Until recently, the majority of small businesses had to climb steep hills, overcome significant hurdles, and rely heavily on being discovered by a large media organization in order to get ahead. Online user-generated content (UGC) and the widespread access to the web is changing the rules of the game and allowing small businesses to run with the big dogs. No longer are small businesses required to make a significant marketing investment to widen their reach, generate buzz, and increase their customer flow.
A study published by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen highlights how current media conditions reduce the advantage gap of large businesses over new and obscure market entrants. In the book “Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information,” Simonson and Rosen explore the impact of review websites as an equalizer between small businesses and large brands with ample marketing budget. Essentially, business-grading services like Yelp are eroding the power of traditional brands.
How Does This Look in Practice?
The ability for customers to consume feedback that provides dimension to an otherwise “unmarketed” business amplifies the reach of such business by allowing the consumer to compare and contrast against large brands who have invested significantly to generate brand awareness. Websites like Yelp, which aggregate popular opinion, may direct a shopper to try a product or service that, until now, would have presented significant risk due to lack of information regarding their offering.
Imagine for a moment a traveler visiting a new city and looking for an affordable and safe dining option. Up until the introduction of review sites, the traveler might have been inclined to play it safe and stick to well-known brands. Now, with the help of sites like Yelp or Foursquare, the traveler can obtain assurance regarding quality and service from virtual peers. This information increases the likelihood he or she will patronize an off-the-beaten path or locally owned business.
But Large Brands Have Reviews, Too
While large brands may be able to secure reviews, their well-known name is their worst enemy when it comes to getting customers to review them. After all, customers generally want to review a place they consider a discovery and assume others have no need for a consumer review associated with a well-known brand. Review velocity for budget or convenience-oriented brands is very slow and often heavy on negative reviews or rants. This phenomenon gives the small business owner a distinct advantage in the online business reputation arena.
How Do I Jump on the Bandwagon?
As a small- to medium-business owner, you could not ask for a better time to be in business. Online reputation has become the great equalizer, and it can launch your business to the next level if you just commit to embrace it. To maximize the value of customer opinion and generate new business while fostering the loyalty of your current customers, implement the following online review management best practices:
Invest Actively in Review and Reputation Management
Being a passive observer of the flow of customer opinion that comes your way is not neutral by any means. Indifferent businesses frequently have negative repercussions from their lack of engagement. Managing your online reputation and engaging with the opinion of your reviewers is a low-cost investment with a high yield. Make it a point to allocate resources and engage with the most popular review websites with intentionality. With smart strategy, you can direct the flow of your reviews and gain a competitive advantage that can be sustained long term, with minimal effort or investment.
Learn from Your Reviews and the Reviews of Your Competitive Set
Customer reviews give you immediate high-recall business intelligence. After parsing for rants, your reviews will begin to paint a picture that highlights what you are doing right and potential areas of improvement. Take note and adopt a culture of customer-directed process and product improvement. In addition to the wealth of information you receive from your own reviews, the reviews of the competition provide you with insights on areas of marketing and promotion as well as product development that you might not have considered. Glean the best from the best and apply it to your own business.