When Lisa Pearson joined Bazaarvoice in 2011 after a successful and rich background in traditional marketing, she was faced with the vagaries of the exploding digital marketing world.
Pearson, who had been head of Euro RSCG Magnet’s Consumer Marketing division, had long been an advocate of using technology to connect consumers and brands. Her challenge at Bazaarvoice, first as VP of global marketing and then as CMO, was to draw on her traditional marketing background and use it in the runaway digital marketing universe. While she is enthusiastic about the exploding digital marketing world, she has been comforted that consumer behavior remains constant, Pearson told CMO.com contributing writer David Gardner in this exclusive interview. Read on.
CMO.com: Were you worried that consumer behavior was changing in the brave new world of digital marketing?
Pearson: Consumer behavior remains eternal. Consumers have been talking to each other about what they bought since time began. Whether in the early days of bazaars or over the fence or at the water cooler, the difference now is the immediacy of the conversations and the ability for marketers to act on the insights from social conversations. Smart marketers understand social data is real-time and actionable.
CMO.com: Bazaarvoice notes that it has a more than 2,500 client roster of retailers and brands, and each month more than 400 million people view and share opinions about 20 million products in the Bazaarvoice network. How is the company’s platform organized to accommodate this massive world?
Pearson: Bazaarvoice has four main product offerings–Conversations, Connections, Intelligence, and Media. All four are valuable, but Bazaarvoice Conversations is our core platform as well as the DNA of how our business was founded. Conversations lets consumers understand in real time what they are actually buying online. Online reviews are so detailed and helpful that consumers buy with a greater degree of confidence. By sharing personal stories and opinions, consumers act as advocates and experts.
CMO.com: How can the Bazaarvoice network help CMOs?
Pearson: Conversations is important because it has the most direct impact on consumer behaviors that move the metrics that matter most to marketers: traffic, conversation, average order value, and loyalty.
CMO.com: Can you cite examples of Bazaarvoice benefiting product design and manufacturing?
Pearson: We started working with Dell in 2006 on Ratings and Reviews on Dell.com. Over the years, we have generated more than 150,000 reviews on more than 6,500 different Dell products. Dell was bold in the use of social because, at the time in 2006, Facebook was still closed to the public, Twitter didn’t exist, and very few companies had user-generated content on their Web sites.
Dell was so motivated to get this kind of structured feedback that they eliminated other sources of feedback, including focus groups; they set goals to have every product achieve a 4.5- to 5-star rating, and used the input to create more compelling products. In one laptop model, for example, customer feedback led Dell’s engineering team to change 20 features from one generation of the product to the next.
CMO.com: Bazaarvoice has signed up more than one-third of the Fortune 100 companies. That’s impressive, but that means more than half of the Fortune 100 aren’t Bazaarvoice customers. Could the lapse be due to companies avoiding offering customer reviews because they fear they would be criticized?
Pearson: It is a common misperception that people want to be negative in reviews. There’s this concern that, “If I allow people to review my product, they could say something bad about it.” The truth is, most people want to either recognize brands they like for doing things effectively–in which case, they’re writing very constructive reviews–or they want to help the product be better–in which case they’re also writing very constructive reviews. Moreover, negative reviews do have a value to both the company and the consumer. No product is perfect, of course. Critical commentary helps consumers better identify whether a product is right for them and can also help show a degree of authenticity that may not be apparent when every review is 4 or 5 stars.
Negative reviews can actually help improve sales. According to a recent study with Wakefield Research, a customer’s willingness to purchase a product accompanied by a negative review doubles when the brand has provided a response. Harnessing these conversations can yield a goldmine of information. This is why we developed Connections.
CMO.com: It sounds like consumer reviews may be driving a stake through the heart of focus groups. Is that so?
Pearson: Focus groups are still valuable. Social listening also has its place. But neither delivers what marketers really require, which is real-time analysis of consumer sentiment. We deliver that. Our best, most progressive clients are using social data to inform their product strategy, to inform what they actually build, to inform and assess their marketing, and to inform their customer care.
It’s a hard time to be a marketer these days, and we’re all adjusting to great change in the dynamics between marketing and consumers. Traditionally, you could push messaging through advertising and promotions, and consumers accepted that because they had no other way to know anything about your brand. That dynamic no longer applies. Now more and more companies are gravitating to a customer-centric model where the voice of the consumer influences all areas of the organization.