘ambi’), and even so-called cross-dominants, have long had to deal with challenges that most people don’t even think about.  While we are thankfully past the age when left-handers were forced to unnaturally mold to the societal ‘norm’ of being right-handed, the world is presumably more enlightened, and I think before I leave the Court there will be legislation to right this wrong – – excuse me (laughter) – – I mean correct the situation”.

The sweeping House Resolution comprises a broad range of recommendations, including:

Left-handed mug

Proposed left-handed mug

  • Requirement that every manufacturer producing right-handed oriented products also produce versions designed for left-handed consumers, as well as ‘ambi’ versions. This would include things like scissors, video game controllers, computer keyboards, tools, musical instruments, weapons and coffee mugs.  Included also is a mandate that makers of ink pens use only smudge-proof ink.
  • English words that have evolved from the word ‘left’ in other languages to more negative connotations will not be permitted in U.S. government activity, and following a 5-year transition period, will be illegal in all U.S. educational systems – including textbooks.
    This includes words like sinister, gauche, as well as phrases such as ‘left-handed compliment’, and other words such as ‘southpaw’ that could be felt to be demeaning.
  • Included is a provision that in all domestic U.S. Government meetings, whether internal or with suppliers, at least 15% of handshakes would be left-handed.
Left-handed shake

Left-handed handshakes may present challenges for some

  • All professional sports teams would be required to include at least 15% of members identifying as ‘left-handed’ or ‘ambi’. Corporations would have the same requirement for composition of Boards of Directors.
  • A large-scale initiative would require retrofitting every mile of the U.S. Interstate Highway System and all state highways to accommodate those wishing to drive on either the right or left side of the road, with completion targeted by 2030. This would be accompanied by a requirement that all automobile manufacturers doing business in the United States must make available right-hand drive vehicles.  The rapidly evolving driverless car technology will be counted on to facilitate this transition.
4-way stop

Future 4-way stop – CAD rendition

The cost of these changes is estimated to total roughly $20 trillion over the next 10 years.  And while this is broadly acknowledged to be a significant strain on the already burdened U.S. economy, there has been unanimous support from U.S. lawmakers, on both the Right and Left, particularly those facing re-election.

light switches

As a sign of gathering momentum, popular culture has taken up the cause.  As one unnamed self-identified ambi celebrity commented: “God didn’t just make ‘on/off’ switches – she made a good number of dimmers as well.  Regardless of where one may identify along the spectrum of handedness, a civilized society should be ready to accommodate everyone, whatever the cost”.

Does Your Marketing Have Holes You Can’t See?

You may have seen this interesting visual story recently as it made the rounds.

blog_raf_bullet_holes_0

It is a diagram of a World War II Royal Air Force plane showing where bullets had hit the plane.  The purpose was to direct where extra armor should be placed to protect other planes.  Makes sense, right?

Abraham-Wald-left-is-credited-for-saving-many-American-planes-and-pilots-based-on-his

As Mother Jones magazine puts it – ‘Obvious but wrong’.  Hungarian-born mathematician Abraham Wald explained that because all of the studied planes had returned, the study ignored those planes that were shot down – – and therefore where the true vulnerabilities were (the engines).

This is a pretty good metaphor for a classic error in marketing – focusing on the easily studied while ignoring what really needs attention.

streetlamp_v02-800x533

It’s like the guy looking for his keys under a lamppost rather than in the field where he lost them: “Yes, I did lose them over there, but the light’s better here”.

Studying only data at hand means you could be ignoring bigger opportunities that you can’t see.  For example:

  • Optimizing Instagram or Pinterest (or Google AdWords) can be of little use if your most valuable customers don’t go online that much
  • Segmenting your target based on demographics can be very ineffective if your target is attitudinally defined
  • Orienting marketing messaging to older buyers can be largely wasteful if the key influencers are their children
  • Paying attention to only those customers who Opt In in LeadGen may be ignoring higher potential customers who are too busy to be bothered and for whom email may not be the best approach
  • Spending a ton of money optimizing a trade show space may be less useful if only a small % of decision-makers still attend trade shows
  • etc.

Portrait of the artist as a shadow of his former self 1969-72 by Keith Arnatt 1930-2008

 

The solution is to make sure you truly understand your customer, their key attitudes, influences, preferences and pain points. 

Target customer

Only then can you put your reinforcement where it really counts – – and sometimes it’s the customers you can’t see.

