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Elevating Brands 006: Turning Bad Marketing Into Good Marketing

Len Sullivan:
So, Pieter, how bad are bad reviews?


Pieter Bickford:
You know, bad reviews can be devastating, I think, to the people reading them, but I think as marketers, we always try to find the light at the end of the tunnel, don't we?

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Len Sullivan:
Oh, of course. I mean, I think that there is an opportunity with every negative situation to turn something into a positive. And that's actually what we're going to be talking about today as if you hadn't guessed. How to turn bad reviews into good marketing. What, what do you think, in terms of buying decision, where do reviews factor into? If you were to sort of rank the level of decision-making, where do you think reviews would kind of sit on the – let's say there's 10 factors, where do you think it would kind of sit?


Pieter Bickford:
I think it'd be pretty high up. I know, even just personally when I'm shopping or, planning a trip or something, usually I go straight to the review section, because I'm hoping to find some honest reaction.


Len Sullivan:
Yeah. Right. Exactly. Well, you brought up two points right there. So you kind of jumped ahead, but it's actually not that high up.


Pieter Bickford:
Really?


Len Sullivan:
Things like price and brand equity, most surveys will put reviews somewhere about mid. You know, it might be five, it might be six. It may jump over the place. There's different criteria evaluating these things, but reviews are not often the things that people turn to when they're making a decision. Now, you did point out one thing. What do you think the first thing people look at when they sort through reviews?


Pieter Bickford:
They're looking for, the overall rating, correct? And then, you know, they're always sort of sifting through to see where people might be, maybe a negative review.


Len Sullivan:
Oh. Not even close. I mean, like—almost a hundred percent, almost a hundred percent. I'm sure everybody listening can empathize with this. You're sorting by one star reviews. I mean, you almost want to see worst case scenarios. And I mean, I feel like everyone should empathize with this situation, because we've all done it, you know, in terms of, like, I want to see the worst case scenario with this company.


Pieter Bickford:
Okay. You caught me.


Len Sullivan:
Yeah. I mean, I'm just as guilty as you are. And, you know, I'm sure there's people out there that are listening to this that are nodding their heads saying, you know, I've done the same exact thing, because you want to know what are the things that can go wrong? No one wants to get burned in terms of purchasing. But because negative reviews are the worst-case scenario, and they often craft a picture of – as a person who's making the purchase, you either discount them or you validate them. You kind of have two choices. You either say, this person seems to be an extreme case or, oh, you know, that pillowcase doesn't fit the pillow that I have, you know, and that person pointed out the size dimension. That's a very valid concern. Have you ever seen a situation where you've known that a company has responded wrongly to a negative review?


Pieter Bickford:
I was thinking of three examples. We were planning a vacation and we were looking on Airbnb, and there was one particular spot we liked. And somebody criticized the room, the apartment. And I remember thinking the person replied back and immediately got personal about the reviewer and really missed an opportunity there because they made it personal so that I didn't want to stay there. Whereas if they'd responded to say, you know, here's what's good about this room and here's what we would try to do to fix the problems that he mentioned, that would have been way better.


Len Sullivan:
Yeah. I mean, let's bring it back around, right? This series is Elevating Brands. And it's about elevating your own brand. And either as a marketing director or an owner of a company, or, you know, the proprietor of a business, you're emotionally invested in your business and the things that you do. And in some cases, you take them very personally, but what you've just said, emotions are the worst-case scenario. You do not want to be emotionally involved with the negative review. For the very distinct reason that the negative reviews are not your customer. And if you go back to, I think it was the retail conversation that we had, one of the main points is basically the people that are often leaving negative reviews are not your customer.


Pieter Bickford:
Hmm.


Len Sullivan:
They are already gone; their ship has flown. They are probably not going to use you again. So catering to them is not beneficial to you or your business. What you really want to do is craft a solution that makes sense for the advocates, the people who are with your brand and the people who may come later.


Pieter Bickford:
Yeah. That's a great point. It's actually something I haven't thought about. You're absolutely right. When somebody has posted a negative review, chances are, you've lost that customer. You can maybe win them back, but you're right. It's a great opportunity to show, to try to attract new customers based on your response.


