In 2011, Google presented a profound new concept to describe consumer behaviour online. Coined the “Zero Moment of Truth”, the concept sought to describe a new paradigm of shopper activity where online research prior to buying plays an integral part of the buyer's journey. As genuinely profound ideas tend to go, as soon as you hear it, you know it to be true. But here is a quick breakdown of the reputation marketing facts.
- The average business has over over 240 listings and citations online. Yet across all listing sources, 93% of businesses are either missing or have incorrect website information. (Vendasta “State of Local” coming soon)
- Research has shown that even a .5 star difference in an online review can have a dramatic impact on consumer behaviour
- 40% of users follow their favorite brands on social media
- 40% of consumers will wait no longer the three seconds for a business website to load before leaving
And so, because local businesses didn’t already have enough on their plate, here comes a new and hugely important field for business owners attempting to navigate the online marketplace—Reputation Marketing. At its core, reputation marketing is utilizing all of the tools at one's disposal to win that critical “zero moment of truth” online. Below you will find the seven fundamental areas that we’ve identified as pillars of reputation marketing. Local businesses that prioritize these can rest easy knowing they are leaving no stone unturned in a pursuit to get found, be trusted, be liked and convert.
For most consumers, this is the first point of contact when researching a business, which makes it arguably the most critical to get right. Compounding its importance are two factors:
- Even if a customer is inspired by an advertisement, a typical Google search doesn’t include the specific business name, but rather the business category (ie, custom bathrooms Calgary etc.). If business contact information is inaccurate or, even worse, can’t be found online, that business might be leading customers straight to a competitor. By taking control over online listings and making sure they are accurate, a local business will not only be harnessing their own advertising budget, but additionally, the advertising of any competitors that fail to realize just how important online listings are.
- As a worst case scenario, a competitor can claim an online listing for a rival’s business, potentially putting their own contact information in place of the real thing. While rare, this has happened and is particularly prevalent in the food and restaurant industry.
The silver lining here is that making online listings accurate and ever present requires no special training, it’s simply a matter of putting in the time and effort to get it right. You wouldn’t hand out a business card with the wrong phone number, would you? Getting the listings right for a business online is exponentially more important—having them wrong is like having a telephone line that goes unanswered, but online, there are thousands of eyes witnessing the neglect.
Once a customer finds a business, the next thing on their minds is “can I trust them?” This makes online reviews perhaps the singular most influential factor in determining customer behaviour. What’s more is that year over year reviews are trending towards even more influence and trust from consumers. In an era where it feels like the signal to noise ratio of trusted online content is shrinking (sad!), online reviews from actual customers seem to be a beacon of light. This makes getting them and then showcasing them front and centre a priority. There are a few schools of thought on the best way to do this, but in general just remember these few points: Make it easy to do, be very careful with incentives, and if at all possible, ask for a review in person!
Social is an undeniably massive part of how businesses operate today. But for the regular local business, it can feel daunting to get in the same pool as massive corporations with teams of creatives building the next viral trend. This is where it’s critical to think local! Local businesses can use social as that final push to get potential customers through the door and into their fold. Simply put, social media is the tool customers use to find out if they like a business. A business needs to appear present, approachable and friendly. What does this actually look like on social media? Here are few quick tips:
- Engage with people online, even if they aren’t singing your praises. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of social is that it’s a two way street. Engaging with customers online shows people watching that the owner truly cares about their business and, more importantly, their customers.
- Post often, but don’t make every post about the business. While there isn’t a one size fits all for the amount a business should be posting, a general rule to follow is the more outward facing a business is (ie, restaurant, entertainment, etc.), the more active they should be on social. Regardless of the business category, social is a great place for businesses to interact with their customers.
- Don’t make it only about yourself. Social media is a great way to showcase personality, and if a business is after shares and likes (and they probably should be), they should be seeking content that speaks to them that also falls into the three major categories of social media gold - funny, inspirational and cute.
For the uninitiated, the world of Search Engine Optimization can seem a little like alchemy. If a business is aware of SEO, it’s common for their beliefs to be at least partially misinformed and out of date. It’s important to ground everything related to the topic in this foundational principle: SEO is about making websites better for the customer. Doesn’t that just sound nice? Google thinks so too, which is why they are always developing new ways to make sure the cream rises to the top and searchers find what they are looking for.
But they can’t do it alone. For the local business’s part, SEO is simply a small set of changes done throughout a website, the sum total of which can have a real impact on ranking over time. But what do these changes look like in practice? Who better to talk about this than Google themselves. The following topics come from their SEO basics document.