The Perfect Storm, Part 2. Fixing “Pale, Stale and Male”

  • The mood at last week’s Miami Boat Show was sunny, like the weather.  Enthusiastic shoppers, lots of shiny new boats, and based on conversations with manufacturers, not enough new boats to meet demand.

Miami Show Crowd

However, as previously posted, some clouds on the horizon foreshadow the powerboat industry’s vulnerability in a way that will redefine the landscape over the next 10 years.

  • The core buyer base is aging. The 55-60 year old buyer base (let’s generalize and call them Boomers), are committed and usually repeat buyers.  And they look a lot alike  (in the words of one industry executive: “pale, stale and male”).
    But there aren’t enough younger first-time buyers (generalized as Millennials) to replace their unit or dollar sales.  Over the last 15+ years, the share of new boats sold to first-time buyers has dropped dramatically.
    It’s the same old dudes buying more boats.
  • Recession bites. The next recession, like the last one, will flood the market with used boats when owners sell, crushing new boat sales – – a sales circuit-breaker if enough Boomer owners exit the market permanently.  Remember, older buyers generally buy the more expensive boats.
Older fisherman

Typical core new boat buyer

This post tries to explain why there are not enough younger boat buyers, and offers some ideas of what can be done to prepare for the future.  While a bit longer than my typical post, there are lots of pictures, so please read on.

Boater_Age_NMMA

Source: NMMA

Following our Miami visit we circled back to get input from senior leaders representing manufacturers, dealers, Freedom Boat Club (the leader in this segment) and the NMMA, the leading trade association.

The upshot:  the core appeal of powerboating is not going anywhere, but the industry will need structural changes to address some fairly major challenges to sustain health (read: sales) over the long term.

And the current pace of innovation is not enough to drive the changes necessary.  Disruptive innovation is needed in everything from boat design, mode of power, sales/distribution channels to marketing.  This is not about reducing price or offering new colors or more horsepower.

Disruptors transform the way a basic demand is delivered.  Myopia has led to the downfall of many former market leaders.

  • Home Video: Blockbuster (VHS/DVD) yields to Netflix (streaming)
  • Personal photography: Kodak (film) yields to digital / smartphones
  • Books: Borders (bricks & mortar) yields to Amazon (online)

Based on appearances, the powerboat industry seems headed this direction – – focused on maximizing revenue with the current model (largely fiberglass gas-powered outboard boats sold through dealers).

There are signs that disruptors are at work — but there is a long way to go.

Buying Cycle - Boating

To explain where the industry has been and where it needs to go, we compared the buying process of legacy (Boomer) core buyers with considerations of potential Millennial buyers, in a 4-step process.

INTERESTEXPERIENCEPURCHASEHABIT

So what are some paths to long-term growth? 

Here are some ways the industry can take action (with some examples):

  • Before addressing new buyers, the industry must keep current owners around as long as possible.
    Slow down defections – – aggressively court current owners and build relationships through CRM, owner events and personal outreach – build loyalty and maybe get another purchase

To encourage Millennial first-time buyers:

INTEREST

  • Accelerate development of more agreeable, alternative power sources:
    • GM’s experimental marine division, Forward Marine, introduced a 100% battery-powered boat. With a max speed of 20mph and a range of 1 hour at that speed, it’s not ready for prime time yet, and won’t get you many dates, but this is the direction some of the industry will go.  Think Tesla.  Maybe a hybrid as well.
GM Boat

GM Forward Marine prototype

  • Indmar just introduced EcoBoost, the marine version of Ford’s EcoTec engine – gets the same horsepower and torque with 4 cylinders as a typical V-8. More environmentally friendly.

    EcoBoost

    Indmar EcoBoost

  • Torqeedo is an established German company offering quiet, efficient electric motors. Due to relatively low gas prices and a maximum of 100 hp, growth is slow but it is steady.  They’re getting traction.
Torqeedo

Torqeedo Deep Blue 80R

  • BlueGas Marine has developed economical natural gas power for boats. Traction is difficult for the above reasons as well as infrastructure (need the gas equivalent of charging stations), but the equation can change quickly if oil prices spike.

More aggressive marketing

  • Cross-market! Boating should not just be for insiders anymore!  Visibility must be increased by pursuing prospects with related affinities:  skiing, hiking, etc.  Not just a booth at the boat show.
  • Be more inclusive, diverse and experiential. Feature a range of age, ethnicity, interests.  Leverage social media to reach prospects beyond the familiar core demographics.