Len Sullivan:
Exactly. And I mean, it's a prime opportunity, A, to exhibit your brand, to kind of talk about what you do best. It shows how you deal with adversity. But the thing is, and I've noticed a lot of companies will spend a lot of time saying we need positive reviews, nothing but positive reviews, nothing but positive reviews, which in reality, and in a world filled with fake positive reviews, there's almost a validation concern that nothing but positive reviews give you pause to go, hmm. Is this real? I mean, you're actually wondering about the authenticity of that brand or to basically say no one's ever had a bad interaction with you. And that there is a case of not only putting an authentic response to this and dealing with, again, if you backtrack over this Elevating Brand series, I highly recommend that you watch the brand persona because it gives you a chance – for your brand persona to sort of shine through in terms of how we deal with adversity.

So, obviously negative reviews are the worst-case scenario. So let's talk about some of the things that you can obviously do. There is a situation where you can basically say you can follow a formulaic response to negative reviews. First of all, apologize. Even if the situation wasn't your fault, it acknowledges some level of humility. I think the next step you could definitely do is clarify the situation. Often you have a different perspective. When I say clarify, it means don't get emotionally wrapped up in the situation, because pointing fingers doesn't help. I remember this situation, you came in at 8:58 and you wanted to buy something two minutes before we closed and decided to do X yet we're under restrictions to close our establishment at nine o'clock therefore...you're basically providing details that elaborate the situation for the customers that come after to evaluate themselves. The next step obviously is to either rectify the situation if it is your fault, or refute the situation, obviously rectify or refute, you have a choice. It depends on what you think is the best depending on the situation, but those are three really quick things. But the simple fact is emotion always kills it.


Pieter Bickford:
Absolutely. And, you know, the other thing that I like that people do, I'm thinking of big brands like Southwest Airlines, you know, they won their response to every negative criticism on Twitter, but they usually also personalize it. So, they'll sign the name, they'll put a name at the end of whosever responding. So again, you get that feel that somebody real is addressing your concern.


Len Sullivan:
Yeah. Let's just say if you've built enough equity by doing these sort of customer services – I'm actually trying to backtrack, because there was one where they had the bridal shower, where they actually took her dress. Do you remember that?


Pieter Bickford:
Southwest.


Len Sullivan:
Yep. Yep. That was Southwest, right? Okay. There was the, the situation where they actually flew the bridal dress, and they created a webpage that tracked the bridal dresses, the progress to getting to her and they crafted it as a social media story. What a way to turn something negative into positive. Now, that is obviously an extreme rectification of a problem. And we're not in any way, shape, or form suggesting that that amount of money be spent to do something like that, but situations like that create advocates for your brand. So, when you have a negative situation, you obviously are with, with your brand persona, and crafting brand loyalty, and having good experiences over and over again. When you have a negative experience, often advocates for your brand will jump to your defense. So, if there is an overwhelming positive, when the negative start rolling in, you'll often find that your brand advocates who have had a good time with your brand, you've delivered on all of your promises, we'll often jump into your defense. And that is the best case scenario.


Pieter Bickford:
And that is my favorite case scenario, you can sort of sit back and know you've done a good job with building your audience, when someone posts a negative review, and it's an unfair criticism, and all of a sudden other customers immediately point out that it's unfair. Case in point, you and I both worked closely with movie theaters. And when Star Wars tickets go on sale, inevitably, you're going to get somebody that said I tried to buy tickets and the system was really slow. And I remember seeing people respond to that. Of course it was slow. It's basically expected.


Len Sullivan:
Yeah.


Pieter Bickford:
It's going to take a while to get tickets on the night of a major release.


Len Sullivan:
Right.


Peter Bickford:
And I don't think our movie theater brands had to really add any input at all because the customers explain the situation.


