Product reviews: we need them to sell, but we have to sell first to get them…what is a startup to do?




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It’s the classic chicken or the egg…which came first.  We need product reviews to sell, but how do we get them if we have not sold?  Unfortunately, product reviews have been completely distorted in the marketplace from their original intent:

  • The review has nothing to do with using it to improve products or offerings, which is what review are suppose to do, but instead, just to stoke sales.
  • Because reviews help sell, companies have resorted to offering bribes to customers to give positive reviews, which taints reviews, which leads to their becoming unreliable.
  • Negative reviews are leading to lawsuits against the consumers that wrote them.
  • We consumers are sick of giving reviews, yet are still pestered unbelievable for a review after we buy a product.

How do we get out of this mess?

I don’t know, but the question I want to answer is: How do us startups get honest public validation for our products to help us sell?

Here are my thoughts.

Asking for product reviews

Yes, do this, and play with offering incentives to give reviews, but be careful.

Don’t give a direct incentive via product discount or free product, which is too much of a bribe, but instead, offer a different product that compliments your main offering will help the customer. That way, they get something that they probably would not pay money to receive, so it is less of a direct bribe via a discount or free product, which I think may be going too far.

Think about building 100 true fans.  This is an adaptation of the 1000 true fans approach, because 1000 is a lot for a startup, but if you can genuinely get 100 that love you, your products, believe in you, and have a connection with you, then ask them for genuine reviews to be posted.  I think this approach is fine, because you are asking from people that are true believers and users of your products.

But also ask for reviews not for the end goal of publishing them, but to genuinely get feedback to improve.  Get back to using reviews for what they were intended for.

I built an object in my customer database just for tracking reviews.  It tells me who I have asked for reviews, the reviews they submitted, and who has not received a review request. I have to manually update the database object with this information.

When I send my reviews, I do it from my personal email rather than automated response through my system connected to my ecommerce cart that can also be setup to send reviews.

Social likes/Follows/Upvotes

This is an indirect public validation that while not product specific, can help with sales.  But this also probably means having social accounts with good content that will cause people to want to like/follow/upvote your company.

And if you can give people incentives to also post using your product, that can help significantly, but again, it is like a review and people have to take action.

Website validation engine

This is a term I came up with to describe software I have thought about building, but it appears there are companies popping up already doing this.

In essence, it is a rolling sidebar popup that displays information about the recent sales of your products, so that a prospect can see that there are others buying on your website already.  Check out UseFomo.com as an example.

I really like this because at the end of the day, it is about selling products, and if others are buying, especially repeat purchasing, then that is what we want to tell the world about, because that is all the validation we really need.

Word of mouth

This is a product review, but posted to our social circles and to people we know.  That also is the best product review because it is far more trusted than a public review posted on a product page.

I actively ask my customers for referrals, whether it is in my marketing emails, transaction emails, snail mail marketing and any other method I use to remarket to my customers.

If they like your product and like you, then ask them and keep asking them for referrals.  It really works.

I am playing with ways for my products to be shared or sampled out by my customers.  This is another indirect form of word of mouth marketing.

WOW Products

I harp on this constantly, that startups need WOW products that CAPTURE ATTENTION QUICKLY.  If we really focused on WOW, revolutionary products, then we would care a lot less about asking for reviews because we have such strong repeat customer purchases and word of mouth marketing that they would not be needed.

And it does not have to necessarily be a WOW product, but could be some element of your company that is wow, like:

  • customer service (think Zappos);
  • environmental stewardship (think Patagonia);
  • breathtaking media (think Redbull).

And if you have such WOW products, then customers may be compelled and really happy to give a public review, and that is the best way to get a review.  Don’t ask for it, just deliver such WOW that they will do it for you.

Authenticity

Consumers want to know who they are buying from, and startups can shine in this area by being honest, transparent and authentic about who they are, what is in their product’s, how they are produced, and what their company stands for.

Creating these elements through content on your website, online and even in offline advertising helps create an emotional connection between you and your customer.  That connection is what can help creates sales, repeat sales and loyalty.

Money back guarantee

If you really believe in your product, then offer an insane money back guarantee that is heads and shoulders above your entire industry.

We did that in a past company:  standard return policy was 30-days; we went a full year, no questions asked guarantee. That completely took the risk out of the buying equation for the customer.

Content

Write detailed product descriptions, with lots of high quality copy to really help people get to know your products.  Put your complete supply chain history of the ingredients and production online for people to see what is in your products, where it is coming from, and how it was produced.

Write great content around your product that helps elevate you as an authority in your industry and helps your customers get to know you.

I like content marketing and use it for my businesses extensively.  This is one of the main reasons why my websites are built on WordPress, because it is a content management platform at its core.  But the platform has become far more versatile than just content management.  Use it in conjunction with WooCommerce to have an excellent direct-to-consumer sales platform that is very scalable. That is what I do.

Public Relations

There’s the old way of sending out press releases that does not work, or the new way, as captured in this awesome instructional video that everyone should watch.  These methods explained in this video are cheap and easy for any of us to replicate for our own businesses.

Scarcity

Amazon does this, and a website validation engine can probably also do this.  Post available inventory, especially when it is low, because scarcity instills the fear of missing out (FOMO), so people are more apt to make a purchase or stock up.

But you have to be genuine about this.  If there are multiple ways to purchase your product, then someone can just go to another website or reseller.  But if you genuinely restrict supply and create scarcity in your product, then that can really help.

I have seen this work really well for me and I am trying to figure out ways to do more of it.

Longevity

Make products and packaging that sticks around.

For example, one of my products is in a nice 32-ounce glass reusable jar.  I could go with cheap plastic that most of my competitors use, but that sucks for the environment.

My glass jar is reusable, which means it might stick around after the product inside is all gone and repurposed by the customer for some other use.  This increases the chance for more brand impressions because they will still see my label on it (they are not easy to wash off).

Events

Invite your customers to events you put on.  This is another form of social validation that inspires camaraderie among a customer base, repeat purchasing and word of mouth, plus a great way to get post event reviews (assuming people had a good time).

I think this is hard for small companies; easy for a company like Apple.   See here as an example for how a small company does it with their customer base.

I have been experimenting with this the last few years with little success.  I think I can make it successful for my company in the future, but I need to build my company, product line and some additional capabilities to do it the way I want.



I post what I see and do in consumer products. But I am just one person with my own perspective. I want your opinion and observations from your point of view. Please comment below so I and others can learn. Thank you!


About the Author:

I am a startup and growth company expert: sold 1, built 5, and crashed 2. I develop, launch and grow consumer products through uncommon methods that can lead to more sales – faster – and can make a company and its products more appealing to consumers and resellers, with less risk. More about me here.

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