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92% of consumers will hesitate to make a purchase if they don’t see a customer review

We all know that negative reviews can hurt your business, but did you know that a total lack of reviews might hurt just as much?

According to results from a recent survey by Fan & Fuel, 92% of consumers will hesitate to make a purchase if they don’t see a customer review. And not just any old review will do. Those filled in stars under a product might look nice but 34% want to see a detailed written review before making a buying decision.

Now, having a page full of nothing but glowing praise isn’t going to work for 32% of shoppers. Those people said they find reviews to be more believable if there’s a mix of negative and positive remarks. (So you stop crying over that 3 star comment from a year ago!)

65% of people surveyed said they wouldn’t “not buy” on the basis of one bad review. That sounds like good news, but that still leaves a large number of buyers who are easily swayed by even a single ridiculous or unreasonable thumbs down.

We’ve always said, the best way to counter bad reviews is to have enough positive reviews to drown out the noise. But getting any kind of reviews from customers can be difficult.

You don’t want to incentivize people into posting a phony review, and you don’t want to push too hard only to hear that the customer wasn’t happy. The good news from this survey, is that you don’t have to have a lot of reviews to win people over. Only 19% of those surveyed said that their trust lies in large numbers, so you can be more selective about when and who you ask to leave their thoughts.

What constitutes a helpful, trustworthy review?  The majority of respondents said they look for a combination of positive details and reports of specific problems. What they’re really after, is to find out whether or not the product or service is a good fit. When it comes to reviews, beauty isn’t the only thing in the eye of the beholder.

For example, a reviewer who complains about too many kids in a restaurant might turn off the mom looking for a free night with the girls, but it could be seen as a plus for the mom without a babysitter.

And though customers don’t skim reviews looking for good customer service, it doesn’t hurt to publicly respond to problems. Just make sure your response is 100% helpful, respectful and sarcasm free. Review trolls are frustrating, but trust that your potential customers will be savvy enough to know the difference between a legitimate complaint and an unreasonable, unhappy being who enjoys being in the internet spotlight.

Instead of fearing online reviews, embrace them because they truly are the key to growing your business and your reputation.

Half of Americans say today’s CEO’s are failing as leaders

There was a time when we judged a company based solely on the quality of their products and services. Now, having a great product isn’t enough to win over the general public. According to the latest Harris Poll, companies are also being judged by the actions of their leaders and where they stand on the latest hot button issues.

The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ) score is based on the perceptions of 23,000 Americans. The survey participants were asked to rate 100 companies in six different categories: Social Responsibility, Emotional Appeal, Products and Services, Vision and Leadership, Financial Performance, and Workplace Environment.

Though many of the companies on the list are ones the average consumer encounters on a regular basis (Amazon, Starbucks, Target), many were not – but that didn’t stop the respondents from delivering a strong thumbs up or down.

For example, though few people in the US actually own a car made by Tesla, the respondents still give the company and “excellent” rating – high enough to land the progressive car company in 9th place. This is quite something when you note that only 16 other companies earned an “excellent” score. Top finishers include Amazon (in its 9th year in the top 10), Wegmans, Apple, UPS, The Walt Disney Company and Google.

On the other end of the scale were companies who lost precious reputation points this year due to a scandal or large financial losses.

Volkswagen was the best of the worst, landing in 91st place after a horrendous emissions scandal that ended with the arrest of several executives. The good news is that their score  actually went up 8.7 points. Still, when asked which companies caused the most damage to their reputations this year, 9% of respondents said VW.

Charter Communications also landed in the “poor” group thanks to a difference between promises and deliverables.

AIG Insurance and Sears both fell victim to a bad bottom line, but they weren’t the worst of the worst. That honor goes to Wells Fargo and Takata – the only two companies to land on the “critical” list.

Both companies were seen as having crossed the line in the two biggest areas; intentional wrongdoing or illegal actions by corporate leaders (cited by 85 percent of Americans) and lying or misinterpreting the facts about a product or service (83%).

Wells Fargo also takes a hit in the area of “intentional misuse of financial information for financial gain (82%).”

The survey participants also gave companies lower marks for security or data breaches (74%), unfair workplace conditions and culture (67%), workplace discrimination (65%), product recall due to contamination (65%) and poor leadership conduct (64%).

Speaking of leadership, stew on this fact:

Harris Poll’s analysis shows that while Vision and Leadership attributes are increasingly important to reputation equity, an astounding half of Americans rate the reputations of today’s corporate leaders and CEOs as “bad.”

What do we expect from a good leader? We want them to be trustworthy, ethical and accountable for his company’s actions. (Not too much to ask, is it?) We also want them to be curious, visible, bold and a taker of risks.

That last part is tricky, especially when it comes to risking it all to take a political stand. The Harris Poll found that companies who come down on one side or the other of a hot button topic will see their reputation split across party lines.