700-00039414

Wakesurf photo

 

  • Innovate beyond current offerings – materials, design, features
    • New boaters don’t have the burden of tradition and will likely be more open to unconventional but more functional approaches (after all, someone had to buy the first Prius)
    • RIBs – Rigid Inflatable Boats (Axopar, Technohull) offer more efficient performance using different hull design and materials. They are really cool, perform great, look different, and that’s ok.
Technohull

Technohull (top); AxoparAxopar

  • Powered catamarans look different but offer advantages of smooth ride and more space

EXPERIENCE

Leverage technology to reduce fear as a barrier to purchase

  • Self-docking boats will be available in 2020
  • On-board digital video tutorials can provide much more effective learning than paper manuals
  • Controls are shifting from analog to digital, to mimic/integrate with smartphones

 

 

OWNERSHIP

  • Offer more versatile/multi-use boats at attractive price points – not single purpose (e.g. fishing) but can handle a variety of activities on any given day (analog: SUVs), making purchase more acceptable
    • Sea-Doo introduced a jet ski that converts to a fishing craft – – and it starts at $15k

 

 

  • Yamaha’s 2018 Boat of the Year (the FSH 210) is an affordable, do-it-all boat that is an excellent choice for first-time boaters.
  • Don’t require purchase to participate
    • Freedom Boat Club is a franchisor with 178 locations, with a model based on eliminating some key barriers to purchase (includes lessons, takes care of maintenance and insurance). The goal – make participation frictionless.
    • Members pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to a variety of boats in a huge number of locations, rather than committing 6-figures for a single boat.

FBC logo

  • Other similar models such as peer-to-peer rental, fractional use, etc. will undoubtedly increase as there is less reliance on solely purchase
  • More fully integrate the internet in the shopping/buying process – as in the auto industry, reduce reliance on aggressive final-mile dealer salespeople.

HABIT

No surprises!

  • Full transparency in the sales process, specifically costs/ obligations of ownership
  • Continuous on-boarding/learning  from the dealer, not just 2 hours when the boat is picked up
  • Aggressively encourage new boater networking to share tips, experiences, and create peer communities
  • Mentoring programs linking experienced boaters with new boaters.  Older boaters would love to pass along insights; a no-judgment setting makes it a win-win.

Mentor

These are just a few things the industry can do to mitigate unavoidable changes.  It will take foresight, patience, and investment – – and may not pay off immediately.

lots-of-boaters.jpg

But an industry that proactively and creatively adapts to the needs of new boaters with great product and a great experience, will be much more successful than what we currently seem to have – – an industry that asks potential new buyers to adapt to the way things have been.

How Do You Reinvigorate a Mature, Cyclical (but still really fun) Industry? Part 1: The Challenge

This is a story about a great industry that was extremely hot…until it suddenly wasn’t.
It presents a unique challenge in how to navigate long-term growth in a world with changing values, attitudes and demographics – – in an unpredictable economic and political climate.

This is Part 1 of a two-part post.  Part 1 sets up the challenges to the boating industry.

In Part 2 we’ll discuss some things the industry is doing to meet these challenges, based on observations at the industry’s premier annual event, the Miami Boat Show – which begins on February 14, 2019.

Perfect Storm - Title

Powerboats are indisputably lots of fun, whether it’s to fish, ski, dive or just to cruise around.  It’s no surprise that about 140 million Americans participate in boating annually, and that in 2018 the industry generated an estimated $170 billion in annual economic activity (Source: NMMA).

Boating-NMMA

Source: NMMA

But as we’ll see, even with several years of growth, the powerboat industry is facing some real headwinds in countering demographic shifts and bracing for the inevitable next recession.

Please read on, and if you’d like, post your ideas on how you’d attack this challenge in the comments section.

———–

The Ultimate Discretionary Purchase

At the very far endpoint of the need-want continuum (aka 0% need, 100% want), beyond ice cream, puppies, personal Zambonis or large screen TVs, there are recreational boats.  Unless you make your living on the water, you don’t need a boat.

And with considerable entry costs leading to ongoing expenses (fuel, insurance, dock space, maintenance, accessories, etc.), this is an industry that is inextricably linked to economic ups and downs.

As a CNBC commentator put it: “Boating is perhaps the most cyclical consumer sector imaginable. Vessels are expensive to purchase, time consuming and completely discretionary.”
https://www.cnbc.com/2014/04/01/yachts-a-practical-investment-for-regular-investors.html

Boat Slip

Entry-level recreational boats can be very affordable, but prices can easily push six or even seven figures as size and complexity increase.  A relatively ‘entry-level’ 25-foot recreational boat can cost $200,000 or more.  A 40-footer can be well over $1 million. This is an industry that has historically tried to push the envelope during optimistic economic times.

