013 – 24 February 2014
Back to Basics: Product Reviews – Why and How Best
The humble product review is a staple of the PR business. So ‘humble’, it’s barely mentioned in any standard text -book– even PR for Dummies!
It is – everyone seems to assume – obvious: one of those ‘good things’.
But does it work? When, why and how? A research check to fill this ‘black hole’ finds a surprisingly subtle tool – at its best for weaker brands and with four clear tips for best practice.
So what is it? Properly it refers to a serious robust bench-test. Not the re-mixed product news releases which, as the excellent Tom Foremski laments, sadly pass for journalism in so many quarters. And not the rather sexier ‘product placements’ whose merits and ethics garner much ink.
It covers anything and everything. From cars to laptops, DVD players to smart-watches and heart-rate monitors for joggers. The world-over, junior AEs and press officers engage daily in punting out their wares for various outcomes: traditional media bench-tests (MBs), online blogger reviews (OBRs) and online customer reviews (OCRs). (My classification incidentally). Four- and five-stars on Amazon is the new aspirational frontier.
And the value of reviews?
Thirty years ago, an early agency boss obsessed about them. They demanded: constant reviewer contact; great clarity and precision; and total care and attention to every aspect. They helped companies, he argued, ‘punch above their weight’. And they achieved, he believed, greater PR RoI than any other output. But that was 30 years ago. Essentially gut-instinct and without evidence.
Wind forward 20 years. Our Paris office was fast-disappearing under boxes and boxes of Apple kit. Soon three of our four-strong account team worked full time to manage it all. I was increasingly sceptical. We were preaching to the converted. Squeezing out far more valuable PR opportunities. And my shins were badly bruised. But hey, who argues with Apple? And that was my gut-instinct…
One for the weak
Now today. Well, smugly, we were both right (my old boss and I)! New research (*) confirms that properly-conducted product-reviews deliver greatest benefits to weak brands. They are the fast-track to stronger positioning. Positive reviews for the weak create a virtuous circle. More sales, increased brand equity etc. Conversely negative reports are far less impactive on weaker brands because less visible.
Meantime, product reviews have minimal impact for stronger brands. They simply reinforce the perceptions of loyalists and refuseniks alike. While weaker brands make progress by ‘flipping the funnel’, once you are in the top brand tier with established equity, further major market shifts require high-visibility classic advertising and promotional tools.
Four tips to make reviews work
And the best techniques?
- Make comprehensive (non-promotional) information available and easily accessible for reviewers. As separate confidential Henley research I supervised confirmed, social media will set colour, context and muzak but hard data will create the final shape.
- Establish brand communities and early adopter clubs. Perceived customer privilege will provide ‘seed’ positive feedback and enable rapid modification to address the ‘negative’.
- Consciously seek out expert review sites. They often set the review editorial agenda for others.
- Incentivise your evangelists to post early reviews.
And, last but far from least, beware subterfuge! In the social media age, if you’re found out posting negative reviews for competitors, you can create a tsunami for yourself…
Not so humble after all those product reviews…
(*) Ho Dac, N.N, Carson, S.J and Moore, W.L. Journal of Marketing, November 2013.