Chick-fil-A is an “excellent” according to Republicans but only “good” in the eyes of Democrats. Democrats give Target a solid “very good” while Republicans rate the retailer’s rep as only “fair”.

Mark J. Penn, managing partner and president of The Stagwell Group LLC, which owns The Harris Poll says,

 “Values play a bigger role than ever before in corporate reputation, and the business significance of a company’s reputation has never been higher. Consumers are keenly interested in how companies engage with the world, and that includes corporate ideals. As the red versus blue duel of politics impacts corporate reputation, we expect to see more alignment along party beliefs.”

Are your company leaders helping or hurting the company reputation? Perhaps you should conduct your own poll and find out.

Which Super Bowl ads were a touchdown & which fumbled?

Super Bowl ads have always had the power to make us laugh, cry and think. This year’s new crop of commercials did that and then some.

The majority of ad buyers stuck to the tried and true, offering up star-studded ads with a swift punchline or a fast thrill. Tide saved Terry Bradshaw from an embarrassing stain. Mr. Clean turned into super sexy Mr. Right and Netflix sent fans into fits with a teaser for the new season of Stranger Things.

A few companies took advantage of the “eyes of the world” moment to make a political, or more specifically, patriotic statement. One company even made a statement without meaning to, which isn’t surprising given the current state of world affairs.

Coca Cola brought a tear to the eye, while saving themselves loads of cash, when they ran an old ad that was particularly fitting. The ad features images of people from all around the US while singers croon America the Beautiful in a several different languages. The tag line: Together is Beautiful resonated with viewers who applauded the ad on social media.

Airbnb delivered a similar message but with a heavier hand. “We Accept” was accepted by the social media denizens though the message was nearly over shadowed by images of Lady Gaga’s $10,000 a night Airbnb Super Bowl rental.

If you think Airbnb was outspoken, check out the ad by newbie 84 Lumber. Their “anti-wall” ad was so controversial, the network refused to air it. Instead, the company aired a cut down version on TV and ran the full version on their website. The controversy drove so much traffic to their site, it crashed. That’s the power of buzz.

The company that got hit with the most backlash was the company who said they never meant to make a statement in the first place. Budweiser ran a charming ad about one of the company’s founders who overcame adversity as a German immigrant trying to make it in America in the 1800’s. Incredibly, this ad – one of the most innocuous of the bunch – pushed Twitter users to jump on the #boycottbudweiser bandwagon.  So odd.

Now, let’s forget the social media magpies for a moment and let’s talk about the average consumer who keeps his thoughts to himself. Are more people rushing out to rent an Airbnb after seeing that ad or switch from Pepsi to Coca Cola? More people are probably buying building supplies from 84 Lumber simply because they never heard of them prior to Sunday’s game. But is this really how you want to introduce yourself to the world. Yes, we like companies to stand for something. We appreciate it when they’re socially conscious, but there’s another side. What about all of those people who simply wanted to enjoy a football game as a way of escaping from the world? How are they going to feel the next time they pop open a Budweiser or a Coke? Glad to support a company who takes a stand, or guilty because they put enjoyment in front of civic duty?

And what about the company’s that chose to use their moment to make you laugh? Is giving up avocados because Avocado’s From Mexico avoided making an obvious political statement in favor of cheap laugh?

The real irony, is that the ads that took the biggest chances didn’t end up with the biggest returns. According to the USA Today AdMeter, 84 Lumber scored a 5.49 out of 10 landing 29th on the list of 66 ads. Airbnb came in 16th and Budweiser was 4th. Which commercial resonated most with viewers? Melissa McCarthy saves the world with help from her Kia. To be fair, even though the commercial is slapstick and silly, it is all about doing what we can to save the planet.

I guess Kia proves that you can protect your reputation and deliver a meaningful message at the Super Bowl, as long as you do it with a sense of humor.

There is no right or wrong here. What works for one company might be disastrous for another. What’s important is making the decision for the right reason. If your company is truly interested in making a difference, even if it means alienating a segment of your customer base – then go for it 100%. But if your hoping that a statement piece will generate the buzz you need to make your quarter, do us all a favor and find an ad agency that specializes in humorous ads instead.

75% of consumers say they’d take negative action against a company that’s not socially responsible

Your company offers a great product or service at a reasonable price. You live up to your promises and customer feedback is 99% positive. That should be enough to maintain your company’s good reputation, but in 2017, it’s not.  If you want to succeed in business, your company must also be socially responsible.

According to Aflac’s 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Survey, a company stands to lose up to 39% of their current customers if they’re not seen as being socially responsible. What’s worse, is that 75% of consumers surveyed said they’re actually take some kind of negative action to retaliate such as participating in a boycott or protest or posting negative comments on the web.

