Of late, I’ve been doing a lot of work for big international brands with coast to coast dealer networks.
If you’re a manufacturer, say of cars, and a consumer has a terrible dealer experience for which you receive a 1-star Yelp review, what recourse do you have? What if it wasn’t just one review, but dozens or hundreds? After all, you didn’t sell or service the car.
On the other hand, what if you are dealer and, unbeknownst to you, you take delivery of a ‘lemon’ and as a result of selling that ‘lemon’ to a consumer, you receive a swarm of negative reviews on your Yelp, Google, Facebook, DealerRater, and Cars.com pages. What if that ‘lemon’ was caused by a defective part impacting dozens of vehicles you leased or sold? After all, you didn’t manufacture the car.
The issue here is that the consumer (good, bad, or indifferent) doesn’t always know who to credit or blame for their experience. In the case of the brand, which is often the primary driver for a consumer purchase, the manufacturer is the ultimate neck to choke. The manufacturer is perceived to have deep pockets and an overarching desire to protect the brand they’ve spent so much time and money to build.
We’ve all seen what one misstep captured in a viral video can do to brand value.
This blog will focus on the challenge from the manufacturers perspective and I’ll take on the dealer view in a future installment (though, if you’re a dealer, read on, as you may pick up some nifty tidbits).
Let’s start by examining where most consumers get their reviews according to a Bright Local survey:
Now let’s look at where dealers of a large national brand are focusing their efforts. This data was gathered from the reviews sites of over 50 dealerships nationwide:
Do you see any disconnects here? How about the over emphasis on Yelp reviews or how the dealerships ignore BBB altogether? BBB may not be the hippest reviews site on the internet, but according to Bright Local, it still comprises 15% of all ‘trusted’ reviews searches. Yellow Pages is 10% of trusted reviews search and represents 0% of the reviews for over 50 dealers! Facebook is 20% of reviews search, but only 12% of dealer reviews. Google isn’t off by much (16% vs 13%), but still 19% below target.
As a brand, your reputation is everything. That’s why you can slap Jeep, Polaroid, Rolex, General Electric, etc on anything and people will buy it. It’s all about trust.
When you allow a dealer to use your brand, consumers expect the same quality as if they bought it directly from you. If your dealer has a 3.5 rating on Yelp, you have a 3.5 on Yelp, and visa versa. You and your dealer network are in the same boat and have a common goal – provide the consumer with the best experience so they will be inclined to share that experience with others in person and online.
Only they don’t, at least not without some encouragement.
As I’ve written many times before, angry customers are 11-13x more likely to leave a review than a happy one. Thus, your brand and those representing it already have the deck stacked against them.
Step one is to make it super easy for happy customers to leave reviews.
Look at this sample data taken from a subset the dealers in this study. Notice how their reviews focus is literally all over the place:
Some throw everything they have at Yelp while others are Facebook fanatics while still others drive all of their reviews to sites that didn’t even get an honorable mention in Bright Local’s survey. Worse, most pay Google short shrift.
Same for the star ratings:
How can a one dealer have 5 stars on Google and a single star on Yelp while another has zero Yelp or Google reviews but five stars on Facebook?
This is a simple lack of standardization, and if it goes on too long, your brand will suffer.
I imagine a time very soon when brands will standardize on SAAS based reputation management platforms and include specific instructions in their branding guidelines favoring some reviews sites over others, provide best practices for replying to public online feedback, and even mandate the use of their selected platform.
An added benefit of standardization is the ability to police the dealers in a single interface across the universe of reviews sites and take proactive action before negative reviews get out of hand:
Until this happens, manufacturers and brands will be magnets for negative online reviews when dealers are unable to satisfy customers. Tools like NetPromoter Score only go so far toward accomplishing these goals.
Most customers will say one thing on a survey and quite another online as this TripAdvisor survey demonstrates:
Plus, your prospects don’t read your net-promoter score on Yelp, they just scan for one-star reviews to see what can possibly go wrong if they do business with you or one of your brand ambassadors. Most consumers wouldn’t know what a net-promoter score was if it rear-ended them in a parking lot.
