Consumers see the adverts – then they check the reviews

The rise in the influence the internet has on consumers has seen one particular element rise exponentially - the online review. Previous surveys have demonstrated how online reviews affect buying behaviour and even share prices.

Now research carried out by KwikChex, the leading reputation management and quality assurance business, is revealing how advertising is being substantially undermined by conflicting online information.

Surveys conducted by KwikChex showed that 'traditional advertising still captures the interest of consumers, often introducing them to brands for the first time. In this respect it appears more significant than internet searches. However, the research also indicated that after seeing the ads, consumers are likely to go online to double-check what is being said by the online community about the products or companies they are interested in - and the information they are most likely to see first comes from online reviews, which are now dominating search results.

Problems for advertisers

The most dominant reviews sites tend to be those that carry anonymous, unsubstantiated comments. This can mean that opinion - and the highly influential 'ratings' carried by the site, are distorted. This can be caused by a dissatisfied minority, by low numbers of reviewers - or by deliberate, malicious manipulation. If consumers see negative opinion results, they are likely to give more credence to them and at the very least then search for other similar products with what they perceive as a better reputation.

The study confirms conclusions reached by other sources, such as the report published earlier this year by Nielsen, which revealed that  '92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising—an increase of 18 percent since 2007. Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging, with 70 percent of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust messages on this platform, an increase of 15 percent in four years.'

The 'Trust War'

In further research carried out by KwikChex, 20 TV adverts that used elements of trust and integrity as key values were checked against their online feedback profiles. 17 were negatively rated in top search results, with several featuring comments that implied that the business was 'categorically' not to be trusted.

A situation has been reached where substantial spends on advertising that ask consumers to believe the best are being eroded in value by websites that may themselves be carrying  false statements and distortion. Consumers also often use social media to consult with friends - whose opinion may also have been influenced by online reviews. Some businesses have taken to employing people to counter what they regard as an unfair profile by placing positive feedback on such sites. As has been shown in a number of cases, this is very high risk as it can lead to severe consequences when a business is caught.

Time for new brand strategies

Looking at the results and how fast this shift has taken place, KwikChex believes that new strategies need to be pursued. Paul Ling, Relationships Director at KwikChex, said "There is nowhere near the control of brand reputation that there once was.  Online consumer feedback is here to stay and will become more and more influential. What we are now helping our clients to implement involves integrating more reliable feedback into advertising campaigns to enhance a brand's integrity. A new level of verification of standards is the key to success - and it also provides 'immunisation' against distortion and malicious attacks on a company's reputation.

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