Product reviews regularly influence our purchase decisions. Firms should measure what consumers say about their brands.
Part of the digital dialogue is online customer feedback, or electronic word-of-mouth (eWoM). eWoM increasingly impacts today’s customer journey and the way brands are managed. It has even become more influential than traditional marketing mix elasticities and changes how we search for and purchase products, and interact with brands. Just think about the last time you chose a restaurant on Google Maps based on ratings or a product on Amazon by comparing product reviews.
For marketing managers, the loss of control in managing their brands has raised the need to understand how eWoM influences the customer journey. This blog highlights this challenge and discusses how firms can use eWoM as valuable customer-centric insight.
How does the customer journey work?
After recognizing the need to purchase a product, consumers go through four phases along the customer journey: information search, alternative evaluation, choice, and post-purchase behavior.
When consumers start to search for information, they are predominantly influenced by firm-driven marketing and product information. Having gathered the relevant information, consumers evaluate relevant brand and product alternatives. At this phase, eWoM is perceived as a valuable recommender since consumers trust opinions from their peers more than firm information. Due to the rise of social media platforms, the evaluation stage has become very important. Now, consumers interact more with brands, resulting in potentially stronger (or weaker) brand relationships. In fact, based on an eye-tracking study*, we found that consumers compare products by reading both positive and negative product reviews when narrowing down their product preferences. In the choice phase, a third of consumers still read reviews, in addition to skimming through product specifications and design elements. In the final, post-purchase phase, consumers actively seek eWoM instead of after-sales service to learn from other consumers. They may then also share their own product experience online, potentially reaching millions of other consumers.
How to utilize customer feedback
Although eWoM can positively influence brand perceptions during the customer journey, it can also have adverse large-scale consequences if the tone turns negative. Firms should thus monitor and act quickly on what is said about their brands, using eWoM by means of social analytics tools.
While these tools are used primarily for marketing communication or public-relation purposes, brands are starting to generate all forms of social insights to enhance their customer-centric understanding. The tools also provide marketing managers advance in-market knowledge that they can use to proactively strengthen their leadership role within the firm.
In the Figure 1, I summarize relevant social analytics applications along the value chain:
Job hunters increasingly check employer profiles and applicant/employee reviews on online career networks. Through social analytics, firms can also track their employer reputation and use social insights to improve application and day-to-day personnel processes. Active participation on such platforms is necessary to win the competition among talents.
The fast-changing digital landscape requires that firms constantly re-evaluate and adapt their market presence and offerings. A mature social analytics strategy helps create valuable customer insights linked with traditional market research data. As a result, co-created innovations with early-mover differentiation can be achieved though social insights and immediately tested within social communities.
Brand monitoring and demand recognition
Brand monitoring involves listening and responding to online customer conversations. Sourcing relevant brand topics may help the firm improve the product and actively react to negative sentiment. It also compares brand appearance, reach, and perception against competitors across various channels to identify potential white spots regarding brand presence. Moreover, from brand and product discussions, firms can detect early product demand recognition, helping to operate production and logistic cycles more efficiently.
Social media analytics
The ultimate objective of social media marketing is to generate new leads and sales by assessing online campaigns, such as product launches, product recommendations, and influencer marketing with social analytics. Matured firms use customer insights to optimize marketing and campaign activities in real time and increase their efficiency in marketing budget planning.
Firms have not yet fully used the potential to detect social influencers within social analytics. However, their application potential is unquestionable since social analytics can be used in fora and blogs to identify strong opinion leaders who influence other consumers. Some firms have started to integrate their influencers in their innovation processes by means of an online “customer advisory board,” representing highly influential communities that actively challenge their products.
Social customer service
Today, consumers expect one-to-one interactions with brands at all times. Firms are facing the challenge of finding, prioritizing, and responding on eWoM on various owned and external social channels. Successful and automated social listening provides a faster, more meaningful response that results in increased customer satisfaction and decreased overall service costs.
In the next blog, I will present a benchmarking tool which firms can use to measure their social media intelligence maturity and discuss the skills, tools, and processes needed to become a customer-centric organization.