In advertising, we call them "testimonials," but in truth customers couldn’t care less about them.
What they really want are real life case studies if they’re business buyers, or product reviews from other customers, if they’re consumers.
When we, the advertisers, say something, or even relate a customer comment second hand in the form of a "testimonial," our much-abused and rightfully skeptical prospects take it with a grain of salt.
On the other hand, when a real person says it, credibility skyrockets.
Since I started my latest round of writing about Internet video in 2005, I’ve often repeated my hunch that one of the slam dunk uses of video was going to be to capture customer reviews. In fact, as far back as 2000, I was making sure that every time I did a live event I grabbed video from customers. This video has been, far and away, my most effective selling tool.
Now the studies are coming in and guess what? About 80% of consumers put more faith in advertisers who present customer reviews than those that don’t. Over thee out of four customers say it is extremely or very important to read customer reviews before making a purchase.
And not just any old reviews. They want customer reviews and prefer them 6 to 1 over "expert" reviews. 44% of online shoppers say that consumer ratings and reviews are the most useful e-commerce feature. No other eCommerce shopping feature came even close.
Another study came up with different but similar numbers.
First, 85% of consumers research big ticket purchases like travel, electronics and cars on the Internet before they make their purchase. And what do 63% of them most want to see on a web site? You guessed it: customer reviews.
In the consumer electronics category, Amazon and Circuit City are the most trusted vendors, Amazon because it’s familiar and Circuit City because it’s the easiest to use. Less trusted, at least in terms of online buying, are Wal-Mart and BestBuy. Guess who doesn’t provide customer reviews…
But that’s just changed. Last week, Wal-Mart started offering customer reviews on its web site. Wal-Mart’s own self-reported numbers state that 85% of their customers are Internet users. Sounds a little high to me, but then again, Wal-Mart’s got a pretty good record of tracking customer behavior (an understatement actually.)
General Motors is also getting into the act with big media buys at Yahoo Answers. Yahoo Answers, in case you didn’t now, is one of the granddaddies of user generated content sites. Members ask questions and other members answer them. Yahoo claims 90 million users and 250 million answers posted worldwide. Notice the theme: people talking to people without the mediation of pesky "experts."
In the online video arena, one company is making business of video customer reviews: ExpoTV.com. These guys are harnessing the two biggest forces on the Internet today: consumer-generated content and video. Currently, the site has over 50,000 product reviews, all provided by consumers who shoot, edit and upload their own videos. ExpoTV then turns around and syndicates this content to sites like Smarter.com, Buy.com, AOL and Yahoo.
ExpoTV pays its visitors $5 for every video they submit that’s accepted. Interestingly, the company says that only 5 to 10% of videos submitted by its users have to be rejected on purely technical grounds like bad sound or lighting. Clearly, huge portions of the world are now not only comfortable watching video on the Internet, they’re also comfortable and capable of shooting and uploading their own videos. (Thank YouTube for kicking that revolution into high gear.)
So what’s the take away from all of this?
1. Are you making it possible for your customers to post reviews of your products and services so other prospects can see them? If not, you may be missing out on a huge credibility builder.
2. Don’t think that text-only "testimonials" are enough. Consumers are getting used to the idea of seeing video customer reviews. The first player in your niche to take advantage of this lesson will quickly leave the rest of the competition behind.
Remember the numbers from the surveys:
1) Prospects value the opinions of customers over "experts" 6 to 1,
2) Well over half of all Internet users believe that customer reviews and ratings are extremely or very important, and
3) The single most popular feature on eCommerce sites, by a very wide margin, is the availability of customer reviews.
Bottom line: Customers want to get their product information from each other. Not from advertisers. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
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