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The importance of feedback from current or potential customers is nothing new. While there will always be a few unsavory businesses that attempt to scam or otherwise mislead consumers, the vast majority understand that treating people right is an essential standard operating procedure.

Word gets around. And negative reviews can seriously damage reputations.

The fact of commercial life is all the more pressing in the information age. Word of mouth has steadily been replaced by a few keystrokes with far greater reach. Bad experiences with a product or service can become widely public in an instant, potentially creating an incredibly disastrous snowball effect.

A 2013 Search Engine Land survey of 2,100 respondents indicated that, “79 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”

Even more impressively, that figure was up seven percent from the previous year’s results. In other words, a trend is clearly emerging. Consumers may not personally know those leaving reviews online, but they’re increasingly tending to view them with a high degree of credibility nevertheless.

For any business owner or manager, this is both a threat and an opportunity.

At minimum, you should obviously attempt to do things the right way, adopting a wide range of best practices in order to provide the kinds of goods or services that will attract positive reviews in the first place. But in the digital age, there’s more to it than that, and a successful online marketing campaign must now incorporate and engage feedback in a comprehensive strategy.

Putting the customer first can’t just be a hollow entry in your mission statement. It has to be a central part of your online presence, too—even if not especially when it comes to marketing. There’s no room for half-measures in this endeavor. Consumers are far too savvy and perceptive, and they will likely know whether you mean what you say.

Actions speak volumes, and the noise is amplified exponentially on the Internet.

So here’s a closer look at how you can (and should) put consumer feedback to use in your digital marketing strategies. Whether you’re a large corporation or smaller local business, these are the kinds of core tactics that can make your marketing campaigns more responsive, engaged and successful.

Paying Attention (And Proving It)

It’s awfully hard to make use of consumer feedback if you aren’t paying attention in the first place. Getting there has a lot to do with company policy, but it’s also about your culture. Are you making comprehensive efforts to listen to current or potential clientele? Are you developing ways to collect that feedback and ensure it gets into the right hands? Have you gone a step further and actually encouraged people to offer up their thoughts?

For some operations, this is common sense. For others, it’s a project that’s still in the works. Unfortunately, there are some among us that would just rather not know.

So how do you become more sensitive to the interests and input of your target demographic(s)?

Many websites create channels (polls, surveys, feedback forms, etc.) through which customers can leave feedback directly. And that’s a good thing. In addition to the ease with which you can access that feedback, it sends clients a clear message: namely that you care. Soliciting such feedback may be as simple as creating a form on your website or encouraging social media users to send messages or post comments via Facebook. In the name of accessibility, it’s always a good idea to offer consumers as much contact information as possible—digital or otherwise.

When consumers are reaching out to you via a website or social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook, that’s a golden opportunity to demonstrate your responsiveness and customer service prowess. Some companies may feel threatened by the potentially public nature of the interaction, but reacting the right way can speak volumes about the way you do business.

Any direct contact is an opportunity for you to build a relationship while addressing any important questions, concerns or recommendations in the process.

Social media has also emerged as a prime opportunity for indirect engagement and otherwise learning important lessons about what you (or the competition) is doing right and wrong. Often described as “listening” or “monitoring,” it’s become increasingly important to take stock of what people are saying to and about your business on social media.

“When you don’t pay attention to what your audience is saying, you’re basically giving key information to your competitors,” Hootsuite’s Dara Fontein recently argued. “What are your customers’ pain points? What do they love about your product or service? What are those in your industry talking about? All of these questions can be answered through the art of social media listening.”

While the notions of listening and monitoring are often used interchangeably, Fontein addresses a useful distinction that’s worth thinking about.

“With social media monitoring you are searching for and collecting data and mentions of your brand, industry, and audience conversations,” she writes. “With social listening you’re analyzing this information and taking action—turning the data you have collected into a viable strategy. Social listening means ‘you can watch for patterns, track sentiment and draw conclusions based on where and when conversations happen.”

The combination of these techniques should yield real dividends for your marketing team. Indeed, this is the kind of information that can and should make a measurable impact on how you market digitally and conduct other affairs.

In 2014, Hootsuite’s Ryan Holmes put it this way: “Social listening—as this tactic is known—can be as simple as keeping watch on what other companies are posting on Twitter and Facebook. But it can also be a lot more rigorous. And for businesses that pursue social listening seriously, the benefits can be significant: real-time intelligence on competitors; instant feedback on how your own brand is being perceived; and actionable data for designing or tweaking marketing campaigns.”

