In the past, well, the days before the internet and e-commerce, people would actually believe adverts on the TV and of course the opinions of their neighbours, family and friends.
But then that changed, consumers started to wise up to the grandiose promises of advertising and marketing and started to listen to word-of-mouth a whole lot more.
The transformation didn't stop there
With the boom of e-commerce, social media and the internet of things, word-of-mouth took a serious leap. Now consumers from across the globe could share their reviews and complaints about products and services, something that anyone with an internet connection could benefit from.
In fact we can google reviews for virtually any product imaginable, not to mention whole companies, apps, games and more.
This is in the process of changing
With the emergence of websites like Fiverr (a site where people will do virtually anything for $5, including phony product reviews) however, consumers are starting to wake up and realise that they can't believe everything they read online - in the same way they can't believe everything they see on TV or on a billboards.
In one example, a humour site got three vloggers on Fiverr to sell a product that didn't and actually should never exist - the cyber gravy boat.
People are also becoming more vocal about how unreliable non-curated online reviews can be:
And brands, well they aren't doing as well as they should to earn back their reputability. In fact, in 2011, as a reaction to complaints of phony reviews, Trip advisor changed its slogan from "Reviews you can trust" to "Reviews from our community".
Where does the online consumer tribe fit in?
Online consumer tribes are a product of the factors mentioned above. Quite simply it goes like this: as a modern, tech savvy consumer - I'm not going to stop using the internet as a research tool, I'm also not going to blindly trust online reviews in the same way I don't trust marketing or advertising. Instead I'm going to refer to my community.
I'm going to keep the spirit of word-of-mouth alive - in the digital sphere. I'll ask about potential purchases on Facebook, amongst my friends. I'll follow review platforms and forums that I know and trust. I'll keep my knowledge pool private and curated to avoid falling into traps.
What does it mean for brands?
The trend can be distilled into two actions that brands need to take:
Get into the tribe
Now more than ever it's important to view each customer you have as a VIP member of your brand, as well as the representative of a wider tribe. You simply can't get into that tribe by bullying people into not saying anything negative about you online.
By helping your customers access the branded content that's relevant to them, and then rewarding them for sharing it with their tribe, you start to create willing brand ambassadors that do your marketing for you.
It's only through mutual value creation, and consistently good experiences with your brand that you start to infiltrate this otherwise closed community.
Be transparent online
Firstly, make sure there's a lot of clear, well presented information about you online - consumers are still actively using the internet as a research tool. Also make sure your own website is clear and user-friendly so you can already make a good impression. And lastly, don't ever engage in fake reviews of any kind, consumers will find out, and they will shame you.
When all is said and done
This isn't the apocalypse of online reviews as we know it, and you should by all means still focus on it. However, it's also true that consumers are wising up and being much more discerning about what they believe online - which is all the more reason to get back to basics and focus on customer experience consistency and gaining consumer trust.
To find out more about tailored customer and user experience solutions that make the on-going measurement of experience possible, contact us today.
Interact is a Level 2 BEE brand experience and research consultancy. We use innovative technology and propriety methodologies to provide comprehensive insight into the consumer's mindset and how they engage with brands.
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