Over the past 18 months I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in strategic marketing plans in three distinct industries: (i) healthcare, (ii) banking, and (iii) technology. One of the questions that is core to deciding how to engage with prospects is to understand their buying cycle. Within the buying cycle, it is critical to understand how the prospect gathers information about products/brands and which sources of information are trusted most for influencing the ultimate purchase.
A study reported by the Center for Studying Health System Change reported that consumers trust friends and family (word of mouth) most when selecting a general physician. A primary research study conducted in the Texas banking industry in Spring 2011 revealed that a company’s website rated #1 and recommendations of friends family rated #2 as the most trusted sources of information for influencing the choice of bank (or bank products). An international research study in Fall 2011 rated a company’s website #1 and recommendations from peers/colleagues as #2 as the most trusted sources of information influencing selection of B2B technology providers.
The underlying trend across these three industries is not limited to these three industries as buyers are now empowered with access to information (via the web) from which to research their options. However, narrowing those options usually involves word-of-mouth (WOM) validation from trust friends, family or colleagues. If WOM is so important in influencing ultimate purchase — then why are so many companies so woefully ill-prepared to leverage it?
Over the past few years, B2C online merchants have discovered that social commerce platforms (rating & reviews engines) are like giving your customers a megaphone to sing your praises (or rip your brand). The idea of dispensing with carefully prepared PR statements in favor of real customers sharing their experiences in their own words seems pretty obvious. But this new shift in market power means that people seldom look to brands anymore as the final authority about their products or services (wasn’t it Seth Godin who wrote the book “All Marketers are Liars?”) The fact that brands are not seen as transparent has meant that people turn to peers for “the truth” and this means that luring your best customers to share their experiences has become the new marketing gold.
There’s another reason that UGC (user generated content) is important – SEO. Search engines index these customer comments and Google has recently shifted to giving considerable weight (authority) to social sites featuring UGC. So the credibility of your customers telling the world how great you are is now more valuable than that carefully crafted press release.
OK, so if we go back to the three studies referenced in which your website is #1 in influencing purchase and referrals are #2, then if you can obtain lots of referrals in cyberspace, then they help your website SEO — a continuous process of helping you “get found” and become trusted.
Even B2B brands are now realizing the power of the Case Study (preferably well-tagged video) in helping prospects identify with real-world businesses facing similar problems and how a brand helped solve that problem. Remember — business people are usually not surfing the web looking for your site because they have spare time, they are trying to solve a problem. So show them you are really good at solving their problem and let your customers tell the story.