That last part is especially important. The more you study those interested in your products or services, the more adeptly you can tailor your attempts to reach out to them via any number of marketing strategies (digital or otherwise).

Beyond direct engagement and social media listening, it’s also wise to take customer reviews into account. This can be especially critical for small business that depend on local reviews to essential serve as their word of mouth. When advertising budgets are stretched, that digital word of mouth can go a long way—either toward enhancing or marring a reputation.

As Small Business Trends’ Annie Pilon put it last year, “Online reviews are also incredibly important for local businesses. Make sure that you regularly monitor sites like Yelp and Facebook to see if any action needs to be taken.”

Regardless of what a review says, the ball is then in your court. How you react—and whether you react at all—is what matters most.

“Both positive and negative reviews should be viewed as opportunities for you to build your reputation,” Launch Digital Marketing’s DeAnna Kertson explains. “For those glowing reviews, show your good manners and say ‘Thank you!’ With negative reviews, respond quickly and politely. Once the issue prompting the bad review has been resolved, ask the reviewer to remove or update their original review to reflect the positive outcome. If, for some reason, you cannot reach a resolution with the reviewer, post a short note about the attempts you made to fix the situation so other consumers can see your efforts.”

This first step—paying attention—may seem straightforward, but it’s critically important. And by simply responding constructively and promptly, you’ve already begun a digital marketing campaign of sorts via your customer service efforts. In the event of public feedback, an online audience will see your responsiveness and dedication at work. They’ll witness your best practices at work. Meanwhile, those whom you’ve interacted with directly may well become unofficial ambassadors for your brand—spreading the good news that your company does things the right way.

That engagement is half the battle—and a huge marketing advantage in its own right. It proves you care about the customer enough to act on what they have to say.

Smarter Digital Marketing Strategies

Consumer feedback isn’t just a glimpse into how your business is performing. It also speaks volumes about who those customers are in the first place. And these aren’t just any customers, either. They’re the ones who’ve demonstrated an actual interest in your business or those like it. Put simply, they’re a useful representation of your target audience. The better you understand them, the more you can calibrate marketing campaigns to speak directly to them.

“A digital strategy should start off with a clear understanding of who the audience is,” notes Smart Insights’ Mark Donkin. “Building personas and segments into the program ensures your content will be relevant to the customer. Your digital strategy needs to be informed by a shared understanding of who your customers are, how they perceive the interactions they’re having with your company today, and what they want and need from your company in the future.”

Make no mistake about it. Paying attention to feedback is important, but translating that information into actionable business practice requires resources and infrastructure. Ideally, your digital marketing approach will come to reflect a widespread company culture.

As Donkin adds, “Changing the way you do business to make your digital strategy truly customer-centric is no simple task, requiring a shift in priorities and careful planning. But it will undoubtedly pay off, giving you that competitive edge to reap dividends many times over for the foreseeable future.”

So what does this new marketing landscape look like in concrete terms?

The first step is looking for feedback patterns. Are customers consistently praising your customer service, the quality of your product or your price points? If so, that’s a strong indication that this is something consumers consistently care about in your industry—and a sign that you’re doing something right with respect thereto. In turn, you should ensure that your content and messaging highlight those virtues.

Feedback can also reveal structural patterns. How are your current or potential customers leaving feedback? Do they tend to communicate via social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook? Are they visiting your website directly? Are they getting in touch through email?

Just as purchasing habits can tell you more about your customers, so too can feedback behavior. If your target demographics prefer particular modes of online communication, there’s a good chance that’s a two-way street—meaning they may be more receptive to messaging across those channels as well. Remember, it’s not just about the substance of what you’re saying. It’s also about where and how you’re saying it.

In the age of digital marketing, there’s really no such thing as too much information. Managing and using that information will require some resources and savvy, but it’s increasingly essential in a world where competing marketing campaigns are hardly created equally.

Building Better Retargeting Campaigns

Generally speaking, retargeting (or remarketing) entail an advertiser using information from website visitors, email recipients or those performing online searches to position tailored ads to those users when they subsequently visit other sites. While these kinds of campaigns are often informed by data (like browsing or purchasing behavior), additional consumer information can be obtained simply by soliciting some feedback. Just as such information can enhance your marketing strategies, so too can it help craft and target specific ads.

So how might you go about acquiring and using this kind of feedback? Survicate inbound marketer Lucjan Kierczak describes one possibility in Quora.