Boat_Sales_NMMA

National Marine Manufacturers Association

But the seas are not always smooth.  Powerboating, in particular, is vulnerable to a perfect storm.

  1. Not counting the very wealthy, most people considering a major discretionary purchase will delay or just not buy in an unstable economy
  2. Like the tide drawing out, when economic uncertainty hits, many existing boat owners sell their boats, creating a large pool of relatively new and very affordable used inventory. Anyone still interested has ample reasons to buy used, which is crippling if you’re trying to make or sell new boats.
  3. The average age of boat owners is relatively advanced (currently around 55), meaning that a lot of purchasers (many of them Baby Boomers) from earlier growth years are permanently exiting the market. There are new, younger buyers, which is great, but currently not enough of them to sustain continued growth.
  4. In an economic downturn, related personal factors such as existing loans, lack of available credit and home sales come into play as people make decisions – and cutting boat expenses can be considered a less painful way to try to balance the family books.
  5. As powerboats generally use internal combustion engines, they can be subject to the political climate and resulting legislation. The ‘un-green’ optics of boating are a turn-off for a certain population segment, and ‘greater good’ legislation can create negative real consequences for marine (one example: ethanol is widely mandated but causes expensive damage in marine motors which are run more sporadically).
Boater_Age_NMMA

National Marine Manufacturers Association

This perfect storm was on full display in the few years leading up to 2010.

The Great Recession – all kinds of ugly

In the early 2000s, economic optimism drove strong unit growth, with about 375,000 new powerboats sold in 2006.  Dollar growth was even higher, as convenience features like stereos and refrigerators, the conversion from 2-stroke to cleaner/quieter 4-stroke motors, greater available horsepower and resulting higher prices all increased industry sales markedly.

And while there was some softness in 2007, when the stock market tanked in 2008, the industry nose-dived.  Annual sales dove to about 150,000 in 2010.  Even with several recent years of strong market growth, as of 2018 it has not fully recovered, with sales of new powerboats reaching 280,000 – – still below levels of a decade earlier.

Boat for sale

As one industry official put it in 2015: “We fell off a cliff about five years ago.  Homes were going into foreclosure, and people were making hard choices. On top of that, manufacturers didn’t build many boats in those years. But we lived through it.” https://www.sacbee.com/news/business/article8801072.html

Numerous manufacturers and dealers simply closed up shop.  One estimate had the boat manufacturer workforce reduced by 50-75% as a result of the recession.

In some ways, boating faces a long-term challenge.

  • Many current boaters will eventually age out of the market
  • New younger (and less affluent) boaters are interested in experiences but less interested in possessions — including single-family homes where possessions (like a boat in the driveway) can be stored. They are also influenced by ecological considerations.
  • A multitude of other factors complicates things: consumer confidence, rising student debt, an increasingly diverse population that may not have boating as a shared experience – – even concern about fuel price stability

Make no mistake, as of now the industry continues to grow, it is expected to grow further in 2019, and there are several bright spots of strong growth – – like the emerging wake sports segment, and personal watercraft (aka jet skis).

Malibu_SeaDoo

Brands pictured:  Malibu, SeaDoo

And the economy still appears strong, consumers appear to be confident, and the boating industry is continuing to extract growing revenue from ever more big, exotic and outrageous products (a 627 HP, $90k motor was introduced a few years ago, and immediately a 53-foot, $3 million luxury fishing boat was introduced deploying 4 of them – along with 50 neon-ringed speakers.  Rumor is that there will be a six-motor boat at this year’s show).  So making hay while the sun shines is definitely a current strategy – take advantage of consumer confidence and feelings of wealth.

53 Suenos

Pictured: HydraSports 53 Sueños

But the next recession is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and Boomers will continue to exit the market.

SO – WHAT CAN BE DONE TO ENSURE SUSTAINABLE GROWTH IN THIS MARKET?

Maximize growth with current products?  Introduce game-changing products?  Hedge with counter-cyclical products?  Double down on technology?  Pivot to something else entirely?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

For Part 2, we’ll report back within a week, including some evidence of the current (greater luxury and features) and future (laying the groundwork for the next few decades).

See you at the show!

MIBS - 2019

Why Online Reviews Haven’t Totally Replaced Word of Mouth (yet)

First recorded word of mouth reco:

Caveman Danook: “Good rock”

Caveman Gok: “Need rock like Danook rock”

danook-larson

Direct, personal, effective.  The best type of recommendation.

