Spend enough time talking to online marketers or digitally savvy traditional advertisers and you’ll hear lots of conversation—and consternation—about the power of online reviews. According to these marketers, the comments and critiques on review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp are key to either their company’s success or failure.
But according to a fascinating new article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, titled “What Marketers Misunderstand About Online Reviews,” the most important factor in determining the significance online reviews play in a consumer’s propensity to purchase is not necessarily the quality of the reviews but the type of product the client is looking for and the way the consumers determine what to buy.
According to the authors, consumer purchase decisions are affected by three different factors: “…Prior preferences, beliefs, and experiences” (P), “information from marketers” (advertising, packaging, and other marketing tools) identified as M, and “input from other people and information services” (O). The authors say these factors create a zero-sum game where “…when the impact of O on a purchase decision about a food processor goes up,” for example, “the influence of M or P, or both, goes down.”
What’s even more interesting is that the authors have found that the importance of the various factors – P, M, or O – on purchases is less determined by the customers’ demographics and more by the type of product they’re buying. Low-involvement purchases that are mostly a matter of habit, a gallon of milk, say, or laundry detergent generally are not influenced by others’ opinions. P, or previous experience, is the most important factor in these decision-making processes.
At the far other end of the spectrum, luxury goods such as designer handbags, expensive watches and upscale automobiles, are also O-independent. That’s because these products appeal to buyers’ emotions instead of their utility.
Chain restaurants are also mostly O-independent because consumers know exactly what to expect from a Subway or McDonald’s and have no need to learn what anyone else thinks. But the uncertainty of independent restaurants makes them O-dependent and explains the success of review sites such as Yelp. Non-luxury cars, too, are O-dependent, with customers conducting extensive research and putting significant faith in the cars’ brand. (Brand value itself can be O-dependent but it can also be increased substantially by savvy M.)
Finally, digital products such as consumer electronics are very O-dependent with buyers looking to early adopters and more educated users for input and recommendations. But interestingly enough, during sale periods such as Black Friday, the marketers’ influence (M) – such as packaging and in-store promos – becomes more and more important as buyers do not have the time to do the research they’d otherwise conduct.
The authors close the article by pointing out that emerging technology continues to change both sources of O and the way consumers can access that information. They conclude by writing that “as the influence mix evolves, success will come to companies that can closely track the sources of information their customers turn to and find the combination of marketing channels and tools best suited to the way those consumers decide.” Very good advice.
But what the authors don’t point out is that there are things marketers can do immediately to reduce the influence of O and increase their sales. First, a strategically planned move to the luxury end of the consumer spectrum—where emotion overrides intellect—will allow marketers to sell more and more product regardless of available information. Next, marketers can strive to build an emotional connection between their consumer and their brand. In this scenario, the functionality of the product (an attribute ironically never mentioned by the authors) becomes less and less pronounced while what the product does for the user becomes of primary importance.
In other words, building brand value (coincidentally the title of my last book) is one technique retailers and marketers can use to both sell more product and reduce the effect of other’s posted opinions on those sales. Like the door slamming or tire-kicking that yesterday’s car buyer might have done to determine quality, brand value becomes the shorthand that encourages today’s consumers to purchase.
I travel so often that it wasn’t until my daughter was 13 or 14 that she figured out that shampoo comes in large bottles too.
Because so much of that travel relates to building compelling tourism brands for destinations around the world, I often sit in the plane on the way home and think about how to construct the ultimate travel destination.
We’d start with a tropical island in the middle of the ocean but not too far from the coast of the United States. We’d enjoy wonderful views and the sound of the surf crashing against our beautiful beaches. Plus, our weather would be at its best just when our feeder markets were experiencing their coldest, dreariest conditions.
Inside our island we’d plant lush rainforests with soaring mountains and burbling waterfalls. We’d stock it with vegetables and trees, fruits and flowers, and all sorts of game and exotic creatures.
Because we’d want our destination to attract tourists from all over the world, we’d fill it with beautiful hotels—both large and small. We’d build in all sorts of activities so our visitors will never run out of things to do. And because nearly 80% of travelers say that shopping is one of their favorite activities, we’d establish a vibrant retail sector with shops and malls rivaling those in New York, Hong Kong, and London.
