I have long been fascinated with neuroscience and the role it can play in marketing ever since that legendary case study of an upscale hotel in Amsterdam selling a hamburger for $20 (in the days when one was typically sold for under $3). In that case, the restaurant presented its menu in a very heavy block of transparent plastic, and discovered that “haptic sensations” (the sensation of touch) created a positive impact on the customer and thus the over-priced burger had a perceived higher, more positive value.

In 2016, as more and more decisions are made digitally — without the benefit of a tactile encounter — marketers have been seeking ways to tap into a consumers subconscious. When, in 2004, Yelp provided a platform for user-generated reviews, brands quickly discovered that the court of public opinion could make (or break) a small business.

One short year later, a user-generated content (UGC) strategy had gone mainstream, but with the brand itself firmly in the driver’s seat. These days, sites ranging from Amazon to the local car dealership encourage customers to provide feedback immediately after purchase. But to what end?

Which type of content is most instrumental at various purchase stages in terms of driving a purchase decision?  Over eighty-three percent considered “expert content” to be more valuable than user reviews.

If expert content is the hero influencing brand purchase decisions, why do companies continue to persist in their pursuit of user-generated content?

Eighty-four percent of Millennials report that UGC on a brand’s website has at least some influence on what they buy compared to 70 percent of Boomers. In fact there are many purchase decisions, both big and small, that Millennials won’t make without UGC. In fact, one report claims that UGC is the best way to push Millennials further down the conversion funnel since they trust it 50 percent more than any other type of media.

But in a new twist, a 2016 research study conducted by Censuswide for the Chartered Institute of Marketing found that 25 percent of consumers claim they’ve seen a fake online review — and the problem seems to be getting worse.

In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), an independent government department, cracked down on a company that was caught posting more than 800 fake reviews on behalf of 86 small businesses across 26 different websites. And Samsung agreed to pay a large fine to Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission for posting fake positive reviews about its products, and fake negative reviews about its competitors’ products.

Assuming that most brands are not trying to game the system, what can you do to ensure user-created content is seen as truth-worthy?

  • Encourage your customers to provide honest, genuine feedback. Don’t try to unduly influence outcomes in the way you ask the questions. One client asked us to remove the 1-10 rating range of “likelihood to refer” (a Net Promotor Score strategy) and replace it with a yes/no option because in their mind, they knew everyone was “happy” so why not lay claim to 100 percent happiness?
  • Acknowledge all reviews — don’t ignore the negative ones. Instead, turn them into opportunities to educate that customer and prospective customers who will see the review, demonstrating your brand is respectful of all opinions, and is thoughtful about resolving them in a fair and positive way.
  • Timing is everything. Unless it’s a review of a restaurant, don’t send out a survey 24-hours after the product is delivered. How could you possibly get an honest response when the buyer has barely had time to open the box, let alone experience your product? When a mattress company sent me a survey after only one night’s sleep on it, my response, of course, will be positive considering I was replacing a 20-year old incumbent.

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