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B2C Marketers: "Buy This, Not That" Reviews Can Boost Business

Taly Reich and Sam J. Maglio

Credibility is an increasingly rare commodity. When consumers want to know whom they can trust to help them make sound, informed decisions, they are often frustrated by an abundance of information, which frequently can prescribe exactly opposite courses of action. Brand and marketing managers who hope to inspire consumers to take a course of action (purchasing from them) over another (purchasing from a competitor) face a dilemma: Which credible experts should they choose to extol the virtues of their offerings?

A new study in the Journal of Marketing investigates this business challenge and opportunity. One way companies market their products is to feature reviews authored by independent consumers. Our research team suggests that marketing managers may inadvertently omit exactly the reviews that increase persuasive influence. Specifically, because people are often skeptical whether reviews are authored by well-informed consumers, they first evaluate whether a reviewer is credible before deciding whether to rely on his or her review. We identify one counterintuitive predictor of reviewer competence: People are more likely to conclude that a reviewer has significant expertise, and are thus more likely to purchase the product recommended by that reviewer, if the reviewer admits to having made a previous mistake in his or her purchasing history. We suggest that featuring exactly these types of purchase mistakes in online consumer reviews is a promising persuasive marketing tactic.

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The primary takeaway of our research for practitioners advises featuring mistakes, where possible, in order to drive more online traffic and, ultimately, more sales. As such, outlets where online retailers have control over the decision environment provide the best point of entry for this recommendation. Even though they cannot control the content of online reviews authored by independent consumers, online retailers do have the power to flag certain reviews as “featured” or “highlighted,” warranting placement ahead of an otherwise long and undifferentiated list of reviews. By identifying one or multiple reviews that mention a previous purchase mistake and bumping them up to top billing, online retailers can make online shoppers more likely to see, read, and accept the advice of those reviews that our research suggests these buyers find especially persuasive. However, it is not only online retailers that aspire to put helpful reviews in front of their audience. Review curation websites benefit not necessarily from persuading customers toward any particular course of purchase-related action, but instead toward viewing the website as a valuable source of information. If customers believe that sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Rotten Tomatoes offer consistent, reliable reviews, they return to them more frequently before making purchases and this traffic increases advertising revenues for curation sites. Broadly speaking, then, any firm or brand in the business of offering helpful, positive advice should feature reviews that mention previous purchase mistakes.

Firms are not alone in their desire to persuade and our findings might also benefit any attempt to convince others to take purchase-related advice. First, friends often exchange purchase-related advice, driven either by the relatively selfless joy of facilitating a positive purchase experience for a friend (e.g., a great gym) or more self-interested motives (e.g., a gym that promises a referral bonus). We propose that both objectives should be facilitated by making mention of a previous mistake, thus extending our work to develop closer interpersonal relationships. Second, many individuals have taken to online forums to build personal brands around product reviews and tutorials, as evidenced by the thousands of personal blogs reviewing electronics and YouTube channels demonstrating how to apply makeup. Insofar as these influencers hope to build their personal brands in the form of likes, follows, and mentions, they need to be seen as credible. Our model offers the possibility that they would be more likely to attain their objectives if they incorporate mention of previous mistakes into their content. Aside from the content of the review, they might also persuade others to click on their written and recorded reviews in the first place by including mention of a mistake in the title itself (e.g., “Learn from my mistake!”). These applications suggest that inferred expertise, via admission of mistakes, can not only drive sales, but also build brand equity. 

Read the full article.

From: Taly Reich and Sam Maglio, “Featuring Mistakes: The Persuasive Impact of Purchase Mistakes in Online Reviews,” Journal of Marketing, 84 (January).

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Taly Reich is an Associate Professor in Marketing, Yale School of Management, Yale University.

Sam J. Maglio is an Associate Professor in Marketing, Department of Management, and Department of Psychology, University of Toronto Scarborough, and Rotman School of Management.