We’ll fill our island with culture—both indigenous and imported. We’ll have museums, symphonies, ballets, art festivals, folkloric dance, and theater. We’ll also have sports – spectator and participatory – so we’ll need to build golf courses, tennis courts, arenas, ball fields, hiking and running trails, BMX courses, swimming pools, and whatever other facilities our tourists are looking for.
While we’re at it, why not make our island as exotic as possible? Let’s speak a language other than English. Let’s offer our visitors food and art and an entire experience that’s nothing like they’d find at home. But in order to ensure their comfort and convenience, let’s make sure that our residents also speak fluent English and that our US visitors can spend their dollars, use their health plans, and depend on the full faith and credit of the United States. And since less than 20% of mainland Americans have passports, let’s make sure passports aren’t even necessary. Otherwise at $165 per application, a family of four would need to spend more than $660 before they even leave home.
What else? Some travelers like big cities while others prefer small towns, so let’s build both. And let’s connect the municipalities with a superhighway system that makes it easy to get around. Let’s also build state-of-the-art airports and seaports to make it as convenient as possible for our customers to visit.
Because so many travelers say they’re looking for an authentic experience, we’ll build historic regions complete with architecture combining the best of both local and European traditions. We’ll have an old town with cobblestone streets, restored churches and forts, and other charming amenities so our tourists linger and learn.
And since we’ve built an island in the ocean, why don’t we surround our island with other smaller islands where visitors can find an even more natural and personal experience if that’s what they want?
Finally, let’s have our residents travel freely and frequently to the continental U.S. and evangelize our brand. Our residents should include sports stars, politicians, musicians, actors, chefs, and just plain folk to spread the word about what a rich, vibrant, worldly culture we offer.
All that’s left is to name our island. If you live in the US on the west coast, my guess is you’ll name it Hawaii. If you live on the east, maybe you’ll call it Puerto Rico. So why is it that Hawaii is one of the leading tourist destinations in the country while Puerto Rico is struggling to maintain its tourism industry? Especially odd when you consider that Puerto Rico is only two to three hours away from 36% of the U.S. population while Hawaii is more that six hours away from only 18%. Do the quick arithmetic and you’ll realize that Hawaii is twice as far away from half as many people as Puerto Rico.
Like the most popular tourism brands in the country – New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Miami – Hawaii’s brand essence is instantly recognizable and understandable. And therein lies its success. As soon as Puerto Rico figures out how to present a compelling, comprehensive, and consistent brand message to the rest of the United States, their fortunes will soar as well. If you’ve seen the economic news about Puerto Rico lately, you can only hope that it happens quickly.
…those who get it, get it anyway. Those who don’t, never will.”
Have you seen the ad for the new Cadillac ELR? It features a very smug 40-something actor, Neal McDonough, strolling through his Dwell magazine-perfect house, kissing his beautiful wife, high-fiving his beautiful kids, and showing off all his tastefully extravagant belongings while pontificating on the materialistic benefits of our consumer society.
“Why do we work so hard? For what? For this? For stuff?
“Other countries they work, they stroll home, they stop by the café. They take August off. Off. Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t we like that? Because we’re crazy driven hard-working believers, that’s why.
“Those other countries think we’re nuts. Whatever. Were the Wright brothers insane? Bill Gates, Les Paul, Ali? Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? That’s right, we went up there you know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there, left the keys in it. You know why? Because we’re the only ones going back up there; that’s why.
“But I digress.
“It’s pretty simple you work hard, you create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible. As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of only taking two weeks off in August. N’est-ce pas?”
If you spend as much thinking about these things as I do, you might notice that besides being beautifully shot and perfectly art-directed, this ad presents a never-before-seen amalgam of righty American exceptionalism and lefty aesthetics and eco-sensitive electric automobiles. Kind of like the ‘Madison Avenue’ version of the person who says they’re “socially liberal and economically conservative,” it’s a mash-up of two previously mutually exclusive mindsets.
Which brings up an interesting question — exactly what is Cadillac trying to say with this spot? Is the ad tongue-in-cheek and poking ironic fun at our quest for stuff? Or is Cadillac seriously going after the specific demographic that will identify with the ad’s protagonist and his beliefs?
I posted it on Facebook and got some fascinating and different points of view.