Your goals as a brand are to standardize online reviews management, collect and direct those reviews to the places where they have the most impact, build a reputation hedge around yourself and your brand ambassadors, use negative feedback to improve your business, and do this all before you competitors figure it out.
Based on the calls I’m receiving, if you’re reading this, you’re already late to the party. Time to make reputation standardization a priority.
According to a recent Seeking Alpha article, 95% of CEOs surveyed believe corporate reputation plays an important or very important role in achievement of business objectives, yet knowing this, only 19% of these same executives had a formal system in place for influencing or measuring their reputation.
So, we can all agree that our brand is very important to the success of our business, but how many of us are taking proactive, concrete steps to ensure that we have a seat at the online reputation table where our voice can be heard? According to Seeking Alpha, only 1 in 5 of us. The other 80% are allowing often anonymous internet participants to craft their brand narrative without their input!
Does your company respond to online reviews (good, bad, or indifferent)? When your company takes the time to provide thoughtful and balanced responses to online criticism, doing so will often reflect positively on your brand, as will taking the time to say ‘Thank you’ for a positive review. Internet searchers seeking your products or services will choose to do business with companies that not only have good reviews, but will favor those who interact with those leaving feedback, especially in regard to negative reviews.
Having a seat at the online reputation table means that you are in the mosh pit with your customers, employees, ex-employees, and competitors engaged in conversation with the purpose of making sure your future prospects receive a fair and balance brand narrative - not a one-sided diatribe.
Since unhappy customers are 11-13x more likely to leave reviews, not having a seat at the table tips the tables against your business, by default. In addition to engaging with your reviewers in the public sphere, you also need to make it simple and easy for your happy clients to share their feedback. This is what I have coined as collection and direction.
What are these terms? Collection is simple enough to understand. This is the act of asking your clients to leave you a review, say on Facebook, so others may share in their positive experience with your company. If you are already asking, but not getting the results you desire, then you are not making it easy enough for them to leave reviews (see what I did there?). Direction is deciding where you would like these little nuggets of brand gold to go. Do you need more reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, Zillow, TripAdvisor, SolarReviews, DealerRater, etc? Again, the easier you make this for your clients, the better the result.
For example, you can ask, “Hey, would you mind leaving me a review on DealerRater.com?” or you can do that AND follow it up with a text message or email with the link to DealerRater’s review page for your dealership. Adding this simple follow-up step will improve your results and online reputation dramatically.
Direction is not itself a static exercise, in fact, where reviews are being directed needs constant review and revision. I just completed an analysis for a large manufacturer who was concerned about how its dealer network was handling online reviews. The study demonstrated inherent directional biases, with some dealerships throwing everything they had at Yelp, while others were all in on Facebook, and most basically ignored Google (wasting a huge opportunity to impress with the largest and most prominent real estate on the first page of Google’s search results).
It’s also important to know that Google’s algorithm is trying its best to provide the searcher with ‘the most relevant’ results. Directing reviews to a single site will make this site more prominent in search (which is good), but the more you spread the love around, the more positive review sites will begin to populate page one of Google and most especially in the ever-important area ‘above the fold’ e.g. top 4-5 results.
Google’s own data shows that 67% of the clicks happen within the first four search results and 93% of searchers never look past the first page. By spreading reviews around to multiple sites and interacting with and responding to those reviews, Google’s algorithm ‘learns’ that these sites are ‘more relevant’ and begins to prioritize them.
This is what I call owning your page one search results. High value SEO content, backlinking, paid traffic, and other tactics work as well, but none are as cheap and easy as collecting lots of reviews and sprinkling them (with intention) to review sites that are important to your potential prospects.
Thus, it’s important to dial in the direction piece before wiring up the collection and reporting software.
In closing, gone are the days when businesses and their marketing departments could sit back and create brand narrative in a vacuum and expect the public to simply accept it. Today, smart business leaders are engaged in the conversation and have a seat at the table in co-crafting their brand narrative.
Which are you? The 20% that have/do or the 80% that have/do not? As your competitors pile into the 20%, where will that leave your business?