Len Sullivan:
Right. Again, brand advocates for your situation in hand. They were in the same situation, they were actually in the same boat as the negative review provided an alternate view. It's like being in an auto accident and having different points of view. You know, everybody has a different opinion of how things sort of went out. And if you listen to only one opinion, you're not going to get the full story.


Pieter Bickford:
Sure.


Len Sullivan:
I think, you know, I want to reiterate one particular thing that I did touch on earlier is again, those negative reviews, often emotional, knee-gut reactions, these people are typically first-time customers. They're not typically repeat customers. And often they're not your customer. They're not your intended...either I will be willing to bet, and I don't have any hard data to back this up, but I would be willing to take an educated guess and say that nine times out of 10, these people were not going to, uh, you know, be happy with your brand regardless of what you did. And that's when that sort of emotion gets in there. So if you don't meet them at their level, you can basically understand that this is not your customer.

And when you're crafting it, just make your response really work for the people that you do want, in terms of demographics, in terms of who you're trying to target, what type of customers that you want to cultivate. If your response is geared towards them, then you're probably on the right track of turning it into good marketing, because when you have a service, or when you have something, I don't think people think that review sites are good marketing or can be good marketing, but they really can be. I think the other thing is basically understanding that negative reviews are one of your best shots to show how good your customer service can be.


Pieter Bickford:
Absolutely true. I keep thinking about a chef friend that I know that owns a restaurant. And he craves negative reviews, because when he asks people, did you like your meal? Nine times out of 10, they're going to say oh, it was delicious. Well, he wants to hear, actually it was lukewarm and the cumin spice was a little too much because he's looking for ways to improve his product. And, and as a matter of fact, he actually goes through his trash every night to see what people didn't eat. So it's funny, people will say to his face they love the meal, but he'll check the trash and see they didn't finish it. So why serve something that people aren't going to eat?


Len Sullivan:
Wow, that's actually really impressive. As a general rule though, if you're a chef who wants to be excellent at his craft, solicit for that thing, but then often you also don't want to turn into someone who gives away things for free. Oh, well, your asparagus was unacceptable. Come back in and your meal is on me. Because then you'll have a lot of people. Often giving away things for free is not the solution either. So you do want to carefully sort of manage that message and make a solution that works without sort of – in some cases you may have to do it, but again, think in terms of a solution that works for the entirety across…


Pieter Bickford:
Absolutely, yeah.


Len Sullivan:
...All of your customer database.


Pieter Bickford:
I love the idea that to him, honesty is when people are negative.


Len Sullivan:
Yeah. I mean, taking off the menu is a great solution, right? You know, if it isn't up to par, it doesn't go into my menu.


Pieter Bickford:
Yep.


Len Sullivan:
And often, really good chefs like that do give out sampling menus. So anyway, I don't want to hold this up. We are almost at time. So with that, do you have any parting thoughts, Pieter?


Pieter Bickford:
Do I have any parting thoughts? Yeah! The other thing for me is just with negative reviews, the sooner you get on it, the better. The sooner you reply to it, the faster you can rectify the situation. And also, the more transparent you are, I think people appreciate that, because everybody has a bad day. But if you have a bad day and you're quiet about it, it only leads to more problems for you, but if you have a bad day and you're honest about it and immediately respond, I think you're going to get through it a lot faster.


Len Sullivan:
I think that's a great way to end this, respond to your good and bad reviews, and do it in a timely matter. And with a positive brand persona spin, and it'll be good marketing for you. Thanks for tuning into Elevating Brands. We'll see you next time.

 

Nikoletta Gjoni

by Nikoletta Gjoni, Project Manager

As a graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) with a degree in English Literature and Journalism, Niki's passion has always been storytelling and all the forms it can take. As such, her professional experience has ranged from working in cable news to holding communications and marketing director roles in the nonprofit sector. She enjoys connecting with audiences through strategic branding and marketing approaches and believes a good story will almost always win someone over for a new product or experience.

Outside of work, Niki is an award-nominated fiction and creative nonfiction writer, as well as a manuscript editor and creative writing coach for new and young writers. She enjoys traveling, eating good food, supporting indie bookstores, and combatting writer's block, among other things.

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