Brian Walters wrote: “I reacted to it the way I think they wanted. It was fun, cocky and impishly arrogant. The actor smirked just enough for us to know he wasn’t being too literal. And I do think it is smart to have the electric car be the hero at the end. It was a surprise ending. I say kudos.”
Steve Sauls said: “My first reaction was that the ad is xenophobic and negative and that the ad was designed to appeal to a narrow, calculated market to bring them back to Cadillac from BMW, Mercedes and Lexus.”
Most of my friends thought it was pretty funny. My wife and daughter hated it.
What I think is that we’re seeing the next logical evolution of the Prius phenomenon. You might remember that when it was first released, Toyota’s little doorstop-shaped hybrid wedge became the instant darling of the Hollywood elite – including Gwneyth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, Orlando Bloom, Natalie Portman, Cameron Diaz, and even Harrison Ford. Why? Because unlike the equally efficient but visually indistinguishable Honda Civic Hybrid, the unique shape of the Prius announced to the world that its driver cared about the environment while all the prosaic Honda said was, “I’m driving a cheap car.”
I don’t think Cadillac is being ironic at all. Instead, I think that what you see is what you get. What Cadillac is saying is that regardless of the rest of the world going to hell in a handbasket, you can have your cake and eat it too. Buy their new ELR and you can own all the neat toys you want, think you’re successful and superior, AND tell the world that you care. Even if you really don’t.
All in all, a pretty good deal for an MSRP of only $82,135.
(Yes, I am being ironic now. Oh, never mind…)
The flight to San Juan was scheduled to leave at 7:25 AM, so my mental math looked something like this:
“Want to get to airport an hour early, that’s 6:25 AM.
Thirty minutes to get to airport, that’s 6:00.
Half an hour to get ready, gotta get up at 5:30.”
But here’s what happened:
Was still jet-lagged from my trip back from Southeast Asia and California the day before, so I went to bed early and was wide awake at 4:30 AM. Finally got out of bed at 5:00. Took 40 minutes to leave house and 20 minutes to get to airport because of early hour, so I arrived at 6:00. Zipped through TSA pre-check, grabbed a snack and still got to gate at 6:15 – at least 45 minutes before boarding time.
Know what happened next? Absolutely nothing. I read the paper, sipped my coffee, and boarded the flight when they called my section. No stress, no drama, no nothing.
Flight on the way back landed late and I was pulled over by a policeman for speeding.
“Where’s the fire, Mario?” he asked.
“Sorry officer,” I answered. “I’m late for a meeting.”
“You should have left sooner.”
Damn it! Why didn’t I think of that? I had no good response, so I just nodded and opened my hand and took the ticket.
Leave early, stress free. Leave late, stressful.
Can it really be as easy as that?
“Leave early?!” I hear you screaming. “Who’s got time to leave early? And anyways, what the hell do I do when I get to the airport or meeting with an extra half hour to kill?”
Here’s a radical idea – you’ve probably got your smartphone, laptop or iPad with you already – why don’t you do what you’d do if you were still sitting at your desk? Answer messages and emails, reread your proposal or presentation, read the newspaper, write blog posts, or just sit quietly and think.
The simple point is that thanks to today’s technology, where you are has less and less to do with what you can accomplish than ever before. And so the old rules just don’t apply anymore. The trick is to figure out how to apply the new realities and possibilities to make your life as enjoyable, productive, and stress-free as possible.
All of a sudden, location and productivity are not joined at the hip. A workspace can be anywhere with power and Wi-Fi. The inspiration muse can be serviced wherever you are. An hour in a Starbucks between meetings can be more productive than running back to the office only to turn around and run back out again. And when you are in the office and face-to-face, that time can be better spent doing the personal warm and fuzzies — the “atta-boys” and “atta-girls” that are best done in person.
Running late and making yourself and everyone around you crazy no longer needs to be a part of your life – or your brand. All you have to do is change the way you approach your calendar and your to-do list.
Try it. I think you’ll like it.
Unless you’re a hardcore advertising fan, the Super Bowl ad show wasn’t very entertaining, either. Other than a few stalwarts and outliers, the ads were a big bore.
Budweiser is still using horses and dogs, albeit an adorable puppy this year. Coca-Cola is still trying to teach the world to sing almost 45 years after their first attempt. And Chevy is still telling stories about men and their trucks.
