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Authenticity Is the New Black: The Power of Product Reviews

Quick! Imagination time: You’re in the market for running shoes and you decide to see what your favorite running bloggers have written about Blurred (fictitious brand) running shoes.

You come across two reviews.

Review #1 is full of photos of the blogger wearing the shoes and she talks about her experience breaking them in and wearing them for a month.

In Review #2 the blogger gives information about Blurred running shoes, stats on how they improve running and maybe even a coupon. Though she’s given some great stats on the company and a discount code, she hasn’t tried the shoes out for herself – she’s just writing about them.

Which review would have a bigger impact on you?

As consumers, we trust recommendations from our family, friends and influencers on social networks. Bloggers who are also influencers are one of the go-to-resources when making a purchase decision on a specific product.

Goal: Sincere and Authentic Mentions

With word of mouth marketing and influencer marketing strategies, the goal should always to be to elicit sincere mentions of your brand. I’m talking about someone’s real life experience with your brand as opposed to a regurgitation of information here.

Some marketers may go as far as to argue that a paid-for post or review discredits the mention. The theory behind this is that since the blogger was paid to talk about something, there is no meat in their recommendation.

I’ll remain neutral here because I see both sides of this argument. You can check out this post on Spin Sucks on whether or not bloggers should be paid for mentions to help yourself reach a decision.

I do believe, notwithstanding the question of payment, that the blogger or social influencer that a company is working with should have some actual experience with the brand. Whether they test out your product for a while, tour your facility during an event you host, or have access to a service you provide—I wouldn’t push anyone for brand mentions unless they can stand behind their mention and round it out with their experience as a whole.

Just like consumers can see through a brand that self-promotes, they also see through bloggers who write about a product they really don’t care about. Whether you pay them or not, make sure your influencers are really fans of your product before moving ahead with the relationship (or contract).

Tactics and Strategies

Strategy means you’re productive, not busy. You implement a daily plan that propels your business forward.
~ @RebekahRadice

As marketers, we don’t go in to anything without a strategy in place. So here are a few to build from:

 1 - Let them pick

Many fashion brands offer the blogger the choice of picking out an item to promote. That way the blogger can talk about something that fits their taste.

 2 - Let them try for free

Another way to get a sincere mention is to offer influencers free products, but not require a post in return. Just assume that they’ll post if they like your product or brand. This is an easy way to get your brand organically weaved in to a blogger’s existing content.

3 - Work with those you've worked with before

Target bloggers who have written about your brand before on their own. They clearly like you.

4 - Let them be honest

Invite the blogger to list pros and cons of their experience with your product. Though you don’t want a negative review, a shining review can sometimes seem a little suspicious and inauthentic as nothing is perfect, right?

Examples to Inspire

We marketers should always be looking to how other brands do something well. Then we can morph and mold their tactics and strategies to be relevant to our own brands.

Look how this blogger from Groovy Green Living weaved into her post a jacket from Prana complete with a photo and why she likes it. It certainly comes across as sincere and appealing.

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Gluten Free School, a gluten free living blog, featured this post about So Delicious coconut milk and invited readers register for a giveaway. What I like is that they wrote a whole post about the product instead of just featuring the giveaway—something I see bloggers do often.

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Check out this post from Adventures of a Monkey Footed Mummy on a cup by brand OXO. I like how many photos she included of her baby actually using the cup instead of just writing about it. (It sure doesn’t hurt that he’s adorable!)

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Bloggers aren’t the only group of people getting targeted by brands. In the DIY space, YouTube and Pinterest influencers are targeted especially heavily.

Check out how this DIY influencer on YouTube recommends a brand of yarn before she proceeds to teach her viewers how to crochet a scarf.

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When it comes to reviews of SaaS products, firsthand experience is absolutely necessary. The best blog posts will be equipped with how the blogger was able to apply the service to their own life or strategy and should be full of screen shots like this digital trends blogger’s review of an influencer identification platform.

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It’s All about Trust

With a real life example of someone they trust using a product or service, consumers can feel really comfortable with basing their purchase decisions off these types of reviews.

Before you dive in and send bloggers, YouTubers, Pinners, Facebook posters and Instagrammers free goodies in exchange for posts, keep a few things in mind and organize your strategy.

1 - Context is key

If the influencer isn’t a super contextual fit with your brand, their product review is moot. Thus, make sure you set criteria in place when building your list to qualify influencers that make a perfect fit and perpetuate your strategy.

Qualifiers should start with contextual ones. Think of three different niches of influencers your target audience would be following. From there designate how far they must reach. Popular reach criteria can include blog traffic and subscribers, social following or number of webinar attendees.

 2 - Let them choose the product they review

Ask the blogger if they would like to check out a particular product from your brand, and hopefully they can pick one that is tailored to their taste.

 3 - Don't be pushy

Don’t require the blogger to post. Most will if they like what you gave them.

4 - Provide assets up front

With that said, provide linkable assets such as popular posts on your blog, high-res images and your brand’s logo. Give them stuff from your press kit. You want the best post or mention possible so equip the blogger with the right info so that you can get a good post without coming across as controlling.

What Consumers Look for in Reviews

So we covered what your brand needs and what the blogger needs but what does the consumer need other than a firsthand experience from their influencers?

For all of you left-brained, uber-analytical types out there, I can’t just tell you that reviews and personal experiences are the way to go. Examples may not be good enough; therefore, I have research to show you!

Social Media Link conducted a survey of over 10,000 consumers asking them about how they make purchase decisions and what type of product recommendations are most effective. Here’s a snippet from the research which they turned into an infographic on what consumers told them they look for in product reviews.

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This research certainly speaks to the whole point of this article, that 40% of consumers value a personal story or experience with a brand.

Not too far behind was a comprehensive list of pros and cons. This is super interesting and key to marketers, because we need not be afraid of reviews that aren’t shining. Nothing is perfect and when a reviewer gives the good and the bad, it makes sense that that review comes across as very sincere.

Wrap Up

So product reviews are where it’s at. Especially the sincere ones that bloggers, YouTubers and other influencers weave into their content organically. The modern consumer is a sharp consumer. They can see when a blogger is writing something with an ulterior motive. They intuitively know and appreciate when a blogger will stand behind their recommendation. The only way an influencer can sincerely talk about a brand is to have an actual experience with the product or service.

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