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Reviews: Power to the People or Journalist Distrust?
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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From travel to TVs to a tea-for-two, consumer reviews are all the rage. Before educated consumers buy anything, it is usually a trip to Google, Bing, or whatever to determine what is the buzz on the purchase in your fiscal crosshairs. So, think for a moment. Do you check out consumer reviews or musings from the professionals? Me too, which is why Weber Shandwick came up with this survey from the Bulldog Report about "Consumer Reviewers Wield More Power Than Professional Critics in Driving Purchase Decisions."

By the way our search traffic goes, it's true...but why? Do we value word-of-mouth marketing and reporting more than the journalist? Do we trust a complete stranger's blather on Facebook versus some complete stranger on TV who gets paid to blather? The study revealed that the average buyer consults 11 consumer reviews on the path to purchase. Let's ask the bigwig from Weber about that: 
"We know consumer reviewers are a powerful force," said Bradford Williams, president of Weber Shandwick's North American technology practice, in a news release. "Now we know that they are the most powerful force. Savvy marketers are the ones who listen to, manage and deploy consumer reviewers to harness their considerable might at the cash register."
Williams continues in the article that "while consumer electronics buyers pay more attention to other consumers' reviews than to editorial reviews — by a margin of more than three to one (77 percent vs. 23 percent) — a majority are concerned about the authenticity of consumer reviews (80 percent), leading them to conduct considerable analysis before making their decision." Here are some more stark revelations: 
  1. Reviews sharpen the decision process. Nearly nine in 10 consumers (88 percent) say they are somewhat or very knowledgeable about consumer electronics, yet still consult reviews, consumer and/or professional (60 percent and 52 percent, respectively), when looking to make a purchase. While this is true, why can't that advice come from a trained professional instead of a soccer mom with a preference for a certain Barbie? What difference does that make? 
  2. Not all reviews are rated equally. In consumer reviews, the most helpful ones are those that seem fair and reasonable (32 percent), are well written (27 percent), and contain statistics, specifications, and technical data (25 percent). MEMO to newspaper publishers and news directors: People may actually want the network news approach to journalism — no journalism at all. It seems vitriol or utter amazement will sell a product more than which product gives your child the biggest smile. 
  3. Consumers trust the reviews they find on popular websites. Shoppers trust consumer reviews on Amazon.com (84 percent) and BestBuy.com (75 percent) the most, topping Consumer Reports (72 percent). Consumers show no apparent discomfort in getting their research from a seller of the products they're considering. I get this; however, do I think the most educated shoppers go to Best Buy to discuss the benefits of an LED vs. LCD television, or do I listen to JimBob who says, "I don't give a damn what's on the box. My kid loves his PS3 on this friggin' thing." Indeed, JimBob. Indeed. 
Perhaps the distrust is creeping in there a little, or maybe people just heart their friends. BusinessWeek cited that 75% of people consult reviews then purchase. However, 7 out of 10 people share reviews, which amplifies their impact. The reviews may be biased. The reviews may be misunderstood. Nonetheless, those reviews came from my momma, so consumer reporter can take a back seat. 

It's true that WOM marketing is surpassing the influence of the average reporter, but it's like most things out there: We need to figure the source. And if that source just happens to be that woman who calls you daily for hugs and kisses, that says a lot to this shopper, at least. (Hi, Mom.)

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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