‘Are You Talking to Me?’
There’s a world of difference today challenging retailers and brands using a multi-platform model to optimize sales. It’s no longer a choice of whether to adopt a customer-focused strategy that embraces user-generated content (UGC) and the transition towards consumer generated content (CGC). It’s now vital to incorporate customer opinion and feedback as the most immediate, informative and cost-effective R&D for increasing sales. If you don’t catch up – you will be left behind.
Well, hello? Richard Branson has been banging on about this for decades with his legendary customer-focused business philosophy. We just got a lot more ‘it’s my smart phone and I’ll complain if I want to’, since he evangelized. CGC is too ubiquitous to ignore. Think R&D and for some it conjures up boffins in white coats attempting industrial-scale innovation. Or IT incubator silos sprouting up everywhere, populated by brainy rookies with a hard on for success. But, stresses Prelini Udayan-Chiechi, VP Marketing EMEA of Bazaarvoice, focusing on your customer and cultivating CGC into marketing, sales and product development is your R&D. This makes perfect sense for a fashion industry interdependent on a social media savvy buying marketplace that shops 24/7.
We can see how retailers have responded. M&S have their roving tablet-wielding staff ready to finesse your order instantly, regardless of whether it’s on the rails behind you or in a warehouse. Many big stores have their user interface intelligently monitored for optimized customer service on their websites. And as many as you think would, scarily don’t. Just look at the lack of intuitively tagged product data sets on their websites. Camouflaging non-existent links to stock order levels that aren’t linked to store locators (the one’s you can’t click on and find directions online) and this will tell you. And it’s goodbye customer – they are buying elsewhere.
Looking at the client list of Bazaarvoice, (a US company with an international presence and service delivered in 37 languages), seeing who is switched onto their market leading software service, reads as a veritable who’s-who of top drawer brands. And then there are the stats. According to Maria Di Martino, Senior PR Manager EMEA, “We are the leading expert in consumer-generated content for the top 500 Internet Retailers in Europe, and the world’s largest network of active shoppers, connecting more than one-half billion consumers to thousands of retailers and brands that represent tens of millions of products and services.”
Visiting Bazaarvoice at the London, Hammersmith office, you experience a company very comfortable in its own skin, unafraid to show its non-corporate culture. Adult-friendly designed workspaces not trying too hard to be unconventionally cool. They even have a faux grass bicycle crèche with a white picket fence surround. No suits and no bearded hipsters loafing around the stylish furniture, acting like they are in a GQ photo-shoot. It’s enviously infectious to be frank.
Prelini gave a state-of-the-market presentation, honed by the intelligence derived from such a vast customer data store. Slick, slide and word perfect with no hyperbole fat or cliché calories. My CGC was getting an overhaul. “Think mobile first.” Not a command, but pretty much a declaration of what the world and her aunt are using as the prime shopping tool. “If stores don’t have Wi-Fi, they have no access to UGC or CGC. You have to imagine if you are a retailer, the customer is walking into a website and be able to respond accordingly. It’s all about IoT (The Internet of Things).” And as we all know, IoT is ‘…creating opportunities for more direct integration between the physical world and computer-based systems, and resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit.’ (thanks Wiki).
Perhaps unsurprisingly the high-end luxury brands struggle a little with this concept. It’s not how they view their business and the high-end customer is not typically spending time providing user experience content on their functionally rudimentary websites. It is logical to expect this differentiation to diminish as even these brands will eventually succumb to the wisdom of IoT. Maybe.
As far as the garment industry is concerned, Bazaarvoice has a healthy, growing representation with clients that include, White Stuff, Sealskinz, House of Fraser and Venca and many more. Prelini commented on how a Clarks shoes UGC hashtag campaign now surrounds their shoeboxes in store to great effect. “If you are using UGC, make it feel like the brand.” And there you have it. La-di-da, the medium is the message. A seamless communication loop that utilizes customer feedback automatically as part of the brand’s presence and you can innovate perpetually – the nirvana of frictionless brand and product development.
