For the Pearl Source, which sells pearl jewelry wholesale and online, building trust in its brand is core to doing business. Putting customers at ease about costly online purchases is part of the transaction.
"You have to build a good amount of trust for the online consumer to spend thousands of dollars," said Sammy Rbibo, president of the Pearl Source, which is based in Los Angeles.
Instead of building that trust on its site, it sends potential buyers to Trustpilot, a third-party site that hosts buyer reviews, to instill confidence among customers that feedback isn't doctored.
"When customers … see product feedback, they don't have a way of verifying that it's true," Rbibo said. "Customers become leery when they only see beautiful feedback with four- and five-star ratings." By posting its reviews on a third-party site, the Pearl Source ensures that customers can trust the information they see because "the vendor doesn't have the ability to manipulate, edit or discard the feedback," he said.
Third-party reviews can also influence customers even before they get to a company's website. When a browser searches on terms that retrieve the Pearl Source, for example, a 4.8-star overall customer rating appears just underneath the company's link, which Rbibo said prompts customers to click on the Pearl Source versus another site with no consumer rating. "It creates legitimacy even before the consumer arrives on your site," Rbibo said.
It's a counterintuitive strategy: The Pearl Source is sending customers away from its site to get them to come back and buy. But in a universe where search engines can dictate the authority of a company's brand, the strategy can work. Search engine optimization (SEO) encompasses methods to boost webpages' authority and credibility in the eyes of search engines. In an SEO-driven world, diverting traffic to a third-party site can drive traffic back to a company's brand and build consumer trust along the way.
Sammy Rbibopresident, the Pearl Source
Other methods like adding a widget to the shopping cart page that features information about Trustpilot reviews helped improve sales, Rbibo said. Customers just about to make a purchase can click on Trustpilot links to feel more certain before their final click to buy. That reassurance has translated to better sales. Comparing the three-month period before and after the widget was placed on the page, the Pearl Source saw a 20% reduction in shopping cart abandonment, he said.
The Pearl Source's method confirms what some experts describe as tactics to promote "brand stickiness." In a Harvard Business Review article, Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman discussed several factors, including price and customer brand perceptions to identify what promoted stickiness. "The single biggest driver," they wrote," was 'decision simplicity' -- the ease with which consumers can gather trustworthy information about a product and confidently and efficiently weigh their purchase options."
Content marketing and the 'native' approach
The Pearl Source farms out clicks in return for trust. But other companies are building the company brand by driving traffic back to their sites. And why not? Companies are struggling to get every click, eyeball and sale that they can, so sending customers away from the site can be a tricky strategy.
At Uponor North America, the U.S. site of Uponor Corp., which provides plumbing, heating and cooling systems, the website is the center of the company's business. But the company doesn't sell its products directly on its site or in stores, but rather through distributors.
Matt ChinnSage Software, director of online experience
Instead, the company uses practices like content marketing and other tools to create informational content about its products and bring buyers back to the site. "All we have to sell on our site is content," said Don Costello, Web product manager at Uponor North America. "We're not trying to sell tubing [on the site]," he said, but rather to make content available that can educate prospects about how products work.
Uponor posts blogs several times a week and amplifies those blogs on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But the efforts on social platforms try to drive traffic back to the site to connect prospects with content and, ultimately, products.
"The goal is to get people back to our site so we can learn more about them and better market to them," Costello said.
Transparency builds brand trust
Other companies are promoting trust in the company brand through customer communities. Irvine, Calif.-based Sage Software Inc., for example, has created some 20-plus communities, known as Sage City. Since June 2013, when Sage centralized its various communities on Zimbra's collaboration software, the company has added 10,000 registered users.
These communities feature forums with answers to customers' commonly asked questions about using and troubleshooting the software. They also feature a library of articles to support customers, and a stable of analysts to field queries online. These experts can also guide customers in broader business best practices, such as educating them about tax issues.
"We wanted the community to be a centralized hub for our company to interact with our customers, partners, prospects," said Matt Chinn, Sage Software's director of online experience and community manager.
Creating online communities has helped Sage reduce costs as well. The company has seen a 10% decrease in phone-based support costs. That adds up to a fair amount of savings, where "calls cost about $20 per call. But if [a customer] goes to Sage City, that costs us less than a quarter," Chinn said. Sage City also handles about 50% of all consumer product research, sales and service in all their channels. "It's teaching them to go there rather than default to the phone," Chinn said.
Chin said that Sage will also develop new services to expand the brand, and create new revenue streams. One future project is the adviser program. Sage is cultivating some of its community members as "brand ambassadors" who can provide feedback "in a more intimate setting," he said, helping to troubleshoot software or innovate on products. The community forums also feature an idea tab where customers can submit ideas that sometimes make it into the product development queue.
But ultimately, Chinn said, building a brand is about putting a priority on transparency and trust.
"In this day and age, everything is transparent," he said. "If [customers] aren't on your turf talking about it, they're going to be on a third-party site talking about it. If someone has something bad to say … and you turn that around, people will see that and it builds trust."
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