Fast forward a few millennia – – millions of shopping decisions are routinely made based on star ratings or online reviews – from total strangers.

In other words, online reviews are often less credible sources than Caveman Gok had.

amazon5-star

While technology has provided lots of review resources (e.g. Yelp, Glassdoor, Amazon Stars), it has not yet figured out how to protect the integrity of these reviews – – thus making them not totally dependable.

And consumers are increasingly realizing this.

At the end of the day, a personal reco from someone you know may still be your best bet.

Consider these news stories from just the last few weeks:

Joanna Stern – WSJ
Is it Really Five Stars – How to Spot Fake Amazon 5-Star Reviews

I visited a Facebook group called “Amazon Reviews” and was promised a full refund on a $44 Amazon purchase of a pet fountain if I did the following on the mega-retailer’s site:
1.
Write a positive review. 2. Post my photos of the product. 3. Rate it five stars.
Not only is this ethically problematic, it is also against Amazon and Facebook user policies.”

There are 4 types of reviews mentioned in the article:
1. Legit reviews – you bought it, you review it, good or bad.
2. Vine reviews – incentivized reviews for prolific reviewers. Objectivity not guaranteed.
3. Incentivized reviews (like the pet fountain above). Objectivity clearly suspect.
4. Fake reviews – often from Asian click farms. Totally bogus – often products reviewed are not even remotely what is listed.
Not exactly encouraging.

——————-

Rolfe Winkler and Andrea Fuller – WSJ
How Companies Secretly Boost Their Glassdoor Ratings

To allegedly combat the bias for negative reviews on sites like Glassdoor, some companies are apparently gently encouraging (and in some cases providing incentives) for employees to leave positive reviews.

Last summer, employees of Guaranteed Rate Inc. posted a stream of negative reviews about the mortgage broker on Glassdoor, a company-ratings website.
“An American sweatshop,” read a one-star review in June. “Worst company I ever worked for,” read another in July. The company’s rating on Glassdoor, which is determined by employee feedback, fell to 2.6 stars out of 5.
– Concerned that negative reviews could hurt recruiting, Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli instructed his team to enlist employees likely to post positive reviews, said a person familiar with his instructions. In September and October these employees flooded Glassdoor with hundreds of five-star ratings. The company rating now sits at 4.1.”

———-

One study estimates that while 88% of consumers put their trust in online reviews, at least 20% of them are in reality fake (the reviews, not the consumers).

———-

As time goes on, consumers will judge online reviews with an increasing dose of skepticism, until AI figures out a way to effectively and convincingly screen out reviews that are just not legit.  It’s complicated (see example from the Boston Globe).

reviews-big

So what can a marketer do to encourage the most credible endorsements of their products —  enthusiastic, personal word of mouth recommendations?

chewy

Here are 3 examples, 2 of which involve reaching out and delighting the customer such that they take some sort of action that could influence others:

  • Chewy.com. Over the Holidays we received a mystery package that it turns out was sent by Chewy.com, and included an ink-on-canvas portrait of our dog, and a very enthusiastic hand-written card that said “Surprise!  We hope you and your furbaby enjoy the portrait.  Remember we’re open 24/7.  Call us anytime, we’d love to hear from you!”  So cool.
    –  Yes, this cost $, but they got it back in multiples from the number of people we told about it or who saw our social media posts.  (Not to mention the fact that we’re just a little more likely to continue buying from them ourselves.)yeti
  • YETI.  To become an object of their affection, we merely had to go to the trouble of registering online for a gift we received – – a thermo mug, not one of their over-the-top coolers.
    Shortly thereafter we received a thank you card with several YETI stickers, some of which of course will end up in a visible place, thereby providing a passive reinforcement of the brand to others.
  • Nextdoor.  A bit different from the ‘delight’ category is the true word-of-mouth category, represented by the neighborhood network Nextdoor, which is an avenue for sponsored ads in addition to personal recommendations.  The credibility factor is high.nextdoor
    There are lots of other ways to engender a personal relationship and loyalty well beyond what stars on a review can do.
  • Customer Support that has a personal touch and continuity – so the customer feels a connection with the help desk person (chat, email or phone)
  • Personalized customer outreach (email or snail mail) not asking for anything, just staying in touch and inviting the recipient to provide any feedback they may have.
  • (Making great products and backing them up doesn’t hurt, either).

Random acts of kindness may be seen as an incremental cost, but the personal connection can not only encourage current customers to be loyal, it can encourage them to tell others about their great experience.  And that’s the name of the game.

Just keep in mind: WWDD?