“Collect feedback from visitors with a tool like Survicate,” he explains. “Ask visitors a question (or a few questions) that will help you create better retargeting lists in Google Analytics. Example: ask visitors how far they are in their purchase path. If they are still researching what they really want to buy, then your retargeting ads might be [shaped accordingly]. However, if a person is comparing prices of a certain product in many shops then your ads should be presenting a special offer or highlighting your competitive advantages.”

While retargeting campaigns themselves are often carried out by outside marketing firms or robust in-house departments, coordination throughout your company is important—particularly among those responsible for building and maintaining your online presence. The feedback you need for retargeting purposes won’t supply itself. But a site-based survey tool or automated email can do the trick.

Reaching out for feedback that enables retargeting can mean more intelligent and efficient advertising. That, in turn, can significantly improve your return on investment and market share.

As Kierczak adds, “Mixing feedback into retargeting can give you a competitive edge in the crowded world of online advertising by allowing you to create better and more personalized retargeting ads.”

The details of a feedback-based retargeting campaign can vary. But you should generally attempt to segment your customers or visitors based on what they’re telling you, defining groups of consumers according to their similar interests. Once the data is organized and interpreted, you’re better prepared to use it as a basis for targeted ads (typically ads that follow the consumer via cookies). Despite the tech-heavy approach involved, this is really an attempt to engage current or potential customers more directly.

“As with any marketing process, it’s all-too-easy to get caught up in the metrics and details,” MonetizePros explained last year. “Always remember that, first and foremost, you’re dealing with real people. Focusing on their needs will bring the best results. Retargeting gives you a second chance to make a first impression. You need to make the most of this chance. Otherwise, you’re just wasting money on a campaign which gets no results.”

You can learn more about retargeting campaigns themselves by doing some additional research or consulting with a company that specializes in digital marketing. Just remember that—whenever possible—you should attempt to keep consumer feedback at the center of your efforts. While a wide variety of data can be useful, specific feedback can give you particularly rich insights into the minds of people interested in doing business with you.

Featuring Testimonials

The best customer reviews can be one of your most powerful tools when reaching out to consumers. It’s one thing when a company promotes itself. It’s quite another when actual customers sing its praises. There’s an unmatched level of credibility associated with the experiences of those who’ve purchased your good and services. When they’re doing the bragging for you, everyone should know about it.

To that end, you should unabashedly tout positive reviews as testimonials—potentially on your front page and/or on a page dedicated exclusively to such testimonials.

“Proudly feature your best unedited reviews at a prominent spot on your website—bold and upfront,” suggests Jeff Bullas’ Ankit Roy. “This is nothing but word of mouth publicity and will lure your visitors to buy your product or hire your services.

“Adding the name and photo of a customer will make the review even more authentic and credible. But make sure you take permission from the customers first, before publishing their name or picture on your site. It can be done on your homepage or on all web pages.

“You can also set up an entire page dedicated to your glowing testimonials or create a series of reviews on your blog. Apart from adding credibility to the site, customer reviews answer visitors’ questions about product quality and, of course, encourage users to check brands’ social accounts.”

When consumers are performing due diligence in a crowded and competitive industry, these kind of testimonials can make the difference. So it’s crucial that you make them visible. No amount of mission statement verbiage or clever advertising can replace the intuitive appeal of a customer vouching for your business.

And while most people’s inboxes are already pretty overwhelmed, it’s certainly worth including testimonials in your promotional emails if you’re planning to send them anyway.

Your social media presence can serve as another platform for highlighting the positive reviews coming your way.

As Roy adds, “Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are popular places for customers to talk about and leave feedback or reviews for a specific product or business. Collect and leverage positive customer reviews by sharing them on your company’s Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages.”

The big point here is that you shouldn’t be shy when it comes to displaying the very best of your customer reviews. Remember that more expensive purchases often cause consumers to study their options carefully. While they’ll almost certainly turn to third-party sites like Yelp or Amazon when conducting their research, there’s a good chance they’ll investigate your website, too.

That’s when your feedback can really start working for you.

Bottom Line

Consumer feedback shouldn’t just be an exercise in projecting appearances. You should take it seriously and treat it like the valuable resource it is. From informing your marketing campaigns to serving as a featured component in advertising, comments or reviews from current and potential customers can have an enduring effect on your branding and outreach.

And remember that the first step in capitalizing on that feedback is responding. That’s a marketing tactic in its own right—and a central facet of doing business the right way.

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