On the flip-side, 1 in 5 consumers said they’d be willing to pay more for product if they thought the company was socially responsible. 83% of investors said they see corporate responsibility as “marker for ethical corporate behavior” which makes them feel more comfortable about buying more company stock.

But don’t think you can just run a food drive around Thanksgiving and call it a year. 78% of consumers said they’re more likely to buy from a company that’s known for its year-round generosity than one that swoops in only in times of need.

Aflac found that a large number of consumers believe that companies want to do the right thing, but most see these overtures as selfish acts designed to impress consumers into buying. That doesn’t mean they don’t want you to keep trying. And if you do slip up, 81% of consumers said your previous angelic acts will help them forget and move on a whole lot faster.

What exactly does your company have to do to be labeled “socially responsible”? Unfortunately, no one’s come up with a definitive answer.  Taking care of the environment is one measure that kept popping up in the Aflac survey. Also, taking care of employees with fair wages and working conditions. Some consumers defined it as a general sense of “caring of the community”.  Only 6% of those surveyed mentioned charitable acts and only 5% thought companies should put ethics and values above profits. That’s good news for small businesses with a tight margin: giving of yourself is as good if not better than giving out of the cash register.

A few causes that did rise to the top were education initiatives (scholarships, tuition for employees) and healthcare (particularly funding for childhood cancer research and treatment). Funding for the arts, sadly, was on the bottom of everyone’s lists.

Does that cause have to match the company? Not really, but if you can tie a cause to your company’s mission it makes it feel more organic and less forced – so bonus.

Probably the oddest sentiment to come out of this survey, is the fact that consumers associate innovation and forward thinking with corporate responsibility. This is why many of the most respected companies are tech companies.

As the saying goes, “charity begins at home” or in this case “the office”. Are you sourcing responsibly? Are you treating your employees fairly? Are you disposing of waste in a way that has the least impact on the environment?  It’s vital that you get your home ducks (Aflac!) lined up in a neat row before you launch a far-reaching, splashy initiative. Just think about how embarrassing it would be if you funded ocean cleanup, only to have a reporter discover that your company’s been polluting the local waters for years.

There’s no doubt that a high profile, corporate responsibility program would do wonders for your company’s reputation. But to become a truly responsible company, the good you do should be its own reward.

Survey: Trust in CEOs drops 12%, trust in the Media drops 5%

For the past 17 years, the folks at Edelman have been surveying the people of the Earth to find out who they trust, who they don’t trust and why. Governments are often on shaky ground and the media comes and goes, but this year the survey respondents didn’t have any favorites. In fact, they came back with the largest-ever drop in trust across all four of the measured institutions: government, business, media and NGOs (non-profits).

In short, we don’t trust anybody anymore.

Media took the biggest hit with a decline of 5 points. Just slightly over 50% of those surveyed said they trusted businesses and NGO. Government trust only dropped 1 point, but they were already – and still remain – the least trusted institution in half of the countries surveyed.

Edelman 2017 Trust Barometer

But it’s not just the institutions themselves that have failed us, people have given up on people, too. Though government leaders are still the least credible people on the planet, CEO credibility dropped 12 points, hitting an all-time low.

It’s shocking, but not really surprising; not with arrest warrants going out to Volkswagen executives.

Who do we trust? 60% of respondents said they’re more likely to trust company information from an average Joe, than a technical or academic expert.

They’re also more willing to listen to an employee than a CEO on topics such as employee/customer relations (53%), financial earnings (38%), crises (37%), innovation (33%), industry issues (32%) or programs addressing societal issues (30%).

That last part is the silver lining for companies battling to protect or save their reputations. Instead of putting your CEO behind a podium, set your employees loose on social media. If this survey is to be believed, they’ll have a much better chance of swaying public opinion that you’ll have with press releases and promises.

Of course, you’ll have to gain your employees’ trust before they’ll speak on your behalf and that could be tricky.

A majority of the global population surveyed worries about losing their jobs due to the impacts of globalization (60%), lack of training or skills (60%), immigrants who work for less (58%), jobs moving to cheaper markets (55%) and automation (54%).

As if that wasn’t bad enough, 53% of those surveyed said “the current overall system has failed them—it is unfair and offers little hope for the future.”

On the upside, survey respondents said that businesses were the only one of the four institutions capable of making a difference in their community.

Kathryn Beiser, global chair of Edelman’s Corporate practice says,

 “Business is the last retaining wall for trust. Its leaders must step up on the issues that matter for society. It has done a masterful job of illustrating the benefits of innovation but has done little to discuss the impact those advances will have on people’s jobs.”

Regaining the public’s trust won’t be easy but it starts with honesty, transparency and leadership. Profits are important; it’s what keeps the doors open and the paychecks coming. But it can’t be “profits above all else”.

Time for a little soul searching. If Edelman surveyed your customers, employees and the people in your community, where would your company fall on the old Trust Barometer?

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