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The relationship management trend among OEMs today is to drive positive review count on 3rd party sites such as Yelp in what we call a “spend to send” model. In this scenario, OEMs, either directly or through their franchised dealerships refer customers to these sites to write and read reviews. This makes sense, right? After all, consumers love these review sites and recent surveys have found that up to 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. But there’s a problem. In this strategy the OEM is paying (in marketing dollars) to send people away from its own consumer website and their franchised dealership websites to a 3rd party site where captive consumers are exposed to competitors’ reviews, new and used inventory, and competitor advertisements. While it’s a good idea for OEMs and dealers to be involved in reputation management related to 3rd party sites, there’s another strategy that will move the reputation needle faster, easier, and more cost-effectively while increasing customer retention and reducing customer defection. And, if done right, the outcome will be more satisfied customers resulting in better, organic, non-solicited reviews on 3rd party sites. We’re talking about a “me first” content strategy where OEMs first generate and publish both vehicle and dealership sales and service reviews on their own websites.
Before diving into this new strategy, it’s worthwhile to dig a little deeper into the problems with a traditional “spend to send” model. First, until the OEM has provided content for the captive eyeballs already paid for in SEM dollars, it doesn’t make sense financially or strategically to pay to send consumers to other sites. Many OEMs spend hundreds of millions of dollars to drive consumers to their site only to send them elsewhere for a critical element of the purchase experience, reviews!
Second, the more content provided to 3rd party ad model sites like Yelp and others, the more powerful these sites become in the competition for page 1 Google search engine results page (SERP). Since relevant, timely content is a key driver for SEO performance, the more consumers you push to these websites to write and read reviews, the more likely they will trump you in search engine rankings. Try searching “2015 Toyota Camry reviews” in Google. In a search from Seattle, WA, Toyota’s consumer site doesn’t even come up until the middle of page two! This would not necessarily be negative if most of these sites weren’t loaded with competitive ads and competitive new and used vehicle inventory. This brings to mind a recent discussion I had with an executive at a large automotive manufacturer. During my presentation, he said to me, "But David, customers have been conditioned to go to these sites". My response was "Yes they have, by you because you’re not providing them with a key component of the decision making process on your website!"
Third, dealers are already paying for tools that push customers to these sites, many after pre-qualification questions that practically ensure a positive review and therefore skew the results and potentially mislead potential buyers. There is a risk for OEMs who follow this practice. Consumers expect unbiased information from manufacturers. Jumping into that fray may well produce negative public relations consequences at some point in the future.
A “me first” strategy combats these problems while also being faster and more effective at moving relationship management in a positive direction. OEMs following this strategy first create content for their own websites and those of their franchised dealers. Vehicle reviews is key content on the OEM sites, and dealership sales and service reviews that pop-up anytime a dealership name is displayed. At SureCritic we know the dealership site is a critical place for content because of the significant traffic to our Dealer Review pages that come from dealership website referrals. The second step is implementation of an OEM and dealer process for managing both the content and concern resolution when things don’t go well.
When OEMs create their own content they keep the eyeballs already paid for through SEM on their own websites. They also stop paying to create dealership search competition defined as websites that show competitive advertisement and inventory. By providing less content to 3rd party review sites, they stop contributing to Page 1 SERP results for these sites that advertise competitors’ information. Additionally, this model creates true word-of-mouth digital reputation management. When the OEM is in charge of content it can tie every review request directly to an action that happened in the dealership and is logged in the CRM – whether sales or service. Since only validated customers would be asked to give feedback, the review process would be clean and above reproach. Finally, because of the concern resolution process incorporated into this model, it can help improve customer satisfaction and result in better, organic reviews on 3rd party sites. With control over content and a process to manage it, OEMs and dealers can immediately react to a poor review, resolve the issue, and then post an updated customer comment. This transparent process improves customer satisfaction and engenders trust in potential buyers.
The “spend to send” strategy that is a growing trend among OEMs wastes marketing dollars for both the OEM and their dealers, provides misleading data that can actually hamper process improvement efforts at the dealership level and all but encourages consumers to defect to a competitor. In contrast, a “me first” content strategy retains eyeballs that have already been paid for through SEM by both the OEM and dealer, ensures content is seen by consumers who are already on an OEM or dealership website thus in the funnel, and allows for the opportunity to resolve issues or concerns before they negatively affect reputation across the web. As an added bonus, taking the reins when it comes to reviews is faster, easier, and more cost-effective than pushing consumers to 3rd party sites.
David Brondstetter is CEO of SureCritic, creators of the industry’s first SocialCSI® Customer Experience Management (CEM) platform that combines the best features of reputation management with the best features of CSI. You can reach him at David@surecritic.com.