- Unique and Accurate Page Titles - Easier said than done, but ever so critical. The titles of a business page must be concise and tell both the search engine and the customer exactly what type of content to expect.
- Improve the Structure of your URL - If you’ve ever had a link sent to you that looks like a solid brick of random characters, you know what we are talking about. Not only will simplifying your URLs make the job easier for Google, but it can be huge in building trust with customers. It’s a win-win and shouldn’t be overlooked.
- Offer Quality Content and Services - This might be my favorite piece of advice. The reason I love it is because it really helps illustrate a critical point. Bad SEO could be a huge problem for a great business, but good SEO won’t be an all curing elixir for a business that doesn’t offer something of quality. As a first step, a business needs to be thoughtful about what makes them better and unique from their competition, and use that to inform the organization of their website.
The final frontier, the website. If everything goes right, a business has leveraged all the available tools to get themselves found quickly, and gotten their customer to both like and trust what they do. Almost home! Now, depending on the industry, a website can serve many different purposes. It might actually be selling product online using the website as a store, or it could just be the tool customers use to arrange a service IRL. Whatever the case might be, a few golden rules apply:
- Make the website mobile friendly Google says 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing. And, even worse, 40% visit a competitor’s site instead (Mckinsey). It would be an absolute shame to have put in all the work getting customers to the door and then slam it shut with a clunky mobile site.
- Build the website to load quickly Research suggests that customers expect that a website should load in no more than three seconds (basically the time it took to read that sentence) (Wired). If a site doesn’t match that expectation, they will quickly abandon ship. To make matters even more prudent, Google uses load time as a factor in determining search ranking. This means slower sites will get buried by competitors that Google sees as a better user experience.
- Use the website to foster a connection Too many calls to action can be a huge problem because it can get in the way of achieving our first two website rules. But a website not taking advantage of the opportunity to stay in touch with the customer can be a huge missed opportunity. Don’t be pushy, but always allow for the opportunity to leave a review or sign-up up to an email list.
Even though we are big fans of digital solutions we will be the first to tell you, traditional advertising still works. Thought provoking print, radio and television all have huge potential to get people inspired to seek out a product. It’s what happens next that feels like our raison d’etre.
The stats demonstrating the fundamental importance of reputation marketing are staggering; 97% percent of consumers research a product prior to buying (BIA/Kelsey) and 94% of consumers say they would buy from a business that has +4 star reviews. But it doesn’t stop there, perhaps more significantly 90% of smartphone users are not absolutely certain of the specific brand they want to buy when they begin looking for information online.
When an ad peaks a consumer's interest, the battle is really just beginning. A business having their digital reputation in order means they get the most out of their advertising dollars and have the potential to court customers brought online by a competitor's ads. Of course, digital advertising meets the needs of businesses looking into reputation marketing quite nicely, and this is for a few reasons.
- Adwords allow a business to jump to the top of the Google search engine, showcase reviews, and put the business website front and centre for interested customers.
- Social Integration can allow a business to use platforms like Facebook to promote call to actions in a hyper targeted super local way.
- Extremely measurable Because the entire journey is now online, businesses can know exactly how their advertisements are performing in extreme focus.
CONTENT AND EXPERIENCE
Once a customer makes their decision, it’s absolutely critical that a business takes full advantage of the golden opportunity to turn that one time buyer into a life-long brand champion. Generating online content that keeps a customer educated about new product and sales, interested in updates about the business, and altogether entertained means that a business is setting itself up to skip the line past the ZMOT next time that consumer is motivated to buy - that in a nutshell is reputation marketing. What does this look like?
- Blog Posts - The easiest way for a business to showcase some personality and keep their customers informed of news, products and sales.
- Video - A little bit more effort, but the payoff could be huge. Make sure to focus on getting great audio, keeping the video short and using captions.
- Photo Albums - No writing involved here, plus photos go a long way in humanizing a brand.
- Podcasts - Definitely not for everyone, but for the right business/personality, this can be a great platform for fostering a connection between brand and customer.
REPUTATION MARKETING - FINAL THOUGHTS
So there you have it, a quick guide to seven critical fundamentals of reputation marketing. There is certainly more we could cover, but my hope is you leave with just one universal take-away. Reputation marketing is a long view process that benefits business owners over time. In the same way we know to eat healthy because it will impact our lives positively in a multitude of ways down the road, reputation marketing falls into that same category of preventive maintenance. By doing the most basic things right, and right now, we will no doubt see a great and growing influence for the long haul.