What was new this year was a circumspect attitude that prized warm and fuzzy over risqué. Also new was a strategy that mixed celebrities willy-nilly in order to appeal to all of the different demographics that watch the Super Bowl.
GoDaddy, the advertiser we could always count on for sleaze, changed its tune with two slaphappy ads that could have been shot for almost anyone. Axe, too, left its bodacious babes at home, with an ad that focused on world peace.
Bud Light shoehorned its ads full of Minka Kelly, Don Cheadle, Lilly the llama, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And Radio Shack filled their ad with a laundry list of celebrities from the 1980s, including Hulk Hogan, Teen Wolf, Chuckie, Mary Lou Retton (!!), and Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister. Snyder, by the way, probably earned more money by appearing in this ad than he did from his entire musical career.
And talking about guys who are earning money from appearing in ads instead of doing what made them famous, Tim Tebow proved that not only won’t he be playing football, but that an acting career isn’t in his future either. Lucky thing he has a good sense of humor.
Beefcake was back with both a naked David Beckham and Chevy’s stud bull that was a good enough actor to lick his lips just when the voiceover said, “Hello Ladies.” And both Volkswagen and VaporZone made pee jokes with actors standing at a urinal.
Chrysler built on 2011’s “Imported From Detroit” and 2012’s “Halftime in America,” upping the antes from former spokesmen Clint Eastwood, Eminem, and Berry Gordy with — who would have thunk it — Bob Dylan.
At $4 million a pop, advertisers really owed it to their viewers and their bottom lines to put their best work on display. Unfortunately, their ads were upstaged by the Seahawks skills and halftime entertainer Bruno Mars’ talent. That being said, Budweiser’s dog and pony show generated over 34 million YouTube views before the game even started, a number that has since swelled to nearly 40 million. That might be the most important measure of all.
Want to see what I had to say about the spots on FOX Business? Click HERE.
It wasn’t until I spent three weeks in Southeast Asia with my family that I really learned the true importance of brands.
It shouldn’t have been that way because for the last 30 years I’ve been running a brand management firm that helps our clients create and build their brands through advertising, design, strategic planning, and online activities. I’ve written books on building brands and spent a lot of time zipping around the world teaching audiences what I’ve learned about building brands. I’m even lucky enough to appear on Money with Melissa Francis on FOX Business each week talking about what’s happened in the world of advertising and branding. But what I learned is that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
Our flight to Singapore included a layover in the spanking new transit terminal in Doha, Qatar. Other than housing facilities for the planes that are taking off and landing, Doha’s airport is really just a shopping mall. And all the products they sell there are big brands. Hugo Boss, Tom Ford, Tumi, Ferragamo, Samsung, Canon, Porsche, and Lamborghini are everywhere. So are TAG Heuer, IWC, Escada, Nikon, Chanel, and Montblanc. Plus every liquor and cigarette brand you can name – all in a Muslim country, no less.
Singapore, too, was awash in eastern and western brands. As was Bangkok, Saigon, Da Nang, and Hanoi. But none of those places compared to Hong Kong where I saw more brand names and logos than I’ve ever seen in my life.
It wasn’t just the upscale malls and airport stores that featured these brands. They were prevalent in every market we visited—from the floating market in in Bangkok and the street stalls in Saigon to the night market in Hong Kong.
It was most obvious in the counterfeit watch stalls and arrays spread out on blankets on busy avenues. Rolexes, Patek Philippes, Panerai, Omegas, and IWCs seemed to be the most popular. Of course they weren’t the real items, but then again, they weren’t five, 10, or 20 thousand dollars either. I didn’t bargain for one but I did watch a few tourists haggle for their counterfeit wristwatches for much less than $100 apiece.
What I found most interesting was that the tourists I watched weren’t actually buying timepieces. Because if they wanted to know the time they could always look at their mobile phones, dashboard clocks, laptops, iPads, or the myriad of watches they probably already own.
What they were buying were brands. They wanted to come back from the Orient with a status symbol on their wrists to tell the world just how successful they are. Accuracy, or even approximate time, is irrelevant—it’s all about the brand.
That being said, there’s not any reason to believe that the counterfeit watches from the Asian stalls are any less competent at time telling than the real things they copy to begin with.