So the compelling questions for retailers are: ‘what is your relationship with your customers really like? And what channels of communication are open on what platforms with them?’ Any skepticism that the CGC data wisdom epithets are the emperor’s new clothes is kicked into touch by the rigors Bazaarvoice undertake to demonstrate best practice intentions. The fact that they have a BV Trust Mark, (in the absence of an industry standard best practice measurement guideline for CGC) that promotes ethics centering on: Verified Authentic Content; Unedited Content; Transparent Content; Free from Fraud – demonstrates a willingness to practice what they preach. It is usually the case that the entity with the most credible data derived from the most statistically representative share of market volume, ends up being the industry standard or benchmark. And that’s gold as far as enabling further adoption of CGC for Bazaarvoice I would venture.
What type of content might be considered good CGC for the retailer or brand? Photos (premium CGC); Reviews; Q&A; Videos; Blogs; Syndicated content (between brands and retailers); Insights – and any other form of verifiable customer feedback. This may be screamingly obvious looking at any number of retail or brand websites, but crucial that UGC content can be curated back into the most prominent marketing windows for effective retail engagement with the customer. It’s like tracking the six degrees of separation your customers have with the retailer and each other, and being bothered and curious enough in the first place to make it relevant (without stalking them). But just like V&A museum events directors you have to actively curate the content and this is a skill in itself.
Speak to a number of fashion designers today looking for inspiration. It’s very much a digitally encrypted visual marketing world stimulating theirs (and our) cerebral preoccupations. Yes, they ‘do’ the high street, and still reference fashion magazines, but if they want to quickly find something out – they search and populate their own searches on Instagram. Evidentially the most direct temperature gauge of what fashion-conscious dudes are wearing. Factor in the Millenials, (the *49% of 25-34 year olds who prefer to shop online) whose spending power will exceed any other generation by 2017 and its suddenly very serious. Something the fashion industry and its investors cannot afford to ignore. (*data from recent survey carried out by Retail Week and Microsoft).
Syndicated content provides value added benefits of a rich variety the retailer can’t ordinarily obtain from the brand buyers and vice-versa. For example, retail point-of-sale shopping experiences fed back to inform product development. This highlights the importance of the quality of the relationship between retailer and brand and the pro-active responsibilities embedded within it. An implicit interdependency within a notional shared marketing mix for mutual CGC data gathering and dissemination. Sadly, this is not the norm for larger retailers and wholesalers and yet the short-termism would seem to short-change both parties.
Why would you not want to know more about customer opinion for the brands taking up your concession floor space, for example? Says Prelini, “The US is at least twelve months ahead for embedding UGC within the mainstream of retail marketing, with the UK in the next six to twelve months able to more fully engage with the benefits.” Part of the education is in understanding the subtle nuances of customer content. When analyzed, each discrete feedback type can be responded to but not treated as a one-response-fits-all. This can do more harm than good, as it transparently looks exactly like it is – a homogenous response without engaging the conscience of the brand.
Bazaarvoice produces ‘The Conversation Index’, bi-annual thought leadership research that zeroes in on some key indicators of the impact of CGC. The fact that is drawn from over 57 million reviews and more than 35 billion product page views, is a ‘mere’ detail. Within Volume 6, I discovered how ‘reviews’ can be classified into one of six groups using text alone and their statistical weighting, as well as how to respond:
Ratings Boosters (25%) – short, entirely positive reviews; Marketing Gold (20%) – short, but positive with context and detail; Product Feedback Providers (19%) balanced, unbiased with positive and negative feedback on products with suggestions – should be seen to be actively thanked for these types of review; Detractors (15%) – low-rated reviews that are opportunities for a brand response; Storytellers (11%) – usually twice average overall length, with case study material and expertise to draw from; Icebergs (10%) – Lukewarm, want to like product but are held back – an opportunity to offer exchange or return to improve brand image.
It seems the UGC and CGC dynamic is only the beginnings of a paradigm shift that as Prelini summed up, quoting Scott D Cook: “The brand is no longer what we tell the consumer. It’s what the consumer tells other consumers it is.” How’s that for customer is King. And Queen. And as one Bazaarvoice customer sound bite succinctly delivered “It’s our core marketing platform to grow sales online.” You betcha.
By Paul Markevicius