Chicago, November 11, 2019 — Researchers from Yale and the University of Toronto Scarborough published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that examines which particular positive reviews provided by independent consumers companies should leverage to optimize sales and points to one precise prescription: reviews that laud the current offering while acknowledging that some prior purchase decisions have been mistakes.
The study forthcoming in the January issue of the Journal of Marketing titled “Featuring Mistakes: The Persuasive Impact of Purchase Mistakes in Online Reviews” and is authored by Taly Reich and Sam 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 that companies market their products is to feature reviews authored by independent consumers. The 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. The researchers identify one counter intuitive 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. The research suggests that featuring exactly these types of purchase mistakes in online consumer reviews is a promising persuasive marketing tactic.
The primary takeaway for practitioners is that featuring mistakes, where possible, can 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 these findings might also benefit any attempt to convince others to accept 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). This research suggests that both objectives should be facilitated by making mention of a previous mistake. 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. This study suggests 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.
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About the Journal of Marketing
The Journal of Marketing develops and disseminates knowledge about real-world marketing questions useful to scholars, educators, managers, policy makers, consumers, and other societal stakeholders around the world. Published by the American Marketing Association since its founding in 1936, JM has played a significant role in shaping the content and boundaries of the marketing discipline. Christine Moorman (T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) serves as the current Editor in Chief.
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