In this world of modern computerized manufacturing, actual function is becoming less and less important to consumers. Thanks to today’s technology, most things simply work regardless of their brand name or cost. In fact, it’s very likely that regardless of the brand name on their boxes, many differently branded products are manufactured in the same factories. Moreover, most affluent consumers already have everything they could possible want or need. Instead, their purchases are about upgrading, freshening or replacing — I’m sure that no one I saw buying watches at those stalls actually needed another timepiece.
Brand value, the true reason today’s consumers purchase, is not about product function but about creating stories that help consumers tell the world who they are. From expensive foreign cars in the driveway to faux-expensive watches on wrists, it’s the brand value that both differentiates products from one another and incites customers to buy and buy more.
If you don’t believe me, book a trip to Southeast Asia. And if you need someone to carry your bags, give me a call. On your branded Android or iPhone, of course.
The Power of Patterns
My friend and the lead guitar player for The Southbound Suspects, Phil Allen, put himself through law school at the University of Florida by singing and playing his guitar in bars around Gainesville. Years later Phil still wows audiences by performing his prodigious repertoire of songs.
People are amazed at all the tunes Phil knows and call him a human jukebox. After they request an obscure Crosby, Stills & Nash title, maybe, or something by Phil Ochs, they ask Phil how he’s memorized so many songs. But as Phil told me, he memorizes the lyrics, not the music. Phil knows what notes to play because he recognizes the patterns the songs follow.
My mother has a good friend who is a linguist. Although she speaks five or six languages, my mom’s friend says she can communicate with people in languages she doesn’t speak because most rudimentary conversations follow similar patterns. A server in a restaurant greets you, for example, and then asks what you’d like to drink. After you’ve established your preference, the conversation usually moves on to what you’d like to eat. You don’t need to speak the server’s language to be able to let them know what you’d like. You just work within the natural pattern of the conversation.
Did you watch Bruno Mars perform the song Valerie on the Video Music Awards last year? I was watching with my wife and she was curious how the dancers all knew to move at the exact same time. Watch the performance once and see if you can tell. Click HERE or on the arrow in the video box below. Try not to be distracted by Katy Perry’s blockhead hat.
Could you tell how the performers knew exactly when to change steps? Was there someone cuing them from off stage or was Mars giving them a signal? No, it’s much simpler than that. The dancers were in sync because they were innately aware of the pattern of the rhythm of the song. Valerie is written in an 8-bar blues pattern, which simply means that the structure of the song is a repeating pattern of eight measures (or sections) of four beats each. When the dancers reach the seventh bar (four beats before the loop repeats itself), they count “one, two, three, four” and they know it’s the beginning of the pattern and time for them to spin.
Try it yourself. Watch the video again and count along to the beat. Start at the beginning of the song and count it this way: one, two, three, four. Two, two, three, four. Three, two, three, four, and so on until you get to seven, two, three, four. If you count properly, you’ll find that when you get to the fourth beat of seven, two, three, four, the dancers will magically change direction or steps. Really. Do it a few times and you’ll predict their moves without counting. You’ll just feel when it’s time for them to switch. To try it, click HERE or on the arrow in the video again.
That’s the power of patterns. Besides being a good way to coordinate dancers, it’s also a great way to build your brand value. Because that same confident knowledge that told you when the dancers would spin around is the same feeling your customers can have about what your brand means to them.
In my last book, Building Brand Value: Seven Simple Steps to Profitable Communications, point seven is Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It explains how repetition provides the comfortable framework that binds your customers closer to your brand by showing them exactly what to expect from you. Your repeated good behavior, dependable quality, and consistent messaging, all build a sense of trust between you and your clients that presages and reinforces the reasons they do business with you. That is, your customers know what to expect before they purchase from you and they feel comfortable that they got what they wanted after the transaction.
The dancers and musicians in Bruno Mars’ band can concentrate on what they’re doing because they know what to expect from the song and their front man: When they get to the fourth beat of the seventh measure it’ll be time for them to switch steps. The reliably repeated rhythms set up a predictable and comfortable environment within which they can operate to the best of their abilities.
What works for musicians such as Phil Allen and Bruno Mars, and for linguists, can work for you, too. Creating similarly trustworthy patterns is a simple yet increasingly significant way to build your brand and your business. Because just like the performers on Mars’ stage, your customers can purchase from you more comfortably, more reliably, and more often because they know exactly what to expect from you each and every time.