Recently, a friend asked me which brand of coffee had the best dark roast blend. Naturally, as a former barista for a local coffee roaster, I suggested without hesitation that they grab a bag of my old shop’s Sumatra blend (which I am currently drinking). I know they asked my opinion because since I worked as a barista for a time then obviously I should have an expert’s take on coffees. They trusted what I had to say, given my previously brief stint as someone who more often than not burnt milk trying to froth for lattes (and miserably failed attempts at latte art).
But what if I hadn’t been a barista and this same friend knew of no one else to turn to for suggestions? Well, in the 21st-century, odds are they would have reached for their mobile device that was probably an arm-length away (even more likely, already in their hands) and navigated their way to Amazon, or some similar e-commerce site to compare coffee brands and blends. Once there, while they’d be curious to know which brand and blend had certain notes and aromas of this or that citrus or chocolate, the description alone wasn’t going to illicit a purchase. If this friend were like myself, they’d sort the products by “most popular” reviews. Without a personal expert to turn to, the trove of thousands of online reviewers would certainly hold the scepter of influence on which brand of coffee my friend would ultimately opt for.
I am willing to wager that you, reader, have researched a product, brand, or business online within the last month. I would further double-down on that bet that a part of your research included online reviews. I am confident in my odds because of a 2018 study by SEO giants BrightLocal who found in their Local Consumer Review Survey that online reviews are viewed by 86% of consumers. Further, they report the extent to which online users take star ratings, frequency of reviews, and how recent the reviews are as factors in their decision-making and willingness to trust a brand.
Today, as our society becomes ever more active and engaged online, businesses have a unique opportunity to take control of their online reputation and win-over consumers who are relying on star ratings and customer feedback to influence their purchase.
When my friend approached me to solicit a recommendation on coffee, they did so because of one reason: trust. They trusted in my judgment, given my experience with coffee.
This tendency for us to rely on another’s word, the phenomenon we call “word of mouth” has long been both an asset and a burden for businesses. We buy from and engage with those whom we trust, and word of mouth referrals have been the most powerful trust-instilling behavior between brands and consumers for ages.
Today, online reviews facilitate the same level of trust-building between brands and consumers. BrightLocal confirms as much in their study, finding that 91% of “consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.” The profound influence online reviews have in affecting the trust consumers will be inclined to feel towards a brand highlights the crucial need for businesses to take an active role in managing their online reputation.
When a customer or client takes the time to rave about their experience and satisfaction with your product and/or service, they are gifting to you the opportunity to influence other consumers who may be on the fence about purchasing from you or a competitor. Naturally, a higher review count and higher average star rating will ultimately result in a higher trust factor among prospective customers.
Increasing your online reputation begins by encouraging your customers to post their positive experiences on your online social platforms: Facebook, Google, Yelp, etc. Many point-of-sale terminals now offer solutions for garnering post-transaction feedback. Additionally, there are agencies that specialize in assisting businesses to craft digitally-powered strategies for following up with and facilitating customer reviews.
Ideally, when a customer is searching online for a product or service that you offer, your rating listings on sites like Yelp and Facebook are at top of the page. Hundreds of reviews and a solid 4-5 star rating at the top of a Google search result should certainly inspire trust in a buyer’s decision-making.
Yet, letting those reviews idly sit on a listing only affects those actively searching. Modern digital marketing allows for a multitude of ways to repurpose those star ratings and reviews, to target consumers who may not yet be ready to purchase today, but whose online behavior indicates that they have recently started looking.
Trust is one of the most crucial factors in the consumer decision-making process. Looking for recommendations on coffee, I was consulted as a trusted expert in the field. The word-of-mouth phenomenon, in the case of my former coffee shop employer, turned out to be a highly effective, yet passive, marketing conversion. Imagine now if this shop were to create an intentional and active digital marketing campaign. Think of the impact their online reputation could have on countless users seeking local coffee.
Contact your local digital marketing experts to find out where your online trust factor stands.
Adam Mahan is a contributor to the ThriveFuel blog. Adam has 15 years of experience in digital telecommunications and media, working with Fortune 500 companies as well as digital marketing agency start-ups.